My sister called me with a question: why is her not-yet-thee-month pup Trinity much less interested in training than she used to be? Why is she starting to look around, throw herself on the ground, bite Mateja’s feet and generally having other ideas what to do while they are training? This happened particularly with things that Trini didn’t know well yet. I asked her to send me a video to see what is going on.
As she sent me this video she commented that she was surprised to see that they worked for 5 minutes straight (it always pays off to video your sessions because you will often find you’re doing something wrong – like letting the sessions go on too long – and you can fix it next time). But length of session was not the only problem. Trinity was not excited about it to begin with.
For everything we do in life there is a specific level of excitement that allows us to perform the task at hand to the best of our abilities. If we’re solving a math problem, we need to be calm and focused. If we’re preparing to run in a 5K race a bit more excitement would serve us better. It’s the same with our dogs – some mental states are more conductive to learning and staying in the training game with humans than others.
For this reason I suggested to Mateja that she should play with Trinity to get her happy and engaged, then train for only 6 repetitions (we don’t want her to practice finding her own entertainment like she did in above video), then play again. The whole session including playing will be less than 3 minutes long. Remember how I said the dogs are taking snapshots of their emotional state as we train? If we keep it exciting and short they will only have exciting memories which will make them love training and with time we will be able to have longer and longer sessions with that same excited attitude.
I also asked her not to give so many pieces of kibble for a single behavior because it takes a while before Trini chews them up which deflates her energy, plus too much food sometimes puts the dog in a sleepy state.
The progression of exercises in that training session was also less than ideal. They started with easy ones and progressed toward new exercises in which Trini wasn’t as skilled. The best approach is to start with the difficult exercise when dog’s brain is still fresh and progress toward easier exercises. But since I suggested to begin with 6 repetitions per session for now this means that if she wants to train several exercises she needs to take a few minutes of break between two sessions, during which Trinity will be a little bored of course, but fear not – boredom between sessions is a good thing!
It is also helpful to prepare the environment, treats, clicker and toys in advance so that once the session starts it goes smoothly. Every time we forget an item and have to retrieve it, move it etc we’re not engaging the dog and their energy visibly deflates. With more sensitive dogs this could be enough to cause some problems in concentration and learning.
Mateja did great at implementing all the suggestions and this was their very next session:
They had four more sessions after this video (with a few minute breaks in between) and Trini was working with focus and excitement in every single one of them. Score! Many excited training snapshots produced 🙂
Still, one question remained: why the sudden change? Trini used to be much more interested in training. The answer was getting too many treats outside these training sessions. Just as it happens to many other unsuspecting puppy owners out there Trini was training Mateja to give her more and more treats as she started declining kibble as reward in some situations. The solution was simple: no more treats until she will accept kibble in all situations. After just a few days Trini happily accepts kibble anywhere.
Thank you Mateja for letting me share your videos & your story!