Wait… Dog training without a dog? How does that work? Sometimes in training, the best thing you can do for your dog is to practice without him. Read on for the how and the why!
Good dog training starts with having a very clear mental picture of what you want your dog to do, plus a very clear mental picture of what you are going to do to elicit that behavior from your dog. Practicing the techniques you will use will help you be as clear as possible in communicating with your dog. Without clarity, a dog can quickly become confused and may even stop responding. The following procedure can lead to the clarity and consistency in communication that will help bring training success.
Gather the equipment. Clicker and food rewards are essential, as well the equipment for whatever training exercise you have decided to work on. For example, you may need a target stick, retrieve items, a head halter or front clip harness, or your dog’s settle mat. Additionally, if you use a device such as a cane or a walker, decide if you want to use it in this particular training session. (Your instructor can help you with options regarding assistive devices.)
Also consider where you want to keep the food rewards. A bowl nearby, a treat bag at your waist, or in your pocket are all possibilities.
What exercise are you going to be practicing? What step of that exercise? What is the criterion (i.e. the clickable moment) you’re aiming for? What does the human need to do? Consult your Savvy Canines instructional handouts if you need to review the steps of a particular exercise. Be able to state in one clear sentence what your goal is: “In this session I want my dog to…”
Put Buddy into another room with a chewy toy or a stuffed Kong. Now go back to where you’ve assembled the “stuff” and run through the motions of the exercise you want to work on. Do this a number of times until it becomes automatic. Imagine your dog with you and picture what you will be clicking. Remember that the click is like a “snapshot” of the exact behavior you want.
Let’s say you are working on the targeting exercise, and want your dog to learn to move a short distance to touch a target stick. You’ve decided to use a bait bag attached to your waist for this session.
The Stuff: clicker, food rewards, bait bag, target stick
The Brain: “In this session I want my dog to be able to take three steps to touch the end of the target stick.” (The one clear sentence.) In order to accomplish this, I will use the following criteria: I will click my dog first for just touching the stick; then for reaching out his nose for the stick; then for reaching a little farther for the stick; then for taking one step to the stick; then two steps, then three steps. I want him to be successful at least four out of five times before moving on to the next criterion. I need to click the instant his nose touches the stick.
The Practice: With Buddy in another room, practice holding the target stick as indicated on the handout or as your instructor has suggested, and imagine Buddy touching the stick in the steps you’ve outlined. Actually picture Buddy touching the stick, and click and pretend to deliver a treat. Practice this until the motions you need to do feel comfortable.
Putting It All Together
Now bring Buddy back into the picture and go through your planned steps. There may very well be unexpected things that occur in the training session, but with the baseline of a clear picture in your head, plus the no-dog practice you’ve put in, you will be able to problem-solve effectively.
This type of practice doesn’t take as much time as it might seem. In summary, ask yourself two main questions: Exactly what do I want my dog to do in this training session, and exactly what am I going to do to maximize the chances of that happening? Then decide if a little no-dog practice is in order.