Monday, 10 July 2017

How to write training plans like a pro

Ten brave people came and challenged their dog training skills with me on Saturday, and left with more knowledge and much better timing. 

The one day course on Dog Training Fundamentals covered basic learning theory, how to construct an effective training plan, and the practicalities of training other people’s dogs.  We also looked at luring with a bribe versus training using targets (hands, spoons, mats).

The biggest challenge for my fabulous delegates?

Pinning down what their goals were in each practical session, so they could build training plans!
For example, one group decided to teach their dogs to “spin” (dog walks in a circle in front of the handler). But then they had to decide if they wanted to use a verbal cue or hand signal – and when to introduce the cue. Did it matter which way the dog went? How fast did they need to spin. Did they only want the dog to spin in front or also by their side…

That all matters, because

  • Dogs don’t generalise well (spin in front of you is not the same as spin by your side)
  • It’s often our lack of attention to detail that slows up the training process

Remember, almost everything we teach our dogs are just “tricks” to them!

If you want to read more about how to construct an effective training plan, just read on.

Struggling to create or implement your own training plans? Why not book a private session with Sian. She’s a fantastic trainer (recently APDT accredited) who has bags of experience with troubled rescue dogs, her own dogs and most recently behind the scenes for the amazing Me and My Dog TV series. Click here to get help

Constructing Training Plans - an example

Let’s take Loose Lead Walking as an example
This assumes that your dog is pulling because they don't know how to walk by your side rather than because they are worried, fearful or desperate to escape noisy traffic

Step 1 - Define the goal

Dog will walk within 2 feet of your left leg (forwards, backwards or to the side) without pulling if on a lead, and without rushing off if on lead.

Dog will maintain loose lead walking in a range of places (woods, beach, street, market) and resist temptation to jump on people, steal food or greet other dogs unless given permission.
Remember different places, different walking speeds, different distractions all make it hard for your dog to generalise the learning.

Your version of loose lead walking might be quite different, and that’s okay. But you do need to know what your vision is in detail.

Step Two - Management 
When not training ensure you have good management in place so dog is not practising the unwanted behaviour. For loose lead walking that might mean something like the following rules: 

Type of walking
Old harness/collar OR lead clipped to just the top ring of a perfect fit harness
Dog allowed to go off and explore, probably with some pulling but have some rules
Training lead clipped to front AND top of perfect fit harness, OR collar only, OR front attachment only
Short training sessions, generously rewarded and definitely not walking forwards when your dog pulls. Stick to the plan!

Step Three -  Identify the essential core skills, and train these as needed
For example my foundations would need to include

  • Attention offered by the dog without nagging from me in a variety of places
  • Clicker or marker word known, and a good range of valuable rewards available (including food, possibly toys, definitely the chance to go and sniff or explore)
  • Leash handling skills for the owner (stroking the lead, managing tension and pressure)
  • Happy to wear a suitable collar and/or harness

Step Four - write the actual training plan

Defining each step, including what success would look like, and when you would move onto the next stage takes time and hard thinking!

I might start with building up the idea of a reward zone around my leg, stationary at first and then with some movement.

I'd have to think about exactly what I was clicking for (dog rushing into the reward zone, or dog staying in the reward zone), and when/where I was going to deliver the reward itself.

It's tricky to know when to move on, and repeating the same behaviour too often is boring for everyone. Getting stuck and not progressing the training also means you might accidentally  train in what was only ever meant to be a stepping stone.

Here's one of my favourite graphics to help you think it all through.

Step Five - putting it into practice

Now you can start training your dog! Work systematically through the stages and make sure you've set clear criteria for success at each level. 

For example if my goal was to increase the reward zone around my left leg, then I might say I need my dog to choose to be there for at least 3 seconds, while I stand still on 5 separate sessions, before I move on.  

Happy training

Do you live in North Yorkshire?

Are you struggling to create or implement your own training plans?

Book a private session with Sian. She’s one of our fantastic trainers (recently APDT accredited) who has bags of experience with troubled rescue dogs, her own dogs and most recently behind the scenes for the amazing Me and My Dog TV series. Click here to get help

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