I think that once you get into training, it suddenly seems so simple! But sooner or later everyone gets stuck and discovers that given the right skills it is easy, but it is not simple… Follow these three steps to make training more fun and effective for you and for you learner.
1. Optimize your training sessions
Errors are the teacher’s responsibility. The learner is doing the best they can with the information that they have. Crucial to our success is planning and execution of the training session.
When you train, keep the following tips in mind:
- Be patient – both with yourself, and with your dog!
- Train when you have the time, when you can focus and when you feel like it.
- Plan your session: what will your work on? Describe your target behavior, the more details, the better.
- Measure and track your results!
- Choose appropriate reinforcers (for example you can get more repetitions with your work with food, but toy rewards bring more energy into what you’re working on)
- It’s better to get 5 good repetitions, than 10 repetitions which were so-so.
- Take a small break after each 5-10 reps (sniffing, treat search, play etc.). See how fast your dog comes back when you try to re-initiate the session.
- Don’t increase the criteria all the time. For example, when working on stay, work with different intervals: 3, 5, 7, 2, 4, 6… seconds.
- Watch your dog. If they’re avoiding eye contact, go sniffing “for no reason”, if you have to fight for their attention – take a break, analyze the session. Maybe you didn’t plan it right, maybe your dog is sick, feels unwell or just doesn’t feel like training.
- Use a clear cue to end the session (“all done!”). Offer them sniffing, a treat search, play – don’t just suddenly remove access to all reinforcers!
2. Choose the right treats
Owners often hear that they should choose the “right” kind of treats for training. But what makes a treat “right”? That was the topic of an episode Drinking from the toilet, a podcast hosted by dog trainer and obedience competitor Hannah Branigan – Wonderpups.
In a nutshell the right kind of treats:
- are good quality – so that you don’t feel bad when you use a lot of them
- are easy to handle – they don’t stick to your hands, and you can deliver them quickly;
- taste good to your dog – your dog always has the last word. If they don’t like something, keep looking 🙂
Once you chose your treats, don’t forget to plan your training. You will make better progress with 10 treats you deliver with perfect timing, than if you use 30 but give half of them at the right moment.
3. Measure your results
Behavior is not a matter of opinion, it can be objectively measured. Record your results and modify your training as needed. Of course in order to be able to do that, you have to know precisely what you’re teaching.
Depending on your target behavior, you can use diferent measurements. A couple of ideas:
- Draw it: if the dog is supposed to sit in the middle, between your legs, facing up at you, check where his paws are, where is the head, where is the tail.
- Measure the time: how long does it take for your dog to start running after you give your recall cue?
- Rate of success: your dog is retrieving the dumbbell for obedince. How many times did they pick the right one? (Careful: errors are the teacher’s responsibility!)
Measuring data can also help you track progress of behavior modification programs:
- What percentage of time was your dog’s tail tucked in during the walk?
- How many “barking incidents” did you have this week?
- On average, quickly is your dog disengaging from a specific trigger?
- How many times did your dog shake off during the walk?
And don’t forget that training is supposed to be fun!