When you realize that you have a training challenge in front of you, do you try to solve it right then or do you stop and formulate a plan? As a dog trainer I can admit that I have often reacted in the moment without thinking through the steps to a solid solution. Reacting in the moment can create poor communication between you and your dog.

I can come up with a million excuses why I have reacted in certain situations but honestly, my reactions were due to poor training habits. Now when I have a training challenge, I do the following:

  • Stop, think and write down the challenge
  • Find the small details about the training challenge that I can focus on and put in order of importance
  • Make a list of steps to work toward my goal
  • Develop my plan based on those steps

OK so my most recent problem is that I have a puppy that gets over aroused specifically when Drama is loose in the yard. My first thoughts were “No way do I want to spend the Summer not being able to have all my dogs in the yard at once”. So, on went my thinking cap to come up with a solution.

Bravo is now 5.5 mo old and in need of learning impulse control and how to control his over arousal. Apparently, Drama is VERY exciting. Bravo is good outside with all the other dogs but when Drama is outside running around, Bravo loses his mind completely (barking, screaming, running at Drama, nipping Drama etc).

These were my immediate concerns:

  • Drama might eat Bravo – Drama is not yet a Bravo fan
  • Bravo throws himself at Drama and nips a bit – again Drama might eat him
  • Bravo did not respond to cues when off leash in the yard with Drama
  • Bravo did not respond to cues even when put on leash – instead he was at the end of the leash screaming

Here is my plan (loosely described). Note that at any time that Bravo was unsuccessful we stopped, analyzed and changed things up or went back to the previous step.

Step #1

Bravo sits and waits for a release word before coming out of a crate or being let out any door.

Step #2

Bravo stays on the deck until he can respond to cues when arousal levels are high (ie, Drama is outside because yeh, that is all it takes). This will starts with low arousal situations, such as when Drama is NOT outside.

Step #3

Bravo is in the yard but in a crate inside the doorway of my shed (after passing Step #2). Bravo is rewarded for calm behavior – if he is unable to offer calm behavior, go back to Step #2.

Step #4

Bravo gets out of the crate, but on leash and is rewarded for responding to cues and checking in with me with Drama at a distance and not moving – if unable to respond to cues and check in, go back to Step #2.

Step #5

Bravo responds to cues while on leash in the yard walking by the other dogs (other dogs are free to move) – if unable to offer respond to cues, then we move further away from the action and/or go back to Step #4.

Step #6

While on leash or dragging the leash, Bravo is able to respond to cues while Drama is moving - if unable to respond to cues, go back to Step #5.

Step #7

Bravo gets of leash in the yard.

  • Off leash with Jack, Riley and Kaos – when successfully checking in and responding to cues then,
  • Off leash with Drama – no moving - when successfully checking in and responding to cues then,
  • Off leash with Drama moving,
  • If at any time Bravo is unsuccessful, go back one bullet point or step

The one thing I have really learned over the years is to analyze a training challenge, come up with a plan and implement it. Always be willing to toss the plan out the window if it doesn’t work or change the plan as necessary. Having a plan is so much better than reacting in the moment without a knowing the step by step process to fix the training challenge.

Success in the past few days:

  • Bravo responds to cue when loose in the yard
  • Bravo has earned very brief times in the yard when Drama is loose
  • Bravo has learned to recall away from Drama when loose in the yard
  • Drama has learned to down stay when asked and ignores Bravo

We will keep working on this and set the stage for other situations of over arousal. I believe rewarding small steps towards a goal communicates what you want, allows for a high rate of reinforcement at each step and sets a good foundation to build on.

I hope this blog post inspires you to “stop, think, write things down, have a plan and train toward a goal”.

Happy training.