In a nutshell, Susan Garrett says it best: “When you correct a dog, you are actually punishing him for your poor training.”
In other words, dogs don’t make mistakes, humans do! I take full responsibility in training, considering my dog’s feelings and empowering them with safe choices. I appreciate and train my dogs for who they are, without the pressure of unrealistic human expectations. Striving to be a creative trainer while using science based methods, my top priority is a relationship based in mututal trust, respect and cooperation. Continuing education is perpetually teaching me how to do this by providing current information and tools to make it work. I strive to, above all do no harm.”
And here are some tips that I keep in mind when training:
- Always set up for success. Know what you want and raise your criteria appropriately so that your dog can be reinforced as much as possible while learning. Remember “baby steps“. Be clear about what you want and acknowledge with mark and reward when it’s right.
- Have a training plan that includes realistic goals and appropriate criteria for your dog’s abilities at each point in time.
- Short sessions: Keep your sessions short. You can do several sessions in one day-but keep them short. “Short” varies with the dog, but 5 minutes on any one thing is usually enough and needs a break. If your dog is struggling with learning a behavior, then back off and make it easier or just do something else that is easy, and quit on a successful high note. Then go back later and try again. Start each session with a lower criteria from the previous session and build from there.
- Click/mark first, then reinforce. Keep the reinforcement out of sight until after the click, but reinforce immediately-within 3 seconds of the click. Then apply #4…
- Emphasize relationship by pairing the food or toy R+ with praise and personal interaction. I feel that it is important to train “clean”, but not “detached”. Personal engagement and praise should still be emphasized as part of the teaching process,(i.e. we are not training hermit crabs here!). After the click/mark, show genuine delight in the process and sincere approval of your dog for a job well done. If you personally invest yourself it will strengthen your relationship as part of the reinforcement history. It’s all good!
- Shaping builds confidence by promoting equal partnership in the training process. Allows the dog to freely offer behavior for rewards. Shaping can be combined with targeting, luring, prompting, or used alone as a “free-shaping” process. I vary how I use this, depending upon the dog.
- Luring is useful for “jump starting” a new behavior, but fade it quickly to avoid building dependance. While this is a very useful method, keep in mind that luring focuses more on the reinforcement rather than the task itself.
- Targets are useful and great for distance work, confidence building, and task focus. Keep in mind if and when they must be faded.
- Click ends the behavior that you are training, BUT remember that anything happening during reinforcement is also being rewarded…so..
- Reinforce in the position or location where you want the dog to be (because of #8, above).
- For stationary behaviors (such as a wait) R+ in that position. If the dog moves out of position after the mark, simply hold the treat in the position you want the dog to be. Do NOT lure your dog back into position, just hold the treat there and let the dog return to position to get their reward.
- For speed and distance, R+where you want the dog to be, example: In training for distance, click and then R+ by tossing food/toy ahead of the dog to reinforce the dog moving away from you.
- Keep going signal (KGS)- A KGS is encouragement during the behavior to let the dog know that they are “on the right track”. This is controversial among trainers. Ideally, once a behavior is trained reliably on cue no KGS should be needed-and of course the context must be considered, as in competition obedience where you are not allowed to use a KGS at all. However, many top trainers and competitors routinely use KGS in performing long behavior chains such as an agility course, pushing balls repeatedly over a distance in Treibball, or during freestyle routines.
- NRM: “No Reward Markers“– (“No”, “ah-ah”, “Oops” “wrong”, etc.) I don’t use them. This is because I always look at myself first, to see where I might have done better in communicating and training. I have learned enough to know that if the dog makes a mistake it is most always a reflection of my training or management of the training setup.
- Always start a training session by reinforcing criteria from the preceding session before raising it again.
- Be humble– I am humbled and eternally grateful for the way dogs have impacted my life and I thank them for that by prioritizing our relationship in all that we do together, every single day.
Stay positive and train happy-if you are not happy training, quit! There is always the next session, trial, etc. to keep improving as long as your relationship with your dog is intact. Remember- Above all, do no harm.