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Honing Your Training Skills: Patience

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

Although I give attention to both sides of every dog-human training team, my job is to teach people how to work with their dogs whether I'm there or not. In my last post about honing training skills, I discussed observation. Today I'm talking about patience.

When I first started teaching writing, I would ask my class a question and then blurt out the answer without giving my students time to think--the silence made me nervous and I was afraid that no one would want to answer. By the time I left teaching, I could ask the question and then occupy myself by sipping tea or just gazing casually around the room, allowing my students to consider their answers. I encounter a similar pattern with people new to training--they'll ask their dog to sit and, when the dog doesn't immediately sit, ask again. As they improve their training skills, they learn to wait while their dog thinks.

A couple of potential problems arise when we hurry to repeat our cues. When we say a word like "sit" multiple times before the dog performs the action, the dog may think the cue is "sit, sit, sit, sit." If the dog doesn't get a chance to perform the behavior at all despite the repetitions, they may fail to understand the relationship between the word "sit" and the action of sitting. The cue, in other words, loses all meaning.

Instead, we can help our dogs learn by giving them time to think about what we ask. If your dog doesn't respond to your cue after several seconds, you can take a deep breath, reset yourself, and then ask again. If your dog still doesn't sit (or lay down, or shake), you can consider what might be inhibiting your dog's understanding—does she need you to follow your verbal cue with a hand gesture? Is the environment too distracting for him? Does she have a long enough reinforcement history for that behavior? Then you can adjust your approach and try again, patiently.

Like developing any new skill, becoming a good trainer for your dog requires time and practice. So be patient with yourself too as you and your dog learn together.

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