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Time it Takes to Change a Behavior

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new human behavior becomes automatic. 66 days to be exact, according to a study by Gardner and Lally. How long it takes a new habit to form in the first place, can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

So when we are asking our dogs to stop jumping on us or barking at us, remember that it may take some time for them to change just like it would for us. If we are trying to change a behavior when anxiety is involved, that can add another level to the change.

Other things to consider are how long has the behavior been occurring and how motivating is the behavior, from your dog’s perspective. Also, is the behavior being inadvertently rewarded? What we often find is that unwanted behaviors that seem to be resistant to initial attempts at training usually have either an anxiety component or your canine companion is being rewarded from his perspective. 

Once we address the anxiety or remove the reward for the unwanted behavior, that is when we start to see some real progress in the training. We always want to look at the whole of the situation rather than just certain pieces, to better address the true reason for the behavior. Once that is addressed, then we can start changing those pesky, persistent issues.

Benjamin Gardner & Phillippa Lally (2023) Habit and habitual behaviour, Health Psychology Review, 17:3, 490-496, DOI: 10.1080/17437199.2022.2105249

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