OK, so I grew up watching “Superman” on TV in the 1950s.
“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful that a locomotive ...”
All those many years ago, people used to think that dog training was all about the dog. Now, we know he’s only part of the picture. Building the human’s dog-handling skill is the focus of well-taught training sessions. The dog can’t learn anything unless the human becomes a competent dog trainer for his or her own family dog.
Because dog training is an ability to be developed with time and practice, the fundamentals of training serve to become our guidelines. One of the most important skills is timing.
Timing is everything. Without proper timing, your training sessions can go haywire in a hurry. Here’s a typical example of poor timing: I’m teaching a puppy to sit. I “cue” sit, and he sits. Yay! But by the time I get the treat out of my pocket and give it to him, he’s standing. And then I feed him the treat.
Now, what do you think I just reinforced? Standing, of course. My timing was off. If I repeat this process of rewarding while the pup is standing then I’ve really actually just taught my puppy to stand. So with this scenario in place, each time I say “sit,” my puppy will sit and immediately stand up for the treat. That really messes with your training plan when you want the puppy to sit for a while. What the dog is doing at the moment you reinforce is exactly what you are teaching, whether or not you intended it.
It seems kind of silly to think about practicing what you want to teach your dog without your dog around, but I think working on training skills is just that. Practice your timing and your moves before you add the dog. Once you have it down, add the dog. If you stand there wondering which hand to use or digging in your pocket for treats, your dog isn’t learning what you intended for him to learn.
What do you do if you are learning to dance with a partner? You would practice your part first until you can perform it correctly. Then when you face each other and add the music, you are one step ahead of the game. You are in a position to help your partner (the dog) learn to move with your hand signals and body movements. You become the trainer. You lead the dance.
Now, let’s look at the above example with proper timing and handling skills: I’m teaching a puppy to sit. I “cue” sit, and he sits. Before I even have a chance to think, the treats are to his lips while he is sitting. If I can get him five little tiny treats, one at a time, while he is sitting, I have taught a successful sit. If he stands up, the reinforcement stops immediately. I will not reinforce while he’s standing. Ta-da!
We are on our way to teaching a solid sit. Because each dog is as individual as each human on this planet, it’s up to us to learn the timing and skill for that particular dog. Our only enemy is kryptonite (or poor timing).
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25-plus years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.