Preparation

Setting up the training area and environment before we begin any training, or learning, or teaching will be an important habit to develop. What may not be relevant to us may be very relevant to the dog If we have not gone through the “pre-flight” check a disruption can take our training off track.  To achieve good quality experience for both teacher and learner no additional stresses should be present, this includes a video camera  (until you have learned to regard it as a friend!)

Have a plan

This should be prepared long before the treats are chopped or the dog even knows you are Thinking Training. You will have formed long, interim and short term goals. A curriculum for your dog’s development, what skills they will be learning to be able to blossom into the best version of themselves and any additional ambitions you have. Dream big. Dogs are really good companions on the journey of learning. On the front of my training notebooks:

 “Chaser learned the names
of over 1000 different toys”.

Chaser

Today’s session should be a part of the whole plan, you should have a clear idea of what you want to work on and make progress. But there again, today may be the day you wing it and “go freestyle”, this is fine for odd occasions but it can take training off track if you are not sure where you are heading.

It is normal in teaching and education to set clear goals and measurable objectives, where accountability for the learner’s progress is part of a system. Your responsibility is entirely centric to the relationship you have with your dog, then those who you (both) may share your life with, and then the wider community. Progress is at a rate for your agenda, not for anyone else’s.

This gives us the freedom to progress at a rate measured only by success, not by a certain date (must have this ready for ….); a specific age (by 14 months old the dog should be able to  …) or anyone else’s expectations. It will take as long as it takes to reach the level of success you have set. This may be 5 months or 5 years, it will depend on your skills as a teacher, the time you can invest and the skills and abilities of your dog. It is so much more than a journey with mile posts as a journey with outstanding views and shared perspectives.

Think in term of progress made. Is this heading along a pathway in the right direction? Have you come further than the last session? Focus on the one element that you can measure progress for the session, not on “being better”. Success is more about having a successful session that leaves you with euphoria, (truly) and a sense of achievement rather than “increased duration by 17 seconds”.

Depending on the skills you are developing, the stage the dog is in their learning, will affect how many sessions you can complete in one lesson. My average usually rolls in between 10 and 15 minutes. Working on one or two new skills, and refreshing 3 or 4 established skills. But just as equally I can spend the 10 minutes on one element. The measure is approximately 100-120 treats overall. Collie or Setter.

That does not include the 20-30 minutes I may have spent on rehearsal and practising my own skills. Zero treats sadly, but perhaps 1 coffee.

Important for both of you:

You feel safe

There should be no risk of interruption, judgement or threat for the dog from other dogs or people. The surface and area present no hazards, no bits and pieces on the floor to trip on. You have as much time as needed within the period you have set aside, this may be just 5 minutes or 15 minutes.

No pressure to hurry

Trying to hurry or feel you should include a&b&c is not part of learning. Learning is a valued process that does not flourish when hurried. Hurried training usually needs to be redone.

If you don’t have time to do it right
when will you have time
to do it over?

John Wooden

No disruptions

This could be from your phone that you forgot to switch off, or that you need to donate half an ear to listening to the external environment: what are the other dogs / children / family doing?

Be refreshed

You know where you are, in your own training, with the recent progress the dog has made or found a struggle. You are starting warm, not cold, from refreshing your journal for the last few sessions.

This goes the same for your mental state of preparation. Be clear who is the learner (both of you) and that your mind is as open to learner, being self-aware, as much as observing what your dog is telling you, when they are getting confused, tired, or thrilled.

You know whether you are too tired for a session. Tiredness comes in many forms and personally a 10 minute session with any dog is for me an energy boost. Dogs at superb at learning when we get it right, give tremendously valuable and genuine feedback. The tiredness from the strain of the day can quickly evaporate. If you are simply out of patience, then no, delay training for another time.

Camera

If you are going to self-video, make sure the equipment is prepared, the dog is familiar with the set up. Check the camera has sufficient memory for your needs and what is important is in view. Know where you will be moving out of range within you area. Check the tripod is properly balanced and tightened, I lost a valuable recording when the camera slowly tilted forwards to only video me from knees downwards!

Notes are handy

We already have lots to remember, so keep your notes within view for easy access.

If the procedure needs a specific order or points to remember write them out on a large piece of paper and stick it on the wall. There are no extra credits for remembering everything. This is not a test. I keep a list of cues for each dog, as that moment of hesitation whilst I try to remember what this dog’s cue for that behaviour is can be the killer moment.

Just as you complete one session, note what you feel has made progress for this session and  any notes for a carry forward to the next session.

I may be working on teaching Merrick to give a high paw wave to alternate front feet for her Spanish Walk gestures. But at the same time I notice that the standing with stillness in preparation for this needs tidying up. I will make a note of that for the next session, and carry if forward over the next 3/4 sessions. I may notice she is orientating to the treat pot over the repetitions, so will make a note to change the location.

By making notes for these secondary elements we become more observant. My philosophy for remembering things is write it down if it is not relevant right now. Then forget about it until it is relevant and focus only on what I am doing right now.

Chop the treats: Open the bag

Whatever rewards we are going to use should be pre-prepared. There is little chance I can chop treats without the dogs being fully aware. It is likely that I will graduate into training, so the treat chopping process can be considered part of the anticipation for the dogs.

Alternatively I prepare and chop and then travel to a venue for training possibly a couple of hours after the chopping, or I could have enough treats left over from previous session already chopped. In essence, be variable. Avoid a habit or pattern of behaviour that will be noticed by the dog as a significant, or sole, contribution to success.

The same with wearing treat bag, or training jacket. Build flexibility by consciously avoiding critical habits. The dog will notice, learn and remember.

Provided the environment you train in gives both you and your dog the same opportunities for feeling secure, free from disruption and comfortable, you can change where you train.

My training is 99% in my home environment, the kitchen or the garden. But within that environment I am careful about established flexible cues. My dogs travel their behaviours to new places very well.

Training gear

We have a few aids that are often part of the training. We may need the clicker, a cup on a stick, a target platform, mat or bucket. Poles, jumps, cones etc. These should be ready to go so that the learning momentum doesn’t fade.

We will schedules short breaks, perhaps a minute or two whilst we check notes, set up the next session, but these should not extend to the point where the dog actually falls asleep or completely loses readiness.

Taking breaks, Starting and finishing

The patterns, and cues within those patterns, should be clear for the dog. We do not want to start reading through notes whilst the dog gives us their full readiness. The outcome of this is fatigue happening much sooner, or the dog simply unsure when to give you their focus and when to go about sniffing.

Our lessons, and the sessions within the lesson, should not be so long that the dogs get to the point of fatigue and can no longer maintain focus. Mental fatigue will arrive before physical.

We need a pattern of our behaviour that clearly lets the dog know:

Open session:

This may be a serious conversation with the treats, counting out the treats, open the pot, loading the pocket, tapping pockets for clicker, unclipping the lead etc. It should demonstrate our rising energy and anticipation.
It is followed by rewards for cue seeking. This tells us the dog’s level of engagement.

Take a break:

This is a break within the lesson, when we change what we are teaching, perhaps set up a new piece of equipment, move to a new spot, focus on a different skill. We may need to step over to our notes for a minute (just 1 minute).
This would also include stopping the training to re-think, or speak to a coach or fellow trainer.
It should clear communicate to the dog to step down for a moment, watch the girls go by, have a short rest (but not completely disengage).
You may clip a lead back on, put the dog into parked position and cues them to “idle”.

End of session:

This is completion, let your energy dissipate, perhaps have a pattern of play, of chuck the remaining treats around the area for a hunt.
For the dog this may not be a welcome event, they will love this training so be careful that we have multiple patterns to run down the lessons. Avoid “going cold” and completely shutting the dog off.
I usually need to complete my notes – this may take 10 -15 minutes. Some of the dogs would choose to rest at my side and employ the spare hand for an ear rub, other would quietly sniff around the room for a solitary lone treat, or together they would play.
What we do not want is the dog staring at us in full focus wondering what to do.

Always have a plan

Feel Safe ~ No hurry
No Disruptions ~ Be refreshed

Camera Check

Notes handy

Treats Ready

Gear ready

Open ~ Take a Break ~ All done

Knowledge & Understanding

Skills &
Competency

Measuring competency

Stage 1 – Unconsciously unskilled 

We don’t know what we don’t know. We are inept and unaware of it.

This is where we all begin. As a trainer the recipe instructs minimally as “treat”. We now look at this and realise delivering a treat is a skill. There are many considerations and motor patterns to practise and develop.

Stage 2 – Consciously unskilled 

We know what we don’t know. We start to learn at this level when sudden awareness of how poorly we do something shows us how much we need to learn.

As we progress in our training, we may return to this stage many times as we become aware of skipping pass a skill.

Stage 3 – Consciously skilled

Trying the skill out, experimenting, practising. We now know how to do the skill the right way, but need to think and work hard to do it.

This is where the really hard work sets in. We may need to step away, re-learn our skills, self-checking our progress. Seeking feedback and working past the errors and future-less habits that came from skipping this stage when we first began.

 

Stage 4 – Unconsciously skilled. 

If we continue to practice and apply the new skills, eventually we arrive at a stage where they become easier, and given time, even natural.

This is heaven. This is where we find the flow and rhythm in teaching. This is where it seems natural and unforced, where our confidence comes through and we can lay down a learning pathway that brings pleasure and joy to learner and teacher.

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