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Posted on Sat, Jun 26, 2010 : 6:30 a.m.

Consistency is key to successful dog training

By onemoreminute


Right from the start, you might as well know: My dogs sleep on the bed. 

Amy Samida | Contributor

OK, I'll admit it. My dog Whimsy is a little odd. All dogs are, of course, in their own little way, but Whimsy steps it up a notch. Someday I'll tell you her story; for now it's not really important except to address one of the biggest challenges every dog owner faces: consistency. 

The key to any training is consistency; if you're not consistent, you're not going to get a result. Or, at least, not the result you want. It's important to remember that to the dog, a lack of consistency just reinforces the behavior. Let's take calling your dog, for instance. You, in robe and slippers, yell into the rain-slashed darkness “Fluffy, come!." But Fluffy doesn't come. So you call again, you cajole, you threaten, you rattle the treats. All you see is a fuzzy butt, head stuck into your rhododendrons, nose sniffing the scent of the opossum that just waddled out of the yard.

Finally, muttering evil incantations, you stomp out, take Fluffy's collar and march her into the house. Fluffy just learned something. If she ignores you, she gets to sniff a few precious minutes longer with no repercussions to speak of. Bad. Very bad.

This is where consistency comes in. For some reason Whimsy won't chew on a bone while in her crate. This is important to me. After a long day, when my dogs have been fed and walked, hugged and petted, I want a little quiet time with nobody needing me. I'm sure many of you understand.

That's when I pull out the bones, let each dog choose the one they want and shut the crate doors for 45 minutes or so of “me time”. Whimsy doesn't participate. She just sits there, with the bone that she was so excited to get at her feet. Why?

Only Whimsy knows, but I wanted to remedy the situation. I want her to be happily engaged, not just sitting there waiting to be let out. Who can relax with those brown eyes gazing mournfully in their direction? I decided that if she was the only one out of a crate, everything would be fine. There'd be no arguing over whose bone was better since Tug and Rocket are in their crates.

But no. Whimsy was very happy to be out of her crate, because then she was free to chew the bone on my bed. Ack!! Not happening. So I walked quietly over to the bed, no sighing, no threatening body language, took the bone and dropped it on the floor. Whimsy hopped off the bed, no sighing, no threatening body language, picked it up and jumped right back on the bed. We repeated this sequence 47 times before Whimsy finally uttered the first sigh of the training session and took the bone to HER bed. Yippee.

That exchange lasted less than 10 minutes The next time we repeated the sequence 33 times. Then 26 times. The next time, consistently unrewarded behavior extinguishing rapidly, it took five tries. Now, I hand Whimsy a bone and she happily carries it to her bed and will spend a happy hour chewing her heart out.

This was an exercise in consistency. And, hallelujah, consistency works EVERY time. It doesn't matter what you've decided to teach your dog, you must be consistent. It can be a little overwhelming at first. Disheartening to say the least. Frustrating, I admit. It is, however, one of the most important aspects in any training program.

If you go get your dog when it doesn't respond to your first call, you won't teach your dog that the actual “come” command is the fourth or fifth call, or, heaven forbid, that if she ignores you long enough you'll huff an expletive and leave her alone. As frustrating as it is, it's heartening to keep in mind that the more consistent you are, the faster you'll get the desired behavior and it isn't forever.

An ingrained behavior takes longer to change than teaching something new, but again, consistency will win the day. You'll never get there if you're wishy-washy on consistency, because your dog is no dummy. He pretty much comes with a Ph.D. in human behavior and body language. He senses when you really mean what you're saying and has already read you like a book when it comes to whether it's a treat or a punishment that will be given out.

So whatever you've decided to teach your dog, whether it's not begging from the table or keeping all four feet on the floor when a guest arrives, your first tool is consistency. Without it, you're going nowhere fast.

Amy Samida is a dog trainer and owner of Naughty Dog Cafe. She can be reached at or 734-276-3522.



Sat, Jun 26, 2010 : 1:43 p.m.

Haha Heidi I had the same thought...consistency is *key* for training both kids AND pets!

Heidi Hess Saxton

Thu, Jun 24, 2010 : 6:55 p.m.

Works well with kids, too. (My kids hardly EVER chew their bones on my bed any more!)

Lorrie Shaw

Thu, Jun 24, 2010 : 1:47 p.m.

Welcome, Amy! Great topic!