Are Automatic Behaviors Really “Better”?

autositI have run across some trainers in my time, that feel “good” trainers/handlers should teach their dogs automatic behaviors, because “effective training shouldn’t need reminding”. I don’t entirely disagree, and in general, I like the idea of automatic behaviors – that is, your dog sitting automatically when you stop or sitting and waiting to pass through a doorway (versus being asked to sit and wait) – the environment/situation is the cue for the dog.
But, is it a good idea for the everyday dog handler to let the environment/situation take responsibility for guiding your dog? I’m not so sure. I think most professional trainers and handlers can handle that habitual routine, but I have found the majority of my students (that is, your everyday dog owners) benefit from asking the dog to sit each time– it reminds human that there is a behavior their dog needs to perform and they need to be ready to enforce it. It helps them, as handlers, remain more consistent.

For example, the door routine: We pass through loads of thresholds every day, most of them we don’t even think about. I have watched many a student teach their dog’s spectacular door routines, to be performed automatically. They look great for a while, until the student begins to forget about it, and passes through doorways without giving their dog the time to perform it. On the contrary, students who I have had avoid teaching an automatic door routine, and consciously take the time to ask their dog to sit and wait at every doorway, consistently perform better door routines OVER TIME. Why? Because the human has to consciously remember to perform the door routine, which makes them a more consistent handler over all.

So that being said, is it really such a bad idea to just ask your dog to sit and wait? Some trainers think you haven’t really trained your dog if you have to ask every time – like it’s some sort of a badge of pride – “Good trainers shouldn’t have to ask their dog every time.” And this might be the case in the Obedience Ring, but honestly, even if you have habit of asking every time, your dog knows the drill and would likely perform it automatically anyways if you forgot – the command is really for the human.

Posted in Training Tips