Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Listen to Your Learner. Make sure your dog is physically and mentally strong enough to learn and absorb new information. Avoid training if your dog is ill, injured, anxious, tired, or overly hungry. If your dog shows signs of acute stress or discomfort during a training session, stop immediately.
Set the Environment Up for Success. Before you begin training, set up your environment. Put away other pets, pre-cut treats, have a timer ready, set up a video camera, have a pen and paper/digital device ready to take notes. If working outdoors, check for off leash animals, prey animals, and/or children that may run into your training area. Pay attention to pending storms, heat/cold and proceed when safe.
Set the Dog Up for Success. Know your learner. Evaluate their current physical and mental state. Do not ask the animal to do more than it is capable of due to its age, weight, or conformation. If the dog is confused or frustrated, stop and reevaluate your training plan.
Think, Plan, Do. Know the precise final behavior you want before you start the session. Determine your dog’s starting point. If you are unclear, you will only confuse the dog. Write the training steps out and keep track of where you are. Set up your training area for maximum success. Keep records and data on each session and/or take video. Review and plan for the next session.
Evaluate Your Reinforcers. Is the value of your reinforcer high enough to compete with the level of distractions? Is the reinforcer something the learner wants at that moment, or are they satiated? Are you able to deliver the reinforcer in a clean, effective manner?
Manage Your Expectations. A fluent behavior takes time, patience, effort, and skill to train. Puppies may not have the cognitive skills, nor the focus to train complex behaviors. Not all behaviors are 100% fixable. A learner may not have the physical ability to perform at desired levels.
Reinforce Behaviors You Want More
Resist the urge to punish "undesirable" behaviors, while ignoring good behavior. Reward learners when they are quiet, calm, and playing independently. Reward behaviors you want to see more of.
Work on the Relationship. Bond with your dog. Be silly. Take time to play with them: with toys and personal play. Safely use a long line and allow your dog to sniff and decompress. Train with positive reinforcement. Work on engagement and behavioral enrichment.
Remember You are Skill Building. Good, systematic dog training is similar to learning to play piano or ballroom dance. Students must learn scales and/or foot placement before they can play concertos or tango. There are no shortcuts. Rather than pushing for more difficult behavior: break things down into small steps and spend time working on building a strong foundation.
Change Your Behavior. Are you moving too fast? Is your criteria unclear? Are your cues muddied and confusing? Clean up your mechanical skills before assuming the learner is unmotivated or unwilling. Check to see if your cues are overshadowed or blocked. Are you asking for too much, too soon?