A tasty mix of topics for trainers, pet owners, and other living creatures
Monday, June 6, 2011
"You cannot teach old dogs new tricks." ~ Quoted by Jos. Chamberlain, at Greenock, Oct., 1903
Oh, Jos! You couldn't be more wrong! My guess is this quote is actually referencing people, rather than dogs. Even so, it's not true.
Yes, behavior that has been repeated often becomes habit. And there is comfort and reinforcement in habit sometimes. But, take away the reward, change the picture, add new incentives, and behavior can change quite rapidly. The key is creating a new situation with value and rewarding anything else besides the old behavior. Do that, and you'll get new tricks.
Always look to see what your subject is getting out of the current (unwanted) behavior. Does it get them more attention, more time with you if they don't respond right away? Has it become a fun game for them to run away with the ball? Or, do they know if they hold out, you'll give up and go away?
Truly, one of the unrecognized cornerstones of training is persistence. When my students give a cue and then say "but he's not doing it!", I often say, wait two more seconds before repeating that cue. Just hold your breath and look at the floor and wait. If you control the environment (a harness and leash help with restricting his choices, and you can use them in the house, too), and you have a history of providing rewards your pet really likes (and I hope you do!), they may just be waiting until you give in and give that goodie for free, or repeat that cue 5 times, or give up and sit on another chair instead of the one they are enjoying.
Always remember we are training our pets all the time. Be mindful of what you are teaching them. 'Cause if we can't teach our old dogs new tricks, the fault lies not in the dogs, but in ourselves.