Unintentional Learning: Are You Consistent?

Family decisions can be tough.  It’s hard to get everyone on the same page for anything no less for training the family dog.  Unfortunately, inconsistencies among family members can lead to unintentional learning by the dog.

Take the puppy who repeatedly tries to get on the couch, even when the family as a whole has agreed that he won’t be allowed on the couch.  There’s great reasons for this rule:  the couch might be brand new, the family may entertain frequently and not want the dog on the couch with visitors or the adults may not want the dog on the couch while people are eating snacks while watching the game. Add elderly or very young family members or frequent guests and it can make sense to keep the dog off the furniture.

No matter what the reason, consistency is the key.  Your dog will try to sneak into the couch at different times of day and with different family members, trying to figure out when, if ever, it’s allowed.  Once someone allows the dog on the couch, his behavior has changed.  You might see your dog try harder to get on the couch—jumping up more often, pawing or digging at the couch or barking at someone who is sitting on the couch.  That single invitation to get on the couch can actually reinforce the dog’s efforts and make the strong because it was allowed….just once.  And so, the dog works harder to get on the couch, trying to figure out when it’s OK.

No behavior is right or wrong—it’s all up to you. You can allow your dog on the couch or not.  And other common behaviors can develop due to inconsistencies:  Letting the dog sleep on a bed, allowing the dog to jump up on people when they come into the house—it might be cute and OK when your dog is a puppy but he won’t understand why it’s not OK when he’s a full-grown adult.  Decide on the rules that work for your family and then be consistent with what you decide. Your dog will thank you as he’ll be able to learn the rules more easily.

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