Basic Handler Skill Sets:
Improving Your Chops as a Trainer
Part of successful coaching
of owners who are training their own dogs is installing a set of
basic concepts (mental understanding), and teaching owners to apply
the concepts to each situation. This includes how dogs learn,
what reward and punishment systems are most effective and how to
deliver them, and how to set criteria for training. It is
during this instruction that the instructor learns about the owner's
previous beliefs and biases, and often has to really persuade the
owner that just because they saw it on TV or heard it from their
dad, it might not actually be a truth.
The second very important
issue is to teach physical skills like body awareness, how to use
body language to aid in the learning process, timing, and the
ability to project a calm and confident attitude to the dog.
During this section, instructors often have to help the owner
realize that just because a human would understand certain things,
dogs need slightly different body language and attitudes to really
understand what the person is trying to communicate.
So, you're a dog owner, and
you came here to read about improving your chops. Let's go
through the basic concepts of successful dog training.
Remember, we are going for not only EFFECTIVE (getting the job
done), but EFFICIENT (gets it done in the swiftest, easiest way
Always set criteria for
your training session. How many sits, how fast, at what
point will I quit?
Quit at a high point.
Resist your human nature to drill the dog doing amazing new
things. He will learn better if you get an amazing
success, jackpot him with treats and praise, and stop the
session. He will not get rewarded for the sloppy efforts
that happen if you drill him and drill him. Good trainers
recognize when to quit while they are AHEAD.
Dogs have a hard time
generalizing things. This means that each time something
is a little different, he may need remedial training. Do
not expect the same duration and quality of stay that you got in
your home to transfer to the park. Reduce your
expectations for a few repetitions, reward lavishly, and then
build him up to the "home stay" duration.
Generalization is also
to be kept in mind while socializing. Just because he
likes YOUR kids, does not mean that he likes ALL kids. He
will see each age group as a different thing. Toddlers are
often unpredictable in their movements and vocalizations.
Five-year-olds are a little more dependable but move and act
differently than eight-year-olds. Pre-teens act
differently than 16-year-olds. Do not think "he's
comfortable with kids" until you have shown him lots of kids.
Good trainers reward
their dogs a lot. Trainers with no experience often reward
less than 1/8th of the time, which does not lead to an easy
learning process. The dog might do a correct repetiton 100
times and get a reward response from the handler 30-40 times.
Don't try to "wean him off treats" right away. Reward every
success for at least the first two to three weeks, only start
randomizing after the dog has a HUGE reward history.
Good trainers do things
in short, intense spurts rather than long, protracted sessions.
You want your dog attentive and at his best, and a good time
period for a session is about 8-10 minutes. You can do as
many short sessions in a day as you like.
Good trainers repeat
things quickly and deliver rewards quickly. As an
experienced person, I can get about 40 rewarded sits in a
minute. A new dog owner in my class will have difficulty
getting five sits in a minute. It is easy to see what
quick delivery, several repetitions in a short time in a
concentrated short session, is the way to do things for good
Timing is crucial when
giving any kind of reward. Good trainers mark the behavior
verbally the moment it happens, give the SIT cue for example,
say "GOOD BOY" as his butt hits the ground, and the treat comes
a fraction of a second later. Inexperienced trainers say
"GOOD BOY" after he's gotten up from sitting, and then take 20
seconds to dig a treat out from their pocket. By that time
the dog has sniffed a rock, scratched his ear, looked at a bird
and lain down at your feet. What is he getting rewarded
for? Dogs best associate rewards with the activity they
were doing when the treat is delivered. How is he supposed
to learn that the reward is for sitting, if your timing is