Brevity is the soul of wit. Back in the days
when I started out working with dogs, I met a lot of people
who spent their entire Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the
dog cub going from one routine to the next. You could always
tell by the look of their dog how long they had already been
there: There was no real heeling. Instead, their dogs trailed
behind them with their heads down, only speeding up after
getting one of the frequently applied "motivational" jerks
on the leash.
Not a nice picture. So how often should you
train with your dog? Follow the principle that less is more.
At least initially, don't train more than a few minutes at
a time, do only focus on a single behavior and make sure that
you always finish your training session on a high-note. We
want our dogs to be excited when the next session starts.
Repeat your training sessions several times per day, but always
make sure that your dog is fully motivated. Don't train if
your dog seems tired or distracted and don't even think about
training if your emotional state is anything other than friendly,
calm and well balanced. Over time, you can increase your training
sessions, but always make sure that your dog does not get
tired or disinterested before you finish.
The how question. There are seven easy steps
for teaching your dog a new behavior:
Step 1: Entice your dog to get to a new behavior by
either capturing, shaping, luring (or even modeling or molding).
Don't use a verbal command quite yet - we don't want our dog
to make an incorrect connection with this command.
Step 2: Mark the right behavior at the moment it is
displayed. Your marker should come instantaneously with the
desired behavior, but in no even later than 1-2 seconds thereafter
or your dog might not make the connection.
Step 3: Reward your dog for the correct behavior.
Always keep in mind that the marker does not trigger or reward
the behavior, it merely is a confirmation that our dog is
about to get a reward from us.
Step 4: Repeat the behavior. Once your dog displays
the new behavior with ~80% reliability, we can start to combine
a verbal command or clue with the behavior.
Step 5: Use the verbal command to elicit the newly
learned behavior. If you have used any physical signs to get
to the new behavior (such as moving your hands to the ground
to get to a down), continue to use such signs with the new
verbal command another 10-15 times.
Step 6: Take a break. One of the biggest mistakes
(that even some professional dog trainers make) is to "over-train".
We have just accomplished something great and our dog is having
fun. You should be proud and after some well deserved play
time we can start thinking about what we want to do next.
If we have done things right, our dog will perform the newly
learned behavior with a lot of motivation and excitement.
If we don't stop at this point but instead continue to "practice"
the new behavior again and again and again, our dog's excitement
will soon turn into frustration or even avoidance behavior.
Step 7: Now that your dog knows the behavior and understands
the verbal/tactile clue combination, we start to separate
both clues from another (signal-timing). Dogs tend to respond
better to tactile signals then to verbal clues. If we want
our dog to reliably respond to a verbal clue only, we need
to teach him that the verbal clue is of greater importance
than the tactile signal. This can be accomplished by having
the tactile signal follow the verbal clue with a short delay
(1-2 seconds). This way, we teach our dog that the verbal
clue is simply a precursor to the more powerful tactile signal.
Since motivated dogs don't tend to wait, our dog will soon
start to respond as soon as the verbal clue is offered. If
you want to make sure that your dog responds exclusively to
your verbal command and not some other subtle physical sign,
put your arms behind your back, face away from your dog and
then give the verbal command. If your dog still performs the
command, you are in the clear.
Chaining and back-chaining . Before we conclude the fundamentals section, I would like
to spend another minute on how to train more complex behaviors
or tricks. Teaching our dog any single-action behavior (such
as to sit down) is easy, but what about the more complex behaviors
that require our dog to perform multiple actions after another?
Just think of the dumbbell retrieve in competitive obedience.
The exercise starts with your dog waiting in the basic
position to your left while you hold the dumbbell with
your right hand. You throw the dumbbell - your dog continues
to wait calmly. You give the "bring" command - your dog gets
up and runs towards the dumbbell, he picks it up and promptly
returns to you where he has to get into the sit position again,
this time however right in front of you while holding the
dumbbell calmly up to your waist until you take it from him.
This exercise involves at least a dozen of different sub-exercises:
(1) waiting in the basic position,
(2) running to the dumbbell on command,
(3) picking it up and quickly returning with it to the handler,
(4) getting into a sit position in front of the handler,
(5) holding the dumbbell calmly in front of the handler's
(6) releasing the dumbbell upon the "out" command.
We would ask way too much of our dog if we would try to train
such complex behavior as a single lesson. Instead, we need
to break these complex multi-step behaviors down into their
basic components and train each of them individually. This is called "chaining or back-chaining" Once
our dog has learned all individual components, we can start
to piece them together into a complete behavior. Click
here to go to the lesson overview.
Note: We are no longer updating YouSmartDog!
For an updated version of this article, visit us at dogisimo.com
Page | Chapter List