I always stress the importance of consistency and want to make sure you know what that means, and why it is so important.

Animals Learn Patterns
Dogs, people, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, zebras – it doesn’t matter which animal you are taking about, learning is achieved through identifying patterns – and most importantly, the significance of the pattern. Predators in the wild pay attention to the pattern of their prey. The animals that are lower in the food chain pay attention to the pattern of the predators. All animals that survive are finely-tuned to danger and opportunities in their world.

Note: there are many types of learning including classical, operant, social facilitation, local enhancement, observational learning and verbal learning. In this post I am focusing on the importance of consistency, no matter which form of learning you are using to teach.

You Are an Animal Too
Think of a situation when you learned something new. It could have been as far back as learning the alphabet or maybe you always wanted to learn to play the guitar and recently started taking lessons. Think of the learning process for you. No matter which way you learn best, there is repetition involved for each component of the learning process.

When learning a musical instrument, you have to not only learn how to play chords, but you have to learn how to read a music chart, the rhythm of the song, the words and the timing. Did you pick up the guitar one time and learn the song? If you took a group class were there students that had difficulty with an aspect of a song that came more naturally to you?

If you had a good teacher, he or she broke down the song into bite-size components that you could grasp. You then probably practiced each element until you felt comfortable performing those elements together.

Dogs Pay Attention to Patterns All the Time
Now back to dog training. Dogs learn in a similar way. They learn individual elements of a pattern and then put those elements together. If their learned behavior has the potential for a reward, they are motivated to act in a certain way to increase their chances of receiving that reward. If we are talking about a wild animal, the environment cues them to do something, in your case, you provide cues to your dog.

Dogs pay attention to patterns all the time. Some patterns can be counter-productive. Dogs that develop Separation Anxiety pay attention the “pre-departure cues” that their person exhibits before leaving the house. Often people have a different pattern on their days off, so dogs eventually figure out the “work” pattern that results in the dog being alone for a period of time. If they are anxious when alone, they see the pattern developing and get anxious before the person is even out of the house. Watch your dog in the morning and see if they react when you grab your car keys, put down your coffee mug, or put your coat on.


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How To Be a Better Dog Trainer
So, now that you know that dogs pay attention to patterns, you can use that knowledge to become a better trainer. If you are inconsistent in your patterns when teaching, your dog can get terribly confused.

Tips to be more consistent: