Planning: A Valuable Skill in Dog Training [Videos]

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-11-38-43-amPlanning in dog training is an important skill to master; this skill applies to basic life skills, to obedience, to behaviour modification and also fun tricks.

I could have written a blog about a serious subject: behaviour modification, problem behaviours, breed specific legislation, the law...

These are all serious valid issues.

BUT I wanted to share some fun and hope that I will inspire you all to train something new with your dog, for enjoyment and frivolity!

I love spending time training my own dogs, I love clicker training and I love the idea of complex behaviour chains. I also really enjoy teaching classes and inspiring people to have fun with their dogs; for me, that is the best part of my job.

I want to say that the only limit on training complex chains is your imagination, but actually that isn’t true.

The thing with complex behaviour chains is that you need to have imagination AND you need to understand how to break a chain down, plan steps carefully and be flexible & adaptable in your planning.

You need to know when to push on to the next step so that you complete your plan and that your student doesn’t get bored or stuck at a particular step, and when to rewind, adding extra steps into learning gaps for your student if they don’t seem to understand what is required.

Remember, it is our job as trainers and teachers to help our student learn; our role is to facilitate learning.

To succeed in this game, you need to start by making your plan. I’m sure there are lots of ways to do this, but here is my method.

I imagine my completed chain; what I want it to look like. I write that down and I have an idea in my mind of what it looks like.

Then I break it down into the tiniest components. I think carefully about the foundation position and I train that first; this is the default start position for the behaviour, which must be in place and trained well, so that if at any point I struggle with a step or my dog doesn’t understand, I can revert to start and reward that. This prevents frustration for my dog and gives me time to consider my plan.

Next, I train some of the individual components, I train them standalone and then I start to put them together.

I don’t necessarily do it in order; this is so that I can take those mini-chains and perhaps use them elsewhere in a different chain at another time. I do keep notes as I go along, so that I remember where I’m up to!

I video my training sessions, so that I can tweak my mistakes.

Once the components of the behaviour are well rehearsed and reliable I start to add them together in order and the mini-chains link up.

Finally (I say finally but this process usually takes me weeks) when the chain is really fluent, I add my cue. The cue may be a verbal signal or a physical, visual signal.

So, here is a little video diary of my youngest collie Twist learning a new behaviour chain.
The idea is for him to open the dresser and take something out of the dresser.

Video 1.

Twist loves to tug, so I didn’t feel the need to teach that part. If he didn’t enjoy tug or picking up toys, I would have trained that first. Here, my aim is for him to nose touch / mouth / grab the tug toy that is attached to the dresser door handle. Note the last repetition he is a little slow in returning? So I stop there; I want him to enjoy the training and not keep going until he is fed up!

Video 2.

This is later in the same day as video 1. You can see we get a bit more mouthing in this session, also a few slow clicks from me – I’m holding onto my click to see if he will offer more. But rate of reinforcement for my initial criteria of nose touch / mouth is still very high.

Video 3.

Again - later in the same day. I don’t want to bore you with too many of these, but please notice the definite grabbing of the tug toy and the duration that his holding for. Much improved on earlier in the day!

Video 4.

In this session of the training I wanted Twist to get used to the idea that the door would move. He is a dog that is very sensitive to movement. Notice from around the 23 second mark that he was a little startled by the movement of the door; it was a surprise for him. However, he was happy to continue to work, so I was comfortable to keep training. A bit of startle and recovery is okay; recovery is great!

Video 5.

Just a short video, just building up a nice reinforcement history of taking a nice clean hold on that tug toy.

Video 6.

A longer video this time. Note the more confident grab of the tug toy and also notice the more confident response to the movement of the door of the dresser.

Video 7.

Another long video for you. In this session I try with the dresser door properly shut and aim to get Twist opening the door. Check out his response; check out how I handle it, and also his recovery. This was a big step I thought. I’m sure others may have handled it differently, but I’m happy with progress again.

Video 8.

Okay, so in this video, we have a Twist that is much more confident in his tugging and in the door movement. Very happy that he understands what is required of him.

Video 9.

The final video! So, Twist is also learning that he needs to lie down in-between exercises and wait for his cue to engage in the new exercise. This is to prevent him offering behaviours off cue and also to prevent him guessing. So you will see him being asked to wait in between exercises and being reinforced for that.
Note that the noise of the bottles in the cupboard is cause for startle on the first repetition of this session, it is the first time I have placed reinforcement inside the dresser (yes, it’s the beer store!)
Also notice how quick his recovery is and how quick he is to get his head in there for his treat once the door is open, good recovery right?

There were 3 more videos than I have shared here, so that gives you an idea of how long it has taken to train this behaviour. Pretty quick right?

I’m pleased with the progress. I have started adding a cue and will replace the food in the dresser with a toy.

Observations to make are that, my timing is sometimes off, but he still learns, what a clever dog; I occasionally put the tugger in position when I wasn’t quite ready; school girl error and I’ll learn for next time.

Twist and I have a lot of fun in our training and I hope this will inspire you to have some fun; there are many activities we can do with our dogs and as winter approaches, less of them involve walkies! Mental stimulation is great recreation for dogs, it is enriching and can help build confidence.

Enjoy your training!


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Positively Expert: Jo Pay

Jo Pay is an Accredited Animal Behaviourist with the ABTC, the European Co-ordinator for Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training and has spent more than 20 years working with dogs in a variety of roles.


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