If you enjoy training as much as we do, you may have experienced a point in your training where you are unsure of the next step. Don't worry, you are not alone!
Lots of dog owners and trainers often find themselves working on the same things over and over again, and wonder either "How can I make this better?" or "What should we do next?"
We could discuss a specific training plan, that outlines how to prepare your dog for a specific goal, like a sport or competition, or working dog tasks and evaluations. But, we would rather help you understand how to formulate your own training plan for your unique individual training goals.
Using training benchmarks can be really helpful and tracking your progress as well as create clear goals to achieve! But developing benchmarks for various qualities of your training will help break your training down into manageable pieces.
Many training tasks or skills have various qualities that we can improve upons. For example: When we ask our dog to sit, we can continually improve upon our dog's ability to sit for longer periods of time (Duration), stay seated while their handler moves further away (Distance), or with increasingly more tempting competing motivations (Distractions).
These task qualities generally fall into the concept of "The 3 Ds: Distance, Duration, and Distraction." Using the 3 Ds we can quantify the quality of our obedience behaviors. When asked how well is your dog able to perform "Sit," you can provide a clear response of "My dog can sit for up to 1 minute, while I am about 6 feet away, in a mild distraction environment." We can also quantify our goals more easily: "I would like my dog to be able to sit for 3 minutes, while I am up to 30 feet away, in moderate to high distraction environments."
Now this gives us the information we need to develop our training plan to reach our next benchmarks!
6 Feet -> 30 Feet
1 Minute -> 3 Minutes
Mild -> Moderate/High
Some other task qualities that you may want to improve upon are somewhat less quantifiable, but can still be isolated and worked on separate from the other characteristics of the behaviors. Some of these qualities can be the speed with which a behavior is performed, the intensity of the behavior, the focus during the behavior, or body positioning.
Developing a Training Plan
Now, we can use this information to decide what is the first step to get from where we are, to where we want to be. Simply, the best approach is to isolate each of the 3 Ds to improve upon at a time.
Rules for successful training sessions
1. Set a goal and plan for each session. It is important to develop clear and attainable goals and determine how you are going to reach your goals for each of your training sessions.
2. Be prepared to abandon your training goal for that session. Our dogs are living creatures with individual needs. Even our dogs can have bad training days. If you can still achieve progress during your training session, that is still a success, even if you came up short of your training goal.
3. Keep your sessions short! Dogs have short attention spans. You can increase your dogs ability to focus for longer periods of time with consistant training over time.
4. Always end on a good note! When your dog performs the behavior really well, even if it was only one time, that is a great time to end the session. Try to avoid falling into the "one more repetition" trap.
Keep it fun!
If nothing else, make sure that you and your dog are both enjoying your training sessions! If nothing else, your dog will continue to enjoy engaging with you and find you to be a lot of fun and very valuable to them. This is often the most overlooked aspect of training for new dog owners.
"My dog is great in my house, but doesn't listen when we are out in public."
This just means in your dog's eyes, you are great when there is nothing else more interesting around, but once there are distractions or what we call "competing motivators" there are things that are more interesting to your dog.
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