While I was musing what to write about I was watching my two younger spaniels race around the back garden enjoying the snow. A while ago one of my spaniels, Fraggle, went horribly lame on her back right leg. No one knew how, or exactly why, but while under examination it was discovered that she has luxating patella on both sides. This puts her at greater risk of injury despite it being incredibly mild and basically symptom free – we’d have never known unless we were specifically checking for something wrong once she had gone lame.

For a long time she would be lame after every walk – Fraggle does not believe in doing anything at less than 100% and so she runs flat out as fast as she can pretty much all the time. Eventually it got better and with hydrotherapy she would be fine, except if we’d walked somewhere where she would either have to work harder (like on soft sand) or where she’d be leaping about a bit more (like in dense woodland), then she would often be lame when she first got up after sleep, it would go within a few steps but it was still present. I decided that I’d never be happy with her doing agility ever again unless I got some more help, so we saw a physiotherapist who told me that while it was probably too late to prevent arthritis (that was probably what we were seeing with the intermittent lameness) there was a lot I could do to help her be as strong as possible. Since Fraggle believes agility is the best thing ever I felt I needed to do all I could so that she could enjoy at least a little training if nothing more. So the physio put together a little regime of exercises for us.

Fraggle and Flint running on the beach. Fraggle is the dinky springer.

For the past few months (I can’t quite remember when we saw the physio but it could have been 6 months ago!) we’ve done the short exercises, every single day. Ok we might have missed a day or two here or there, but I’d be willing to bet that we’ve hit 95% at least.  It’s part of our routine after meals. After breakfast and dinner we do our little routine (Flint does it too as a preventative measure), in fact even if I don’t really feel like doing it (some of the exercises involve me leaning over and sometimes my back and neck try to convince me to miss a session) the 2Fs are so into the routine they go and stand on the exercise mat waiting for me to start – I’ve never been able to turn them down yet.

Why am I telling you this story, which nice as it is has no point so far? Well as I was watching my two lovely lunatic spaniels racing around the garden I realised I’m no longer concerned that Fraggle will slip and hurt herself or suddenly become lame after jumping around the garden. Why? because we’ve had no episodes of lameness at all for ages. Why? because we’ve kept up those exercises – It’s about being consistent.

Behaviour change is no different to training muscles. It’s about making small changes consistently over time to bring about change. We talk about conditioning muscles by training in the gym – we even talk about doing repetitions. But it’s no good going to the gym once, you have to go regularly to improve. Well dog training is no different. We are conditioning behaviours with multiple repetitions, and we need to do it consistently.

Changing behaviour is hard work, and training our dogs normally involves some kind of behaviour change in us too, which requires effort. We often know what we need to do but still don’t do it. I think that’s because we aim too high, we aim for the final product rather than allowing ourselves to take small steps towards the final goal. We need to shape our own behaviour as well as that of our dog’s.

So my challenge to you is to think of something you want to change, it could be to do with your dog’s behaviour or it could be something completely unrelated. Myself, I want to drink less coke zero (I’m totally addicted and it’s not good!), but as all of us know just trying to stop something isn’t a good way to go about behaviour change, I need to think of something I can *do* instead of drinking coke. Drinking water would make sense. However drinking water is really not at all in my existing behaviour repertoire, so expecting me to only drink water is completely unrealistic, I’d last a day at most before I gave up.

So instead my first step was to make the first drink of the day a glass of water, and I did that every day. Now I’m at the two glasses a day stage before I’m allowed to start drinking coke. Eventually my plan is to increase the number of glasses one at a time until I’m only having a single glass of coke a day. Maybe then I’ll be ready to say I only drink it at the weekend, I don’t know. Right now it doesn’t matter, I only need to concentrate on doing a small thing, but doing it everyday. It makes behaviour change much easier.

So that’s my challenge to you – what’s your one small every day thing you’re going to do? Let me know what you pick!