Often times we’re asked, “how can I get more focus and engagement out of my dog when training?”. What we have learned throughout our years of training is that if we can control certain elements of our environment before and after the training session, we can achieve a higher state of intensity and focus in our training. So, if we may, we’d like to break down 5 points that help us dramatically in the overall flow of our training sessions.
1. Use reward based training
Perhaps the single greatest realization in the last 100 years of dog training was the implementation of reward based training. To put it simply the dog works for you, and you pay it for a job well done. I think an easy analogy would be to ask yourself how you would feel if you went to work everyday, doing your best. But, instead of receiving a paycheck your boss gives your a hug and tells you how wonderful you are, and how appreciative they are of your performance. The reality is, as good as it feels to be stroked and praised, it feels a whole lot better to get paid.
If you can find the object of your dog’s desire, be it toy or food, you can teach your dog to work for that reward. Using reward based training brings higher levels of drive, conviction, and integrity.
2. Make sure your dog is hungry
Luckily for us, food drive is present in each and every dog, naturally. But, like every other drive, the level of food drive expressed in the dog is going to be determined by a multitude of factors like genetics, breed, individual character, environment, diet, etc… With respect to those factors, lets just say for now that we would like to achieve a higher level of food drive.
We find that mornings and evenings (when dogs are naturally the most active) are the prime times to train. Conveniently, these are also the times when most people feed their dogs. So, it only makes sense to train before feeding times. These are also the times when the dog is going to be the most hungry and coupled with reward based training, you will be able to capitalize on this element and bring more drive and compliance to your training.
3. Have a solid game plan
Having a game plan is essential to having a productive dog training session. If we are training, we are always working on something or another. Whether it be polishing up a behavior, or creating a new one, there is always something that is going to be at the forefront of the list in terms of the day’s session.Having an order and format to your training will help keep you on track, instead of meandering around the field wondering what you should work on next. Having a logical flow to your training will create a rhythm to your session, also yielding a higher level of drive and commitment.
4. Confine the dog before and after the session
Confining your dog before training is also a great way to increase drive, and compliance in your session.
Lets face it, when the dog is confined, life is pretty boring. So when a dog is taken out of the confinement, they are usually pretty pumped to do whatever is presented to them. In turn, think of a dogs mental state if we wake them up from a nap on the couch to train. Obviously, the dog is not going to have the same level of motivation. So this factor alone can make us more interesting and fun to the dog. If we couple this usable drive with the fact that the dog is now hungry because of the time of day we are training, and the fact that we are using high value reward based training, you can almost instantaneously create much more drive and engagement.
It is also important to confine your dog immediately after your training session. Dogs live in the present, truly. So, if we confine the dog in a neutral place after training they will sit in confinement and think, or stew even, on the thing they were doing last before being confined. Believe it or not, the dog will actually continue learning on its own, while being confined. This is precisely the reason “time outs” do not work for behavior problems. But, alas, that’s another blog..
5. End on a high note
Another question we get asked frequently is “how long should my dog training session be?”
When teaching and advancing behaviors, it has been our observation that if you are able to finish your session not only on a successful repetition of the behavior you are working on, but also at the point where the dog has reached a maximum level of drive or enthusiasm, it yields the highest result of maintaining drive while advancing learning.
If we end our dog training session at a point where their drive to train has reached a maximum level, the dog brings this level to the next training session. Thus, increasing drive.
On the flip side, if we end our session at a point when we have worked too much and the dog becomes bored, or non-engaging, we decrease the dog’s drive and work ethic. Resulting in a less motivated effort by the dog.
These are just a few observations that we have been able to apply when we are training our dogs.
We encourage you to take these ideas and apply them to your own system of dog training and see if it yields the results we have experienced!
Take care and safe training