Training Never Ends
June 29, 2011 -
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to train a dog? Well, you might be disappointed to hear, “it takes forever.” Now I don’t mean it takes a long time, I mean that you will always be “training” your dog. Responding reliably to cues (or “being obedient” as some might say) is a work in progress and if you don’t keep practicing correctly then your dog will stop responding correctly. Funny how that works, huh?
Take for instance, my 10-year-old dog Kyra. I worked hard when she was younger (under 3 years of age) to get her to walk calmly and quietly past other dogs. We used lots of treats and set up controlled practice situations in the beginning. As she got better we used less treats and visited less controlled settings. With repeated practice, she pretty well mastered it. So for the last seven years she has behaved well 99.9% of the time. I wasn’t worried about the 0.01% and I really slacked off on rewarding her for her good behavior. Translation: she got praised, but no cookies. What a cheap mom!
Fast forward to her 10th birthday. I believe she has taken a “senior citizen’s license” to do more of what she wants and less of what I want. Her 0.01% has turned into about 10% and that’s just not acceptable to me. So what do I do? I stand amazed that she has “worked” for “free” for the last seven years and then I suck it up, start taking treats to the park and act like a trainer!
So, for the last month I’ve loaded up the treat bag and taken a proactive approach to our morning walks. She’s loving it and she’s doing great. I have no doubt that I could leave the treats at home now and still get reliable responding from her. You might think it’s disappointing to have to “go back to treats” with a dog that’s supposedly “trained”, but it’s not. Imagine if once I got good at my job they stopped paying me! Would I have worked for seven years for free?? I think you can guess the answer to that.
This situation has been a great reminder to me that I can’t get lazy about paying her for her good work. If I’m asking her to do something for me (like control her impulses or resist her natural inclinations), I should pay her for it. It’s a tribute to how wonderful dogs are that she did it for so long with nothing but a thanks from me.