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SG Susan Garrett
SG In the big picture of dog training, how important is it to be consistent really? I mean, if you don't want to have behaviors like on the scale that my dogs are, do you really need to be that consistent? That is the
topic of today's podcast. Welcome to Shaped by Dog. I'm Susan Garrett. And today's podcast was
inspired by a letter that we received, and it goes like this.
“Susan will positive reinforcement training work when there isn't much consistency between my
husband and myself? He says that I'm a control freak.” This is similar to the letter that was the topic of
podcast episode number 49, but I am going to bring up some new points. But you might want to check
out that one as well. Back to the letter.
“He says that I'm a control freak because I want the dogs to sit at the door before I let them go out. He
opens the door and just lets them bolt. I basically stopped trying to do any training because it seems
everything I do he undoes. I have three dogs. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thank you.” So, let's
take a look at this thing called consistency and why do we even care if our dog sits at the door. And are
we being kind of control freaks?
We’ve got a lot of questions to unpack here. Let's start by reminding you the two big ways, you know,
there's all kinds of ways, but two big ways of training dogs. And there's training a dog to move away
from something that is punishment, there's training dogs to move towards something that would be
something they like, as in reinforcement.
And there's people who use a mixture of those things and today's podcast is not to debate which is
right or wrong. Anyway, it's what's right or wrong for you and where you are on your journey with dogs
but that's for another discussion. Those of us who are choosing to train our dogs with reinforcement,
wanting them to move towards something. There's really two different divisions here.
So, there's the world of luring, where of course the dogs are going to move towards it, but it's kind of
like putting a carrot in front of a mule, you know, they'll go so far and then they're like, “Okay, I'm done”.
Or the dog might say, “I'm over that”. Or they'll go “Hmm. That meatball's good. But man, oh man, that
deer looks like a lot more fun. So, I'm going to chase it.” So, there's some limitations with when your
training is lure based, but it doesn't evolve into what we do, we actually don't use lures here much or at
all. And that is, we're shaping behavior.
And I told you all of that to get to this one line. When you're shaping behavior, you're creating a transfer
of value. So, the reinforcement value of the food, the toy, chasing somebody or something, that
reinforcement value gets transferred into you. And that's why we're doing all these things.
So, let's unpack now the scenario of, well, what if your husband's doing one thing and you're doing
something else? I'm going to give you two examples. First of all, a friend of mine who she trains her
dog very much the way we subscribe, and she has her dog sit at the door and her dog isn't you know,
allowed to beg at the table, etc. Her husband has completely different rules. The sit at the door is a
sometimes thing. If he feels like it or if the dog bolts out the door he might say, “Hey, Hey, come on
Most of the time it's just “let's go outside”. And they all go out together. They retrieve in the backyard,
but if a dog doesn't bring it back that's okay. He was out doing yard work anyway. And while he eats his
meal, the dog always gets some from the plate. So, guess what? The dog always begs from him.
And so, there are two different sets of rules. Does that mean that because he isn't creating any rules or
following up on the rules you'd like to see enforce, that means that my friend’s, let's call her Kim. My
friend Kim has no hope of training her dog. Oh, nay nay. Think about this, if you have a dog in a
fenced-in backyard and on the outside of the fence, is this massive, like Shangri-La for dogs, right?
There's people handing out treats all over, there's dogs playing fetch, there's dogs chasing dogs,
there's agility. There's everything you want outside that fence.
Now the dogs inside this wooden fence and they just were kind of like, you know, trying to look through
the cracks of the fence and notice, “Hey, this board's open. Hey, I just pushed through it and I'm free.”
Well guess what? The next day they're going to go out in the backyard and how long will it take for
them to go over and start pushing the boards beside the one that got them out until they figure out
which one got them out. And then “I'm free! Back to Shangri-La!
Now after days and days and days of this, do you think your dog will ever go over to the boards over
here that never ever let them out and start pushing on them? They won't, will they? Because dogs
understand how to earn reinforcement. And so, if your husband is a gaping hole in the fence, your dog
knows to expect that. But that doesn't mean your dog's going to expect the same with you. Because
you have never been that gaping hole in the fence. You have always held firm to ‘in order to get this,
you have to do that. And so, it is never a waste of your time.
Now let's talk about the consistency within what you do. What if “Ah Susan, some days I'm in a hurry.
Like I'm dressed for work and my dog doesn't sit. I got to let him out. Is it, like just once in a while, that's
alright, right?” My mentor, the iconic Bob Bailey, he has this rule of thumb that if 10% of the time you
make an error in your training, it's not going to affect the overhaul behavior if 90% of the time it's really
good. But here's where people make a mistake.
They say, “Well 90% of the time my dog is doing the sit and I'm opening the door and they're going out.
But you know what I was really in a hurry, and I let them out because I was ready, I had to go to work.
And then I was late for work, and I just had to get them out. And then I came home from work, but I had
to go out to a meeting, so I just had to let them out.”
And so, what's going to happen is your dog, they're going to recognize the gaping hole in the fence.
They're going to recognize, “Well, when she's all dressed like this and a little bit agitated with different
energy, it's pretty close to 100% of that time we don't have to sit. “That fence is broken babe, we're
going!” So do you see that? That 10% is 10% of that situation. So, people in dog agility they say, “Oh,
my dog never breaks a start line at home, but in the ring yeah, he doesn't hold it but that's, like less
than 10% of the total. We do a lot of stays at home.”
Again, it's a hundred percent of the time in the ring. So even if it was like 50% of the time in the ring,
your dog's still going to be pushing that fence board to see if, “Hey, we're trial time. Probably don't have
to stay at this one. Let's give it a go.” And so that's how criteria works. And I want to share with you
how you can possibly get your husband on board because we have to consider what is your husband's
perception is his reality.
He is seeing a control freak. You are making the dog do something because you want to show that you
have more power over that dog. But what if we could show him a different picture in that it isn't about
the sit, it's actually about the release. We need the dog to understand ‘you do this, then you get that’. I
want to share how important transfer value is because my late husband who loved the dogs dearly, he
was much like my friend that I called Kim.
My late husband really didn't have many rules that he upheld. And here's the interesting thought, he fed
the dogs almost exclusively. I almost never fed the dogs. So, they got manna from heaven twice a day,
no rules. I mean, all they knew was to be in their crates because I established that rule. But you know,
he didn't have to enforce it they just did that. He delivered, you know, your breakfast. You don't have to
do anything. He didn't care if your feet were in, were out, you were nearby, you're in somebody else's
crate, you were standing kind of close, you got twice a day, you got these amazing meals.
So, all this reinforcement cookies for nothing. The other thing that I would share with you about John is
he also gave them bedtime cookies. And when they wanted to go outside, they never had to sit. Rarely,
rarely did they have to sit. And if they sat kind of crouched, if they kind of near the ground, that's fine.
“Just— okay, go on. Break. You can go. You can get out there.” And so, from the outside you go, okay
Susan control freak you make sure that you don't feed the dogs unless they're in their crate. You have
these rules to live by. And if you remember from episode 117, which was my last episode, I spoke
about how all of these lifetime guidelines of transferring value with my release word helped create
value for me.
And so, my dogs on an annual basis had about 6,400 times they heard the word “break” from me that
helped build value. Because what happens after the word “break”? You get to do something you love.
Go outside, leave the crate, and play tug with me. Every time you hear the word break, you're getting
reinforced by what happens after.
So, those are two different scenarios. With my late husband John, no rules. Really the only rules ‘don't
go on his coach’, that annoyed him, but basically no rules. And the vast majority of the food rewards
ever given to those dogs were given by John for no reason. Now, if John was out in the yard and a car
should happen to come up and my dogs would go, “Oh, company!” and they go running over and he'd
call them, they rarely would come back.
If he was in the kitchen and asked them to sit, they were likely to sit because there's a possibility that
he might feed them. My dogs really didn't listen to John that well, because there was never the transfer
of value. Because all of the reinforcement had zero contingencies to it. I get what I want when I want.
Imagine if you had somebody who worked for you that you paid them from working from nine to five
and they showed up at 11 sometimes and they left at two and they sometimes just had a little nap in
their office instead of actually working but they still got the same paycheck every time. Eventually you
would find they do less and less and less because they still have the same paycheck every time.
And so that's what happens when your rules are sloppy or non-existent. So, what we can share with
your husband is not about you being a control freak. It's about you really wanting to be that person that
trains the dog in a way that they're moving towards. Because if we don't get that transfer of value, if we
don't get our dogs seeing value in us, then the only thing that my late husband John could have done if
he needed to stop my dogs from doing something would be to yell at them. To apply punishment which
he wouldn't do. He just didn't care.
And so, you've got those two choices. Do you want a dog who moves away because you've punished
him? “Don't do that. You get off! No! Ah-ah! Stop it.” So, then you have a dog who is a little more
cautious of you who learns ‘she doesn't like me on the couch when she knows I'm on the couch so I
just have to learn what the times when she might know I'm on the couch, all those other times I'm not
on the couch’ versus teaching a dog to not want to get on the coach. Right? One is the dog does
something, we're living in do-land, the other they're moving away.
And so, have that conversation with your husband. And then you can say, “Hey, I'm okay if you don't
want that transfer of value. If you just want to hang out with the dogs without rules. But I’d like to give it
a go. I’d like to try what this Susan Garrett person is talking about and try to see if I can start building a
contingency of ‘when you sit at the door, you get to go outside for a car ride’.”
“‘If you sit before I take your leash off you then get permission to go for a swim in the pond’. I like to
start to get some of those 6,400 repetitions in a year that Susan gets that is a transfer of value. Even if
that doesn't make a difference in my overall dog training. Would you be supportive of me doing that?”
“You don't have to do it yourself because Susan's shared with me you can be the gaping hole in the
fence, but I'd like to be that strong board that my dog can rely on. That's going to be there consistently
applying the same contingencies.” See what your husband says and let us know how it goes for you.
I'll see you next time right here on Shaped by Dog.