In this post, I want to ask you to do something. You don’t need to do it right now, especially if you’re at school or in your office or at another public place. (In fact, if that’s the case, please save this task for later!) The next time you’re getting dressed, put your pants on the other way: if you’re used to putting in your left leg first, then try to put in your right leg and then your left.
I can guarantee that it will feel weird. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about this tells me that they always put their pants on the same way every day. It’s either left leg or right leg first. When you do that day after day—sometimes more than once each day—then every year, you put on your pants thousands of times. It might be shorts, pants, or a fun little G-string, but you put them on the same way. That’s just how you always do it. You’re probably thinking: “This guy really likes thinking about pants, but I came here for dog training tips!” Well, here’s how this relates to your dog.
Oftentimes, when I’m halfway through a client’s training program, they ask me “How long do I have to do this?” Our process is essentially based on giving the command, evaluating the dog’s response, and rewarding or correcting depending how the dog is doing. Everyone uses a system, and everyone wonders at some point how long they’ll need to keep at it. Sometimes this question is purely educational, because people just want to make sure they’re doing things right. At other times it’s asked in frustration. Either way, it’s a valid and important question.
So what’s the answer? Well, think about how long it takes for you to get totally accustomed to putting on your pants one way. That takes hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions. It’s all muscle memory. A time will come in for dog training, if you’re doing things well and consistently and using a good system, that everything you’ve taught will be natural for your dog. Coming when called or sitting when told, will just begin to feel correct for them. It will feel just as odd for your dog not to obey as it would be for you to put your pants on backwards! It will just feel “off.” The only thing that will reliably get you to that point is repetition. It’s absolutely necessary.
We run a lot of bootcamps, in which dogs come and stay with us for training. Many owners expect their dog to return sort of like a robot, who’s perfect every time. I always try to be clear and tell them that, while their dog will come home excellently trained, he will still need repetitions for months in order for that obedience to become second nature. There’s no such thing as gaming the system.” You can’t leave out those repetitions and still expect your dog to perform on the level you ask them to. One way or the other, you just have to put in that effort.
Put on your pants the other way, and I think you’ll understand.