If practice makes perfect, then what if we only practiced perfect patterns to lead to desired behaviors? If all your dog knew was one pattern, they wouldn't discover any other ideas or solutions in their head. Now that may sound very unrealistic, but our training should be focused on this concept, so let's breakdown the factors.
1) Just like humans, habits are created by consistently repeating a series of steps. If you think about something simple, like teaching a child to brush their teeth, we could break the pattern down, as follows:
• placing paste on the brush,
• getting the paste wet,
• putting the brush in the child's mouth,
• scrubbing the teeth,
• rinsing, and
• cleaning off the brush.
To develop this habit in the child from a young age, you repeat these steps daily.
2) For best success in reliably repeating each step of the pattern in the right order, it would be optimal to work with the child in a calm environment where each of you could focus on the steps and apply them correctly. If your teaching experience only occurred in the rush of the morning shuffle as people are headed out the door to work and school, then you might overlook a step in the pattern or your child's mind may be distracted. This hectic environment would reduce the chance that you practice perfectly and would definitely decrease the child's retention of the steps involved.
3) While parents recognize the importance of good oral hygiene, a child most likely sees no value in this process at a young age. So, what is the motivation for them to engage in repeating the pattern and learning this valuable skill? Maybe you use a sticker chart to pique the child's interest and discover value in brushing their teeth. Once the child has a greater level of excitement for the activity, the parent's job becomes much easier as they no longer argue over getting the pattern started.
So how does teaching a child to brush their teeth relate to creating positive behaviors in our dog?
Let's simplify dog training into the same three steps:
PATTERN DEVELOPMENT: Break down the behavior you want to develop in your dog into small pieces of the final goal. For instance, if we are talking about potty training a puppy, there is a pattern we can develop, including:
•taking your puppy outside on a regular basis every 2-3 hours,
•going through the same door of your house, to the same location, and
•repeating the same word to activate the dog's thinking about the experience you are creating.
ENVIRONMENT: Because puppies are already busy minded or often afraid of the big world in which they live, their minds can easily be distracted when they move out of the house. To help with this environmental aspect, put the dog on a leash, have other dogs and kids stay indoors until the puppy has finished the pattern outside. Also, you as a participant should remain calm and not add to their busy mind.
MOTIVATION: What motivation are you providing for your dog to successfully complete the potty pattern? Praise or a treat at the end of the process can influence the dog to repeat the pattern again in the future with more excitement.
The final influencer in successfully turning a pattern into a habit is not allowing deviation from the appropriate steps. Provide your dog with as much help in each of the areas outlined above as they need to stay on track and no more. Help them be motivated enough to complete the designed pattern, in an environment where their mind can be calm and to connect the steps, until they eventually connect the steps on their own.
Managing your dog's world so they don't potty in the house, which would be a deviation from the positive pattern, is critical. Look at any factors where you may need to adjust your level of help to create reliability of the pattern. Most often, minimizing environmental factors will have the greatest influence on your success, so introduce new patterns with as much calm and quiet as possible.
Often, the biggest challenge for dog owners is the ability to visualize smaller steps that lead to the end goal. At Full House Dog Training, we want our clients to understand a deeper level of working with their dogs to develop happiness and success each time you spend time together. If you need support breaking down behaviors you want to create, reach out and let us know how we can help!