When training, one thing I feel is necessary for owners to fully understand is the importance of repetition in learning any behavior. I have told this story in my group classes, but I think it bears repeating. My favorite 2012 Winter Olympic moment happened during the Curling event when the British were at the point where they had to place the stone exactly right.* With only microns to spare the dude absolutely nailed it. It was beautiful. At this point the announcer said, in response to another announcer’s amazement at how he did it, “Well, when you have thrown 100,000 stones, you can place it wherever you want it.” Let me repeat the pertinent part: when you have thrown 100,000 stones. (I wanted to kiss that announcer!)
We, as owners, need to realize that it takes a lot of repetition to be able to do a specific command all the time, every time. Behaviorists will tell you that 10,000 reps are needed to proof a behavior. So I ask you, how many things have you done 1000 times? 10,000 times, 100,000? Have you asked your dog to sit in every possible place under every possible circumstance? Have you asked little Milton to sit 1000 times anywhere? Dogs learn quickly, but like any creature, they need to practice, and practice often, in a variety of settings in order to understand that sit, for example, means “put bottom on ground” no matter what is going on or where they are.
I mention this not to discourage anyone, but instead to encourage an owner and to give him or her a bit of understanding (and patience) as to why Milton performs beautifully in the kitchen, but not in class or at the dog park.
The kitchen is not full of new distractions and sit has been practiced there more than anywhere else in the house. Thus, it will be the easiest place for Milton to do a sit. In class, cute little Juliet is on the other side of the room, Bruiser’s owner just dropped a hand full of chicken on the floor and Milton has only been there twice and done 5 sits total in the room. The amazing thing should be that Milton sits on cue at all!
So how does one get to 10,000 sits? The same way anything gets done: one sit at a time. Try to carve out 3-5 minutes, 3-5 times each day to work your dog. Choose a different location for each session and/or a different behavior to practice. For example, this could be one session: Take a handful of treats into the living room (that is if Milton is allowed in the living room). Click and treat 3-4 times. Do 3-4 Name Games, followed by 5 sits, 3 downs, 5 puppy pushups, and 4 sits at side. Throw a treat across the room, call Milton to you and reward with 3 treats and a game of tug or an ear scratch. Ta Da! One training session under your belt.
One last note, be patient with yourself as well. Just as Milton is learning new things, so are you. You need repetition as well to get it right and to learn to be consistent in what and how you ask your dog to perform something. You don’t have to be perfect, you can make mistakes, positive reinforcement training is very forgiving of mistakes! Moreover, remember that you have a lifetime of learning together. So, take a deep breath, grab some treats and a nearby canine, and have some fun practicing those skills that will set up both of you for success now and in the future.
* The other highlight of the Curling event was the Norwegian’s Curling pants seen in the photo at right. You too can own a pair, just click on the picture!
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