Training Plans!

It’s April, and we’re all sheltering in place and social distancing. Good thing dogs don’t seem to be able to get Coronavirus – we can snuggle with them to our heart’s content.

Ironically, the class I’m teaching at FDSA this term is called “Out and About.” I couldn’t have done a better job, had I actively tried to come up with an inappropriate class title for the times we’re living in! It’s not a new class, of course – the title is a reminder of past and – hopefully – future times where it’s safe and responsible to share public spaces.

The good thing about Out & About – and the reason I didn’t scratch it this term – is that, despite its unfortunate title, there are large parts of it that can be trained at home, right in your own house, in your yard, or during a socially distant walk. Out and About is my choose your own adventure class. Students get to pick one or more topics that are particularly interesting for them, and work on those: advanced recalls away from distractions, leash manners, certain challenges based in overexcitement or fear of particular stimuli, muzzle training, settling anywhere and everywhere … It’s a rich class.

Many of you are probably facing financial hardships right now: job insecurity, unemployment, or simply less work. I myself have stopped working with in-person clients entirely, and am only teaching online. I feel lucky that I still have a job, and that working in distance education isn’t new to me!

Knowing that not everyone is this lucky, I’ve decided to share a short lecture from my current class here with you. It’s a lecture from the first week of class. If you have a decent recall already and are a savvy dog trainer, you’ll be able to take this lecture, come up with your very own training plan, and have something to work on with your dog over the next few weeks – even though you may not be able to afford a class this term. So this is for you, to give you a little something to play with and experiment with! This is my blueprint for analyzing recall challenges, and drafting training plans for recalls away from specific distractions.

Write out the answers to steps 0-4! Writing things down will help you identify details about your challenge that you might otherwise overlook.

How to Analyze Your Recall Challenge and Make a Training Plan

Unlike the foundational steps for a reliable recall, advanced challenges are as individual as the dogs who are facing them. It all comes down to what reinforcers your dog prefers, who she is, and what kind of distraction we are addressing.

With a focus on one specific recall challenge you are facing (e.g. critters, food on the street, other dogs), answer the following questions:

0. What is your baseline behavior?

What happens right now if your dog is faced with the distraction you would like to work on? Take a video if you can, and analyze it! Recording your dog and yourself will allow you to be your own coach!

1. Analyze your problem!

a) Is it really a recall challenge, or does it only look like one? (A lack of response rooted in fear, for example, is not a recall challenge.)

b) Is the distraction something your dog can have some of the time, or is the distraction always off limits? If your dog can have it some of the time – could the distraction itself be used as a recall reward?

c) Do you have a reward that is potentially higher value than the distraction?

d) Can you control the distraction? If not, is there a way to make it controllable, or a controllable stand-in distraction you could use in training set-ups?

2. Define a realistic training goal and/or management solution. Write it down in detail!

3. Draft a training plan!

a) Break your overall training goal down into smaller subgoals (milestones).

b) Make a detailed plan from your baseline to your first milestone.

c) Write down any additional relevant details concerning set-ups, reinforcers, and criteria! When will you raise criteria? When will you lower criteria? What distance will there be between your dog and the distraction? How will you ensure your dog can’t access the distraction when working off leash? Be as specific as you can!

4. Start working towards your first milestone!

Video every session, and analyze it afterwards. It may sound tedious, but trust me: video will help you notice things you missed in real time, and allow you to adjust your training plan based on what you learned. And if you get stuck despite having taken video? Share your video with a dog training friend of yours! A second set of eyes will often be able to recognize issues you overlooked, and a friend’s ideas can get you out of a training rut!

Let me know how it’s going in the comments!

Chrissi is being socially distant on a mountain in Antigua, Guatemala. She teaches online at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and for the Pet Professionals Program. Her PPP workshop Cars, Cats, and Kangaroos … DON’T CHASE THAT!! is currently open for registration.

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