Tips for making the most of your training time!

Fitting in time for training can be a challenge for many people so here are some tips to help you  get the most out of your training time.

Teach new skills in an area that is free of distractions so your dog can focus easily.

As your dog progresses, strengthen the training by adding one of “duration”, “distance” and “distractions.” “Duration” refers to the length of time a dog can stay in a sit or a down for example. “Distance” refers to the distance from the trainer at which a dog can do an exercise. “Distraction” refers to things that compete with us for the dog’s attention (like other dogs, farm animals, children, ball games).

Increase the difficulty of the training exercise by adding only one new criteria at a time.

For example, if we are introducing increasing the distance from the trainer at which the dog will sit on cue, avoid increasing the distractions or duration at the same time.

Use rewards in training!

Police and military dogs in the Netherlands are being trained with the trainers rewarding desired behaviors, and by teaching the dogs in small steps that build on one another. They have been training this way since 1996 and report that they have cut their training time down to one-eighth of the time it originally took and they have found that dogs trained this way handle new situations confidently as they are not afraid to try things (Prins, Haak, & Gerritsen, 2013).

Avoid “correcting” the dog.

Instead, set them up for success. A one-year study based on detailed surveys with owners of dogs revealed that using punishing techniques when training dogs tends to increase the aggression in the animals substantially.

Results showed that 43 percent of the dogs responded aggressively in response to being hit or kicked, 41 percent increased their aggression in response to a human growling at the dog, 38 percent responded aggressively to being forced to give up an item, 31 percent to an “alpha roll”, 30 percent responded aggressively to a stare down by a human, 29 responded with aggression to being forced into a “dominance down”, 26 percent responded with aggression to being grabbed by the scruff of the neck, and 20 percent responded aggressively to being sprayed with water and so on (Herron, Herron, Shofer, & Reisner, 2009).

Incorporate play into training sessions.

Play is often used as a reward in the training of working dogs who do detection, seeing eye or search and rescue work. We know that social interactions with familiar humans are highly rewarding for many dogs and that dogs whose owners play with them have been found to score higher in obedience tests than those whose owners do not play with them (Bradshaw, Pullen, & Rooney, 2015).

Play is associated with a reduction in the stress hormone “cortisol.” To get the most out of play, keep things positive as the benefits of play are reduced if the dog receives a verbal correction from the trainer. Dogs who have been trained with punishment-based methods are much less interactive during play than dogs who are trained with rewards (Bradshaw, Pullen, & Rooney, 2015).

Invest in the right equipment for your dog.

Comfortable and well fitting harnesses are widely available as are long lines. Manage the environment the dog is in so that you can prevent the dog from practicing behaviors you may be trying to change.

Don’t worry if you can’t train everyday.

One or two short training sessions a week can result in a well-trained dog. In fact, a study on beagles revealed that weekly training resulted in better learning performance than training five times a week, when performance is measured in the number of training sessions required to reach a certain training level (Meyer & Ladewig, 2008).

Tracking training!

Tracking is a fun activity many dogs can do and that most enjoy. Generally if a dog enjoys retrieving, has some prey drive, shows persistence in finding things and is in good health, they will do well in tracking. Success in tracking is also dependent on the skill of the trainer, the time spent teaching the dog the basics and beyond and the rewards for the dog.

Tracking and search work utilizes the incredible senses that dogs possess. In particular, their sense of smell. When trained, dogs can identify and follow the scent of a particular person or animal, indicate to their handler when they have identified a certain odour like that of illicit drugs or the presence of bedbugs for example.

The human body reportedly sheds about 30,00 to 40,000 skin cells per minute (varies due to several factors) and these cells become a part of individualized “rafts” made up of one or more cells and about 4 microbial “passengers”DSC_0013 of bacteria unique to the person. This is what tracking dogs follow when tracking an individual.

By keeping the track simple initially, the dog’s confidence in both himself and the handler will grow. Over time and as the dog’s skills increase, the tracks can be made steadily more difficult in a variety of ways, always working at a pace where the dog’s confidence is built and maintained. There are many things that can influence the difficulty of the track, such as surface of the ground, direction of the track, weather conditions, wind speed and direction, terrain, wildlife that may have left “cross-tracks”, human traffic, buildings, fencing and the speed of the tracklayer’s movement.  The key is to challenge but not overwhelm the dog so he enjoys learning and so he enjoys the search.

Dogs learn quickly when trained using “inducive” techniques, (appealing to his senses, instincts and temperament to provide the dog with a reason to behave in a specific manner), and then rewarding him for the behaviour.

Tracking is a good way to mentally tire a busy dog and dogs of any size and a variety of breeds enjoy fun tracking and search exercises.

How to make a “snuffle mat” for your dog !

Snuffle mats are a great indoor activity for dogs (and cats!). They are easy to make and you can easily create one for your dog!

Here is how:

Purchase an outdoor rubber mat with holes in it (easily available at Canadian Tire ).

Purchase several meters of fleece (it’s surprising how much fleece is needed).

Cut the fleece into strips about 2 centimeters wide by 25 centimeters long.

Working from the underside of the mat, thread a piece of fleece through one of the holes and the other end through the hole next to it. On the topside of the mat, tie a knot between the two ends of the fleece. To make a thicker pile, repeat in another direction to make an “X” on the underside and knot those also. Repeat with the fleece pieces until every hole is filled and you have created a pile on the top of the mat.

 

20151031_123310.jpgYou can also make three different lengths of pile to vary things for your dog.

Once complete, spread treats across the top and, as the dog gets the hang of the game, make it more difficult by hiding treats amongst the fleece pile.