Ready, Set, Train!
February 12, 2010 -
Whenever I teach my dog a new trick I do a little prep work first.
- Decide what the finished product will look like.
- Consider how you are going to train the behavior (i.e. lure it, catch it, free shape the whole thing). One of these methods will usually stand out as the best. For instance, you’d have a lot of trouble luring your dog to sneeze, but you could “catch” him sneezing.
- Unless the behavior is super simple (like “sneeze”), break down the finished product into tiny steps. These should be smaller than you think you’ll need. For example, when teaching Kyra to “shake her head no”, I started by looking for her eyes to move to the side, then just a slight twitch of her head to the side, then more movement, etc. An important part of teaching your dog something is keeping the criteria low so he can be successful. If you raise the criteria too quickly, the dog will get frustrated and it will cause problems.
- If there are a lot of steps, you should write them down.
- Gather some very yummy treats and cut them into pea-size pieces. I usually have 50-100 pieces prepared so I don’t run out. If I don’t use them all, I can always put them back in the refrigerator. I also train in very short segments (less than 5 minutes).
- Find an area with no distractions.
- Take your dog, clicker, treats, and training plan (in your head or on paper) to your distraction-free area and have some fun!!
I generally stop training while I’m ahead. The next time I work on that behavior, I’ll refresh by going back a step or two (in my plan) and then continue on. I only work on one new trick at a time since most of my training involves free-shaping and I don’t want Kyra to be confused on what she should be doing. I may practice any of her known cues and other tricks, but we only work on one NEW one at a time. I almost always train my new tricks in the same environment. That functions as another cue to her that we are learning something new and she should put on her creativity hat! Once I’ve gotten the behavior looking just like I want it, I add the verbal cue. That means, until I have the finished behavior, I haven’t been saying ANYTHING to Kyra, except praising her if she does an exceptional job. The click and the treat tell her all she needs to know. I then practice the new trick in a variety of settings (different rooms, outside, etc). Once it looks good, I’ll let other people try it with her; however, I am always present the first few times. I want to make sure that they have the right hand signals and verbal cues and that she responds correctly. Once I see that Kyra understands what they are asking, all my friends and family are welcome to have her do any of her tricks.
As for how long it takes to train a new trick… well, that depends. It all depends on the complexity of the trick and how many sessions I put into it. She’s learned hard stuff in a session or two and sometimes it’s taken 10-15 sessions to teach her something she’s not naturally inclined to do. Just be patient and have fun. The learning process is the exciting part. The “trick” is just a nice bonus.