Creating Patterns That Stick

by Andrew Perkins, DWD Instructor

All training is about creating patterns of behaviour that stick. With dogs this is really easy, because they prefer routine to variety, and will work to make things happen the same today as they have always been. Our job in training is just to make it the way we want it enough times in a row that the puppy chooses it later, because it’s the pattern.

It’s valuable to recognize the patterns your puppy might fall into by accident, as much as the ones you train. Think about the patterns you want and don’t want, and make sure you are not accidentally training the wrong ones. For example, do you want her to learn to chew the sofa until you say stop or redirect her, or do you want her to learn that chewing the sofa never seems to start, because when she moves to do it, she is PREVENTED from access? The latter, of course. Do you want her to jump on people until pulled off, or approach on all fours in the first place? The latter of course. That means you have to try to control situations by anticipating what will happen, and providing the preferred pattern instead. In short, take away the option to be wrong, and your puppy will be developing more good habits and fewer bad ones.

That sounds like a lot of work: how can you always be on top of what your puppy is up to – even harder, what your puppy is about to be up to?

Your puppy’s crate is a big part of the answer: You can use confinement as a very simple way to create those patterns. A good crate routine makes the choices so limited that your puppy can’t get it wrong, and she learns to chew an appropriate toy or nap during all the times you have to be doing things that aren’t playing with or caring for your puppy.

As she grows and gets more freedom, she’ll choose to chew her appropriate toy or nap at those times. Meanwhile, make sure you give her adequate time cuddling, playing, training, walking, lying at your feet with a chew toy (leashed so she can’t choose anything else), feeding, latrining and exercising. The rest of the time – no option to be wrong.

You can take away the option to be wrong in her interactions with people too. Greeting someone? Step on her leash and ask them to set her a greeting target at her eye level. Playing together? Employ toys that occupy her mouth to minimize the opportunity to nip and grab. Think of your own ideas for other situations. When puppy is crated for non-interactive time, there aren’t so many, so it’s much easier to be proactive.