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  • Writer's pictureSandra @ACB

It's Simple - Behavior Modification Takes Time

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

When we look at learned behaviors (vs wiring problems), change takes time. I’ve posted before about how eliminating undesirable options truly allows you to rear a well mannered dog.

Sometimes, however, we do make mistakes. Or we adopt a dog whose bad habits have already established. Sometimes, green owners mean well but make mistakes because they don’t know. Sometimes, very unfortunate accidents happen wherein dogs get surprise-attacked by a dog or greeted very unpredictably by a person, thus scaring or startling them.

When we modify behaviors to improve the dog, there is no magic overnight formula to improvement, or ideally, resolution. It takes many perfect repetitions to counter-affect those few negative repetitions resulting in bad habits. When I talk about perfect repetitions, I refer to a highly controlled scenario without any chance encounters of anything not part of your setup, especially in the beginning. If other people and/or dogs or objects are involved, clear communication between participants is crucial for perfect setup.

Progression happens in different controlled setups, different locations, less help, more challenges etc until the “real” scenario can be faced reliably. It takes time and discipline to do this.

Owners can’t expect to tolerate/allow their small dog to pee in the house for 18 months and then have 4 days of in kennel training fix this, or have 5 days of crating at home resolve this. The less established a bad behavior is, the less time it takes to modify it, ie catch it as soon as you can, block it and work with someone who can help you modify it. Even if significant improvements are made early on - as is expected - the improvements are not yet cemented and various reasonable progression steps need to be addressed still. Reasonable expectations are as important as controlled setups. After making good progress with dog reactivity in a PetCo parking lot, we can’t assume we can cut our dog lose in the local dog park just yet.

Identify what you want to work on (what’s the real problem), and work on a step by step improvement plan with many repetitions to modify negative habitual behaviors. While there is no magic number how long modification takes, it is with certainty that it can’t happen within a 1-2 week period. It just doesn’t. Be reasonable with your progression steps and be willing to increase challenges as well.

Happy training, have fun!

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