In my experience, most people have a very concrete idea of what it means to “train” an animal. Usually, when people say they are going to go “train their dog” they are thinking in terms of concrete sessions. Our pets are always learning, but when starting a new behavior, or using an old behavior in a new context, setting up a controlled training setup can be SUPER helpful.
So, when I’m heading out to train my dogs, what are the things I ALWAYS have with me?
I know what my goal behavior LOOKS like.
If I say “I want Griffey to touch the target”, that can look like a lot of things. What is the target? A body part or an object? Is it vertical or horizontal? What part of Griffey should make contact with the target? His paw, nose, feet, belly, bum?
Instead of “touch the target”, I might say, “I want Griffey to place his two front feet on this stool” or “I want Griffey to press his chin into my flat hand with my palm turned toward the sky” or “I want Griffey to make contact with his nose on my closed fist”.
If you’ve never trained something before, or visualization is difficult, look up pictures and videos of your desired result. You can start to match to sample! When I started doing fitness training with my dogs, I spent a lot of time looking at videos of dogs with good form and skill so I knew how my desired goal looked.
The more specific we can be with our goals, the easier it will be to help guide our dog toward the right answer.
I know how I will teach it.
I’ve watched some videos or been instructed by an expert and I have an idea of what I want my end result to look like, now I figure out how I’m likely to get there. If Griffey is putting his two front feet on something, I’m going to start with something flat on the ground or slightly elevated. If Griffey is going to put his chin on something, I’m going to start with the thing under his chin.
Without any of this prep work, if I call Griffey over, and expect him to “figure it out” we are both going to get frustrated. I’m going to be annoyed because “IT IS SO OBVIOUS!!!” and he is going to be frustrated that I’m just standing there teasing him with the setup that usually means COOKIE!
So, minimize distractions, have your dog relatively close to you. How can you make the right answer the easiest answer? If I want Griffey to step on a sticky note, I might start with a full letter-sized sheet of paper and gradually rip pieces off to make it smaller. If I want Griffey to touch his nose to my fist, I’m going to start right next to his nose instead of 6 feet away.
I think in terms of flow charts, if this, then this, then this… If that helps you, give it a go!
My treat pouch.
I’ve spent years finding the treat pouch that works best for me. I need something I can easily close in case I kneel down (no mugging!). My hand needs to be able to fit seamlessly inside when it’s open. I prefer a waist strap to a shoulder strap. I like pouches that can also double as a purse since I tend to wear clothes marketed to the part of the demographic that apparently doesn’t need pockets. I tend to run with my pups on walks, so things need to be secured while jogging.
Fumbling for treats, running out, trying to carry stuff in your hands is going to make training feel clunky, uncomfortable, and hard to maintain, so it’s worth finding something that really WORKS for you.
Treats of adequate value for the task at hand.
Is this a $5 behavior or a $100 behavior? If I try to pull out the good stuff, those $100 for fitness training with Griffey, he’s a mess. He’s so excited that he can’t focus. Fitness training is kibble training. Now, if I’m asking for something harder, then the goods come out. Cheese, chicken, leftover steak are all $100 bills that I can use when I’m asking for harder things like coming when called when there is a squirrel taunting him in the backyard.
The right mind space.
This one is a big one. Before I start a session, I check in with myself. If I’m trying to teach something new to me and to him, it’s not a wise choice to continue if I’m crabby. My perception of the session is going to be garbage and the shame spiral is right around the corner. There are things I can do on autopilot at this point, but if the cognitive load is going to be great, I’ll save it for a day when I have the resources to spend.
A training partner that is saying “HELL YES!”
Some days, my dogs just aren’t into it. There are a ton of factors that can play into that, and we will talk about those in a different blog. It’s okay that sometimes they don’t want to. Some days, I pull out my fitness equipment, Laika looks at me, looks at the station, and goes back to bed. Let’s be honest, I feel that way too some days. In the event they aren’t ready to rock and roll, we do something else. Would they rather do trick training, or practice relaxing outside while things happen in the world? OR, maybe today, we scrap that whole plan and it is foraging enrichment day.
Training sessions are a brilliant way to facilitate communication and bolster our relationship with our pets. It’s great mental enrichment for both of us. But, as I said earlier, our pets are always learning, so make sure to check out next week’s blog. Sometimes, if you are anything like me, setting up for a “training session” is just too much. Next week, we are going to share some tips and tricks to make teaching and learning a smooth sailing activity for both you and your pet.
- Think about something you’d love to teach your pet! Start with something that doesn’t carry any baggage, like a spin, a bow, or one of our Slick Tricks! If you are looking for inspiration, check out Kikopup’s YouTube channel. She’s got an incredible collection of videos around fun tricks and life skills that give you videos so you can see what the behavior LOOKS like, and helps you figure out how to train as well.
- If you are ready to tackle a behavior that is bringing stress to you, your household, or your dog, come join us for the Roadmap for Behavior Solutions Program. This program provides the Roadmap you need to tackle behaviors from frustrating to frightening.