Tuesday Training Tip: Take Things in Stages

Owners Have Lofty Dreams…..

Most dog owners I know would love to have the freedom to have their dogs safely off leash but never think that it’s possible.  And for some dog owners, that’s probably true….only it’s not necessarily always the dog’s fault for that!

But Their Actions Speak for Themselves….

On a daily basis, I see owners shoot themselves in the foot with inconsistencies in how they manage their dogs, and that undermines the dog’s learning.  Dogs are always looking for consistent patterns in their world so that they will know how to behave.  Think about all of the habits your dogs have, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Dogs Learn Patterns….


I’ll just bet that on your daily walks your dog knows which houses are the ones likely to have a dog who barks at him, doesn’t he?  When you head home from your walk, doesn’t he know which house is his?  How about when you take him for a drive and go to a consistent park….doesn’t he know where you’re headed?  All of that is because he has learned a pattern through experience and observation.

That’s how dogs learn.  They carefully watch life going on around them, and when they see consistent patterns around them, they learn how to behave to get what they want!  So if we want to be really successful in how we train them, we have to be consistent with the patterns of behavior that we produce in training, so that our dogs can learn and then generalize the command.  I often see dog owners who are moving way ahead of their dogs….before their dogs have generalized what a specific command means.

Think about elementary school for our kids.  The beginning of every single school year starts with weeks and weeks of review of skills our kids learned in the previous year.  Teachers know that they need to review old material before they introduce new things to their students. Year after year, those students start out with the same basic type of review…no matter how old they are.  Teachers know that it takes a lot of repetition before they remember material well enough to apply the basics to the new material.


Dogs aren’t so different, really.  They need lots of repetition with a skill before they can really consistently produce a given behavior no matter what else is going on around them.   I can spend twenty minutes teaching a brand new skill to a dog, start to see consistency from the dog with the repetitions I’m doing, and before I leave the house, his owner is already taking the leash off of the dog, offering no treats to reinforce the behavior I just trained with treats, and expects their dog to produce that given behavior.  Arrrgh!!!!!

Be Sure Your Dog is Ready to Move Forward….

Typically, I don’t move forward into making things more difficult, until a dog is consistently working at about 80-90%.  What that means is that I want to say the command one time only, and see the dog quickly and easily produce the behavior I’m asking from him 8 or 9 times out of 10.  If he struggles, gets distracted, has to think for more than three seconds, etc., he’s not ready to move forward into something more difficult, and that might even be adding simple distractions into the mix.

Take Your Time and Slow it Down….

When I slow things down, and systematically train step by step, gradually making things harder with a given command, dogs just follow right along, and eventually they can reach a very consistent place in how they work.  Shortcuts rarely save time when dogs are concerned.  Remember the tortoise and the hare?  Slow and steady will win the day when it comes to training your dog!




  1. says

    A lot of patience is definitely required when it comes to dog training! I've also learned that you have to be willing to take a couple of steps backwards when necessary, even when you thought you were moving forward!

    • Sally says

      You are absolutely right, however, know this: when you DO take those two steps backwards, and we ALL do that....when you go forward again, it will be three or four steps forward quite often. So don't be discouraged, because that's all part of the process. Patience will help you see things through without losing hope in the process! 😀


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