Well you have decided to train your dog. You have identified a quite area with no distractions and it is just you and the dog. What do you do next?
Training sessions should be short and frequent.
1. The amount of focus and/or attention you can maintain.. this increases with time and age
2. Better to have more sessions… little bursts of fun and total engagement then to become frustrated or not really have your head in the game. Always set the team up for success. Small victories are far more important then putting in a set amount of time.
Looking at the rules above you have to be able to have your dogs attention.
I have had a lot of people who have a hard time with this one. You have to realize that this is the most important rule of training. You both have to have your head in the game. If I am in a quite distraction free location and can not maintain my dog’s attention we have no hope of navigating obstacles out in the real world. Believe it or not the opposite is very true. If your dog can not maintain your attention this relationship is not going very far. This is most important in the beginning. Motley says that the amount of attention you give your dog will determine if they trust and respect you or not. He is not just referring to the petting kind of attention. Attention allocation is like any other skill you can practice and learn to increase your ability to maintain focus. This improves with age because you are calmer and more mature in most cases 🙂
So, the first sessions have nothing to do with learning … sit.. stay.. get me a beer… or whatever you want to teach your dog. A dog trainer that I respect, Mike Ritland just wonders around with a pouch of treats, marking and rewarding his dogs for doing anything he might want them to do in the future. I have to admit that there is true Genius in the simplicity of this exercise. However, the core of the exercise is to have the dogs complete and undivided attention. Your job is have complete and undivided attention as well.
Now the next part of this is all on you. Your first mission was to learn how to keep your dog’s attention. The other skills you have to master are:
- How to clearly and consistently communicate to your dog what you want and maybe more importantly, when they have done what you want. Often called Marking.
- You have to earn your dogs respect and trust.
- You have to put in the time to assure you and your dog truly learn the skills you are attempting. (repetitions, episodes and/or scenarios depending on your program.)
Now assuming you have your assignment down cold, we are ready to learn new skills as a team.
What do I look for in my teammate during a session?
Good question 🙂
The best answer is to remember a time you had to learn something new and difficult. You likely went through what I will call “Stages of learning”.
- Confusion awkward attempts to understand. – Think of someone telling their dog to sit and pushing down on the butt. (not recommended)
- Understanding begins – associations begin to form but are weak. – Think of dog that sits when the command was down. Sits in the house but not in the yard.
- Understand the concept under stress free conditions – dog sits on command unless your are around a lot of noise, dogs, cars and/or people. – Think of a dog that runs up to another dog, you don’t want this so you call them .. they look back … and choose to continue hitting on Fi Fi the French poodle.
- Consolidation into other learned concepts, can perform under most conditions – I call this the 80% rule. 80 to 90% of the time you give your dog a command and instantly they comply. However, on occasion they will do something like, you say heel without thought they start to heel but, then the light pops on, they look at you like ….what am I doing and then choose to misbehave. Motely is the master of this. I do spoil my little boy.
- Mastery of the skill. Consolidated into implicit/explicit long term memory – often a reaction without conscious thought. You have mastered the skill when the dog commits to the command without thought … then realizes what they are doing and chooses to comply.
When I train a dog I look at all five of these stages before I introduce a more challenging environment. Once I feel we have made it through with no distractions I begin to introduce two variables under three conditions.
- No distract .. no distance … no distraction increasing distance
- Minimal distraction .. no distance …minimal distraction … increasing distance
- Major distraction… no distance Major distraction … increasing distance
Each variable should be added and mastered separately and then combined. If your team fails at any point you fall back a step.
Even if you don’t get it, I hope this impresses on you that having a dog that will perform under any circumstances takes time, effort and skill. If you rush or try short cuts you are really just.
- Making it more difficult and time consuming to re-learn things the correct way.
- You are likely undermining the foundation of your relationship with your dog.
Remember Motley and I use episodic, elaboration and scenario training (2013) but, this is also a good model for repetition training. Motley and I are proud to announce that we have stolen the basic principles of Mr. Ritland’s Bonding and Engagement exercises and created our non-guided episodic/scenario and guided episodic/scenario technique.
Till next time…
Motley and Jeau