What are habits? Habits are repetitive, automatic, and learned responses that are part of our behavioral repertoire. Habits can be a natural response or learned response to a particular situation. A habit is just a pattern of behavior which tends to happen unconsciously and repeated daily.
The reward pathway, an area of the brain responsible for coordinating external stimuli such as sight, touch, sound, and taste, receives strong stimulation when a person is performing a desired behavior. The brain’s pleasure center triggers the’reward’ circuitry, providing a feeling of euphoria. When performing a habit, the brain will send a neurotransmitter message to the reward center with a ‘wanted’ or ‘needed’ stimulus. If the habit requires you to pay attention, the reward center will provide the’reward’ without the need for the person to do anything.
To start training a dog to sit, demonstrate your routine with a simple command like “Sit.” With your index finger, hold a treat in your hand, say “sit” and gesture with your fist to where you want your dog to sit, say “good sit.” If the dog does as he should, repeat the command and reward him with the treat.
A good example of a habit that is easy to teach is washing up. To teach this, just practice the ritual each day to begin with just one item. As the dog gets used to the routine, vary the items but keep the main item the same. It could be as simple as washing your hands or as complex as cleaning out the refrigerator or washing your car. When you notice that the dog has stopped trying to do the chore on his own, give him the reward of a cup of his preferred beverage. Repeat the exercise for a week and then move on to washing her other items in the bathroom.
Another habit is brushing. Dogs naturally groom themselves, it’s a natural behavior. You can either teach your dog how to brush by yourself, which can be very time consuming and difficult, or you can purchase a brush specifically designed for dogs. Either way, you’ll want to start off with small, manageable commands and increase the commands as your dog grows. The next step in this sequence is to spend 15 minutes brushing and praising the behavior every day until he starts to look forward to his grooming sessions.
The final habit we’re going to discuss is discomfort. The discomfort response is an automatic response to pain or injury. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that may prompt the release of chemicals in the brain that release endorphins, which are responsible for making us feel better. As you begin to incorporate more activities into your routine, it will become more comfortable for your dog to experience the discomfort response. Eventually, the dog will lie down next to you without an effort, as long as you put him in his dog crate when you have him in the living room. Eventually, as your dog becomes more familiar with the routine, he’ll lie down with you on command when you’re in the bed and then when you’re out sitting and watching TV.