Is it time to take your dog training back to the drawing board?
Have you ever had a moment in your dog training where you realized you were missing a major piece of the puzzle? That there is one piece seemingly holding you back from reaching the results you wanted?
Maybe you’re even feeling that way at the moment.
If you are, then maybe it’s time to take your training back to the drawing board. I’m talking of course about the subject of “re-training.”
Re-training comes from the realization that what you trained the first time isn’t working for you now. This takes guts to admit, because no one likes to feel that we need to start over. Instead, try thinking of re-training as a fresh start; a new beginning if you will. Imagine how it may change your performance for the better.
Feeling a bit more motivated? Great! Now let’s delve into the question that is re-training.
Let’s take a quick moment to clarify that for re-training to be successful, you must get the result you want. Why? Because otherwise you end up right back where you started!
Take my sheltie Dice for example. I’ve attempted to “re-train” her teeter performance several times since she has a tendency to leave the board early, sometimes incurring faults. My quick solution to this problem was to tell her “down” while she was on the board to encourage her to ride it to the ground. Sure, this worked for a little while, but then she started leaving early again. Then I decided to teach her to keep all four paws on the board until I gave her a release word. This worked for maybe a trial or two, but I didn’t enforce this new behaviour in the ring and so that deteriorated as well. Basically I wasn’t truly committed to re-training, and hence I was destined to end up back in the same place.
The first consideration you have to make when deciding whether or not to re-train a certain aspect of your performance, is how much you really want it to change. Imagine if you had a scale from 1-10 (10 being you desperately need the behaviour to change). Where do you fall on this scale? How much are you willing to invest in getting that coveted end result? Because I can tell you now, that part way doesn’t get results. When it comes to re-training, you’re either all in, or you will struggle to really change it. So are you in or are you out?
Decided to commit to change?
Now comes the planning stage. I know some people like to plan out every little training detail when it comes to things like this. I’m honestly not the planning type. Somehow brining a notebook to my training session just seems to suck all the fun out of it for me. Instead, I tend to focus on visualizing my end result and then the steps that I think will get me there.
Here’s a personal example that I’m going through at the moment. I’ve decided recently to temporarily abandon my running dogwalk project with my border collie Heist and instead teach him a stopped contact. It has gotten to the point where I’ve realized that the amount of time I’m spending trying to train one obstacle is limiting my time training things that are arguably more important. So I started coming up with a plan by:
- Visualizing what the end performance will look like
- running into a two on two off contact with his head low and forward
- Thinking of what small steps I can take to help me train those skills
- Teaching him to keep his back feet on an object (stairs work great for this)
- Teaching a nose touch (I plan to fade it later)
- Starting with him jumping onto the end of the contact and running into position…then moving him further up the board
- Actually doing the work!!!!
- Maintenance and proofing
Now, admittedly I’m only at stage 3 with him right now. People seem to think that retraining contacts is a slow, tedious exercise. I can honestly say that I’ve been re-training for less than a week and today it just seemed to click for him. Make sure you aren’t spending too much time obsessing over small details that likely won’t matter in the end! Otherwise you’ll still be re-training a year from now!
So you’ve got your plan and you’re putting it into action. Awesome, right? What happens if/when the past starts coming back to haunt you and creeps into your new behaviour? First of all, relax. People get way too bent out of shape about things popping up unexpectedly in their training. If you’re re-training, then it means that you’re essentially attempting to re-do something you’ve already taught. This means that your dog is likely going to confuse the two at some point in training. Be patient and stick to your new criteria. If you find you’ve hit a wall…take a break and try again later (sometimes they just get a little mentally stuck during a training session, as do we!). If the problem persists then you may need to change up your plan of action a little bit. Either way, be flexible and work with what the dog gives you. This is another reason I find that over planning can actually be detrimental to your training.
The final stage of the re-training journey is your ring performance. This is the real test. The goal is to make sure you get the new behaviour you’ve re-trained so that your dog learns that this also applies to a competition. Be strong here! Your consistency is the real test! If you let your training start to deteriorate you’ll be heading right back to where you started in the first place…fast.
Here are a few suggestions for passing the final test:
– Have a plan for what you will do if your dog doesn’t do what’s expected
– Enter some extra runs for the purpose of training (AAC only)
– Try to use the same commands/body language you do in training (often trying to manage the dog’s performance throws them off a bit)
– Realize that this is one run of many! (yeah I know it’s hard while in the moment, but believe me guys…perspective is a key motivator in successful change!)
Remember…“Learning is not a spectator sport” – Chickering and Gamson
Jess Martin of Agile Dog Training