Starting EASY and Increasing the Level of Difficulty

When training any skill — new skill or advanced version of a skill — follow these guidelines for increased success and lower stress.

Essential to training reliable behaviours:

  • Repetition at easy levels before increasing difficulty, and
  • Increasing the levels of difficulty in small increments

Consider the 3 D’s of Difficulty and how you can adjust these to help ensure your dog can succeed with the task you’ve asked. If you are increasing one of the D’s, drop the other 2 D’s down to an easier level. Only increase one D at a time. 

The 3 D’s of DIFFICULTY:

  1. Distraction
  2. Distance
  3. Duration

DISTRACTION:

This is the environment you are asking the dog to learn in. Dogs can focus and learn more easily in environments that are “boring” for the dog (no new sights, sounds, smells and no sudden environmental changes). Usually, an easy environment is inside the home in a room that your dog is used to training in. If your has mastered a SIT/STAY in the kitchen, your dog may not find it as easy if you try it in a bedroom. Out in the dog’s yard is usually a moderate level of distraction for the dog — unless the neighbour’s dog is out or people are walking by the yard or a squirrel is in the tree nearby. Out on a walk in the neighbourhood can be less distracting than a new area outside, but not if you are training near the yard with the dog in it or the park where you play fetch.  You can be part of the environment (e.g. are you turning your back to the dog or facing the dog? Are you hopping on one foot? Are you sitting instead of standing?)

DISTANCE:

This means how far you are from your dog when your dog is performing the behaviour.

DURATION:

This means how much time you are asking your dog to perform the behaviour.

Improving Tolerance Around Triggers

I focus a lot on reading your dog’s arousal levels, to ensure that your dog A) is not becoming sensitized to stimuli in the environment and B) is able to behave and think and learn (a stressed brain — excitement or anxiety — doesn’t function well).
When you are working on helping your dog learn to self-regulate around triggers, reading your dog’s arousal level is essential. You want your dog to be under threshold. You allow your dog to approach the trigger (increase the intensity of the trigger) until your dog reaches the threshold distance (the smallest distance where your dog is still able to be “under threshold”). After spending a bit of time at that distance, you retreat from the trigger (lower the intensity of the trigger) and give your dog some recovery time. How much time do allow your dog to spend at the “threshold distance”? The answer is “just enough but not too much.” LOL And the answer will differ depend on your dog’s nervous system that day at that time in that situation. How much time do you allow your dog to spend at a low intensity distance for “recovery time?” The answer is “not too little” and you need to read your dog’s subtle body language and know your dog well to know if he/she needs more time for his/her nervous system to recover.
And remember that the last half of the class may be very different than the first half: your dog’s nervous system might be getting overloaded after 30 minutes of the class (or less for some dogs). We like to hope that the longer the exposure time, the more the dog will become used to it, but this isn’t always the case. The dog’s nervous system gets tired just like ours does after a long period of stress.
And we always want to err on the side of caution to avoid the opposite to our goal — we don’t want to SENSITIZE the dog to the trigger, which can easily happen if we are setting our hopes and expectations too high. This is often the case if we find that the dog doesn’t seem to be improving.
So, here’s a little tip:  
 
When you are setting a goal, make the goal about your dog’s arousal level, not about the distance or duration. 
What I mean is that if you are thinking “I’m going to see if my dog can pass by that trigger at distance X” then your focus is on “distance X” and you may be inadvertently setting your dog up to fail (or to become sensitized to the trigger). If you change your thinking to “I’m going to see if my dog can maintain an arousal level of 2 as we pass by that trigger” then your focus is on the dog’s arousal level. The distance your dog needed at that time will be noted by you for future encounters, but that distance is not the goal.

Lifestyle Dog & Puppy Classes in Regina

What is a “lifestyle” dog or puppy class? I define it as a class that teaches dog owners how to help their dogs learn to be relaxed, comfortable, and under control while participating in activities with their human. What is your lifestyle and how do you want your dog to participate in it with you?  Are you looking for a relaxed dog walk both you and your enjoy? Group dog walks with other dog owners in park settings? For an active lifestyle, my clients can try some Search Fun games outdoors, get a little taste of dog parkour, and teach their dog to safely ride a Stand Up Paddleboard so the dog can come along on the board. Think of lifestyle dog and puppy classes as dog training for real life.

The lifestyle dog and puppy classes that I offer always start with ensuring that the dog is comfortable and relaxed. Emotions drive a lot of behaviours. In fact, I would argue that emotions are the primary driver. I show dog owners how to recognize their dog’s signals and the possible underlying reasons for fear, frustration, anxiety, etc. The primary goals are that the dogs are having fun and they are not over-stimulated. Once those two goals are met, the manners and skills training some so much more easily.

Lifestyle training can (and should, in my opinion) start when a puppy is young (taking safety precautions into account). Build a solid foundation of confidence, impulse control, and self-regulation.

Think of lifestyle classes as ways to train and bond with your dog for life.