NorthWest K9 Common Sense Training Series
Set your dog up for success by teaching your dog specific behavioral skills in a fair, consistent, and clear
manner. Then incrementally introduce duration, distraction, and distance.
If you continually "test" your dog beyond the scope of her training and abilities to see at what point she fails, then you are
proactively setting your dog up for failure. Instead, take personal responsibility for making it possible for
your dog to succeed each and every time. This is the art of setting your dog up for success.
Copyright 2003-- Moc Klinkam; All Rights Reserved
Setting Your Dog Up for Success
Components to Successful Training
Your goal in foundation obedience training is to teach your dog how to perform specific behaviors on command.
To do that, you first must ensure that all of the necessary components to successful training are in place and
The Right Environment. Determine that the environment is conducive to successful training. Environmental factors can
include weather conditions, lighting, ground or surface conditions, ambient noise, people and animal distractions,
vehicular traffic, smells, and the like. Do you want to start training the "Sit" in the quiet and comfort of
your home, or at the main entrance to K-Mart next to the Chili Dog cart?
The Proper Equipment. Assure that you have equipment that is appropriate to the level and scope of your training plan.
This would include an appropriate and correctly sized and fitted training collar and leash in top condition.
Equipment would also include a sufficient supply of readily accessible and appropriate reward. Trying to
dispense greasy sticky over-warm hot dog bits is far less efficient than dry squares of liver treats.
The Prepared Dog. Before every training session, evaluate your dog. Only the healthy, alert dog free of injury
should be expected to perform well in training. Feed, water, and potty your dog as appropriate. Know the
special characteristics and limitations relevant to your unique dog's breed, type, temperament, drives, age,
gender, training experience, and behavioral issues.
The Prepared Handler. Before every training session, evaluate yourself. Are you also healthy and alert? Fed,
watered, and pottied? Be appropriately dressed, including footwear. Your pre-training checklist should always
include an honest assessment of your physical, mental, and emotional state. If you're not 100% ready to train -- don't train.
The Appropriate Training Strategies. Be prepared with a well-defined training plan for this particular
training session with this particular dog. Before you begin your training session, visualize how you will set
up each exercise; which consistent verbal and body commands you will be using; and your strategies for shaping
desired behaviors or managing unwanted behaviors.
Appreciate the simplicity and undisputed success of incremental training. Training in
increments means that the handler is fair, firm, consistent, and clear with each and every progressive step in the training.
When first teaching a specific behavior in response to a specific command, for example, "Sit,"
the first increment in this sequence is to teach the dog that "Sit" means to put her bottom on the floor. The fair,
firm, consistent and clear handler continues to train his dog to ensure that every time he gives the command
"Sit," the dog will, indeed, put her butt on the floor. He does this by incrementally introducing new challenges that match the dog's
abilities to meet those challenges with reliable obedience.
The arbitrary, wishy-washy, inconsistent, and befuddled handler is more likely to
set his dog up for failure, then toss his hands up in the air and mutter, "What's wrong with this dog?"
The fair, firm, consistent and clear handler always sets his dog up for success.
The Three D's.
The three elements of Duration, Distraction,
and Distance must be gradually introduced over time if you are to succeed in creating a win-win training
relationship with your dog.
Duration is the length of time the dog maintains the behavior, in this case, a "Sit." You would
incrementally teach your dog to maintain his sit for an increasing period of time, from 1/2 second, to
1 second, to 1-1/2 seconds, and so forth.
If you are
teaching your dog to sit,
mark and reward immediately as soon as your dog's butt hits the ground. Do that many times, and then gradually,
incrementally, have your dog sit and mark immediately as soon as her butt hits the ground, then wait for 1/2
second before you reward. Do that many times, and then gradually, incrementally, have your dog sit for 1
second before being rewarded. Sound too difficult for Impatient You? Consider this: if you spend just 3 minutes
each day building your dog's Sit, incrementally continuing this progressive style of training and learning,
in just one month, after only an hour and a half total time invested in training that is oriented toward
success, your dog will learn to quickly and enthusiastically sit and hold that sit for at least 30 seconds.
Distraction can be any element in the dog's sensory environment that competes for the dog's attentive
focus, such as people and animals, environmental noises, traffic, climactic conditions, etc. If you are
training your dog for success, you would begin your training with no or minimal distractions, and then
incrementally, over time, gradually introduce increasingly challenging distractions despite which your
dog will maintain the desired behavior.
To build a reliable "Sit" under distraction, first build the bomb-proof sit without any distractions.
For example, teach your dog to sit reliably in the kitchen without anybody else in the house.
Then incrementally expose your dog to environmental distractions. Have another family member in the room while you
refine your dog's ability to sit on command with a person nearby. Gradually
transition your dog from sitting in the kitchen, to sitting at the front door, to sitting while you open the door,
to sitting out on the porch, to sitting at the steps and progressively down your walkway and onto the sidewalk and
into the wide wonderful world of environmental distractions. Step by step, incrementally introducing distractions
and rewarding your dog for reliable obedience at each elevation of distraction.
Distance is the amount of distance between you and your dog. Examples of introducing distance would include
commanding your dog to "Sit" and taking one step sideways while your dog maintains his sit. Then two steps
sideways, then three. Then one-half step forward, then a whole step, then two. Small increments of increasing
distance introduced between you and your dog, with reward for each progressive level of successful obedience.
Note that there is necessarily some "overflow" between the three elements. For example, when you are introducing
distance, there will be an element of duration, because while you are moving some distance away from and back to your
dog, your dog will need to maintain the behavior for a longer period of time. There is also an increased
element of distraction, because as you move away, your change in body position generates a number of
sensory stimuli (such as movement and sound) that can distract your dog from the task at hand. Also when you
are in close proximity to your dog, your physical presence can "block" some of your dog's awareness of environmental
distractions. As you move away from your dog, more of your dog's mental resources may be freed to more readily
notice and respond to environmental stimuli.
Only give obedience commands that
you and your dog are fully prepared to perform successfully. Do not give commands that your
dog does not yet know and respond to reliably, or that you are not prepared to support with the appropriate
environment, equipment, or training strategy to ensure success.
If you have just started training and your dog will sit
reliably at your side when in the house off-lead with minimal distractions, do not expect or ask your
dog to sit at your side off-lead when at the park with dogs, people, squirrels, and blowing leaves that are
overwhelming distractions. That is setting your dog up for failure.
If you have taught your puppy to immediately run to you a distance of 8
feet, from one end of the kitchen to the other, and sit in front of you on the command "Here!", do
not give that command when your puppy is dashing about the backyard 40 feet away in hot pursuit of a squirrel.
Your pup doesn't have a single viable brain cell available to process the command in the face of excess distance
and distraction. That is setting your dog up for failure.
If you have taught your dog to sit on command and maintain that sit for 30 seconds
at your side on-lead at the corner at the end of your block, do not "ask" your dog to sit and
maintain that sit in the playground parking lot for 5 minutes while you walk out of sight to go
start the car -- wondering all the while if your dog is still sitting where you left him. That is setting
your dog up for failure.
Build the Finished Product from the Ground Up.
Learn how to pre-plan related or chained behaviors so that you are setting your dog up
for success. For example, if you are
teaching your dog to sit enthusiastically at your side, make sure that you set your dog up so that she can,
indeed, sit at your side.
When heeling is the precursor to your sit command, first make sure the heeling behavior is successful.
"Ramp up" your dog by heeling eight or nine steps in a straight line to
ensure your dog is heeling at your side before commanding her to sit. When your dog is heeling correctly,
with her body parallel to your left side, not forging and not lagging,
then when you command her to sit, you are setting her up to sit correctly at your side. Because all she will need to
do is stop moving forward and drop her butt vertically to the ground.
Seek out environmental conditions
that will help set her up for a successful
sit on command. Don't stop and command her to sit in a chilly puddle of rainwater. Don't make an about turn
and command your dog to sit while you're in the process of changing direction. Gravity and physics will conspire
to propel your dog's rear-end outward as she's coming through
the turn, and you will only succeed in creating a crooked sit with your dog way off to your side or in
front of you, with her rear-end pointing away from you.
Keep It Clean.
Be consistent in your verbal commands and your body commands. Cut out all the "fuzzy gray clutter" of
unnecessary body motions, hand gestures, verbalizations, and audible breathing sounds. For example, if you are commanding
your dog to sit, stop your own body when you say "Sit." Don't say "sit" and then take two or three more steps before
stopping -- this is a surefire way to confuse your dog and create an uncertain, tentative, and slooooow
sit while your dog desperately tries to figure out with each one of your extra forward steps, "Sit now?
No wait, you mean sit now? Or do you mean NOW?"
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency.
Say "Sit" in the same tone of
voice, at the same
pitch and with the same distinct pronunciation, each and every time you give that command. Don't say
"Bruno sit" the first time, then "siiiiit Bruno" the next, and "Can you sit?" the next. This strategy applies
for all obedience commands. Determine how you are going to uniquely pronounce each
command (such as a higher pitched "SsssitttT!"; a two-syllable "Hee-eel"; or a low pitched, clipped "Down!", etc.),
and consistently say each command in its own unique way each and every time you give it.
Do the same with your body commands. Determine how you are going to position your torso, arms, hands, legs and feet
each time you give a command, and stick with that presentation. You'll generate much more responsive and consistent
obedience from your dog when you maintain a consistent physical command presence.
Put It in the Bank.
Use the reward that floats your dog's boat. Whether food, ball, toy, or verbal or tactile
praise, learn from your dog's behavioral reactions the reward that has the biggest bang. Use that reward only in
your formal training.
If your dog likes different rewards (and most do), transition between different rewards. Keep it interesting!
One type of food reward
one day, a beloved squeaky toy the next, followed the next training session by enthusiastic use of the "break!"
command as an action reward.
"Action rewards" include commands that release your dog so that he can indulge in a desired behavior. For
example, when you sit your dog at the back door as a prerequisite for going outside to play, after opening
the door you can use the "Go out!" command to simultaneously release and reward your dog for compliantly sitting while you
opened the door. The action of being permitted to go out the door and indulge in desired playtime is a reward
in and of itself.
The "Break!" command is an outstanding action reward for the dog, giving the dog an enthusiastic release from
formal training and an opportunity to interact and engage in play with the handler between specific exercises.
It's also a handy "recovery tool" for the handler. If you are training your dog and something occurs that
would otherwise tempt you to say "Ooops!" or "Oh darn!" or "What the heck?" (known in the technical dog training
vernacular as a "Handler Brain Fart"), instead give the enthusiastic
"Break!" command to immediately release your dog from what may quickly degenerate into your own flustered confusion
and meltdown. The "Break!" action
reward quickly circumvents what could be a negative training experience for the dog, and gives you a time-out
to regroup your thoughts and training strategy without inadvertently communicating confusion, displeasure,
or correction to your faultless dog.
One Step Back, Two Steps Forward.
Make a mental note of your dog's successes during each
formal training session. For example, let's say that yesterday your dog was simply awesome with her
20-second long sit. For today's session,
recall your dog's success yesterday -- and then start today's session at a level of
successful obedience well below that 20-second sit. Start with a 2-second sit. Immediate success! Then do a 5-second sit.
Even more success! Then incrementally work your way up to a 10-second, 15-second, 20-second, then 22-second sit.
Success, success, success, and it took less than two minutes. Begin each training session with the strategy that you are building future success on
prior successes. Start each training session with the absolutely easiest thing your dog can do, whether that's sit, down,
heel, whatever -- and praise and reward those "easy" behaviors to get you and your dog "in the mood" to enthusiastically
tackle and learn new, incrementally advancing skills during each training session.
Remain open to changing your big picture strategy, weekly training plan, or the
3-minute training exercise you thought you were going to accomplish today. For three weeks your
dog has produced a faultless sit, so today you're going to work on the "Down." Well, all of a sudden your dog
appears to have forgotten altogether what the "Sit" command means. Stop. Regroup. Take a breath. Look at the dog before you, and
train accordingly. If it's time to review and refine the "Sit" before moving forward into new territory, so be it.
Build one success atop another. If the building foundation is shaky, the 60th floor will be even shakier.
Know When to Call It Quits.
Remain open to ending training at any time. This may mean 30 seconds of training,
and then you're done. When should training end? After a significant success; if the dog shows an observable
change in behaviors that may indicate a physiological problem; if you realize that your brain is singularly focused
on having to replace the truck transmission that blew out that morning; when there are
environmental changes that impact you or the dog (kids came home; lightning storm moved in; fellow with two
off-lead dogs intent on mayhem enters the park); if you're coming down with bronchitis and your voice is cracking;
if you forgot to bring the appropriate training collar; etc. In other words, training should be promptly ended on an
upbeat note at the moment you realize that all components to successful training -- environment, equipment, dog, handler,
appropriate strategies -- are not at 100% operational status.
Know when to skip training altogether. When you are not feeling well; distracted; pressed for time;
don't yet fully know how you will be approaching a training problem; or when you find yourself thinking,
"Aw criminy, I HAVE to do some training today" as opposed to "Oh cool, today we get to do some training!" --
it's not the time to consider training, if your goal is success.
Take Responsibility. Be In Charge.
Incrementally build your repertoire of commands and your
dog's reliable response to them. Ensure that each and every time you give a command, you have done everything
in your personal power to set the stage so that your dog will behave as requested. Set your dog up
for success, and that's exactly what you'll get!
|"Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do.
The visible signs of artful leadership are expressed, ultimately, in its practice."
-- Max DePree
Please also see the supplemental summary checklist, Training and Behavioral Progression, for a comparison of
training and handling strategies and the results when setting your dog up to succeed vs setting your dog
up to fail.
You'll find information about custom private training opportunities for you and your dog in our
Client Training Department.