July 2016 – “The word”

There’s a word that’s used so often regarding dog training that it’s begun to make me cringe, even though I’m guilty of its use during assessments and lessons. It’s not that I revile in using this word; it’s not completely ill-placed or even really “wrong.” If you, as an owner were to hear me use it, you’d probably say, “Oh yeah, I know.”

When we’re talking about our personal lives, and our intent and meaning with the things we say, it’s no surprise that definitions matter. Too often in dog training, however, I feel that this very simple and basic understanding becomes lost. Words are selected based on what we are doing to assist transformation in our dogs, rather than selected based on what we are doing to ensure transformation in them.

It seems that a majority of the dog owners I’ve met as either clients or random folks in the Phoenix community have fallen victim to their own word selections, whether they’ve got ill-tempered, aggressive dogs or not. (As you’re reading this I’m sure you’re thinking of a friend who has a dog who fits this description. Pro tip: Have your friend call me!) It’s not the animal’s fault; dogs are creatures of instinct, driven by the need for opportunity, food, affection, or affirmation. Frequently, these things become available in overabundance, or we become lax, and the hierarchy of power shifts from owner to dog quicker than it takes you to use the dreaded “C” word!

Demonstrating leadership to our dogs is paramount to maintaining our position as boss. When we fail to do this, it becomes increasingly difficult to get them to react in the way we want. We know the indicators of our diminishing dominance- suddenly our beloved canine begins to push through doors ahead of us, bolt from the car, or face-plant into their food before we can get the bowl on the floor. When these things begin to happen, the dreaded “C” word begins to surface. And, you know, I totally understand it. It fits. Why change it? Well, because depending on the dog, it may not be enough.

The lamentable word I have dreaded referencing is “Consistency.”

“Wow, Jesse, really?! I read this far just for that?” Yup, you did. I’ll continue.

A quick search of Google renders the following definition for the word Consistency:

Consistency

Noun

1. Conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.

Just as we as owners are looking to shape, mold, and transform our dogs with consistency into what we want, we forget- our dogs are also just as determined to look for new opportunity with equal or greater consistency. The practice ends up a wash, or worse, puts our pups in positions of equity. We’re puzzled as owners. Frustrated, we wonder, “What else is it going to take? What’s better than consistency, Jesse?”

My answer: “Persistence.”

Again, a la Google:

Persistence

Noun

1. Firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

When we break down the definitions, it’s a little more clear. Our application of consistency isn’t enough. As owners, we need to ensure we’re not solely relying on consistency as a fix; we need to always be ensuring that our persistence is supplement to our consistency. We need to stay the course when it gets daunting, and frustration sets in as owners. Our dogs are always going to meet our consistency with equal fervor, but persistence…well, let’s just say that humans have the edge on that.

Is your persistence greater than your dog’s ?