Dog Training Tips and Time Management
When training canines, time management is ultra-important. It is what separates great dog trainers from mediocre ones. Time and timing are the utmost important factors in just about every dog training class or private session scenario. Without good timing, you are confusing your dog and families at best. I found over the years some of the more common time and timing issues when dog training. They are scenarios where we can all improve our time management skills.
- Never run out of treats! It still happens to the best of us, but I always try not to let this happen. My treat bag only holds so much food, and I can only hold so many toys on me. So depending on the training environment, it may be more challenging. Yes, I am often tempted to stay outside longer and add trips into my dog training itinerary. The way I mitigate running out of treats in this potential scenario is by always packing many more treats than I think I’ll need. Knowing my propensity to do these unplanned, spontaneous exercises and extensions has caused me to alter my daily dog training sessions and dog training classes and plan accordingly. I measure my time outdoors, with families and for dog boarding and training sessions. If my dog training classes or puppy sessions are expected to last for ~1 hour, I make sure to have at least 2 hours worth of rewards to provide a dog. Yes, double the amount of rewards and never get caught empty handed again.
- Always end on a strong note. Time your training to always end on the dogs’ best performance of a behavior. One hallmark, telltale of a novice dog trainer is pushing the dog or pet parents beyond sanity when they are physically or mentally exhausted or until they simply lose interest and become bored. You don’t want to push your dog (or family) too far too fast and allow the last behavior to end on a sloppy note or confusion. Ending on a weak behavior performance rather than strong behavior performance increases confusion and frustration for everyone. End strong and leave the dog (and family) wanting more not exhausted and frustrated.
- Start with the most difficult exercises. When training a chain of behaviors, work your way from the hardest or last behavior to the easiest or first behavior. When backward chaining it is advisable for the dog to be able to practice the hardest behaviors of the chain first and most often, then, working their way towards the easiest behavior. Time your cues and behaviors out well to allow for the best successive approximations (shaping) and to allow for the most effective and efficient practice when behavior chaining.
- Frequent timeouts. Training timeouts are critical to a dog’s success. They can get burned out, bored or satiated. I use timeouts to explain learning theory with pet parents and to practice and test their behavior, form, timing, cues, and movement. It flows nicely and will behoove you to format a nice flow and dialogue with your clients, going back and forth, and gives the dog time to chillax from working and to “reset.” If a dog gets confused, bring them back into the game with a confidence-building easy cue to get them back on track, especially if you have gone too far too fast. Your dog isn’t obstinate, they are likely confused, burnt out, or simply not motivated enough. Time outs are also very effective in order for a pet parent or trainer to be innovative, rethink or strategize a behavior modification plan or antecedent arrangement if the current ones are not successful for each unique individual.
- Environmental management takes time. A proper training plan and behavior modification protocol are not prefabricated, one size fits all. Unique individuals require unique solutions and customizations. Applied Behavior Analysis = the process of solving behavior problems by changing the environment. Antecedent arrangement = the things that set the stage for a behavior to occur: the cues, setting events and motivating operations. This may require a great deal of forethought and time to set the dog and family up for success. Manage distractions and the antecedent stimuli thoughtfully, and you will solve most behavior problems by simply and attentively changing the antecedent arrangement.
- Contiguity is defined as the immediacy and frequency with which you deliver your rewards. Dogs are associative learners and learn by pairing two events immediately in time. That closeness in time between the behavior and the consequence is referred to as contiguity. Dogs associate experiences and consequences in under a second. The quicker you can pair an experience with a consequence (in most cases a reward), contingent upon a behavior, the quicker your dog will learn that great things happen when that behavior occurs. Rewards do not have to be food but may be environmental or life rewards such as: sleeping, sniffing a fire hydrant, reading pee-mail on a tree, saying hi to another dog, playing, the park, walking, ball play, tug toy, stick fetching, swimming, belly rubs, eye contact, a smile….etc.
- Know your dog’s hierarchy of rewards and know them well to expedite training and to make learning fun, force-free, fast and effective. As mentioned above, a dog’s hierarchy is unique and varies from individual to individual. In addition, on the spectrum of rewards there is a great chasm between a high-value reward and low-value reward. If you are using your time while you are dog training to figure out your canine’s hierarchy of rewards you’ll end up shooting yourself in the foot and missing valuable opportunities. Figure out your dog’s hierarchy of rewards before your dog training class so that you don’t waste valuable time and are able to capture behaviors and offer your dog an appropriate value reward for the context and distraction level in which you are training and learning. It would not be an effective use of rewards to offer your dog the highest value reward for sitting in a low distraction familiar environment such as your living room. Manage your dog’s rewards like a manager manages the salaries of their employees.
- CCC – Clear, Concise, Consistent.The three C’s are all about and are critical to timing. We ask our dogs to “Sit’, not, “Rover, please come over here and sit down for mommy, OK.” Which of the two is more clear, concise and consistent for your dog? Most people (including yourself) are not going to consistently say “Rover, please come over here and sit down for mommy, OK” especially if your friend or partner is not “mommy.” Think about reducing syllables and words and keeping cues clear, concise, and consistent by being conscious about your prose, words, voice, tone, rhythm, pitch, inflection and keeping your body language uniformly clear, concise and consistent for your dog.
- Feeding times coincide with training times and vice versa. Negotiate your schedule to match your pup’s so as not to waste time feeding at home if you need to work on socialization or generalizing behaviors outdoors. Do not worry about uniform feeding times or minutia of feeding when training. Behavioral problems are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters and euthanized.1 Poop schedules are moot and irrelevant when behavior, desensitization and counterconditioning, and socializing are concerned. Socialization is time specific and periods such as the critical/sensitive period are biologically defined, (approximately 3-13 weeks). Once that window of opportunity closes you are not getting it back. The important thing is to socialize, enrich, and train your dog often and early! Do not waste valuable time trying to coordinate poop schedules or feeding with a food bowl. Throw away your dog’s food bowl. You will be using their daily allocation of food and treats for training and behavior and not simply dumping it on the ground. If you are in a rush and can’t train with your dog, then buy some food distributing toys and use them as your last resort food bowl, but only as a last case scenario when you are not training with your dog. Ideally, you should be utilizing their food for rewards when they are learning about the world, socializing, obedience training and when you are desensitizing and counterconditioning (D/CC). This is most important when you have a puppy or a severe behavioral problem, not feeding times and poop schedules. Time is of the essence.
Dog Training & Dog Training Class Time Management are vital to a successful training program and a well-trained dog. We haven’t even touched upon specific dog training session times and obedience class times and frequencies. Where else do you see time management being critical to training?
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- Miller DM, Stats SR, Partlo BS, et al. Factors associated with the decision to surrender a pet to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:738- 742