The behaviour training process…

…and why it doesn’t follow a straight line?

You might think that if you start the behaviour training process on day one, and you work hard at it over the following days and weeks. That each day you should expect to see a steady improvement. That might be the case if you were completely in control of yourself and your environment. But, the reality is that we are in control of very little. This means the training process can feel a little unpredictable, and chaotic, at times.

Understanding the types of things that can effect yours and your dogs behaviour, can drastically effect your expectation of the behaviour training process. When you can see how much can affect the end result, you’ll see exactly why there are no straight lines! But you will still get there.

The behaviour training process rarely goes in a straight line! Graph one shows the expectation of effort vs time having a steady increase in progress. The second graph shows the reality which is closer to a wiggly line.
The behaviour training process rarely goes in a straight line!

You’re not being consistent!

But, don’t feel bad. We are not machines, and neither are our dogs. So of course you’re not going to follow the training steps in exactly the same way, with exactly the same timing, every single time you do it. Even on a perfect day, it’s unlikely. But, you’ll get distracted, you’ll get disorganised, you’ll forget what you were doing. Maybe you’ll be doing it too fast, or reacting too slowly. Someday’s you’ll be better at it than others, and someday’s your dog will be better at it than others. It might not always be you doing the training, or maybe nobody did any for a couple of days. These things will all add up.

General Mood

Our mood can be affected by so many things. It’s practically impossible to maintain a consistent mood, day in day out. How we start the day can make a huge difference to how we function for the entire day. Getting up late, the kids fighting, dropping the milk cartoon before making coffee, and bad news on Facebook or the News, can all set us up for a bad day. And what about the rest of the day? We are so affected by everything: traffic levels, our colleagues, queues for lunch, availability of lunch choices, the list goes on and on…

But, what if your favourite song was playing on the radio as you woke up, or the kids had made your breakfast for you and not ruined the kitchen? A calm, routined morning can be the start of a wonderful day for you and your dog. Then, what if you have one of those amazing days where everything lines up just for you. There is no traffic, the new starter at work is a-ma-zing, there is tons of filling in your baguette. You’ll be in your element and it’ll take more than a dog training challenge to throw you off course today!

Keep Calm and Carry On!

Our general mood can be affected by so many things, and this has a knock on effect. Our patience and tolerance levels are affected by our mood. And these are essential to the outcome of your behaviour training. You might not be able to change your mood, but you can know how your mood is affecting your training.

Your dog is not immune to mood changes either! A chaotic morning can set them up for a bad day too. Separation anxiety is particularly affected by early morning chaos, but other types of problems can be too.

And even if they are having a great morning, your mood will still have an impact on them. They are so sensitive to our feelings and pick up on everything. For some, this might mean they are more sympathetic and loving, some might be more unsettled than usual, and others (especially adolescents) might choose to take advantage of your shorter fuse!

Environmental Changes

Environmental changes can have a massive impact on the outcome of your training. And, I’m not just talking about the obvious ones like different parks or beaches. Although, they do have a big impact. But, smaller changes to the weather or our routine can make a difference too.

The weather affects our own behaviour, but it especially affects our dogs. If we get too hot, or wet or cold, we can change our clothes to adjust. Our dogs are stuck with big heavy coats which often means they have to be more tolerant to stuff like this. Many dogs particularly hate going out in the rain, wind or cold, so trying to train these guys outside might be difficult on those days.

The amount they eat and drink will also affect their ability, and ours, to affect change. Eating a well balanced, consistent diet will help. But, when was the last time you balanced the nutrients of your breakfast? Some types of food can massively effect our abilities and energy levels. If your dog skipped breakfast that morning, don’t expect him to be on tip top form! Likewise, a thirsty dog will lose concentration very quickly.

Varying the route on your walk or a going to a completely new place can change the outcome too. Being closer to home can enhance territorial behaviours, but going far away can make dogs feel more anxious than usual. Maybe the route was the same but there was more traffic than usual, or there was a cat at the end of the drive, or a new dog smell?

Experiences

Experiences throughout the day are possibly the biggest impactor on behaviour. Imagine trying to train your dog in a quiet carpark. There are very few things to get distracted by here, so it’s easy to work on a new behaviour. But, what if it was grass instead or tarmac? Or what if a cyclist zoomed by, or there was an unexpected loud noise or a leaf bobbed into view?

Perhaps the park is packed with park runners when you arrive, or there was a cat in the garden, or your downstairs neighbours was being weird in the hall when you came home. Perhaps, you had to wrestle a discarded KFC off him on the way to the park when he was hungry, or you forgot to reward his recall. All these experiences can make a difference. You’ll not be in control of most of them, but understanding how little it can take to send you off course goes a long way to knowing why progress can feel a little chaotic.

Take the day off!

Additional experiences are often out of your control, but they do have an impact on the outcome. If you are trying to desensitise your dog to other dogs and they keep running into your space, that’s no ones fault, but it could have a disastrous affect on your training efforts, and you’ll feel like you’ve had a massive set back. This might be one of those times to take a day off! But, if all the dogs you meet are calm and ignore your dog, and you have plenty of room to work around them, you’ll have an amazing training session and get loads done. Make the most of these days and you’ll undo the dip you got last time you had a disaster.

Don’t battle a bad day, it’s ok to take the odd day off!

Health

Minor irritancies affect dogs as much as they affect us! Imagine having an itch you can’t get rid of, a tummy upset, or a thumping headache, while trying to learn something new? Your dog won’t tell you, so you probably won’t know your dog is suffering this way. But if he is, his concentration levels will be much lower than usual.

If he needs the loo, or is tired, or his brain has been over worked, you’ll not get the most out of his training either. You’ll not have to write the whole day off for these issues though. A quick break should be enough to freshen him up for the rest of his session.

"When assessed by a vet; 15% of dogs that had an aggression related behavioural problem, were also found to have an underlying medical condition." Animal Behaviour Kent

Or maybe there is something more serious going on. Any health condition can affect a dogs ability to concentrate and learn new things. If your dog could be suffering with a condition then it’s worth ruling that out before you start behaviour training. Even if you can’t treat it, it’s worth knowing what your dog is going through, so you know why things are taking longer than usual and make adjustments.

Age

Be aware of what your dog is going through at different ages, and in particular hormonal changes so you know what to expect at different life stages. Training a teething puppy can be hard work, and doing anything with a hormonal teenager can feel like an uphill struggle at times. But settled adults might feel like a dream.

Pain can really affect your dogs ability to do what you want, it’ll likely also have an affect on their overall mood too. A young dog might have growing and teething pains, or an older dog might have joint stiffness or other age related conditions. Failing eyesight or hearing might not be obvious, but it’ll certainly affect the way he experiences the world.

What does this mean for the behaviour training process?

If all your ducks line up on the day you’ll have a great training experience. But if you are ending a long day at work by trying to train a grumpy, tired teenager, in a packed, windy park, while needing the loo, then it might feel like you have made no progress, or worse, taken a step back.

This effect is more obvious at the start of the training process. It won’t take much to knock you off track while you are both still learning new routines and techniques together. As you both settle into the training routine, it’ll be much harder for any of this stuff to push you off course.

When you have bad days, take a break and shrug them off. Or if they are really bad, write them off entirely and finish early! Remember that this is normal and to be expected. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll both feel different in the morning. Consistent training will win the day in the end, just stay calm and keep going as best you can.

But, when you have good days, take full advantage. Enjoy working together, take your time, reward every success, and let your pride beam. Good days will more than make up for the bad days. Make sure you cash in and get the maximum benefit for your effort, and in no time you’ll be getting a lot more good days than bad.


Ready to get started?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area, and as far as Carnoustie, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Tayport, Newport, and Longforgan. If you are looking for advice for your dog then why not book a FREE zoom and we’ll have a chat about the best way I can help you!

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Caroline

I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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