Progress can sometimes be slow and unpredictable when it comes to dog behaviour rehabilitation. So, it’s important to find ways to monitor your dogs behaviour training progress. This is especially the case when you are working with anxiety based problems or reactive behaviour. We easily forget when things have gone well, and it can often feel like we are getting nowhere.
It’s easy to focus on all the negative experiences you have. When I ask clients how their week has been, they will easily remember the dogs that ran up to them in the park while their dog went mad. And, the family member who still insists on winding your dog up as soon as he arrives. But, there have been plenty of great achievements when you look for them.
Here’s three ways to monitor your progress so you don’t forget all the wins you have in between the disasters.
1. Keep a diary
So, my first tip is to record your progress in a diary. You can keep notes of what you are doing, but I’m more interested in how your dogs behaviour is changing.
Start by reminding yourself what the problem behaviours were like before you started. Try to remember all the details, what they did, how loud it was, how stressed they were, how embarrassing it was, how you responded, and how long it took for it to pass, everything.
When you have it vivid in your mind write it all down in your diary, including how bad it felt on a scale of 1-10. Now, every time you work on the problem again, update your diary.
As the behaviour changes so slowly, you’ll have times when you feel like you are getting no where and you’ve achieved nothing. That’s the day to refer back to your early diary entries.
This is especially effective for dogs that have anxiety as progress can be slow and new behaviours can creep up on you. I often refer back to clients initial emails when we have our final meeting. It’s so rewarding to be able to remind clients of behaviours they once had trouble with. Behaviours they forgot their dog even had, simply because they have come so far together!
2. Make a wish list
Making a wish list allows you to monitor specific behaviour changes. You’ll have an ultimate goal in mind, but if you split that goal up into mini goals, these can form your wish list.
For example, if your dog barks and jumps up at people when they come through the door. The first thing on your wish list might just be for your dog to sit before you open the door. This might feel like a baby step in your dog behaviour training progress, but it’s a step none-the-less.
If you are working on a separation anxiety problem, your first step might be that your dog stays quiet until you pick up your keys or put your hand on the door handle. Or maybe it could be that they cope for more than a minute by themselves!
Ideally, your wish list will be made up of a couple of things your dog can’t yet do that are steps towards your ultimate goal. When they achieve it, start a tally chart and mark it every time they manage it. Soon you’ll see that it was no accident, and that they are making slow and steady progress.
3. Know your dogs trump list
Not all distractions are created equal! If you are working around distractions or reactive behaviour, it might feel like your dog is distracted by everything, but it won’t all be in equal measure. A trump list helps you to identify and rank distractions so you can monitor progress and focus on the right things.
To make your trump list, first write down all the things your dog gets distracted by or reacts to. It could be anything; leaves blowing, running dogs, calm dogs, cyclists, sniffs, bird sounds, wheelchairs, walking sticks, kids playing, people with cameras – you get the idea! Now compare them by imagining your dog was walking down a street and had to choose between them. Would he be more distracted by a calm dog or a cyclist? Or would he be more distracted by blowing leaves or a man with a walking stick? You’ll end up with a list starting with the least distracting thing at the bottom and the most distracting thing at the top. That’s your trump list!
Now you know your dogs “trump list”, start at the bottom. Focus your training on the easiest thing first, then work your way up. Don’t forget to tick off distractions off as you master them.
How can I help you with your dogs behaviour training?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!