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Many years ago, in an attempt to better communicate with my students, I developed a flow chart of the training principles that guide me. These principles apply to all venues of dog training.
Dogs Have the Ability to Solve Problems
Have you ever had or seen a dog who could open the latch on his kennel run? How did he learn to do it? First, he believed he had a problem: he was locked in and could not get out. Second, he was determined to solve his problem.
Imagine that you have just rescued a 60-pound mix-breed. You brought him home, and put him in a pen in your yard while you made the necessary adjustments to bring him into your home. Unhappy with his confinement, he begins to bark. There is no one around that his barking can bother, so you decide to ignore him. Sure enough, the barking stops, and on a trip by the window you notice he is digging around the doghouse, and near the gate. “You are wasting your time,” you think, because you have placed wire under the gravel so digging will not be effective.
A short while later you notice he is on top of the doghouse, again finding no escape route. However, the next time you check on him, he is running gleefully around the yard. “He has broken out!” is your first response. You examine the run, but there is no evidence of a break out, the gate stands open. The dog is a problem solver, and he solved the problem of being confined when he did not want to be. You return him to the pen.
If you have ever experienced a dog that has discovered how to open the latch on his kennel run, you know his second successful attempt at escape is quicker. He may bark, dig, and climb briefly, but soon he is back to jumping and pawing at the gate until he is out again.
Dogs Solve Problems by Trial and Error
This scenario demonstrates that a dog, who believes he has a problem, solves his problem by trial and error. The dog tried to solve the problem by barking, digging, and climbing before he arrived at a successful solution to his problem.
Rewarded Behavior Continues, Unrewarded Behavior Stops
This scenario also demonstrates that rewarded behavior will continue and unrewarded behavior will disappear. The dog did not continue to bark, dig, and climb. He gave up on the “solutions” that did not solve his problem. Instead, he stuck to the solutions that accomplished his goal.
Remember, the reward is defined by the dog. In the sport of obedience, you may find that an unwanted behavior is self-rewarding. For example, you may be tempted to ignore a dog that is mouthing his dumbbell, and reward him only when his mouth is still. However, if he enjoys chewing the dumbbell, this technique will not work as his own enjoyment will outweigh the absence of your reward.
Dogs are Situational
Now consider that you have two pens in the backyard, and the pen that you previously used had a gate that swings from right to left. If you place the same dog, accomplished at opening that gate, in the opposite pen, with a gate that swings from left to right, you will severely slow down his attempt to escape, and may even stop it completely.
Why? Because dogs are situational. They can learn to do something under one set of circumstances but not necessarily know how to do it in a slightly different set of circumstances. In this example, the dog has learned to lift the latch with his nose in one location on the gate. When placed in a pen with a gate swinging the opposite direction, he may repeatedly try to hit the hinge with his nose, bewildered as to why his behavior is not achieving the desired outcome.
For this same reason, obedience dogs fail in new locations. Just because he knows, for example, where go-out is in one location does not mean he will know where it is in a new location or different ring.
Behavior Precedes Learning
Finally, this scenario points out that behavior precedes learning. The first time the dog opens the gate, he does it by accident. He does not understand exactly how he was successful. However, on each successive attempt, he becomes more aware of the exact behavior required. Soon you cannot turn your back before he systematically jumps up and lifts the latch with his nose.
Dogs in their own environment learn what does not work before they learn what does work. The dog in the pen“solved his problem” by trial and error. He tried digging, barking, and climbing on his doghouse. None of the behaviors solved his problem. In fact, he learned what behaviors did not work before he discovered the behavior that solved his problem.
In a training environment, we show dogs what works without giving them an opportunity to discover what does not work. You can call a dog over the broad jump hundreds of times, but if he has never tried running to you or walking through it, he truly does not understand that either of those options are not acceptable ways to solve the broad jump problem.
Dogs Must Learn What Not to Do
In order for a dog to be fully trained, he must understand how to solve his problem, and what behaviors will not solve his problem. This is the definition of proofing: Shaping and luring shows dogs how to perform; proofing teaches dogs how NOT to perform.
For example, you can practice the retrieve over the high jump dozens of times, and believe that you have shown your dog how to solve the problem of retrieving across a jump. However, the first time your dumbbell bounces off center, and your dog goes around the jump, he has no idea that he has not solved the problem. Going directly to the dumbbell seems logical to him, and after all, he still retrieved the dumbbell. Just like the dog in the pen, your dog must learn what behaviors will solve the problem of the Retrieve over the Hight Jump, and must also know what does not solve the problem. This is just one simple example of proofing. The same principles apply to every exercise from Novice through Utility.
1 Dogs are Problem Solvers;
2 Dogs Learn by Trial and Error;
3 Rewarded Behavior Continues, and Unrewarded Behavior Stops;
4 Dogs are Situational;
5 Behavior Precedes Learning, and
6 Dogs Must Learn What Not to Do.
You can use these principles to successfully train your own dog. With this information, you can present each task, or obedience exercise as a problem for the dog to solve, and then help the dog discover the appropriate solution.
Responding to Your Dog’s Behavior
As you teach your dog the steps necessary to learn the obedience exercises, he will respond correctly or incorrectly, and you must learn how to respond appropriately. Next month, I will discuss Part II of the Flow Chart.
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TRAINING DURING THE WEEKS AND DAYS BEFORE A SHOW
As the day of the show draws near, it is common to become anxious or nervous, and not necessarily train in the most effective manner. I am often asked whether it is appropriate to do “run-throughs” to validate preparedness?
Actually, when I am preparing for a show, I have two types of training days – “A Days” and “B Days.”
On an “A Day,” I decide what exercises I’m going to practice, set them up, and then enter the training area just like I would at a show. By doing the planned exercises one time, my expectation is that my dog will perform them correctly on the first attempt. Training on an “A Day” also includes practicing how I will transition from one exercise to the next.
At the conclusion of an “A Day,” I know which exercises need my attention. This results in a “B Day” where I dig in and focus my efforts on the exercises or problems that need improvement.
The following link is a segment of a recent webinar where I discussed “A” and “B” type training sessions. Follow this link to view Two Types of Training Sessions from Connie Cleveland.
Video: A & B Training Sessionshttps://vimeo.com/145296555
DEVELOPING A TRAINING PLAN
Developing a plan for training a dog that has not yet learned the exercises or is just preparing to compete is different than planning for a dog that is actively competing or one that is a seasoned competitor.
No matter what your dog’s skill level, I want you to develop the habit of planning your training in advance. Handlers often tell me about how they keep notes of training sessions. I admire that, and agree that keeping notes and a list of exercises practiced is important. Without keeping a list, many of us avoid exercises that we don’t enjoy (sit stays and broad jumps come to mind for me!).
However, I spend more time planning future training sessions than I do creating a list of what I’ve already done. At the beginning of a week, I get out my calendar. I start by crossing out the days I cannot train.
There are typically three types of days remaining:
After crossing out the days I cannot train, on each of the remaining days I write down where I will train, and what I intend to do based on how much time I have and whether I will be training alone or with friends.
The advantages of planning ahead include:
TRAINING PLANS FOR ALL EXPERIENCE LEVELS
Do you have a young dog that is just learning the obedience exercises?
Teaching the obedience exercises can be broken up into five skill sets: (1) heeling; (2) jumping, (3) retrieving; (4) stays; and (5) recalls. Work on all these skill sets every day, try to find ways to combine them in the obedience exercises. For example, heel in large circles while maintaining attention and consistent head position Do a recall over a jump. Teach your dog how to take and hold a dumbbell. By practicing these three exercises, you have worked on all five skill sets.
As your dog becomes better at these skill sets, you can introduce some proofing. You may try heeling in a new location or adding distractions while you set up for a recall or practice a stay. Practice the recall past a toy on the ground!
Is your dog competing in one class while learning the skills required for the next class?
As stated above, include “A Days” and “B Days” in your plan. Work on your choreography on an “A Day” by doing several exercises without repeating an exercise. On a “B Day” your plan should include work on the exercises that gave you trouble on the “A Day” and more advanced exercises required in the next class. Dogs at this level are typically easy to keep engaged as they are not over confident or bored.
When you are able to get through an “A Day” without significant problems, introduce some proofing. Ask someone to bounce a tennis ball while you give your dog a drop signal or applaud as you send him on a retrieve. Throw the dumbbell past the high jump to teach him that he must always take the jump on the way back regardless of where the dumbbell lands!
Are you actively competing in Utility and Open at the same time?
Believe it or not, these dogs are often the hardest to train. It’s difficult to keep them motivated without the luxury of having new skills to teach them. “A Days” can be fun and quick as you work on your choreography. The “B Days” include working on problems, perfecting details and setting up challenging proofing scenarios.
PROOFING & FIXING PROBLEMS OVERNIGHT
Proofing should not be diabolical. It should not make dogs confused or anxious. I previously produced the following video about proofing. If you have not seen it, I hope you’ll watch it now.
Proofing is Not Just Adding Distractions
Proofing also is important because it gives you scenarios for fixing problems overnight. Have you ever been in that situation? The show on Saturday did not go exactly as you had hoped. You are entered on Sunday and don’t want to repeat the same mistakes that occurred on Saturday.
The following link is a segment from a webinar I held recently. In this segment, I introduce the concept of “fixing it overnight.”
Video: How to Fix It Overnight
Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan
All I ever wanted to be was a dog trainer. Over the years, I helped clients learn about their new puppies and their rescues, coached competitive obedience dogs, trained service dogs for veterans and the disabled, and worked to save the lives of dogs labelled "aggressive." I began to see that the principles I was applying to dogs often apply to my clients, my family, and my friends.
Usually it’s owners who call me, desperate because their dog is behaving unacceptably. But this time it was a desperate mother calling me because her child was deathly afraid of dogs. She had taken the child to the pediatrician to get a referral to a therapist, and instead the pediatrician had told her to call me.
The daughter had no bad experience to point to as a reason for her fear but it left her inconsolable.
When mother and daughter arrived, the two of them walked into the training room with me. Once she and her mom had settled into chairs, I walked a grown Golden Retriever into the room. The girl jumped up on her chair and started screaming, that horrid uncontrollable crying that, at best, gives a child the hiccups, and at worst is ear piercing. Her mother ran to her side and wrapped her in her arms.
After a moment I walked to the mother and said, “Come with me, I’d like you to meet Caleb.”
The wailing followed us.
Quietly, I told the mother, “you are rewarding her behavior.”
She was startled, “What are you talking about?”
“She is acting very afraid, and her behavior is eliciting a very positive response from you. In effect, you are positively reinforcing her behavior. As long as you act that way, she has no reason to stop acting afraid.”
What Is “Positive Reinforcement”?
The “Positive” in Positive Reinforcement means that we add something to the situation or give something to the subject.
The “Reinforcement” in Positive Reinforcement means that as a result of what we added, the subject is more likely to repeat the behavior.
With dogs, toddlers, even spouses and friends, it is common for us to consider positively reinforcing behavior that we like. It starts early when we smile and clap for our infants and toddlers in response to their accomplishments. We praise our children for a job well done, and we treat our friends and family in ways that make them want to spend time with us.
Positive reinforcement is a supremely powerful tool in shaping behavior -- not identity, necessarily, but behavior.
However, sometimes without even realizing it, we are rewarding behavior that we do not like. If we quickly set a screaming child in front of a television and give them oreo cookies, we have positively rewarded the screaming; we have even subtly reinforced eating in response to negative emotions.
I quietly suggested to the mother, “Let’s ignore, or at least not respond to the behavior that we do not like, namely her negative reaction to the sight of a dog.”
After the child grew quieter, I went to sit with her.
"Wow," I told her, "you acted really afraid when Caleb came in the room. Do you know why you were so afraid?"
She shook her head.
"Did it look to you like he was going to run over here and bite you?"
Again she shook her head.
In my work, we don't use the verb “to be” to describe a dog -- “he is shy,” “he is aggressive,” -- because when we say that, we often no longer believe we can change it. Instead, we use the verb “to act,” as in “My dog is acting shy,” or “My dog is acting aggressively.” We can change actions easier than nature.
“I’m going to tell you a secret,” I told her, “I don’t think you are afraid of dogs. I think that is how you are acting. I think you can choose to use your courage to act really bold and brave around dogs. I don’t think you have to act scared.”
It did not happen in one session, but over the course of several meetings, she learned the difference between being afraid and acting afraid. Those courageous behaviors she demonstrated -- even if it were simply looking at Caleb or not screaming when he entered the room -- we praised and encouraged; fearful behaviors we ignored.
Positive reinforcement is such a tool for good in relationships. One of the best things you can do with behaviors you appreciate and respect in your children, spouse, and friends is to acknowledge and affirm those behaviors. But positive reinforcement can also reinforce behaviors that are harmful or dysfunctional. Take a look at the behavior happening around you. You might be surprised at how often you inadvertently affirm behavior you do not like.
Last month, I started a discussion about the power of the conditioned reinforcer and how its use can cause a dog to learn to enjoy an activity. I told you a story about a student who was stunned because her dog liked running to a bed.
Furthermore, I suggested that if your dog could learn to love leaving you and running to his bed, perhaps he could learn to love the opposite behavior, that of running to you and enthusiastically getting into heel position.
Teaching our dogs the obedience exercises is often about “chaining” behaviors. By that I mean, learning one skill, and then another, and then learning how the two skills go together to complete an exercise.
I want my own dogs to love getting into heel position. Think about it, if your dog enjoys a game of “Find Heel,” he will be playing the game he loves every time you line up for an exercise, and every time you ask him to finish. That will occur 6 times in Novice, 10 times in Open, and 14 times in Utility!
However, in order to teach your dog to find heel position, first you must teach him two “pre-requisites,” or supporting skills.
1. Your dog must learn to enthusiastically run to his bed.
2. Simultaneously your dog must learn to pivot “on the forehand.” That is, how to maneuver his rear end while his front end remains stationary.
If you watched those videos, and worked on “place,” and “pivoting on the forehand,” you are ready to teach your dog to hustle into heel position, and have fun doing it. The following video demonstrates how to teach your dog the game of “Finding Heel.”
Finding Heel Position - A GameView Video: https://vimeo.com/131091056
If you prefer written instructions to accompany this video, try this:
1. Put your dog on his bed. Stand four feet away with your back to him. Put the treat in your left hand, and place this hand on your left hip if it is a big dog, or lower on your leg if it is a smaller dog. Look over your left shoulder and call him into heel position. When he comes into heel position to get the treat, use your conditioned reinforcer, and reward him. Now send him back to the bed. You choose whether you want to mark and reward the behavior of returning to the bed. You can do this intermittently.
2. Stand with your left side facing the bed. Put a treat in your left hand, on your left side, and call your dog into heel position. Now your dog should leave the bed and have to do a partial “swing” in order to get into heel position. Use your skills from “pivoting on the forehand” to require a straight sit before you. Mark the behavior and reward your dog. Do not call your dog into heel position while you are facing the bed. This looks and feels like the return to heel on the moving stand exercise and you do not need to practice that maneuver just yet.
3. Start alternating between having a treat ready in your left hand, and simply pointing to heel position with your finger and no treat present. When your dog sits straight, mark it and reward him. When you point, there will be a delay between your conditioned reinforcer and the delivery of the reward. That is OK.
4. As your dog learns the game, stop using the bed as a starting position. Instead, leave your dog in a sit, and take a step forward. Point to your left side and tell him to “Heel.” Again, you will be alternating between having a reward ready in your left hand, and simply pointing to heel position with your finger and no reward present. Remember, if you mark it, you must reward it.
5. Call your dog to heel position from a variety of locations; from behind you, beside you, slightly in front of you. Have some fun with the game. Get him good at it. The majority of the time, your left hand should be pointing to heel position, but you will continue to mark and reward the behavior of finding heel position.
At the end of this sequence, you should have a dog that can get into heel position as long as you are pointing to the position with your left hand. Eventually, you will want him to find heel position when your hand is in the same position it will be in while heeling. If you heel with your left hand at your waist, a few more skills may be necessary for you to make that transition.
A prerequisite for teaching your dog to find heel with your hand at your waist is for your dog to master a straight halt.
The following video demonstrates the simplest way I know to teach the halt.
Learning to Halt - The Easy Way
View Video: https://vimeo.com/131093100
Teaching Halts –
1. Start with your dog sitting in heel position next to you. Put the leash in your right hand and pull straight across your body. At the same time, offer your dog a treat with your left hand, straight in front of his nose. Causing him to lean away from you, as well as turning his head away from you, will bring his rear end straight beside you.
2. Pull the leash across your body with your right hand, and use a treat in your left hand to keep his head straight in line with his spine. Practice one step halts by stepping forward on your right foot and bringing up your left foot.
3. Start heeling and before you come to a halt, put a treat in your left hand, drop your right hand across your body and put tension on the leash. Use the treat to place your dog’s head straight in line with his spine. This should allow you to steer him into a straight sit just as you did in the one step halts described in step 2.
4. This fourth step is the same as 3, except, instead of holding the treat in front of the dog’s nose, point to your left side with your left hand.
5. Finally, halt while putting slight pressure on the leash across your body, and keeping your left hand in heel position.
If you can halt with your left hand at your waist, you can play the “Find Heel” game with your hand at your waist! The following video shows you what to expect.
Finding Heel Position- The Game Gets HarderView Video: https://vimeo.com/131093101
Keep in mind, if your dog loves getting into heel position, he will have fun on every finish, and every time he lines up to do an exercise. That’s a great attitude to take into the obedience ring.
The idea of teaching the “Find Heel” game was originally introduced in the Digital Obedience Guide: Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises. If you have not downloaded your free copy, please do so today by going to http://forms.aweber.com/form/26/668925026.htm
Three years ago, while raising my Labrador puppy, Nathan, I used a conditioned reinforcer more than I had with any other dog. My goal was to teach him 4 concepts:
I didn’t have any interest in using a conditioned reinforcer for the first three, as he was coming to me and getting his treat from me. However, #4 presented a perfect opportunity to teach him to offer a behavior with the expectation that the treat was forthcoming.
I used a verbal conditioned reinforcer (“Yes!”) as opposed to the more common clicker. I was confident in my ability to make “Yes” a distinctive and enthusiastic sound and knew I could keep myself from using the word when it was inappropriate.
The first skill I taught him which involved the concept of moving away from the treat to earn a treat was going to his bed.
Naively, I thought that when he was working as my obedience dog, there would be three situations where I would use this skill. The fist would be running away from me to a bed or kennel, the second would be lying down when my hand went up for the drop signal, and the third would be the go-out exercise. However, I quickly added a fourth situation when I realized the usefulness of circling a cone. The following video shows Nate’s introduction to a conditioned reinforcer. He is 9 1/2 weeks old:
Nate’s Introduction to a Conditioned Reinforcer
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1For more detailed information about Nate’s early training, check out the Digital Obedience Guide: The Performance Puppy Primer https://goo.gl/MbhXKH
Many of these exercises are demonstrated in the free Digital Obedience Guide: Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises. You can get your free copy at www.dogtrainersworkshop.com
I was more fascinated by my ability to get him to move away from the treat than the concept of a conditioned reinforcer, so I started using a remote control treat dispenser called a manners minder to teach him to retrieve, and ultimately do scent articles.
Nathan Starts Scent Discrimination: Step 1
However I should have been excited about the power of both skills. In my experience, obedience enthusiasts often fall short when it comes to teaching dogs to move away from a treat to earn it. We are excellent lurers, as we often want to “put a cookie on it.” So, his ability to quickly learn how to perform in the absence of the treat was meaningful. However, equally important, if not more so, was his enthusiasm about the conditioned reinforcer. I was using a verbal marker, and the manners minder transmitted an audible tone prior to dispensing the treat.
These would become valuable tools…
It was not until the next year, that I finally opened my eyes and realized the power of the conditioned reinforcer. I was teaching a group of students in an advanced beginner class to teach their dogs to go to a bed. One of my students, a little negative by nature, complained that her dog didn’t like getting on the beds I had supplied the class. I asked her to try anyway, and assured her I’d be there to help as soon as I could. Not five minutes later, she called out, “Check this out, he likes it! He likes running to the bed!”
I had seen my own dogs enjoy the seemingly stupid trick of running to a bed and then whirling around when they heard me say, “YES!” waiting for me to deliver the treat, so I wasn’t surprised. However, something about her amazement got my attention, and I set out on a journey to explain the phenomenon. Why did this dog, at hesitant at first to get on the bed at all, within a very short period of time, become enthusiastic about running away from his owner and the source of the treats, in order to earn the treat? That experience sent me on a journey to discover why a dog would enjoy such a seemingly stupid trick like running to a bed.
In the book, The Compass of Pleasure, David Linden offers a biological explanation for the activities that cause pleasure. He suggests that experiences that we find pleasurable activate an anatomically and biochemically defined pleasure circuit in the brain. Those pleasure centers release dopamine and other chemicals that cause enjoyment and pleasure.
As dog trainers, we say, and often believe, the dog only does it “for the treat.” However, this does not need to be your reality. If you use a conditioned reinforcer, because of the dopamine release in the pleasure and memory centers of the brain, you will watch the sequence of events that lead to both the reinforcer and the treat, become enjoyable for the dog.
Consider the following example; the word “ice cream” is a conditioned reinforcer for me. When you say the word “ice cream” to me, I have a dopamine release at the thought that we are going to have ice cream. Science has proven that I actually have a higher dopamine release at the idea that we might go get ice cream than I have when we get to the ice cream stand and I am handed the cone.
In fact, if you suggest that we have ice cream every time you come to see me, it won’t be long before I have a dopamine release if I know you are coming, because you might suggest that we have ice-cream. I start to enjoy the fact that you are coming. My anticipation causes my excitement to “back up,” and pretty soon I’m excited the night before because you are coming the next day and might suggest ice cream.
In the same way, your dog will start to enjoy running to his bed because it leads to the conditioned reinforcer, and ultimately the treat. It is not uncommon to see dogs run to a bed without a command, and look expectantly at the owner as if asking why the game hasn’t started yet. Keep in mind, the dopamine release is actually higher when the dog hears the conditioned reinforcer than when you hand him the treat.
Why is it that dogs enjoy activities associated with the conditioned reinforcers more than they enjoy them if you have merely handed them a treat? There are several explanations for this, but the best is that the conditioned reinforcer points specifically at the behavior that you are rewarding. In the example of running to a bed, when you reinforce the dog’s fourth foot stepping on to the bed, the dog understands that it is the act of getting on the bed that is causing the reward to happen. If you simply praise him and feed him, this may not be as clear as several things are happening as you deliver the treat; he is turning around, wagging his tail, looking at you, or you are walking toward him. It’s simply more difficult for the dog to ascertain exactly what is causing the reward, thus the chemical release in his body is not as intense.
However, using my ice cream example, there are two more facts you need to understand about conditioned reinforcers. First, if you do not have time to go get ice cream every time you come and see me, so sometimes you simply don’t suggest it, I will be disappointed. However, my dopamine levels will actually increase when I know you are coming, as you are now unpredictable. This explains the concept of intermittent reinforcement. Once your dog knows how to run to his bed, you don’t have to mark every occurrence. If you are more unpredictable, his speed and enthusiasm will actually increase.
However, if you suggest we have ice cream and then change your mind and we don’t go get any, you will ultimately destroy the entire process. Now I don’t trust you. I will no longer have a dopamine release when I know you are coming, in fact, even if you mention ice cream, I will not get excited. This is why you must reward the dog every time you use the conditioned reinforcer.
Following my student’s exclamation, “He likes getting on the bed!” I had a realization. Having a dog enjoy running to his bed is of no use to me. There is no 30 point obedience exercise that involves running to a bed. So what is it that I need my dogs to enjoy?
How about finding heel position? If I can condition a dog to love hustling into heel position, he will get to perform an activity he enjoys no less than 6 times in Novice (five exercises + one finish), 10 times in open (6 exercises +4 finishes), and 14 times in Utility (7 exercises + 7 finishes). Sound like it might be worth trying? You bet! I’ll explore this concept in Part II of this series next month.
The basics on finding heel position is discussed in the Digital Obedience Guide: Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises. This free download is available at www.dogtrainersworkshop.com. I am creating some additional video and more detailed instructions for you to follow with my next installment.
One of the greatest frustrations for obedience competitors is watching your dog perform poorly in the ring when he consistently looks better prepared in practice.
What causes that? Here are several ideas.
1. Are you helping your dog too much in training?
Pointing to front, turning your shoulder on the finish, guiding back on the leash of a forging dog or encouraging the lagging dog to move forward are all examples of subtle help. If you are doing the work in training, your dog will not feel responsible for performing those details in the ring.
Today, start changing that habit. When your dog comes to front, let him sit, if he’s not straight, make him fix it. Far better that he give you his best guess, and then find out if he’s right or wrong and needs to try harder, than that you help him be right every time.
If your dog hesitates, do you quickly (without even noticing?) give him a second command? Second commands can become a habit, for both you and the dog, without your even noticing that you are giving one.
Today, refuse to give your dog a second command for any reason. Instead, physically touch him to make him do the right thing the first time you ask. If you call him and he fails to move, go get him. If you send him and he only goes part way, go put your hand on his collar and push him in the right direction. You don’t have to say “no,” or get angry, simply make him do what you ask on the first attempt.
2. Are you depending on treats, toys and games in training?
In our efforts to be motivational and fun, we often train with hands full of treats and toys in our pockets. When these are gone, and we are in the ring, the performance suffers.
Recently, I created a free download called, Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises. (You can get a copy by going to www.dogtrainersworkshop.com and clicking on the banner in the middle of the page.)
One of the tricks in the guide is titled “Find Heel.” In that section, using a secondary reinforcer (a marker such as a clicker or specific word), the dogs are taught, first to run to a bed or place, and then to run from the bed into heel position. The dogs are excited about both “games.” In fact, many dogs will start to offer the behavior before they are asked.
Is the act of running to a place or running into heel position that much fun? Actually, no. The enjoyment the dogs have is actually a result of a dopamine release in the pleasure and memory centers of his brain.
How does that work?
The word “ice cream” is a secondary reinforcer for me. If you come to see me and ask me if I want ice cream, I have a dopamine release at the thought that we are going to go have ice cream. In fact, I actually have a higher dopamine release at the idea that we might go get ice cream than I have when we go to the ice cream stand and I receive the cone.
If you suggest that we have ice cream every time you come to see me, it won’t be long before I have a dopamine release if I know you are coming, because I know what’s coming next, you are going to suggest we have ice cream, and we are going to have some.
If you come to see me, and occasionally don’t suggest ice-cream, I’m disappointed, but in actuality that causes my dopamine release to be even higher the next time I see you because you have now become unpredictable. However, if you repeatedly suggest we have ice cream and then change your mind and we don’t go get any, you will destroy the process. Now I don’t trust you. I no longer have a dopamine release when I know you are coming, in fact, even if you mention ice cream, I will not get excited.
In this same way, the dogs in the video in the Digital Obedience Guide are having fun performing the seemingly silly trick of finding heel position. Their dopamine levels are increasing because they are anticipating the secondary reinforcer. I never use the secondary reinforcer unless the treat is forthcoming, but sometimes I simply praise the without the use of a secondary reinforcer.
This is complicated, but worth exploring. Instead of simply feeding your dog for a job well done, if you use your food correctly, your dog will enjoy the activity that leads to the food (the obedience exercise), not just the reward itself. Now you can go into the ring with a dog that enjoys the activity as opposed to one that realizes you will not feed him in the ring and ultimately stops performing.
Remember- every time you use your marker, you must reward with a treat, otherwise your dog will call you a liar. When your dog understands the game, you don’t always have to use the marker. Praise him without using the secondary reinforcement. Interestingly, your dog’s attitude will actually increase as you become less predictable.
3. Training and showing must look alike.
What does that mean? If you think your dog is ready to enter a show, you need to try the following scenarios before sending in your entry.
a) You must be able to practice for 8-10 minutes without a break that is different than what you can do in the ring.
All the obedience classes can be completed in less than 10 minutes. Typically, our training sessions are longer than that. However, most of us take multiple breaks to offer treats or play games. Have you ever tried to practice for even 5-6 minutes, moving from one exercise to another, offering the praise and enthusiasm that you can offer in the ring, but nothing more?
b) You must perform each exercise the first time, not after multiple attempts.
A typical training session might involve you repeating one exercise several times, then moving on to another. Have you ever tried to practice several exercises, one time each, making sure your dog will perform the first time he attempts it, not after several repetitions?
c) You must be able to move between the exercises smoothly, going from one to the next.
Are you going to ask your dog to heel from one exercise to the next, or move around the ring in a more relaxed fashion? Practice several different strategies and decide what works best for you. You can talk to your dog while moving in the ring, so do so in practice, but do not let him go to the location of a new exercise in a distracted or uninterested fashion.
Does every training session need to look like this? No. Sometime you will need to concentrate on a single exercise to improve your dog’s understanding of that exercise. However, you need to practice this way enough that when you enter the ring, your dog feels as if he is being asked to perform in a familiar way. You want your dog to believe he is doing exactly what he does in training.
Last night in class, 4 students were preparing to go into Graduate Novice.
I asked that they try to perform eight exercises in a row without taking a break. There are four exercises in the Graduate Novice class after the heeling; the drop on recall, recall with a dumbbell, recall over the high jump and recall over the broad jump. I wanted each student to try to perform each exercise twice, but not to repeat any exercise twice in a row.
You guessed it, no one made it through 8 recalls without the dog anticipating at least one of them. The students got great information about their dog's weakness, and great information about how they could better prepare before the next show.
Look over the list of suggestions in this article and decide how you could change your next training session. You will be amazed that some simple adjustments on your part can make a big difference in the outcome of your next performance.
I have been competing long enough in obedience to remember when video cameras were the size of a small cooler, heavy, and had VHS tapes inside. Yet, even then, we were thrilled with the fact that we could video tape to save, savor, or evaluate a performance.
Now, whether it’s with your phone, tablet, or GoPro, around the ring there are always folks videotaping for another competitor. Why? What are you learning? Are you simply hoping that you’ll have plenty of performances to watch after the dog’s career comes to an end? I hope not. Every time you video a performance, and then play it back, gather useful and meaningful information so that your next performance is improved because of it.
When you come out of the ring, before you watch the tape, evaluate your performance. Ask the following questions:
1. Can you accurately describe what happened? Did you like your dog’s attitude? Was he trying? Did he perform as well as he does in practice? Furthermore, how did you do? Did you do your best to handle him correctly? Did your nerves get in your way? Did you move confidently around the ring?
2. The first time you watch the tape, evaluate the dog’s performance. Make note of your dog’s mistakes. Note the lag or the slow sit. Watch for the slow return or the anticipation. Watch him between exercises, note whether he was attentive or distracted.
3. The next time you watch the tape, watch you, not the dog. Notice that you had to adjust your location three times before you were ready to do the retrieve, or that you rounded the left turn. Watch your upper body and make sure you did not move as he was coming in to front. Pay special attention to the skills that give you trouble like doing a smooth figure eight or looking natural on the fast. Before you get annoyed about your speed, keep in mind that you will always look slower on videotape than you were actually going.
4. Now that you know when the dog is going to make mistakes, and you've got a pretty good idea of where your mistakes occurred, watch one more time and see how they are related. Sometimes mistakes are really obvious, but sometimes, by watching carefully, you will pick up some very subtle errors.
First time through it looked like your dog lagged on the about turn, second time through it looked like you looked back at your dog and perhaps your shoulder caused the lag. Third time through you notice that the dog did lag first, and then you looked, thus making a small mistake worse.
First time through you are disappointed that your dog bobbled the dumbbell as he picked it up, as that is an unusual error, but the second time through you notice that you offered him a lot of praise after the drop on recall and that you then had trouble getting him lined up for the next exercise. Perhaps a bit too much celebrating caused him to lose his concentration.
First time through you are unhappy with inaccurate finishes. Second time through you notice that you have your hand down on the drop on recall finish, up on the retrieves, and then down at your side on the broad jump. Third time you realize that the finishes on the retrieves were crooked whereas the finishes on the drop and broad were not. Perhaps you need to evaluate whether you could hold the dumbbell at your side to get better finishes on the retrieve.
A Final Thought...
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of videotaping your warm-up. Once you have seen your performance in the ring, watching how you warmed up outside the ring may give you some information as to how you might have prepared differently and avoided some of the mistakes that occurred.
Technology is an amazing tool, but in order for the videotape of your performance to be of any use, you have to use it correctly. Get out the camera, and then carefully, systematically, thoughtfully gather and analyze the information that the videotape reveals.
FIX YOUR HEELING!
As 2014 gave way to a new year, I began teaching obedience classes for the 30th year in the Greenville, SC, area. I have hit a lot of milestones in my life, learning to drive, getting to vote, graduations, birthdays, but this anniversary feels particularly significant.
In 1995, I began writing articles about dog obedience training for the Golden Retriever News. As I begin this article, I am well aware that I am writing about the subject that has become my life-long study for over 20 years.
As writing gave way to seminar, I produced a flow chart, listing the principles I believed to be true about training dogs. It was a poke at my engineering degree as I have always blamed my education for teaching my brain to think in flowcharts.
In 2015, most of us are no longer competing in one venue. Our choices have grown from obedience, field and tracking to include rally, agility, breed specific instinct tests, nose work, and more. As you expand your knowledge, and your dog’s skills, stop for a moment and understand that all your dog training is related. Dog training principles are all the same, regardless of the venue. However, most of us, as we discover new skills that we want our dogs to learn, are too hasty to ask for the technique. How do I teach my dog the Broad Jump, contacts, weave poles, blind retrieves, nose work, How, how, how?
BE GUIDED BY PRINCIPLE NOT TECHNIQUE
You will save yourself countless hours if you understand that no matter what you are teaching your dog, you are more interested in the principle that is behind that technique than you are in the actual recipe, or steps that are going to take you there. In fact, as my friend Pat Nolan so eloquently said, “If you don’t understand the Principles, you are a slave to technique.” In other words, you will need the written instructions, the step-by-step manual, the instructor standing over your shoulder…forever.
Last year, at one particularly memorable seminar, I had three participants in a row come up on the floor and tell me that they intended to teach their dogs how to do obedience without a leash. I was confused. Using a leash is a technique. Leashes are not a principle. I can use the leash to guide a dog or to correct him. Therefore, the leash can be used to help a dog that is confused (Principle) or to correct a dog that is not trying (negative reinforcement). I was unclear as to why the leash had become the forbidden technique.
I was further confused when I dug deeper into the situation and learned that all the dogs in question were learning to compete in hunt tests and the owners were using electric collars, as is customary in that sport.
PRINCIPLES DO NOT CHANGE, TECHNIQUES DO
Write this down and memorize it. If a principle makes sense to you in one area of your dog’s education, it should make sense to you in all areas of his education. Principles do not change, techniques do.
That experience, above all others, illustrated for me how we so easily abandon principle and become slaves to technique.
What Principles should guide you as you traverse through the land of training? When I created the flow chart in 1998, I listed all the principles that I hold close, but in reality, if you start with the following six, dog training will become quite simple:
I. DOGS CAN SOLVE PROBLEMS- MINDLESS REPETITION IS OUT
Dogs are Problem Solvers. In a world of tag-lines and marketing, I have inadvertently branded myself with this statement. What does it mean? Is it as meaningless to you as one of Newton’s laws of motion (F=mA)?
On the first night of beginner class, I tell my pet owners, if you put your dog outside, and he doesn’t want to be there, he will solve his problem. He will start by barking at the door. If you ignore him when he barks, he will start to scratch. If you don’t want your door scratched, and you quickly go to him to let him in, he will learn that barking does not solve his problem, but scratching does. In other words, he will continue to offer behaviors that he believes will improve his situation.
Every time you pick up a handful of treats, you are getting your dog to solve a problem. His problem? You have the treats and he wants them. He offers behaviors, sometimes incrementally closer to the behavior that you desire, and he earns treats. He is solving his problem.
Understanding that Dogs are Problem Solvers will guide you into a world of dog training that embraces your dog’s ability to “figure it out,” and steers you away from techniques that embrace mindless repetition. If you believe that your dog can solve a problem, you will challenge an instructor or technique that states, “do the following 1000 times and your dog will finally start doing it himself.”
Stop right now and think about the skill you are teaching your dog that is giving you the most difficulty. Are you treating your dog as if he has the ability to solve a problem, or are you simply believing that if you “do it long enough,” your dog will perform?
II. DOGS MAKE TWO KINDS OF ERRORS- EFFORT ERRORS AND LACK OF EFFORT ERRORS
Please don’t pick up the leash until you understand this Principle. Every time you ask your dog to do something, and he fails to perform, you need to ask yourself the question; Was my dog trying or not?
Effort Errors are characterized by confusion and fear. If you look down at your dog and sense he is worried or acting hesitantly, you need to gently and firmly show him what to do. You should not give a second command, beg, plead, or hope. You should have one of two responses; either, you physically show him what to do (e.g. if he failed to sit, you gently but firmly put him in a sit), or you tell him he made a wrong choice and set him up to try again (e.g. if he took the wrong jump on Directed Jumping).
Lack of Effort Errors are characterized by a dog who appears distracted or uninterested.
Your expectation must be that your dog remains engaged, trying to learn what you are trying to teach him. If you look down at your dog and he is not paying attention to you, you have a fundamental problem.
III. IF USING NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT, YOU MUST TEACH IT FIRST
If you do anything to your dog that he does not like, you must have taken the time to teach him how to make it stop and how to prevent it from happening again.
Read that sentence again while I wait…
Negative reinforcement is something you know how to stop and you know how to keep from happening again. Consider the seat belt buzzer in the car. When it goes off, you know how to make it stop. You also know how to prevent it from happening. You are in control. You are not afraid of the seatbelt for fear it will randomly start chiming at you. You completely control whether that negative event occurs.
You must spend time teaching your dog how to control anything that you do that he perceives as negative.
In every questionnaire, every seminar, every group I ask, without question, the exercise that is causing the most problem is poor heeling. In general, when I encounter a poor heeling dog, and I ask the handler to get out a treat and try again, the dog looks practically perfect trotting next to the handler enthusiastically.
What is missing? The handler has started with the first principle, Dogs Are Problem Solvers. He has given the dog a problem to solve by offering a treat. The dog has figured out that he gets a treat when he trots expectantly by his owner’s side. However, when the treat disappears, the dog no longer has a problem. There is no treat, so no reason to be attentive.
Perhaps the handler got the dog’s head up another way- with a device (ie. head halter). The dog again had a problem and soon realized that when the device was on, he needed to hold his head up. However, without the device, the dog does not have a problem, and stops holding his head up. What is missing? There has to be a consequence for not looking.
What does your dog think a quick tug on the leash means? If he could talk, and you asked him “What should you do when I tug on the leash?” He needs to respond “look at you!”
It’s simple, and unbelievably straight forward to teach your dog that a tug on the leash means pay attention. Every time I give a seminar, someone (more often many people) want me to help with their heeling. The dog heels beautifully if the reward is visible, and stops when it is not. In almost every case, I fix the problem by showing the handler he has a tool to use that can easily communicate to the dog that he must pay attention-a quick tug on the leash.
Try it. Stand in front of your dog with the clasp of the leash under his chin and talk to him. If he looks away, stop talking, and give the leash a quick tug. If he looks back, praise him, and then give him the treat. You are giving the dog a problem. Every time he looks away, something unpleasant occurs. You are teaching him how to stop it- to look back at you.
Please don’t miss this point. Just as you stop the chime of the seat belt when you buckle up, your dog can stop the quick tug by looking back at you.
Have someone move around you, talking to you and your dog. Every time he looks away, you give a tug. Every time he looks back, you praise him. Be sincere. Praise from your heart. You are excited. He is learning how to stop a negative event when it occurs. Let him know how happy this makes you.
Watch carefully. Pretty soon your dog will acknowledge that there is a person moving around you, but he will not look. He may flick his eyes or his ears, but he will make a decision (solve a problem) not to look. He will prevent the negative event from occurring. Praise his good decisions. Get excited. Watch the principle at work. Your dog is learning how to stop and how to prevent a negative event. He is learning how to control negative reinforcement. The principles are starting to make sense and take shape. He is a problem solver, he does make two kinds of errors, looking away is a lack of effort, and he is learning that he controls negative reinforcement.
IV. DOGS ARE SITUATIONAL
On the first night of beginner class, I teach my students that dogs are problem solvers, and that they are also situational. That means that when you teach your dog to do something in one location, under one set of circumstances, he may not perform in a new location or under a new set of circumstances. Just as the beginner’s lament “but he does it at home,” , if you understand this principle, you understand that you need to change your location or position and see if your dog still understands that a tug on the leash means pay attention
So, change your position relative to your dog. Stand next to him in heel position instead of in front of him. Proceed through the same process. Praise him for looking at you. Stop talking and give a quick tug if he looks away. Praise him when he looks back - enthusiastically, genuinely, and sincerely.
Still having success? Try changing your situation again. Try walking with your dog in heel position. If he looks away, give a quick tug on the leash. When he looks back, sincerely praise a job well done, take a break, if you feel compelled, give him a treat. The important thing is that he feels how excited you are that he is figuring this out.
If you have a dog that is willingly trotting around the ring, looking at you when you have a treat in your hand, but not looking at you when you don’t, you may work through these steps in one training session. You may be stunned to find out, that even though you were not sure what your dog thought he should do if you gave a tug on the leash, the dog already did know you wanted his attention. You will be moving around the circle, dog in heel position, cheerfully looking at you most of the time, and if he gets distracted, a quick tug will regain his attention and you will continue to heel.
Sound too easy? It is easy if you understand the principles behind the technique.
I. Your dog can solve problems.
II. Your dog will make two kinds of mistakes.
III. You can use negative reinforcement to stop lack of effort errors (Not paying attention to you is a lack of effort error).
IV. You will not use negative reinforcement until you have spent time teaching your dog how to stop and how to prevent the event from occurring.
V. Your dog is situational, so you will practice in numerous positions relative to his body, and ultimately, numerous locations.
The technique you choose should be guided by the Principles that you believe.
Shaping The Heeling Exercise
Paying Attention Is Required
When I cook, I am a slave to the recipe, because I don’t understand the techniques. I can read, therefore I can cook, but not really, because if I am missing an ingredient, I have no skill to replace it. In fact, if something goes wrong during the process, I not only don’t recognize it, I certainly can’t save it. The entire recipe is ruined. Even though I have played the piano all my life, and I can play beautiful pieces of music, without the music, I am hopeless. Having never learned the principles behind the music, I am a slave to the notes that others have written.
Techniques are devised by breaking down the exercises we are trying to teach into manageable pieces. However, if you understand principle, you will not be a slave to technique, in fact, when your dog starts to respond differently than you expected, you will still be OK, because when you understand principles, you are no longer a slave to the technique.
I’ve always had a tendency to dream- In High School, bored in class, I would write the name of my first golden retriever with all the titles I hoped she would achieve.
I’d never had a class on goal setting. I’d never heard Zig Ziglar say, “if you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”
I’m not sure how I learned to do it- but as long as I remember I’ve started with a dream and turned them into goals.
In 1996, at the Golden Retriever Club of America National Specialty, I was competing with a 13-month-old golden in both the Derby and the Qualifying stake. Before the event began, a competitor came up to me, and said, “Do I see a Field Champion and an Obedience Champion in our breed’s future?”
I was embarrassed. Yes, that was my dream, but I had no idea how to make it a goal. Since it had never been done, perhaps the goal was impossible.
That dog went on to become FC AFC OTCH Topbrass Ascending Elijah
How did that happen?
One step at a time- literally, reaching a goal is like climbing a ladder - one rung at a time.
Each rung on the ladder is one actionable step.
Have you ever saved money for something? How does it happen? One dollar at a time.
How do I train a dog to be an Obedience Trial Championship? One skill at a time.
Tips to Turn Dreams to Goals and Goals to Actionable Steps
Writing down a dream turns it into a goal. Make it real. Don’t be embarrassed or think your goal is too big. If someone questions your ability or tries to discourage you, move on. Anyone who is not on your team is of no help to you. Consider that no matter how hard you try, you may not reach your goal, and reconcile that with the fact that working toward a goal is far more enjoyable than actually reaching the goal. Sure failure is a possibility, but not trying is a greater failure.
2. Write down the milestones leading to your goal.
In obedience, you know exactly what titles are required to earn an Obedience Trial Championship. So, earning your Companion Dog Excellent title is a milestone on your quest to reach your goal. However, each of those titles requires certain skills. Each of those skills become a partial goal.
If you are looking at a 7- week-old puppy and dreaming about an Obedience Trial Championship, that’s fabulous- but rein yourself back in. You need to start by getting your puppy housebroken and sleeping through the night. He needs to learn to Sit, Down, and Come. Get started. You can make progress toward your goal every day.
If you are planning on competing in more than one venue- make a list of the titles you hope to achieve, and prioritize them. Perhaps you want to concentrate on your Junior Hunter title before your Companion Dog title, or perhaps it’s an agility or tracking title that is more important at present.
Weather and seasons often dictate where you will spend your time. If getting a tracking title is burning a hole in your soul, and it’s January in Minnesota, maybe you should work another goal until the weather improves?
3. One training session a day is plenty.
There are lots of dogs that have accomplished great things in multiple venues that only practiced one skill set each day. Let your obedience days be for obedience, your agility days be for agility, and your hunt test days be for hunt tests. However, if there are obedience trials coming up, plan your week to do more obedience than any other venue, and vice versa.
4. Start with a calendar.
Buy one or draw one- it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you look forward 1-3 weeks at a time. You begin by crossing off the days you know you won’t train. Then make a date with yourself to train every day that you have not crossed off. Write down where you intend to train and what you hope to accomplish. In three weeks, do it again, and keep doing it. Weeks become months and months become years, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish if every training session is planned and you are committed to making it happen. I live by the motto, “A Bad Plan is Better than No Plan.” If I set out to accomplish something, if I have a bad plan, it will become evident very quickly. I can always change plans. No plan creates inertia. Nothing done, nothing accomplished.
5. Prepare for set-backs
The most discouraging times involve injury. Helping your dog recover from an injury can be devastating. However, you can make your recovery a goal to be reached, just as you did your training. Perhaps today your goal is to walk your dog for 3 minutes. So be it, check it off your list and look forward to tomorrow.
Let’s face it, life interferes with life. Family crisis, illness, and change all cause us to become derailed. However, derailment can be temporary, and dogs are amazing creatures. They will pick up right where we left off, when we are able to get back to work.
6. If you’re not making progress toward the goal, change your method, not your goal!
Don’t work on a skill using a method because “your last dog learned it like this.” Never marry yourself to a method, be married to the outcome. Imagine a first-grade teacher that only had one method for teaching students to read, and if it didn’t work, the child was labeled as a non-reader. Ridiculous!
Insist on a standard of constant progress and if you’re stuck, admit it and look for another method. This may mean looking around for a different coach, mentor or teacher. Don’t give up the goal.
7. Be strategic.
Use the optional classes and non-regular classes to your advantage. If your heeling is falling apart, go back to Graduate Novice or Wildcard Novice where you can heel on leash. If your go-out is broken, try Graduate Open where the go-out is half the full distance. If you need an Open B win, consider Thursday or Sunday of the four day circuit when the completion is lighter or tired. Use your head and look for opportunities that will continue to move you forward.
8. Surround yourself with people that have done what you are attempting to do and listen to them. Surround yourself with encouragers, helpers and supporters. Ignore the folks that have not done it, they can be the greatest discouragement of all.
The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions, new starts, and goals. Everybody thinks about diet plans, gym memberships and organizing closets- let’s put dog training goals to the list!