There are a few ways to make teaching new behaviors easier for you and your dog. Let’s outline a few of those tips to help you be more successful in this step-by-step guide!
Teaching New Behaviors in Low-Distraction Environments
First, teach your new behaviors in low-distraction environments. It’s much easier for the dog to learn if there aren’t other distractions competing for his or her attention. Work in a familiar room, the area where you normally train.
Is Your Dog Ready to Learn New Behaviors?
Ensure that your dog is ready and interested in training. Is your dog comfortable? If the dog is nervous or afraid, you won’t have a very successful session. Make sure your dog isn’t too tired or hot. This is especially important for puppies, who tend to sleep a lot!
Appropriate Value Treats
When you’re training, use treats that are most appropriate for the situation and your dog. Some dogs are happy to get lower-value treats (like kibble) in easier training sessions, but need higher value when there are a lot of competing distractions or the behavior is especially hard. Other dogs need higher value treats to keep them interested. If possible, save the highest value treats for the really tough stuff in difficult environments.
Keep Sessions Short for Success!
This is the most difficult one to adhere to, in my experience. It’s so easy to keep training and training and all of a sudden your dog is done and you realize it’s been 20 minutes! It’s really important that you keep the sessions short. Most dogs don’t like a lot of repetition, so keep that in mind. Of course this will vary from dog to dog but my general guideline is maybe 5-10 reps when learning, and fewer once the dog knows the behavior. Break up your sessions with lots of play and rotate behaviors often.
There are a couple ways you can ensure that your sessions stay short. You can set a timer on your phone, and stop training when the timer goes off! I don’t like to set timers, so the trick I use is to count out the number of treats that go into my pocket. When the treats are gone, we are done! It doesn’t mean the entire session is over but I’ll do a quick play break while I refill and then I’ll move onto another behavior.
I don’t want my dog to feel frustrated while we’re training. Frustration can lead to a wide range of behaviors from disconnecting to vocalizing and nipping. During my training sessions I make sure my training is clean and my reward markers are clear. I use specific reward markers to let my dog know where the reinforcement is delivered. I make sure I’m marking, pausing, then rewarding. I focus on my timing, making sure I’m giving accurate information to my dog. Think about your session beforehand to figure out all the details so that you can be a good trainer during the session.
If you need some help with clean training, or anything else regarding teaching new behaviors, check out my class at FDSA running right now! Registration is open until Oct 15th and there is still room! Join me to learn how to teach new behaviors to fluency in all kinds of environments!
Steps for Teaching New Behaviors
This is roughly the process that I go through for teaching new behaviors.
- Teach new behavior in familiar environment
- Fade props or prompts for the behavior
- Fade reinforcement so the dog isn’t getting a treat for every single rep
- Put behavior in a chain with other known behaviors
- Take the behavior to a new low-distraction environment. Go back to step 2 and repeat previous steps
- Continue to rotate environments, slowly increasing difficulty and distraction level
Keep an eye on your dog’s behaviors as you slowly increase the difficulty. Is your dog’s accuracy staying the same? Is your dog taking treats like he or she normally does or is the dog getting grabby? Look for any clues that things are getting difficult so you can make sure your dog works through them before you move onto the next step.
If you follow this step-by-step guide to teaching new behaviors, you will have much better success with your dog! Systematically teaching and increasing criteria for new behaviors will allow your dog to learn more quickly and with less frustration.