Setting up for successful dog training
How do we achieve successful dog training sessions?
There are several aspects that all need to be taken into account when setting ourselves, our dogs and our training when considering how to achieve dog training success. With practice it becomes more natural and automatic but where and how do we begin?
Understanding the elements to achieve success
Break down the whole training picture down into separate elements. What would we have? There would be the environment and everything that is in it. Then there would be our dog and their current ability/level, also our level of experience of this particular behaviour. There would also be how we choose to plan the mini goals in our training. Each of these plays their part on how successful our training is likely to be. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.
What makes an excellent training environment? How to achieve dog training success? Of cause the answer to this question will always be – It depends!
If we are starting a new behaviour, then somewhere quiet with very few distractions would be great. Perhaps the front room or hallway when no one else is home. Allows our dog to focus on what we are doing more efficiently and build the behaviour.
Once we have it trained in our front room, we could then move our training into our garden. We are adding the smells and sounds of being outdoors but still have good control over other dogs and people (hopefully!). As we have moved to a new environmental setting, we would go back and go through the mini goals again to help to generalise the behaviour into the new context.
After the garden, we could go through the following environments:- a large carpark when it’s quiet, park when it’s quiet, park when a few people are in the distance, park when it is busier, park when it is bustling.
How many different changes we go through would be decided by our dog's ability and the behaviour we are training. Remember be fluid in training and avoid frustration and boredom at both ends of the lead.
Understanding our dog’s current level for a successful training session
Understanding our dog’s current level or ability is paramount to a successful training plan. Too complicated and they are likely to fail, become frustrated and lose motivation. To easy and they could also become frustrated and lose motivation. I have seen it quite often when visiting clients after several repetitions were the owner is holding the dog’s progression back.
The dog stops working and goes off to find something that is stimulating or starts showing distraction behaviours such as jumping up or barking. All of which are often good signs that frustration in our learner is growing, and it’s time to revisit and adjust the training plan.
Having clear mini goals or approximations of the primary training goal is excellent. It gives us clear progression steps and allows us to judge when to push, when to stick at the current level and when to drop back. However, don’t fall into the trap of sticking for too long. Again, frustration and drop in motivation can occur. If you are at a level unable to progress to the next step, because when you do your dogs doesn’t succeed, look at the training plan, is there another smaller step that can be trained between these two mini goals? Can we drop the level of the Three D’s and gain progression? If not, drop back to a lower level and then step back up again. Remember to take regular breaks too!
The Training Plan - Foundations for Dog Training
So I have used the “training plan” term quite a lot. For most of us, it does not need to be a dynamic and scientific break down of every slight detail that occurred or didn’t occur during each specific session!
It is, however, good practice to have a basic outline of the What’s and How’s. Otherwise how we will know when to make changes to create success if we have no plan to adjust? I do like the saying:
"Training without a plan – Is just a wish!" (I owe you, 50p Rob)
Because in reality that is what we would be doing, wishing our dog to be able to perform certain behaviours at certain times in certain environments. If we don’t teach our dogs which behaviours are for which times in which environments, how can we expect them to use them?
We have brought them into our human world, to live with our society and family rules. Therefore, I believe it is our responsibility to empower them to make good choices by teaching them what is and what is not appropriate and when.
How do we create a training plan for successful training with our dogs?
Firstly, we look at what the end behaviour looks like and then decide achievable mini-goals towards the end behaviour. Once we have our mini-goals, we then determine what environment would be best to start this particular behaviour in for our dog’s current level of trainability. We then need to decide which reward equals the best payment for the first mini-goal and get training.
That’s it a simple training plan that we can use to set our dog up for success. We have the environment chosen, reinforcer/reward organised and our stages of training to work through. Let’s get training and adjust as we need to along the way.
Have fun with your training.