Training Plans

What's a training plan, and how do I make one?

Before you train any behavior, you need to make a training plan. The first step is to define the behavior in detail.

  • What will the finished behavior look like? Is this a precise behavior? If so, what distinct elements make it perfect?
  • How will this behavior be cued? What kind of latency is required?
  • Does this behavior have duration? Distance?
  • Does your dog have to be in a particular place relative to you to perform this behavior? Are you always going to be sitting, standing, or lying down when you give the cue? If not, plan to spend times doing reps with both you and the dog in different positions.
  • In what locations will the behavior be cued?
  • What distractions might the dog face in those locations when performing the behavior?
  • How reliable does this behavior have to be?

The definition of the behavior is a detailed description of where you want to go. The second step is to evaluate where you currently are. If this is a brand new behavior, that's easy! You're starting from scratch. If this is an in-progress behavior, evaluate the behavior for all of the above criteria. Keep records and let the data tell you exactly what your dog is capable of doing reliably.

The final step is to make a plan to get from where you are to where you want to be. Start with the behavior. Break it into responses, and shape it to perfection. When it's exactly right, add the cue. Then one by one add elements like duration, distance, and distractions.

As you train, keep your training plans firmly in mind. Track your progress. Periodically review your training plan, and revise the definition of the final behavior, if necessary. Don't stop working on the behavior until the behavior your dog performs is a reliable mirror image of the behavior you described.

Following are the general training plans I wrote for the behaviors Pax and I are concentrating on right now. (The behaviors are listed in alphabetical order, not order of priority.)

Attention

Cue: "Pax"

Description: Upon verbal cue, Pax will make eye contact and will maintain the eye contact until released or given a cue that requires him to break eye contact.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Eye contact.
  • Duration: Maintain eye contact up to five minutes.
  • Distance: Respond to cue up to fifty feet away.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment.
  • Other: Must maintain eye contact, even if I move unless given other cue.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Get offered eye contact.
  2. Add the cue.
  3. Add duration of several seconds.
  4. Add distractions to proof that duration.
  5. Practice turns a la Sue Eh? To teach Pax to seek eye contact.
  6. Add distance.

Down

Cue: Verbal cue "down" and a hand signal.

Description: On cue, Pax will lie in a relaxed down position. This is not a "drop." This is a relaxed position for everyday use and long-term stays.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Body prone and relaxed.
  • Duration: Up to half an hour.
  • Distance: Respond to cue up to fifty feet away.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Position: Assume position from stand or sit. Pax should not change his position relative to me, except in specific situations where that is specifically trained. I should be able to be in any physical position.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment. Must maintain the down when being touched by strangers or sniffed by strange dogs.
  • Other: Must maintain even when I'm out of sight.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Get the behavior.
  2. Add the cue.
  3. Add duration of 15 seconds.
  4. Add distance -- me leaving him while he maintains the down - of 20 feet and out of sight.
  5. Proof the cue.
  6. Reduce latency.
  7. Add distractions - holding down while a ball (or bumper!) is thrown, while a dog or person walks past, while cars and other vehicles go by, when food is tossed, when a stranger comes up and touches him.
  8. Increase duration.

Heel

Cue: My left arm held in a certain position at my waist. No verbal cue.

Description: While my arm is held in the cue position, Pax will maintain proper heel position when I am moving forward, backwards, laterally, making circles, making sharp turns, doing an about turn, or pivoting either direction.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Area between Pax's head and shoulder should remain next to my left leg. He should remain about two inches away from me. He should sit squarely when I stop. He doesn't have to maintain constant eye contact, but he should check in frequently.
  • Duration: Up to two minutes of walking and direction changes.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment.
  • Other: Behavior should happen off-leash and on-leash.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Reinforce Pax for sitting in correct heel position.
  2. Practice pop steps.
  3. Get strong eye contact.
  4. Play "Where's my dog?"
  5. Practice clockwise turns to get Pax into heel position.
  6. Add forward movement.
  7. Add left pivot with him starting in heel position.
  8. Add about turn in either direction.
  9. Increase duration.
  10. Add backwards movement.
  11. Add distractions.

Loose Leash Walking

Cue: "With me."

Description: An informal heel. The leash should be loose, and he shouldn't be in front of me, but the behavior isn't precise. He can pay more attention to his surroundings. He should sit when we stop, however.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Auto-sit. No walking in front of me.
  • Duration: No specific duration. This could potentially be a long-term behavior, however.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment.
  • Other: Should happen off-leash as well as on-leash. The key concepts are position and self-control, not "loose leash" or "don't pull."

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Reinforce Pax for being next to me.
  2. Reinforce sits in heel position.
  3. Reinforce one or two steps next to me.
  4. Practice frequent turns.
  5. Add duration.
  6. Walk toward something Pax wants.
  7. Add distractions.

Place

Cue: Verbal cue "Place."

Description: On cue, Pax will go to a designated "place" and remain within its boundaries until released. He may be in any position within the boundaries.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Go to place and remain there.
  • Duration: Up to an hour.
  • Distance: Respond to cue up to fifty feet away.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment. Must maintain the behavior when being touched by strangers or sniffed by strange dogs.
  • Other: Must maintain even when I'm out of sight.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Reinforce Pax for being on the blanket.
  2. Add cue.
  3. Add short duration.
  4. Add distance.
  5. Teach him to go to his place from a short distance away.
  6. Add duration.
  7. Add distractions.

Informal Recall

Cue: "Come"

Description: Upon verbal cue, Pax will run directly to me and let me grab hold of him.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Fast!
  • Distance: Respond to cue up to 100 feet away.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Teach collar grab (or body grab).
  2. Practice calling Pax for high reinforcement.
  3. Add distance.
  4. Add distractions.

Sit

Cue: Initial cue - verbal "sit." Fully-shaped behavior will have a hand signal.

Description: On cue, Pax will drop into a competition-quality sit. Verbal will be used for non-competition situations, so a "sloppier" response is acceptable, though not encouraged.

Elements:

  • Behavior specifics: Tucked, square.
  • Duration: Up to five minutes.
  • Distance: Respond to cue up to fifty feet away.
  • Latency: Immediate.
  • Position: Assume position from stand, down, or walk. Pax should not change his position relative to me, except in specific situations where that is specifically trained. I should be able to be in any physical position.
  • Locations: Everywhere.
  • Distractions: Anything and everything. Especially distractions common in a dog show or performance environment. Must maintain the sit when being touched by strangers or sniffed by strange dogs.
  • Other: Must maintain even when I'm out of sight.

Training Plan: (Accomplish each level in multiple locations of gradually increasing distractions.)

  1. Get the behavior.
  2. Add the cue.
  3. Shape for tucked.
  4. Shaped for tucked and square.
  5. Add the hand signal and proof.
  6. Reduce latency.
  7. Add duration of 15 seconds.
  8. Add distance -- me leaving him while he maintains the sit - of 20 feet and out of sight.
  9. Add distractions - holding sit while a ball (or bumper!) is thrown, while a dog or person walks past, while cars and other vehicles go by, when food is tossed, when a stranger comes up and touches him.
  10. Increase duration.

Keeping Records

Keeping a record of your training will help you know exactly what you've trained and exactly how your dog is performing. Keeping records can only help you. If something isn't working, a record lets you go back and figure out why. It lets you see, objectively, what's happening.

Possible fields for training records include:

  • Behavior being trained.
  • Date.
  • Session start and end times.
  • Specific criterion for the session.
  • Number of responses/Number of errors.
  • Notes.

This doesn't have to be a time-intensive process. Although taking the time to record your data between sessions does take away from your training time, using the information to evaluate your last session and plan your next, enables you to make your training incredibly efficient.

The record sheet I use looks essentially like this table:

Date
Criterion
#R/E
#R/E
#R/E
         
         
  • Date: Session date.
    ..
  • Criterion: The specific aspect you're training in this session. For example, second of eye contact. The criterion determines when you click.

    The rule is simple: You click when you achieve the criteria. If your criterion is second of eye contact, you click after second of eye contact. If the criterion is 5 seconds of eye contact, you click after 5 seconds.

    Note: The steps listed under each behavior's "training plan" are not criteria. They are goals. Each step may be made up of many, many sub-steps necessary to reach the stated goal.

  • #R/E: Number of repetitions/Number of errors.

    Why count repetitions and errors? Comparing the ratio of repetitions to errors gives you an objective way to determine the reliability of a behavior. When training a behavior, strive for 80% reliability at a criterion before making it harder.

    If you work in sets of either 5 or 10 reps, it's easy to tell when you've reached 80% reliability. Use the following guide:

    • In a 5 rep session, 4 out of 5 correct equals 80%. If you make 2 or more errors, stay at the same criterion.
    • In a 10 rep session, 8 out of 10 correct equals 80%. If you make 3 or more errors, stay at the same criterion.

If you'd like to use the record sheet I use, I saved one in rich-text format here. Save it to your hard drive and make copies.

 

| Diary Home | Pax's Training Plans Home |

| ClickerSolutions Home |


List and Site Owner: Melissa Alexander, mca @ clickersolutions.com

 

 

=