Think back, for a minute, to when you were in school just learning to do double-digit addition and subtraction.
Your teacher probably gave you LOTS of practice — worksheets, tests, homework, and maybe even some group exercises in class.
Now, imagine if instead she had just given you one worksheet, with each problem on it harder than the last.
Think about how frustrating that would have been — I don’t know about you, but I probably would have wound up giving up, and likely would have been in tears part way through.
Dog owners often like to make things progressively harder on their dogs, because they know they’re working toward a GOAL and they want to get there — but our dogs are more like kids, and if the math problems just continue to get harder, they give up.
In order to keep our dogs in the “game” and working with us, it’s important to alternate hard work with easy work.
Using Easier Repetitions As Rewards for Hard Work
One skill where even skilled trainers often forget to do this is when teaching a dog to stay. Trainers often tend to make stays increasingly more difficult until they reach a point at which the dog can no longer manage to stay (whether that’s because of duration, distance, or distraction).
While you can certainly make significant progress by then dropping back down to a point where the dog was easily successful and then working back up to the part where the dog failed (re: 300 Peck Method), you can often avoid those failures all together by making things easier each time the dog gets several “correct” stays in a row!
The advantage to building skills while minimizing failure is that it also helps build confidence in the behavior—making for a stronger behavior in the long term.
I always like to end a training session with a few easy repetitions, something easy that helps leave dog and owner both feeling good about their work.
How Does It Work?
Using Stay as an example, this might mean starting with the 300 Peck method; then when you get to 10 seconds, drop back down and do a repetition at 5 seconds, another at 2 seconds, and then try 10 seconds again.
Resume your “peck” training; when you get to 15, drop back down to 5 seconds, then try 8 seconds, and end with a final repetition of 3 seconds. Make sure you’re rewarding the dog each time!