Training Sequence Makes a Difference

Training Sequence Makes a Difference


I honestly have never given too much thought to the order in which I train behaviors.  I know what behaviors I value, what behaviors are easy to train, what behaviors I’d like as default behaviors, and what behaviors are foundation pieces to things I want to work on in the future.  I just kind of go with the flow and build up behaviors as we go, I really never thought THAT much about it.  But in a training session with Linus yesterday, I had an epiphany of sorts.

Yesterday I introduced “mat work” with Linus and within about seven 30-60 second sessions, I had him going to a mat and laying down on it relatively reliably.  I thought to myself, “How could this be so fast/simple.”  I mean, we were by no means finished with our work but we had a really good foundation.  I could move the mat up to 2ft away from me  and he’d reliably get to the mat and lay down (most often on the first try).  I couldn’t believe I was getting the completed behavior–go to mat and lie down within the first few handfuls of trials.

In thinking about it, former foster dogs Chase and Jethro were both the same way.  They picked up the whole behavior chain very quickly  and were going to a mat and laying down very early on in the mat work  so all I had to work on was adding distance/duration to the behavior.  So I got to thinking, “Why.  Why are they picking up this behavior so quickly when it seems like other dogs take a while to complete the sequence.”  Most dogs I see who start mat work spend much more time just working on going to the mat and making the mat the best place to be–the dogs don’t start offering a sit/down at all.  What about my fosters makes this process seem to go so much more quickly.

After a little bit of thinking, I think one of the biggest reasons that they have been picking this behavior up quickly is of the work we did with “down” just prior.  Down was a highly rewarded behavior for them and was not yet under stimulus control (in that the behavior is only offered when cued) and was barely connected to a hand signal.  For them, down was always an option and was frequently rewarded  (with some it was an effort to teach and reward calmness).

So I think when we started the mat-work game and I started slowing down the clicks, their first option was to ‘down’ since that works frequently.  This got me thinking about improving the efficiency of my training by pairing together behaviors that have similar “roots”–particularly when teaching classes.  What happens if I pair “sit” and “sit for greeting” together–get the dogs rolling with heavily reinforcing sit and then seeing if they offer a sit for greeting.   What would happen if I pair “down” work with “mat work” in our classes.  How about pairing loose leash walking with distractions and “leave it.”  How about hand targeting and recall work.

I haven’t fully thought about it in terms of class structure or curriculum but the ease at which I’ve been able to get the whole behavior chain of mat work with Linus (at short distances and durations) has definitely got me thinking about the benefits to pairing together behaviors that can be used to aid in learning and understanding.

It is also a fantastic reminder that the behaviors we teach our dogs in early training become default behaviors to them later in life.  These are behaviors that will be offered when the dog does not know what else to do.  Having the ‘right’ default behaviors can save a dogs life and make them a lot easier to live with!

Hopefully I’ll have a mat-work video put together in the next few days to share!

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