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Recently, a person I respect a lot asked me for ONE THING that I would change or do better. For some reason this question was really floating around in my mind in the weeks that follow. Then a trainer told me that I often “skip steps” or “jump ahead” in my training. Now interestingly enough, these two instances were NOT related but in my mind they really got the wheels turning. If I were to train ONE movement or behavior one step at a time then the end behavior will be stronger AND my dog will better understand what is expected.
Hmmmm….Interestingly enough, I thought I was training each step until I really sat down and started dissecting each thing I was currently training Drama to do.
Drama is a very operant dog who is willing to try anything - good thing because I have skipped some steps here and there. After some reflection, I found that if there are five steps to training a behavior, I might do 1, 3, 5 instead of every single step, which creates grey area for my dog that supports a “sloppy” behavior or a behavior that needs to be supported. I get the behavior I want but it is not as polished as I would like it to be.
When I spend the time to train each step independently my dog truly understands what I am asking of him and there is no GREY area. WOW what a concept. I have always considered myself a good “trick and focus” trainer (after all, Drama is a Trick Dog Champion TDCH) but I believe that if I train each behavior or movement with all the steps in mind, it will make me a better trainer and help my dog to understand what I want. It might even take less time and effort to train the behavior even though there are more “steps”. My clients will benefit as well from this knowledge and encouragement to break each exercise down into steps that their dog can easily understand and follow.
Not that I didn’t take steps before but I feel that more steps can be taken to train each exercise in an effort to help the dog understand and engage more muscles in their movement. If I can help each person break down desired behaviors or movements into MORE steps, it will help to slow down the dog, engage the right muscles, encourage balance and coordination as well as encourage better defined body awareness.
This all got me thinking about how my clients “inspire” their dog to do specific behaviors or movements needed for each fitness exercise. I believe that people often reward many things while trying to get an exercise trained especially if luring the dog. If you are constantly feeding your dog, then your dog is not really “learning” – your dog is following the food. That said, even if you are luring, you can reward ONE behavior at a time to help your dog understand the “steps”. It is not necessary to be feeding your dog 100% of the time, and in fact it can be confusing to your dog as well as counter-productive in most situations especially when training canine fitness. I often tell my students to take the food away, reward less often, turn their lure hand backwards and to use a nose touch or nose touch hold instead of a food lure. These things all can work but I feel that if we start looking at “training ONE thing at a time or ONE step at a time”, it will work even better.
With all that said:
I hope this post inspires you to have a plan, break things down into steps for your dog, reward ONE thing at time, identify proper reward timing when chaining two or more trained behaviors together and to put each trained behavior on cue.
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, MTI
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