There are four factors that affect learning with which all trainers should be familiar. They are attention, feedback, transfer, and practice.
Attention was discussed as one of the goals of training. In training the animal, attention must be focused on the subject to be learned. It is very important for a trainer to be able to get the animal under emotional control as the first step in training.
A dog that is emotionally unsettled cannot concentrate on the action the trainer is trying to convey. A dog that is fearful, aggressive, overly exuberant, or otherwise emotionally stimulated must first be calmed in a static position, such as sitting at heel. If it is not possible to put the dog into a composed mental state, it does little good to attempt to teach the dog an action that requires control while it is moving.
Feedback tells us what we are doing. For a student it can be the teacher- corrected assignment that is returned to him. The dog trainer must have a mental picture of exactly what it is he wants the dog to do. The instant the dog fails to respond properly the trainer makes a correction. Beginning trainers usually have to see a gross error before correcting, but with more experience they develop a sensitivity, which allows them to anticipate a dog’s error. The great trainer has almost a sixth sense that permits him to correct the dog before the error is physically apparent.
Transfer occurs when the learning of one skill aids or hinders the learning of another. For instance, a case of positive transfer comes when a background in arithmetic is used by the student in algebra. A youngster learning golf and tennis at the same time is probably going to have difficulty since the physical actions are not compatible. A student learning algebra and golf would have no transfer problems, as there is no connection between the two activities.
The dog trainer must realize that many training activities depend on positive transfer. The dog must have a sound background before it is able to learn an action that depends on another skill. It would be impossible to teach a formal Novice Recall before the dog knows how to sit and stay. The easiest stay position to teach the dog is the sit, as corrections can be readily made.
Because of its background a dog that has learned to sit and stay reliably seldom has problems with staying in a down or standing position. Another example of proper transfer comes when a dog must learn to accept praise before praise can be used as a reward. Without this background a praising tone of voice triggers uncontrollable behavior, and it is obvious that this tone cannot be used to show the dog that the previous act was acceptable.
A case of neutral transfer occurs when teaching a dog to stand-stay and stick jumping at the same time. ere is no conflict in teaching a dog to stick jump either before or aer it learns to stand and stay.
Practice is necessary to bind responses together. To be effective, practice sessions should be short, as it does more harm than good to practice to the point of mental or physical fatigue.
As a dog learns primarily through repetition, proper practice is exceedingly important to the trainer’s success or failure. In training there is no substitute for consistent practice.
The trainer often gets in trouble during practice sessions if he does not vary his training. He must not repeat the same pattern many times in a row, or he will teach the dog by repetition to anticipate commands.
For example, a trainer in teaching the recall, calls the dog every time shortly after he walks away and then turns toward it. The dog will associate the trainer’s turns with the come command and will soon anticipate the command. Wise trainers do not allow any patterns to form. They vary the time they face the dog before calling, or they return to the dog before calling, or optionally still will call the dog before turning. This not only prevents anticipation but aids in producing a dog that is “command” trained.
Calendar and Clock
Practice is so important to training a dog that the trainer is advised to keep a training log. This if often called “training by the calendar and clock” as the trainer keeps the date and exact length of time the dog was trained.
The calendar and clock method keeps the trainer honest with himself. Most amateur trainers train as a hobby and have demanding professional and personal schedules. It is very easy at the end of a month to feel that the dog should be further along in its training. A check with the calendar will show that the dog may have received no training on several days, and shortened training sessions on others.
It only takes a few seconds to maintain a log of your training but it is so easy to neglect. There is no substitute for repetition, and keeping a simple training log will make a more understanding, fair, and knowledgeable trainer.
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