Effective Transitions

Being sick sucks. I have been laid up for the last few days but today I think I have turned the corner (just in time, as I have a bunch of teaching coming up). This weekend there was a Chiropractic-Veterinary workshop at our place. That is where vets & chiropractors get tutored on the finer points of working on our dogs (and I guess other animals but I don’t much notice any of that). I think they have to complete (and pass) about 4 or 5 modules which are four days long in order to be qualified to graduate. Anyway, if I am home I come out a do a demo somewhere along the way, on body awareness exercises. Today I was I was getting over this cold so I spoke/demoed/trained for the group for about 20 minutes.

I was editing the footage for my chiropractor (Annette) to use when she teaches this module (and I am not around). As I was editing I was, of course, critiquing my dog training. Not too bad but some things I will be working on first thing tomorrow:). One thing I did notice was the amount of, what we refer to around here, as “balance-breaks” I took during the training. I was using food as my reinforcement during the demo and tugging to transition from one exercise to another or to ‘break’ if the training was going on for too long.

First of all what do you consider too long? Think about it before you read what I have to say. How long to do sit in one spot or stand training something before you break it off and play with your dog? I think this clip is pretty typical of my training,  the longest Feature worked without a tug session was 92 seconds. That was the only session that went on longer than a minutes. The next longest after that was 42 seconds. Some were less than 15 seconds long. The other thing I noticed was that the entire demo was 20 minutes long. Feature was ‘working’ for approximately 12 minutes off and on during this time yet I had more than 3:00 minutes of tug footage to choose from to put this montage together and I only repeated on small clip (that is obvious) the rest were all original, non duplicated tug sessions.

Yes I know this was a demo, but it was a demo of a “typical” training session with my dog.  Another thing you would notice (if you saw the entire 20 minute clip) was that although I am teaching I am always 100% focused on what my dog is doing. She is either tugging while I lecture (if it is a quick transition) or I have her lay down as I prepare the work environment. Transitions are critical to successful training. Aim for  “fast ‘n fun” transition (to quote Lynda Orton-Hill). Effective transitions will allow you to keep your dog’s interest in you and the work. It will also help to keep his arousal at a level that will facilitate peak performance.

If you train with food only, this doesn’t mean that you areoff the hook” either. If you have somehow lost your dog’s drive to tug (they all have it at one point), you should still be breaking up your sessions with play but you may need to run back and forth to create the same level of excitement that the rest of us can generate with just tugging. This is more work for the ‘food-only’ trainer, so it sometimes times gets skipped and the dogs that should be having the shortest training sessions (lower drive dogs), often get the longest!

I firmly believe this is a major contributing factor to the reason that most dogs that are trained exclusively with food are less driven in competition than dogs that are toy motivated. I know there are anomalies to be seen both ways (tug-driven dogs with less drive in the ring and food-only dogs with lots of drive). My point is, if you where to do a poll of all of the slow moving dogs in the ring and asked the owners if their dog enjoys a game of tug with them, I bet the answer would be “no” and if you ask the owners of the really fast dog the answer would be “yes.” I hope I am not setting someone reading this on a tangent cursing at me through the computer. I assure you we have lots of “food-only” trainers that come through Say Yes, but we help them to see how much easier their training is once they put the tug drive back in their dog.

Notice in this video how I may be finishing my training on the floor or standing or kneeling and the tug is presented immediately without there being any “downtime” for the dog. That is what effective transitions are all about.

Anyway enjoy the video, I hope it makes you laugh the way it does me. It really is a bit weird to make a video of not much more than tugging don’t you think?

Today I am grateful I am getting over this cold!!

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