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Practice Makes Perfect.....Or Problems



When working with our clients, we always stress the importance of practicing between lessons. As we all have heard, practice makes perfect! Unfortunately, this is a two way street. Just like practice helps cement new behaviors that we are introducing, practice can also help cement problem behaviors like jumping, counter surfing, vocalizing, and more. Another way to describe the practice of "good" or "bad" behaviors is rehearsing. Obviously the more an individual rehearses a behavior, the more of a knee-jerk response that behavior will be.


With that being said, the first plan of action when breaking the cycle of rehearsal is to create a management plan that prevents the animal from practicing problem behaviors as much as humanly possible. The reason for this is because if we don't have a management plan in place, then the animal would continue rehearsing the problem behaviors a number of times between training sessions, which hinders our progress. If we're trying to teach an animal an alternative behavioral response in a situation where the problem behavior is second nature, then we may as well be moving upstream without a paddle. Another way to look at it is that we would be taking two steps forward, then three steps back. Essentially, we will be spinning our wheels when it comes to attempting to create long-term, positive behavior changes.


We create long-term, positive behavior change the same way that the problem behaviors were created: We rehearse and reinforce! If an animal is reinforced for a behavior (whether it's deemed "good" or "bad"), it increases the likelihood that the behavior will repeat. We're essentially taking the concept that is currently working against us, turning it on its head, and making it work for us instead.


While sometimes it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees, part of our job is to play the "long game" and to help clients accomplish goals in small, digestible steps so that the journey doesn't seem too overwhelming. Having a solid management plan in place prior to the start of training builds a solid foundation that helps set everyone up for as much success as possible so that we can make streamlined, efficient progress.

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