A while ago I met up with someone who had already done quite a bit of training with their puppy. This pup knew all the things! Sit, down, stay, come, place… pretty much all of the basics.

The problem was that this puppy was always “on”. She was constantly in a state of paused animation, just waiting for the next cue. She had no idea how to self-regulate or how to apply any of the behaviors she had learned.

I’ve seen this happen with parents and their children, the average pet owner and their pets, teachers and their students, and animal trainers alike. We humans are not the most patient bunch and we just love to micromanage.

When we teach animals different behaviors, that’s all they are. Behaviors. What we need to teach our animals (and children!) are skills. How to use those behaviors in context.

We all would have had a much more enjoyable time if the puppy in question could have found “place” on her own at the appropriate moment and was able to “down” and relax while her person and I chatted. Instead, our attempts at conversation were interrupted every few seconds with the puppy’s person cuing her to do something every time she moved.

It’s not enough to just teach your puppy to sit if you always have to tell them to sit. Your puppy should also be learning in what contexts they should sit, and they should be given the opportunity to try out the behavior on their own so that they can learn in what situations sit works and in what situations it doesn’t; when they should offer sit and when they should offer something else.

When an animal learns how to apply a behavior in a specific context on their own, instead of always being told exactly what to do, the behaviors tend to be stronger and more reliable. In my experience, offered behavior that is reinforced is much more likely to be utilized by the animal in various contexts than behaviors that are always cued.