A white dog with long hair sits and waits for instructions from his owner.

Everyone’s heard that “practice makes perfect,” and the adage holds true for dogs trying to learn or maintain certain behaviors. 

At the same time, consistency is just as important as repetition while training. In fact, repeating the same training exercises inconsistently can serve to confuse your dog and delay their ability to fully understand commands, as well as the expected responses.

Consistency can be hard, of course, but ultimately it’s the best way to build effective communication and trust with your dog. In turn, your dog will provide you with much more consistent responses to commands, redirects, and boundaries since they will better understand the reinforcement they’ve been given.

At Greenlin Pet Resorts, we practice consistent reinforcement in our one-on-one dog training classes, and we urge owners to do the same when at home or out in public. We’ve found that consistency, in particular, yields outstanding results because it allows dogs to connect the dots between their behaviors and getting the desired responses of their owner.

By following the four tips below, you and everyone in the household can get better at practicing consistent training to build a better relationship with your dog.

Get Everyone on the Same Page for Clear Communication

Just like people, dogs will build different types of relationships with different people in the house throughout the course of their routine. For example, a dog may be more inclined to wake up a light sleeper or someone who usually gets up early when they feel impatient about the timing of their morning meal.

While some variation in behavior is to be expected because of everyone’s different roles and routines, members of the household (and others who interact regularly with the dog) should understand that how they respond will have a dramatic effect on how the dog behaves around them. Someone who encourages the dog to jump on them as a greeting or engage in rough play is effectively teaching the dog that these behaviors are sometimes desired and rewarded.

The real problem comes when the dog getting all these mixed signals acts “out of line” in unexpected ways with others in the household. Learning that everyone has different expectations or preferences is challenging for dogs, and they may also feel less inhibited in engaging in behaviors like jumping, using their mouth to play, or begging for food. Suddenly, doing the same thing that earns them fun play or a tasty treat is now triggering an angry lecture.

“In order for a dog to understand what is expected in his daily family interactions, each person he lives with must be on the same page,” writes the American Kennel Club. They also strongly suggest that “everyone should use the same cues and techniques for training.”

Getting everyone on the same page can be difficult, as it puts a level of responsibility on their shoulders that they may not expect. But the truth is that it will make your dog happier and more relaxed while making life easier for everyone in the house, so it’s important to dial in consistency and regularly communicate with everyone about how to treat pets so that the desired behaviors stick.

Establish and Maintain a Routine

Dogs are biologically programmed to operate on a routine. Like their wild counterparts, this routine will normally consistent of some time to patrol their “territory” and satisfy their hunting and foraging instincts. Unlike their wild counterparts, dogs tend to understand that their next meal will come at a regular time. Any disruption in this schedule, though, can lead to feelings of uncertainty.

“Dogs thrive on a routine, in large part because they don’t have to worry about what is — or is not — about to happen next,” explains Jennifer Coates, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based veterinarian.

While some measure of excitement or novelty can be welcome, a lack of routine across-the-board effectively creates the same problem as inconsistent commands or responses. Namely: the dog is receiving something different despite expecting the same thing.

On the other hand, a consistent routine shows the dog that they can rely on certain needs to be met every day, especially if they comply with the expected behaviors as part of their daily schedule.

As canine police trainer Don Slavik notes, “Consistent commands, reinforcement, and correction will help the dog understand what is expected of it and make it easier for the dog to perform its duties.”

Work on incorporating routine meal times, bathroom breaks, exercise, play, and stimulation regularly throughout the week. Owners can even rely on routines to instill certain skills, like sitting patiently for a meal rather than begging, since the reward is more or less already programmed into their day.

Aim for Persistent Reinforcement

Dogs can benefit from having opportunities to retrain their skills on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the act of keeping up with reinforcement can become exhausting for owners, especially if their dog has begun to reliably behave and respond as expected. The lack of reinforcement can begin to generate mixed signals, however, or it can weaken the dog’s ability to recall the perfect response when given a command or instruction.

By the same token, reacting strongly to certain unwanted behaviors only when you are feeling stressed will transmit that stress to your dog — while also hurting their ability to confidently understand and respond to what you want.

“Think about going to work and getting new instructions for the same task every day or getting reprimanded inconsistently,” writes Indiana-based dog trainer Bonnie Krupa. “It would make you frustrated, angry and have little trust in your boss. That is the same way your dog feels when you give them inconsistent messages.”

From this perspective, owners may finally be able to see how inconsistency may not only be confusing but also anxiety-inducing to their dog.

To ensure that you keep communication clear while building upon established trust, take time a few days each week to repeat some exercises that instill reinforcement of some kind. Practice politely entering the home or car, for example, or work on basic commands like sit and stay. Accompany these sessions with praise and possibly some sort of treat, so that it acts like “homework” that offers a tangible positive reward to keep your dog motivated while assuring them that they’re still on the right track.

Aim for Ongoing Development and Learning

One challenge of remaining consistent throughout your routine is that your days and situations may not be consistent! After all, you can’t always predict when your schedule will be disrupted — or when life changes could come out of nowhere.

From unexpected moves to new household members, dogs will be introduced to new situations throughout their life. The best way to handle these unexpected moments is to keep actively training them while adapting that training to suit your current goals or needs.

Use the same core commands or set of steps they’re familiar with to serve as a foundation for expanded learning. The “stay” command, for example, can be used to keep them calm and observant when something exciting or intimidating is introduced to the home. You can then build on new steps or commands on top of these, such as by rewarding the dog for going into a quieter room when young, rambunctious family members come to visit.

Just like adults, dogs can benefit greatly from a lifelong learning approach as they age. Not only does it equip them with the skills they need for the exact moment in which they find themselves, but they also will feel enriched and stimulated through the act of learning something new — all while bonding continually with their owner.

Get Help Enforcing Consistency and Adapting Your Dog’s Behaviors With Greenlin’s Dog Training in Central PA

The truth of owning a dog is that it is a lot to take on on your own! Most of us aren’t animal behavior or dog training experts, and so we may not always know the most effective approach towards accomplishing our goals.

Greenlin Pet Resorts can act as your support team and coach at any stage in your dog’s life. Whether you’re trying to build a foundation of basic skills, fix a challenge that is making everyone in the home stressed, or trying to help your older pet adapt to new life changes, we are always here to help! 

Our certified professional trainers provide you with personalized training plans designed to best fit your dog’s unique motivators while succeeding in your unique goals. A typical class is also one-on-one, so your trainer will have plenty of time to get to know your dog. They can then focus on what seems to be motivating the undesired behaviors, and then using those same motivators to steer the dog towards behaving more in-line with owner expectations.

At the conclusion of each program, you’ll receive hands-on instruction on commands and how to provide consistent reinforcement so that learning can continue in the home setting. Best of all, we encourage the whole family to attend! That way, everyone in the household can see what their proud, precocious pup has learned so that they can join in on keeping training consistent.

Find out more about how we can help your dog learn effectively — and get along better with everyone — when you reach out to one of our six locations in central Pennsylvania to schedule a free evaluation and tour of our facilities.