If the rules change from day to day, the dog becomes confused. He needs to know how to consistently earn reward and avoid punishment or he will give up responding. The good trainer is consistent and always uses the same command for the same behavior. Most dog owners teach the dog that the command “down” means to be in a prone position. Unfortunately, many dog owners use the same command to mean, lie down, remove thyself from the couch or bed, or stop jumping on people. When a command has many different meanings, the word ceases to have an important message.
Give each behavior its own command. The command “off” can be used to mean paws on the floor, and “down” may remain to define the prone position. After you decide on consistent commands, the next step is to be persistent in using them. Dogs are naturally good at persistent behavior, and even better if rewarded for it.
Many a dog owner has given up trying to correct the dog that barks all day or jumps on people. Dog owners drop out of obedience classes all the time because they are worn down by their dogs’ seemingly persistent behaviors, and they give up trying to teach their dogs new behaviors. The key is that the owners gave up, and the dogs learned that persistence pays off. When an owner gives in, the dog’s persistent behavior is strengthened and reinforced. Any determined dog owner can wear the dog down. Therefore, it is extremely important that you be more persistent than the dog about continuing the training process until the dog performs the desired behavior.
The dog must learn that the energy he spends engaging in undesirable behavior is not worth the effort, because you will persist. If you correct him for jumping up the first four times and don’t correct him for the fifth jump up you simply teach him to jump up five times for the payoff. Similarly, if you correct the dog for barking at the moon sometimes and not at other times, you teach him that sometimes barking is acceptable and sometimes it is not. The dog will continue to bark to determine when barking is acceptable and when it is not acceptable.
Consequently, correcting barking sometimes actually encourages even more barking. If you don’t correct the dog for barking in the backyard because you are not at home, he will learn that barking is acceptable when you’re away. If you sneak out of the house so as not to cue him that it is acceptable to bark, he only needs to bark twice with no correction to figure out that you are not at home. A behavior will be extinguished or changed only if you persist in correcting the dog every time he misbehaves.