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Monday, May 24, 2010

Criteria - How To Train It

This is the 4th Blog in the Criteria Series. Below are links to the previous Blogs.

Thanks to the worksheet in Blog 3, you should have your criteria established and are excited to start training. There's just one question left to to train it! 

The question of 'How to train it?' is sort of like asking 'How to loose weight?' There are a ton of options, theories, myths, opinions, science and experience out there and deciding a course of action can be a head-spinning challenge.

I like to keep things simple, so personal experience has taught me:
  • Agility should be fun for me.
  • Agility should be a game for my dog (fun).
  • Ultimately, I want my dog to be responsible for performing the trained action/goal automatically or with one cue from me (consistency so the dog knows how to earn rewards, which equals fun).
  • I want to focus on rewarding the correct behavior (fun) instead of managing or threatening them if they don't do it (not fun).
  • Life is hectic and I want to be efficient and have quality training time with my dogs (fun) vs. inefficient quantity time (not fun).
The Art of Rewards
As a dog trainer and especially a dog trainer in Agility, I've taken the luxury to train all sorts of ways and have tried almost every method out there. 

When it comes to training a new skill, hands down, I can say with confidence that a reward for correct/wanted behaviors works the absolute best in a criteria-based training program. The best part? It fits with a simple, precise and successful training/showing lifestyle!

In Blog 3 I mentioned that our job as Trainer to The Dog is to:

  • Teach our dog the skill or job
  • Impart information
  • Instruct to improve performance
  • Attain a required level of  knowledge or skill

How we do that is purely optional. 

However, when I think back on the mentors, teachers and trainers I've had in life, those that supported, encouraged and had my best interests at heart are the ones I remember the most and the ones who taught me the most (or was it that I was more willing to listen more?)...after years of success, trial & error, I've learned that it IS simple to be all of those things to our dogs.

Dear Dog - Criteria is GOOD!
Remember when I mentioned in my last few Criteria Blog posts that dog training is about the dog? Well, a reward system of training embraces that mantra. When I'm training one of the criteria steps defined in my worksheet, I start out using:

  • Treats for...
  • Rapid reinforcement as a way to tell my dog "Now THIS is exactly what I want and when you do that step, GREAT things come your way." My time at Chicken Camp (Day 3) really helped to reinforce this.
  • I spend a ton of time reinforcing (i.e. making a positive impression) 
  • I'm NOT stingy with treats. Actually, as fast as I can hand 'em out, I do.
  • I don't move to the next step until my dog is doing the current behavior, independently, 80-100% of the time!
Once my dog is solid in the behavior I've reinforced, if appropriate I work to quickly:
  • Take myself out of the equation by adding movement (of my position) while feeding/rewarding my dog.
  • Look for an opportunity to toss food between my dog's paws so I don't have to walk to/from my dog.
  • Add a release word.
  • Make reinforcement variable.
  • Often I won't jump in to help my dog because I want them to think things through and take responsibility and pride in their actions. Why deny my dog the feeling of accomplishment and pride when they figure out and get rewarded for a task? However, I may help them follow through when they make a move in the right direction and I will always reward in position and default to rapid reinforcement to help celebrate with them.
  • I don't move to the next step until my dog is doing the current behavior, independently, 80-100% of the time! (Sound familiar?)
For each step in my Criteria Planning Worksheet I start all over with Treats For....(see above) and progress through the steps listed above as appropriate. It's really that simple and my dogs love the game that I've created.

It's good old Operant Conditioning at its best. It's proven, easy and works GREAT with a criteria-based training program.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


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