by Brad Waggoner
Yes, I’m a dog trainer by profession though the title is a bit misleading. When it comes to learning new skills and becoming proficient at them, there are two different things going on. There’s the acquisition of new skills (learning) and there’s the honing of those new skills (becoming fluent). So how does this break down?
Before we can expect our dog (or a person for that matter), to be good at something, we must first TEACH them how to do what we want. We can probably all remember something someone taught us for the first time. I remember the first fiddle teacher I had. He really wasn’t a great teacher because he was unable to break down the skill into small enough pieces so that I could learn each one, and then put them together. Can you say frustrating? I did finally find someone who could do this and the learning became fun. For our dogs it’s very similar.
We must break down the behavior we’re teaching into small enough pieces so the dog has a chance to get it right and earn reinforcement for that piece of the finished behavior. So let’s assume we’ve been able to teach our dog how to do something. The newly acquired skill that was taught must then be practiced if the dog is expected to get better at this skill and then remember this skill. This is where we start to TRAIN.
Just like the professional baseball player who was taught how to throw a ball or swing a bat as a young child, he still goes to spring training every year to be good during the regular season. The best of players train year round to stay fluent in their sport.
It’s fairly easy to teach our dogs a new skill. It may be a simple sit or a more complex behavior such as a retrieve or recall. But if we don’t then start training (practicing) that new skill, it will not become fluent and will break down or disappear altogether. Just because a dog has done something a few times doesn’t necessarily mean he “knows” it. That new skill must be practiced over and over in various places and under a variety of conditions….that’s the TRAINING part. Teaching your dog new skills and then training your dog should be fun. If it isn’t, stop and reevaluate how you are going about it and find a way to help your dog succeed. Feel free to contact us for some help.
Now about my fiddle playing, I’d better get back to some training because some of those skills are slipping a bit. Have fun and train well.
Brad Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a Faculty Member for the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior, and co-owner of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. He enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com