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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: REPETITION

REPETITION is fundamental.

I wish I could remember where I read that it takes 400 repetitions of a given command before a puppy "knows" the command.  I don't know if this is true, but I would not be surprised if it is.  In human athletics, repetition, even mental repetition, actually creates neural pathways in our brains to solidify the action.

When training a puppy, repetition can be as simple as ALWAYS saying "right" when making a right turn (or "left" when turning left), and ALWAYS insisting on a loose leash (walking backward ANY TIME there is tension on the leash).

Repetition can also get more complicated--working the same command in a variety of places and situations, with an assortment of distractions.  Your puppy might well know how to SIT in your kitchen, but what about in your garage?  Or outside?  Or when a stranger knocks on your door?

To teach a puppy the SIT command, start in one room, such as the kitchen.  Hopefully, after 400 repetitions of SIT in the kitchen (with no distractions), your puppy will SIT (in the kitchen) when asked.  To "set" this command, you then must repeat 400 repetitions of SIT (with no distractions) in the living room, then the bedroom, the basement, etc.; then 400 repetitions of SIT in the kitchen WITH distractions, then the bedroom, the basement, etc.; 400 repetitions of SIT  in the living room with distractions, then the bedroom, the basement, etc.; 400 repetitions of SIT with no distractions outside; 400 repetitions of SIT with distractions outside...

Okay, now I am getting repetitious, but you get the idea!

Perhaps keeping track of 400 repetitions is a bit "anal."  Luckily, as puppies learn new commands, they begin to learn HOW to learn, and thus need less repetition.  The key, as a trainer, is to pay attention to your puppy and watch for signs that indicate your puppy is actually LEARNING.  These signs are often very subtle; as you learn to catch them, your training will become more efficient.


SIGNS THAT YOUR PUPPY IS "GETTING" THE COMMAND

Your puppy makes a subtle movement of any kind, such as:
  • Shifting weight from paw to paw.
  • Lifting a paw.
  • Lifting, dropping, or turning the head.
  • Looking at you, then becoming perfectly still.

EXAMPLES OF STARTING TO "GET" SPECIFIC COMMANDS
  • SIT--Your puppy might move his or her rear legs, or make a forward or backward movement.
  • DOWN--Your puppy might stretch out his or her front legs, or take a small step forward.
  • RIGHT/LEFT TURNS--Your puppy might turn his or her head in the proper direction, or glance in that direction.
  • LOOSE LEASH HEELING--As soon as you take a step backwards when the leash has tension, your puppy might turn very quickly toward you.  Sometimes, if you release tension at YOUR end of the leash, your puppy might glance back at you and/or slow his or her pace.


HINTS
  • Be consistent--use the same command word every time.  (If raising a Future Leader Dog puppy, say his or her name before the command).
  • Be patient--when you see signs that your puppy is "getting it," mentally count three seconds (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand) before physically making your puppy carry out the command.  Give your puppy time to mentally process what you are asking him or her to do!
  • Be prepared--immediately give high-value physical praise (or a treat) the very first time your puppy completes the command without your intervention.  And NEVER give a command that you cannot follow through to MAKE your puppy do.

An easy way to incorporate REPETITION into the training of your puppy is to remember to practice commands in ANY and EVERY situation you find yourself with your puppy, especially if you are raising a Future Leader Dog.

At the grocery store?  Throw in a few SITS or DOWNS as you work your way through the store (and every aisle is an opportunity to work on RIGHT/LEFT TURNS).  Sitting in the stands at your niece's soccer game?  Put something tempting within reach of your puppy and practice LEAVE IT.  Taking your puppy out to "park?"  After picking up the loot, give a HEEL command on your way back to the house.

Remember, every time we ask our puppies to fulfill a command, they are using their brains, learning, and getting the mental stimulation they need to wear them out so they can be GOOD puppies!

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