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  • Writer's pictureTaryn Blyth

All habits are hard to break! A quick argument for better management:

For over 10 years we have been hanging our bathroom towels on the pipes sticking out of the geyser - simply because we had no towel hooks to hang them on (DIY projects not generally being big on the agenda for either my husband or myself 😌), then finally a couple of months ago, in an inspired moment, my husband put up towel hooks just outside the shower. Fabulous!! Now if only I could remember to use them!

Despite the fact that they are right there in front of me, I cannot count the number of times that I still hang my towel on the geyser. It's a habit formed out of more than a decade of daily rehearsal of a specific behaviour. There is a strong pathway in my brain for performing this behaviour and it's slow-going building a new one that will hopefully eventually become stronger than the old one, the more I rehearse the new behaviour.

The parallel to training dogs is very clear to me. When we put our dogs in situations where they rehearse a particular behaviour, that behaviour will grow stronger and become a habit that is hard to break. If we leave our puppies unsupervised in the home to find places in the house to relieve themselves, this is what they will learn to do. If we leave them to find their own household items to gnaw on, this is the habit that will form. If we allow our adolescent dogs to confront "spooky" situations on their own, running and barking at people or dogs, this is the behaviour they will learn to do in that situation. If we allow our teenage dogs to be bullied or harassed by other dogs until they "stand up for themselves", defensive behaviour with other dogs is what they will learn.

By the same mechanism, if we do arrange for our pups to be in the right place at the right time when they need to go to the loo, going outdoors will become the normal habit. If we do provide them with appropriate stuffed chew toys and manage access to household items, chewing their own stuff will become the habit. If we are careful to keep our adolescent dogs at a comfortable distance from things they're anxious around and we create positive associations in passing those things at a safe distance, calm behaviour is the behaviour that will become a habit in those scenarios. If we intervene and call our dogs out of situations where they may be intimidated by another dog and we reward them for coming away, walking away WILL become the habit in that situation.

Good habits are as equally hard to break as bad habits. Any behaviour that has been rehearsed enough times in any situation will become a habit - whether it is behaviour you like or you don't like. It is up to YOU to manage your dog so they are set up for good choices and healthy behaviours. No one else can do this for you. Don't leave things to chance - always ask yourself what your dog is learning in any situation and if it's not something appropriate, work out how you can change the environment and use reinforcement to encourage something better. ☺


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