Having gone through The Academy for Dog Trainers, I’ve had an extensive education on the value and importance of using training plans when working with dogs. Because of this, I know the perils of going rogue. So, I should have known better than to try to wing it, and yet recently, I did just that. And the results spoke for themselves.

I started working with Hazel on a sustained hand target. I was aiming for 5 seconds. Having successfully taught her to “station” for 5 seconds, I thought I could use that to my advantage. And I did. Just not the way I thought I could.

The following video contains footage of us working on stationing exercises, from a food lure to a verbal. From here, we built 5 seconds duration and then 10 seconds. This was all trained with very well thought out plans with very clear criteria. We breezed through the steps and had fun doing it.

So, here we are a month or so later, and I want to turn that stationing exercise into a hand target with duration. I stupidly think I can just hold out my hand because she already knows “touch” and that the combination of the stationing and the touch will allow me to build duration quickly. Wrong. The result was that I had a dog who gave up. A dog who, in her frustration, waved the white tail of surrender and laid down on the job.

When that didn’t work (shocker), I went back to the drawing board and came up with plans. Hazel will target my cupped hand for one second. Hazel will target my slightly less cupped hand for one second and so on, until we got to Hazel will target my flat palm for 5 seconds. Because we did already have some solid learning history with very similar exercises, it came very quickly. I just needed to stop playing around.

This is the thing: dogs get it right despite our screw ups so, so often. That doesn’t mean we should expect this to be the norm or that it’s okay. We can make very clear criteria that takes the guesswork out of training for them and we should. If something is blurry to us, how can we expect it to be clear to the dog? And BTW- I do think that unclear criteria is a big part of what ends up causing owners and trainers to punish dogs. And most of the time, the error is the human’s, not the dog’s.

The following video shows what happened when I Got Right with Dog.

I am writing this post for iSpeakDog week for 2 reasons:

1- I SpeakDog is all about understanding what our dogs are telling us with their body language. Hazel very clearly told me that she didn’t know what I wanted from her. She was not being stubborn or dominant. She didn’t know, because I did not teach her well.

2- Hazel never ceases to remind me that as much as I like to think I Speak Dog, I am more well-versed in Human and that training plans are the most effective way to bridge the gap.

If you want to learn more about How Dogs Learn, visit the page on the website.

Aside: please don’t judge my ratty looking sweatshirt in some of the clips. It was my dad’s and it’s my favorite. ISpeakComfort.