Downeast Dog News

Recipe for Successful Dog Training

Deliberate and Purposeful Practice
By | Dec 01, 2017

I confess: I am a dog training geek. I think about training challenges, solutions, and strategies all the time. I love practicing and improving my skills with a variety of dogs and wholly enjoy seeing their skills improve as a result. I frequently find correlations between dog training and day-to-day living. Everything seems to end up being interconnected in some way.

I am a fan of “Freakonomics” podcasts and was excited to notice that there were many intriguing parallels between dog training and the podcast titled, “How to Become Great at Just About Anything.”

Anders Ericsson, research psychologist and author, says this about human skills: “we’ve gotten so much better primarily because we’ve learned how to learn. …there’s no magic bullet. Improvement comes only with practice — lots and lots and lots of practice.” It’s more straight forward when the learner is human, understands, and is motivated to learn something specific, but it’s another animal when there’s, well, another animal involved in the process. This is all rather obvious, but it gets more interesting.

Achieving success in any area of study requires several things:

1. Learning how to learn

The learner needs to understand the game of learning. How will our dog know for sure when she’s done something “right”? How will we know when she has grasped the concept? Is she excited about learning?

2. Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice requires the involvement of a teacher who has had experience helping individuals reach high levels of performance.” To be effective, we need input from someone with experience. When it comes to dog training, it seems that humans, for whatever reason, make the assumption that we are capable of effectively training our dogs absent of concise information on exactly how to do so. It’s also surprising how much dogs can learn despite it. If we aren’t sure how to train our dog something, then the dog will certainly be unsure, too. When we assume we know everything and no longer seek information, input or feedback, we can't grow or improve our skills.

3. The teacher must have the appropriate skill set to teach the desired skill

“It is a teachable ability, if you know how to teach it.” Students will frequently say, “You make it look so easy!” Dog trainers don’t have any super powers, and I doubt many of us were born with special dog training abilities. As with any skill, it is through many repetitions over a long period of time that we gain the experience and skills necessary to make something seem easy. The same holds true for our dogs; they need to repeat a behavior over and over and over again in order for it to become fluent.

4. Purposeful Practice

Practicing isn’t just about repetitions, but rather about its quality and nature. Purposeful practice means defining a goal behavior and creating a training activity that will allow you to improve that behavior or a small component of it. Training becomes intentional and planned. Whether we are talking about learning to play the piano or teaching our dog how to take a bow, strategizing the learning process will result in a higher level of success.

Speaking of taking a bow, I invite you to take a look at a 27 second video of me teaching a young puppy to do just that. Please read the accompanying description, so you will be able to appreciate the connection between this article and the video. You can find the video on YouTube. Search “PupStart,” “Goose,” and “bow.”