Welcome back to the series of my top 10 Important Dog Training Tips to remember during the training phase. The past 6 blogs I covered the importance of no grey areas, consistency, setting attainable goals, repetition, having realistic expectations and the importance of having confidence in yourself. This week’s blog covers the importance of knowing when to take a step back in your dog’s training.
We all have had a hard time learning a subject or concept in our lives and dogs can have the same difficulties and road blocks along the way. To be proper educators, we do need to watch our dogs for any hints that they are not understanding what we are asking of them during the training phase and know when it is time to take a step back in their training. This means that your dog may not have a full understanding of the previous step of the training therefor they are not excelling at the current task. To help them succeed, we must take a step back to the last task and make sure they understand before moving forward.
For instance, when I first started teaching my dog, Caleb, how to do nose work, I moved a little too quickly from the stage of having him find the odor to the stage of having him mark the odor’s location. Caleb was catching on quite quickly that his task was to search for his food which would be placed within view, no higher than his head, at the time. He seemed to be flying around the house finding his food with no problem so I decided to challenge him. The next time I hid his food I put in closed cabinets and drawers and he did exceptionally well. Where the issue came in is that when I decided to build off of Caleb’s current odor marker (sit at odor source), I didn’t work on the smaller steps to get to the final picture I wanted. In my mind, I wanted him to sit there patiently, or for longer than 15 seconds, to know that he was positive this was the location of the odor. However, to Caleb, my lack of a quick praise meant to him this must not be the location and he would get up and start searching again. Clearly this was my fault for not teaching him what I wanted him to do in a clear manner before getting to this step.
Luckily, at about this time, Caleb and I went to work with the amazing and knowledgeable Andrew Ramsey of Ramsey Nosework. Andrew immediately pointed out to me that I was doing a few things incorrectly so we took a step back in Caleb’s training to get him to understand that when he found the odor he had to mark the spot by staying still with his eyes locked on the location for several seconds before the reward came. The subsequent sessions were so much more fun for Caleb because he now had an understanding of what he was suppose to do. Since returning home from our lessons with Andrew, we have worked on Caleb’s focused alerts in the house and are almost ready to move to the outdoors with this sport he so thoroughly enjoys now that he understands his job.
So, if you feel your dog just doesn’t understand what you are asking of them, take a moment to step back to the previous step and make sure they are comfortable with that step before moving on. Example of this can be if you are asking your dog to do a 5 minute sit stay but they keep breaking at 4 minutes – take a step back to releasing your dog at 3:50 and build up from there; if you are asking your dog to do a down at a distance of 6′ from you but they don’t do it until you have asked them multiple times – take a step back to a distance where they feel comfortable and down automatically; if you are asking your dog to jump through a hoop that is 3′ off the ground but they keep running under it – take a step back to a height your dog consistently jumps through then slowly raise the hoop. Doing this will help both of you enjoy your training together!