So much to train and so little time! How do you make the most of your training time outside of your group classes? Do you find yourself in your training space making it up as you go? Are you making progress towards your goals, or do you have too many project behaviors lying around needing attention? Here are my tips for staying focused during a training session & how to get the most out of your training time.
- Decide what you are going to train. Seems obvious enough, but I have found myself on the agility field with nothing in particular in mind, and that's when I seem to struggle the most! So, pick something. Maybe it's something you worked on in class, or something you've been struggling with in trials. Pick something and then move on to step two.
- Break the behavior down. If you want to work on your dogwalk, for example, what part of the dogwalk would you like to train? End behavior? Speed? Certain handling situation? Sequencing the dogwalk? Think of one specific skill or objective for the behavior you're working on.
- Decide your criteria. Once you've decided what your objective is, what does it look like? Know what the reinforceable behavior is, how you will reinforce it, and how you will respond if criteria is not met.
- Set the stage. If your dog is ok to wander around with you, or stay on a station, you can have them with you when you set the training space up. Otherwise, take some time to set up your training space before you even mention to the dog that it's time to train. While you're at it, go ahead and practice once or twice without your dog. Run through the mechanics of setting the dog up for the behavior, cueing the behavior, marking and reinforcing the behavior, and getting the dog back to the starting point. Clean loops are a mechanical skill – practice them to improve them!
- Video! Almost forgot, set up your video camera! It's so valuable to be able to go back and watch your training sessions! Invest in a tripod and an attachable wide-angle lens & you're all set!
- Set a timer. This is the big one. If you are using primarily toy reinforcers, go ahead and set a timer that seems reasonable for your dog! If you're using food, use a limited amount. End the session when you have one cookie leftover!
- Review your video! Take a look at your training, make notes of what you'll change next time – steps 1-3 will go MUCH faster in the future if you film your sessions and review them afterwards!