The Bank of Behavior

Training a dog, cat, bird, or any animal is an investment. Feeding your dog as soon as they respond to a cue is like dropping a quarter into your behavior piggy bank. Feeding your dog after responding to a cue with added distraction, distance, and duration can be a $100 deposit. Training is an investment of your time and money.

Let’s say you have just started training loose leash walking 5 minutes a day for 4 days a week. You’re practicing inside your home and in your backyard. Your dog can walk next to you for 5 steps with minimal distractions before you reward him. This week’s bank statement shows $20 in your loose leash walking behavior savings account.

Friday rolls around and you remember your neighbor is hosting a dog-friendly happy hour. (In my neighborhood, we call this Yappy Hour.) Everyone brings a dish to share, and their dog. As your store-bought appetizers (that you plan to pass off as homemade) heat up in the oven, you finish getting yourself ready.

The oven timer dings, and you leash up your dog. You truly believe you can carry a piping hot ceramic dish, a bottle of rosé, and walk your dog to your neighbor’s house without incident. Since your hands are full, you will not be able to reinforce your dog’s new loose leash walking behavior. Think $20 in the loose leash walking behavior savings account is enough to make it to your neighbor's house without incident?  It might be if you do not encounter any other dogs, critters, or children on bicycles. But, what are the chances of that?

As soon as you arrive at your neighbor’s house, having only spilled a few of your appetizers, you notice the text message indicating your behavior savings account has been overdrawn. On your walk to happy hour, your dog pulled towards a squirrel, a child riding a bicycle, and scarfed up some of those spilled appetizers. Your dog's loose leash walking behavior wasn't ready for the distractions which broke the bank. Turns out you need thousands of dollars in your behavior savings account before making withdrawals in the form of distractions and duration.

Treats are currency communicators telling your dog, “Yes, give me more of that behavior no matter what is happening.”Don’t let your behavior savings account become overdrawn due to overconfidence. If you have a $20 investment in loose leash walking, don’t make a $200 withdrawal. People who stop investing in behavior too soon often experience behavior bankruptcy. You may lose all of that behavior you had trained by expecting too much too soon.

If you have reached behavior bankruptcy, go back to the last place you were successful and rebuild from there.  Need help reinvesting in behavior? Contact us at