Practice Makes Perfect – How To Train Almost Anything

Such a simple saying, but oh so important when you are sharing your life with a dog!

Looking carefully at what I allow my dogs to do vs. what I ask them to do, it is clear that they spend much more time doing as they please, rather than doing as I please.  It is not that they are misbehaving (at least not most of the time!) it is that I often forget what I tell my students over and over again – “Practice Makes Perfect.”

What that means in my life with dogs is that there are many opportunities I am missing for incorporating training into everyday “conversations”  and therefore are giving my dogs lots of time to practice ignoring me. There are many occasions that I could “practice” behaviors in a way that uses effectively the little time I actually get to spend with my dogs.

Let me give a few examples. When I am working at my desk, I know where my dogs will be.  They will be curled up and resting, one on either side of my chair. They aren’t exactly sleeping as they are completely aware of my movements. Now this would be a perfect time to practice “settle” or “relax.” I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what they are going to do, so why not take advantage of this opportunity to name it (“settle”) and practice it?  The reason I don’t do this often is frankly that I simply forget. And my way around this lately  has been  to post a list on my refrigerator of the three behaviors I want to concentrate on. I am fairly certain to go there (at least) several times a day so it is a good place to put a reminder.

Missed Moments

There are many moments during the day that training could take place but we fail to notice or overlook them. My dogs know that when I pick up my keys it may signal that they are going to go for a ride and they come running, no matter what they are doing. A good way to use this is to say “come” and pick up the keys. I already know they will come running, so why not take advantage of the situation and practice a “recall?” After doing this several times you may notice that the “recall” has become faster and stronger. Start to vary it now by sometimes using your recall word without picking up the keys.

Learning All The Time

When you get right down to it, your dogs are pretty much learning all day long. They may be “practicing” a “settle” while you are watching television or a “recall” when they hear the dog food canister open. Make use of these opportunities. In essence this is “capturing” behaviors which is a technique that clicker trainers use extensively. It is a good way to teach almost everything that is normally a part of your dog’s repertoire. Looking for behaviors that you want to put on cue is an approach that makes you very observant of your dog. One of my first (of many) “eureka” moments with this method was teaching my dogs to sneeze on cue. I noticed that when I came home and woke them, they would often shake themselves out of sleep and then sneeze. What a revelation it was to me that this would be an easy thing to “capture” and “put on cue” because it  occurred predictably and reliably. After I put that on cue, I realized that I could also train “shake it off” this way, as it reliably occurred when I woke them while they were snoozing on the couch. And as I write this, I recognize another missed opportunity!  After they shake it off, they jump down off the couch, giving me the perfect opportunity to name the behavior  – “off” – as they do it.

Capture, Capture and Capture Again

This video is a great example of clearly training a captured behavior. Not only is it concise and clear, it is also inspiring!

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3 Responses to “Practice Makes Perfect – How To Train Almost Anything”

  1. Amy@GoPetFriendly 01. Dec, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Fantastic suggestions, Elizabeth! I’m going to start naming the behaviors Buster and Ty are doing naturally. Could there be a better way to build their self esteem than praising them for things they were doing anyway?

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