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Posted on 03-21-2016

Welcome again to Behavior Modification Monday!

By: Harline Larkey, B.S., M.Ed., APDT

This week’s topic is: Training Efficiently

One definition of a well-trained dog is that he exhibits desirable behaviors about 80% of the time in different environments. It’s a fairly lofty goal and can take from days to years, depending on the complexity of the behavior, (an agility course or a simple sit?), the dog’s temperament (is he fearful or anxious?), age, background, suitability and your training skills, among other factors. But whatever your situation, learning to train efficiently will help you reach your own definition of success more quickly.

By training efficiently, I mean setting up the dog to succeed every time you ask for a behavior. The more times your dog repeats a behavior correctly, the faster he learns it and the more reliable it becomes. The more times he fails to repeat it correctly, the longer it will take for him to learn it and the less reliable it will be. Three 10-minute sessions a week in which the dog repeats the behaviors correctly will be more efficient than four 15-minute sessions during which there are multiple mistakes.

Here are a few tips to efficient training:

  • Have a plan for what you want to work on during the session.
  • Be prepared. Have treats of the appropriate value and number at hand. Be sure you have removed distractions as required by your dog’s level of training, and that you are relaxed and looking forward to the session. If you are tired, reschedule your session.
  • Clarity matters:  Be sure you are clear about how to teach the behavior by reading through instructions and/or watching appropriate videos. If you are unclear or inconsistent, your dog cannot respond successfully.
  • Train thoughtfully:  If things are not progressing as you think they should be, consider the Training Trinity, which is criteria, timing, and rate of reinforcement. Lower your criteria because maybe your dog can successfully stay for ten seconds, but not yet for 15.
  • Watch your timing -  do you need to deliver that treat more quickly? Remember, in the beginning, reinforcers need to occur within one to two seconds at least. How much or quickly are you reinforcing? Maybe you need to offer a treat after every three steps of polite walking, rather than every ten.

Other things contribute to efficient training, but I hope this helps you get started!

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