Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lazy trainer confessions...

I kind of have a theory about dog training that I'm sure most people
will think is totally insane. I think we often overtrain instead of
undertrain. I'm not the world's best trainer by any means, but I seem
to get pretty good results on a number of different dogs without
totally enslaving myself to the training grinding wheel. I do
obedience/rally type training for maybe 5-10 minutes a couple of times
a week, and I train agility 2-3 times a week, often for about the same
amount of time.

And it's weird, because it's totally counter to any of my early
learning about training dogs, where the mantra was that if you wanted
a trained dog, you needed to train for AT LEAST a half hour per day.
To do anything less was a disservice to the dog and setting yourself
up for failure. And maybe top handlers with top dogs do invest that
kind of time with spectacular results, but all it's resulted in for me
is frustration on my part and a wilting of attitude on my dog's part.
Maybe I've adjusted my goals to suit my training style; I don't care
about getting on World Team, I do care about my dog really, really
loving to do the work.

So for what little it's worth, here are my basic rules about training.

1. The dog has to be ready to work; energized, excited, and wanting to
play the game. The dog who is focused on something else, who wants to
go explore, who is sluggish or tired or just not interested is not
ready to work. I do a lot of work on rewarding focus, until the end
result is that when I want to work, the dog is almost always
*thrilled* to get to work with me.

2. The work has to be a special game between the two of us. No other
dogs or people allowed. So I don't train if I can't focus 100% on my
dog. My other dog(s) get put away.

3. The work is a privilege for the dog. It's a special fun activity
and boy aren't they *lucky* we get to work today!

4. The work is extremely high energy and very fast paced, at the edge
of or even over the edge of control. I prefer to get attitude and
speed FIRST then begin asking the dog to offer control on top of the
attitude and speed. Dogs imprint on what they first learn. If they
first learn a task as slow and deliberate, when they stress they're
going to default to that foundation. If they always learn a task as
fast and with attitude, that becomes their default.

5. The work always stops before the dog is ready. If I have worked my
dog until he is tired or until he starts to tune out and shut down, I
have worked far, far too long. If I always quit before the dog is
ready to quit, it feeds into all of the above tenets. It makes my dog
more willing to focus faster, it keeps the training a special game,
and it keeps it high energy.

I think if most people would play a super-high energy game with their
dog for about 5 minutes a few times a week, and throw into that game
some of the behaviors they want (a down, a sit, a recall, a
directional spin, a hand target, heeling with attitude) they might be
surprised at what they get.

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