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Consistency: the Key to Success

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You were recently introduced to my dog, Lexi, a border collie/golden retriever I adopted from the Humane Society. She has the beautiful face of the retriever and the intelligent eyes of the border collie. She is smart, active, funny, and a tad bratty. Lexi and I have nearly completed a year together, and I am amazed at the similarities between working with her and working with children. She easily manipulated me with her sweet face and wonderful sense of humor. She sat on first command without exception. She behaved quietly when a stranger (to her) came into the house. She chewed on rubber toys instead of shoes, happily brought her ball to me, took dog biscuits from me with dainty gentleness, and slept quietly all night at the foot of my bed. The perfect dog, I told my family and friends. "Just wait," they all replied. The first red flag was raised when we met our trainer for the first time. I felt shocked and disappointed when she observed that Lexi was an alpha female, stubborn, used to having her own way. I knew then how parents feel at school conferences when they learn their child is struggling or getting into trouble, and I made a mental note to be kinder, gentler in any future communication I might have with parents. The more comfortable she became in her new home, the more apt she was to do something just a little naughty. "It's all about consistency," our trainer said. "The first time she bites her leash or even looks like she'll bit her leash, you must provide correction." So I'd provide the correction until both of us were spinning like tops. Clearly, I'd missed some part of the technique. And even more frustrating was the near-perfect behavior she exhibited with her trainer! But we kept practicing and I kept correcting and soon things got better. Inconsistency is confusing to Lexi just as it is to kids. We must establish our expectations and practice until we have achieved automatic fulfillment. We must follow through on promises as well as threats. We must provide the tools necessary to complete tasks. We must must clarify what we want. And praise, praise, praise the successes.