“Its always best to start at the beginning” -Glinda, Good Witch of the North (notice she is holding a target stick)
Welcome to 2021. Let’s have some fun with your dog and improve communication between the two of you. I am planning a weekly blog of suggestions for structuring your dog’s training in the coming year. To start on your journey down the yellow brick road, to set goals, it will help to know where you are at the beginning. I suggest you make a list of cued behaviors that your dog(s) already knows. Cues are the signals that (hopefully) elicit a specific response (the behavior) from your dog. You could use a database or spreadsheet to sort out the information, or just paper and pencil. If you have more than one dog, you can make a separate list for each dog, or add a columns to account for additional dogs.
I have used the following columns in my example below:
Types of behavior – stationary, moving with you, moving not with you, targeting, and behavior chains are all possible categories. If you do performance games with your dog, you may want to list those behaviors (such as agility cues or freestyle cues) in a separate category. If you are overwhelmed by this task, break it down into parts and pick one category to start with. (my example is a partial list)
Description of the behavior – shorthand description of what the dog is supposed to do. Is it clear in your head what you are expecting of the dog? If it is not concrete, how does your dog know what to do?
Cue for the behavior – your signal for the behavior. Cues can be of many types: auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, or a combination of more than one modality (although it is not the best idea to use more than one signal). Are you consistent in how you give your signal? If you are not, can your dog be consistent in his response?
Strength of the response – you could describe strength of response on a numeric scale (such as 1-5 with 5 being strongest) or by category such as weak, moderate, or strong. Or, if you are really a geek, you could test strength of response in a uniform way and get a percentage of correct responses and even a measurement of latency (time lag between cue and response by the animal). Here I am using the category simply as weak, moderate, and strong response to my cue. For example, of my two dogs, Deagan has a strong response to the hand target cued by “Here”, Puffin’s response is moderate.
Distance – the distance from you that the dog can perform the behavior (if it can be performed at a distance).
Duration – how long the dog can reliably perform the behavior (if it is one that has duration). Strength of response, distance, and duration are all measurements you can use to track progress.
You can add more categories, such as location, goals for distance or duration, favorite cues, or anything else that is relevant to you or your dogs. Again, don’t be overwhelmed by the task – you can focus just on those behaviors that you are most concerned with. Next week, we will use Glinda’s magic wand for some targeting fun.