What do habits have to do with dog behaviour?
Over recent years there has been an increasing interest in the role that habits form in our behaviour and how we can change our bad habits to good.
Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habit’ is one example but many more have been published, alongside books that tell us how to improve our willpower and self-control (e.g. Tierney and Baumeister ‘Willpower’)
Much of our day to day behavour is habitual. We simply wouldn’t have time to get through the day if we made decisions about everything, decision-making is tiring! So we rely on habit to make life easier for ourselves.
Habits are the result of many small decisions made over time. They are built, not created overnight. So the power to break them also lies in the ability to make different small, daily decisions – they are rarely the result of overnight transformation.
While unwanted behaviour in our dogs may often start because of their emotional response to something, quite often it may get practised over and over again so that in the end it becomes habitual.
That is not to say that the original emotion isn’t relevant anymore, but it becomes less so, as the habit ‘eases’ the dog into behaving that way without thinking ‘I’m doing this because I’m scared/frustrated/happy’ etc. They just do it because that is what they always do in that situation.
James Clear, in ‘Transform your habits’ says “The most common mistake that people make is setting their sights on an event, a transformation, an overnight success they want to achieve – rather than focusing on their habits and routines.”
Just so with our dogs – we need to focus on changing those daily habits and routines in order to change their behaviour.
Habit formation and maintenance
Habits follows a pattern, well-known to dog trainers; that of:
Cue – Routine – Reward
When a response to a particular cue becomes routine – a habit has been formed.
Habits make life easier for you and your dog – as long as they are the right habits!