A while back I posted 5 tips to help you train more effectively– 5 Ways To Train Like a Pro. I talked about timing, rate of reinforcement, quiet hands, not repeating cues, and precision placement of rewards. These are definitely things I’m regularly mentioning to my students to help them improve their mechanics.
Let’s take a look at 5 more tips to help you improve the effectiveness of your training. Like many things in life, the more effective you train the better results you will see. It’s totally possible to have an ineffective method and not see many results at all. So, let’s look at those tips.
Control The Resources
One of the things I do that really does help me as a trainer is to control my dog’s resources. When I can control the resources, I’m able to use those resources as reinforcement for my dogs which aids in weaning dogs from needing treats to respond. When I work on Loose Leash Walking work with a green dog, I always use getting to “go sniff” as a reward for a nice LLW after a set distance. I like using that as a reward because it’s something that I will always have available to use as a reward. Learn to use all the resources you can control to your advantage with your dog and you will be a step ahead!
Know what your dog LOVES
One of the things I think that trainers regularly take into account that novice handlers don’t take into account is to think about the level of reward you are using in a given situation. I am always using many different levels of rewards for my dogs during the day. If we are working at home I may use a toy, a game, or some kibble…when we go outside to walk I may use rolled dog food, string cheese, commercial training treats. I know what my dogs like, what they love, and what they LIVE FOR and I choose appropriate levels of reward for a given situation.
Short and Sweet Training
This is something I struggle with extensively. I’m a “it’s going so well, let’s just do one more… oh that was great, how about one more” girl who really struggles to keep training short. But I also suffer consequences if I push things for too long. My dogs get tired, I risk trying to lump behavior together (more on this in a moment), they can get frustrated, or I can get frustrated and it just pushes our progress back. Keeping sessions short provides a lot of down time for dogs to process what they worked on–I think about going to a 8hr conference with no substantial breaks, do you think you are learning as effectively during those 8hrs (could you pass a test covering all the material taught)? It also keeps it fun for the dogs because it never gets tedious–lets think back to the 8hr conference, I know I would much prefer four 2-hour conferences spread out over time because it would be much more enjoyable to sit an listen for 2 hrs than it would for 8. Short sessions allow things to stay fresh in the dog’s mind–chances are at the end of that 8hr conference I remember the first topic and the last topic but the stuff in the middle is likely a jumbled mess (which is why I take notes to process later). I have no substantial proof, but I think that when we keep sessions short and we control training sessions like we would a resource, we make them more valuable we turn training itself into a rewarding act for the dog.
Keep a Training Log
Now, I don’t keep a detailed written training log of my dogs as a whole but I do know what we worked on how much we worked on, what level we had progressed to, etc. I keep track of where we were with a behavior so I can start back at the place we left off and not repeat lots of steps or skip them–so the time I work them is an effective use of time, always moving forward toward a goal. I did, however, keep a written training journal of my behavior modification work with Shayne. I kept track of triggers, of distances, of successes (and a description of those), and failures (and description of those) by writing detailed entries into the journal. I could really quantify her progress by tracking the improvements on her distances to triggers without a reaction, to how many exposures to triggers that didn’t lead to reactions etc. It allowed me to plan a really methodical approach to dealing with her reactivity but I’ve also used it occasionally when working on specific behaviors that we struggled with so I could see the progress, even if it was small.
Be a Splitter Not a Lumper
I mention this a lot in class that we need to focus on one piece of criteria at a time with a behavior. When I’m working on It’s Yer Choice, to start, the ONLY criteria I’m looking for is not going for the food. It can be anything but that to start. If a dog backs up and barks at the beginning, I’ll still reward that. It’s easy enough to change my criteria after the dog gets the basic idea that I can soon add not barking to the criteria but to start, I want my dog to succeed and having only ONE piece of criteria to start is how to shape that. If I’m working on teaching SIT to a green dog, I don’t lump together speed, positioning (in relationship to the handler), and bottom-on-floor. I work on one piece of the puzzle–just bottom on floor before I start focusing on another piece of criteria. If you are struggling with some aspect of your training, instead of fighting the issue, break it down into smaller components and work from those to start, it frequently solves the problem!