When we study for a test we’ll highlight a book, practice flashcards or write an outline. If we are building some new project we might sketch out plans, make a materials needed list or organize the building process in order of what to start with and what path to take to the finish.
So why, when we go to train our dogs, do most people tend to go in blindly, without a game plan? I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons, one of them being that ‘planning’ is just not as self-gratifying as ‘doing’ to any person trying to teach a dog. However, a little planning ahead can make an enormous difference in your training process, how quickly you achieve your goals and trouble shooting problem areas quickly and efficiently.
There are many different ways to break down a training schedule and practice sessions, but I’d like to share with you one of the hardest concepts for new pet owners to grasp, and that is how your dog handles different types of distractions and how to work your dog up to performing in front of harder distractions. A simple training plan can really help you conquer your training sessions much easier, simply by writing it down in steps and defining more clearly what your objectives must be.
First, we want to define precisely, the skill we will be working on. For example: I want to teach my dog to do the WATCH ME command or I want my dog to SIT on cue.
Next, we want to draw out a chart breaking down the learning process. For this example I’d like to use a great process from Patricia McConnell’s books. We simply break down our learning into EASY, MODERATE, DIFFICULT and REALLY HARD.
In each section, write down a few situations where it meets the description criteria. For instance, if I’m teaching my dog to WATCH ME, it might be EASY to perform it while we are alone in the backyard with no distractions 1st thing in the morning. However, it might be MODERATEly difficult to do it in the kitchen when the kids come home from school, DIFFICULT to do it when another dog is 30 feet away on a walk down the street, and REALLY HARD to perform when you are walking into training class and their best dog friend is 3 feet away from them play bowing!
The idea is to write down as many situations as you can think of to fit into each category and be as specific as possible when defining a situation, such as time of day, weather, distance from a trigger, basically anything that might make your dog’s learning process easier or more difficult.
Pay EXTREMELY close attention to what goes into the MODERATE and DIFFICULT sections. One of the biggest mistakes a lot of owners make is that they tend to teach the dog in the EASY phase of things and then once they think the dog understands what is going on, they jump way to fast to the REALLY HARD phase of things and wonder why they are failing miserably! It is tested that the biggest part of the learning process takes place when you are practicing in those MODERATE and DIFFICULT levels.
Of course, conquer one level, and then when your dog is competent with that, move up to the next level. The plan might take you a little time to write out one day, but putting in the extra effort in the beginning like this will eliminate all those unnecessary failures and streamline your training process so your dog endures less frustration in the training process and your training time is greatly reduced.
As always, have fun training this week and hug your dog’s for putting up with our unrealistic goals some days 😉