In my last post I wrote about how a dog’s ability to reason is a foundational assumption in dog training. It is because of this ability that it is fair for us to hold a dog responsible for remembering rules and for following through on commands, assuming of course that we have laid the necessary groundwork. But what exactly does that groundwork consist of? In addition to the dog’s ability to reason there are seven more essential components: association, repetition, accuracy, consistency, coherence, timing, and incrementalism.
Let’s start with association. When teaching a dog a new exercise, our first objective (and obligation) is to make sure that the dog understands exactly what a command means. To accomplish this we start with what I call the show-and-tell phase of the training. This entails placing the dog on the exercise while simultaneously giving the command. When you think about it, this is also how we teach most nouns and adjectives to babies; we point to something as we say the name for that object: mama, daddy, bird, tree, hot, cold, wet, etc.
The second element is repetition. Repetition gets a bad rap because it can be tedious, but it is also effective. Repetition is the reason soldiers can take apart and reassemble their rifles in the dark, some figure skaters can make that triple Lutz look easy, and the reason you and I can remember the words to many popular songs from our youth.
Placing Shelby on an Accurate Sit
Accuracy is the third element. When we teach a dog the automatic sit for instance, (sitting in heel position when the handler stops walking) the more accurately we can place the dog, the better he will understand what we want. Sure, accuracy makes your dog handling look sharp, but the primary reason is to help your dog’s understanding.
We’ll look at the last four tools in the dog trainer’s tool belt in my next post. Until then, have a Merry Christmas or a Happy Chanukah, and Doggy New Year.