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Are we thinking of Dog Training backwards?

Irrespective of what we are attempting to teach, if we reduce the clutter around our objectives our subjects will have a much easier time learning and retaining information gathered in that session. Let us look at what exactly Dog Training is in order to be able to be sitting on the same page. Dog Training is the imparting of knowledge and manipulation of emotions to attain a specific end result. Dog Training is not simply the teaching of skills, it is the teaching of decisions that lead to the execution of skills. If we can accept this we are able to better serve our dogs training needs. We are able to serve our dogs better by the virtue that we accept that it is the brain that we are training, not the body. This is certainly worth repeating, it is the brain that we are training. We are, very much so, imparting a skill set by which a dog is able to access something desirable or avoid something undesirable.

In order to ensure that we achieve the best learning outcome possible we are responsible for making the training session as "clean" and "succinct" as possible. Sounds esoteric, but it is pragmatic.

Often, during training, we add extraneous information during the repetition as well as outside of a repetition. This means that we are forcing our dogs to concentrate on the necessary information as well as the unnecessary "noise"! Be that waving hands, flapping gums, billowing clothes, raising eyebrows or whatever our dogs perceive to be included in the training session.

In the above video you can see that the food Lure, the reinforcer, and the Ball, the Sd, are first packaged together in my right hand, then I split them, which takes Koda back to stage one of her training. In stage 1 we paired the ball to food. Now Koda is uncertain of which to follow, the Ball or the lure. What happens in that repetition is that Koda now has extraneous signals activating her brain whereas previous to this event, no such spurious event occurred. Precisely because of this apparently minute error, on my behalf, we have a major impact to the progression of our training. It is going to take more good repetitions – without this error – to reduce the likelihood of Koda becoming focused on the ball rather than the lure.

This last clip shows you Kodas capacity to perform without the “noise”. In this, her second, session of learning to balance a ball – the same as the previous clip - she is showing the ability to focus on the lure and be tolerant of being handled on her head outside of her peripheral vision. Without focusing on the ball. To be seen here is that this repetition:

  • Starts cleanly, there are no superfluous signals that are visibly responded to by Koda

  • Performance is completed fairly well, though there are corrections

  • Ends cleanly, Koda is is not subjected to signals outside of those presented within the repetition itself

What effect does this have on our end goal? If we have many “dirty” repetitions, our dogs will take longer to learn and have a harder time doing it. They will still learn, but the journey is harder.

Why is it important to clean up our repetitions?

Look at the map below. This is a map of a part of London UK. Now lets us imagine that you need to get from point A to point B. You will get there for sure, but the journey will not be easy as you navigate the One Way streets, tollways, construction detours etc.

If you where to look at another map, such as the Underground line maps in London UK, you will see some drastic changes. Instead of a milieu of information streaming through your eyes for your brain to sort through, you have the bare essentials. All lines are colour coded, there is a grid reference and an alphabetical listing. This means that you look up your station name, get the grid location, go to it and backtrack to your current location.

This takes seconds, compared to the road map which takes minutes. Simply due to the amount of information we must sift through to get to the end result. Clean Repetitions enable our learner to remember numerous repetitions that all looked strikingly similar. Since the information is as constant as we can make it, our dogs senses – in this case eyes, ears and nose - are transmitting that same constant signal to their brains. From there the brain is able to activate specific centres that have already been used for this purpose and send the required signals to the – in this instance - muscular and digestive systems.

This constant repetition and use allows the brain to react faster and more efficiently to the presented information. With each subsequent repetition our dogs can make those decisions much faster. This means that we can progress much more fluently and we do not have the later issue of training hiccups in the later stages, when the training becomes incrementally harder. By cleaning up the signals that we are sending to our dogs during training, we make the subsequent repetitions and sessions easier for them. If the repetitions are easier, they are gaining in confidence and we can make progress.

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