The communication in dog training available to us in this day and age is AMAZING! We have internet classrooms, eBooks, blogs and then there is social media.
It was recently brought to my attention that I have never published or written on my blog about my foundation “acronym” for ALL my training. That acronym is D.A.S.H.
At Say Yes Dog Training we promote two fundamental training reminders:
1) The importance of work = play and play = work
2) Positive does not mean Permissive.
D.A.S.H. is an acronym that describes the sequential stages of training that we encourage trainers to follow. The D.A.S.H. principle builds upon the above two fundamental training reminders we promote for effective learning.
Got D.A.S.H. (Desire, Accuracy, Speed and Habitat)?
The DASH acronym has been part of Say Yes Dog Training to help students for over 20 years. It is as relevant today as it was all of those years ago when I first introduced it. It’s something that you will come to use in all my training programs like Recallers and also in your everyday life.
It all starts with DESIRE (both yours to train and your dog’s to work with you), once you have desire you can work towards creating the ACCURACY of a skill, with accuracy you have understanding, and from there, our third element SPEED just grows. The D., A. and S. are all anchored by the “H” which is the HABITAT; in order for any behaviour to become second nature you need to generalize it to all environments… in effect making it a new HABIT.
We promote starting each session with maximum “D” or DESIRE on the part of the human AND the dog. For us, it means never attempt to train unless we are willing to give it our 100% effort… our dogs deserve that from us. Before you try to teach a pupil anything, you first must be sure your student has the desire to learn. If you don’t believe this, think of yourself in a math class. If you are not engaged by the subject, learning slows. However, if the instructor or the subject matter motivates you, learning is accelerated because you become an engaged participant in the learning. (For more on this as it relates to our dogs being able to learn visit my vlog post on the “Circle of Fun“).
Likewise, if your dog is engaged by both you and the work (games), he will have more focus for your training and you will be able to accomplish more in every session. There is no sense trying to push a puppy into a sit when another puppy and a squeaky toy next to him are more attractive to him.
Dogs lack “D” for many reasons. The puppy in our last example has a lot of enthusiasm but it is directed at whatever happens to be distracting him at the moment. This puppy has “D” but you need to direct the desire to work into a desire to work with you… make sure YOU are completely focused on your puppy and are presenting the learning in an engaged manner. Examine my book “Ruff Love” and the dog training program within it for suggestions how to re-focus this puppy on working with you.
Other dogs may appear to just be lethargic or unmotivated. Your dog may be more driven to lay on the couch than he is to work with you. The truth is that this dog has not learned that work can be very reinforcing for him! Trying to teach this dog a new skill is counter productive.
At the other end of the spectrum is the dog that has tons of enthusiasm but it is not directed towards you or working with you!
Evaluate that enthusiasm using an assessment of the dog’s arousal; too low the dog will be distracted by irrelevant insignificant distractions in the environment. Too high and the dog cannot take in feedback from you during your training. His focus will be too narrow a focus, often times on something you don’t want him to focus upon!
Remember, the “D” applies to you, the human part of the team as well. Before doing any ‘work’, have a quick fun game with your dog – tug, or a game of chase – energize yourself and your dog! Focused energy from your dog towards you will make you both feel great and inject joy into your training time together.
Our dogs must desire to be with us, to give us their attention, before we can start training. Relationship training is an important part of our program – keep your dog’s arousal level at its maximum during all your training sessions.
Before you attempt to train any skill to your dog you should first teach him to be EXCITED about what you are EXCITED about. Motivational games like our “Recallers” games or those found in my book Ruff Love, such as “Hide & Seek” or the “1-2-3 Tug game,” will help develop drive to work. Get the “D” before you try to teach the “A.”
Once your dog is keen to learn, you can now start to shape the accuracy or understanding of a skill. Break any skill down into the smallest manageable pieces you can think of and shape the accuracy of that small piece before moving forward. Don’t make the mistake of trying to make the dog go FAST before he understands how to be accurate. YOU CANNOT HAVE TRUE SPEED WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING. This is the reason many dogs “creep” into their contact position in dog agility. This dog may have lots of “D” so he runs hard halfway across the obstacle, but he is unsure of criteria for the end of the contact (likely because his owner is also unsure or has not maintained this criteria each time the dog is asked to perform contact obstacle).
Imagine the first time you drove a standard shift transmission car. Didn’t you stall the car initially? Did you grind the gears and miss-time the clutch shift? I bet you didn’t go very fast that first outing. Now imagine how fast you can go today and how you don’t even have to think of the timing of the gear shift. It has become almost innate to you because you have the understanding of how to meet all of the criteria (foot off gas, clutch in, move stick-shift into the new gear) involved in driving this vehicle. That is the same “autopilot” control which a dog who really understands his job on contacts can perform an A Frame. The dog runs fast into the contact position, not looking for his owner or needing help from him to perform the job he has been successfully taught to do. If your dog is confused, you may have tried to go too fast before your dog knew how to be correct.
Too many trainers push for speed in their exercises before their dogs can accurately perform the behaviour. Creating understanding first will maximize the confidence both on the part of the dog and the trainer.
Once you have a dog performing successfully in many different environments with different distractions, you can rev them up to go faster! Now, this doesn’t mean you build an entire behaviour with the dog performing slowly first and then ask for more speed. Eeeks! That would just be rewarding “slow” over and over, teaching a dog that “slow is good”. Your goal is to create accuracy and then create speed in that same response before growing that response. You should always be pushing for “average or better” during your shaping. If you do reward “slow,” it is only in the learning stages of any response.
So you won’t want a dog to sniff his way over the dog walk during your initial training thinking you can train speed later… remember “D” comes before “A”! A dog who is sniffing or wondering off in training is not demonstrating “D”.
There is never going to be a time when “A” + “A” will lead to “S” …is always Desire + Accuracy that leads to Speed.
Remember the key to successful training is to break any behaviour down into small manageable skills and teach them individually. As training great Bob Bailey states, people need to learn to “Be a splitter, not a lumper.”. This will give you the tools to help your dog to be accurate and fast. The speed just comes naturally once you have the “D”, your dog desiring to want to play your game, and the “A”, understanding of how to be accurate!
Dogs do not generalize behaviour as well as humans. This means you can teach a skill to a dog in one location but the dog will not have the ability to recall and perform this skill in another location. Hence the common lament of novice dog trainers “…but he does it great at home”. In order to help a dog do his best in all environments, you must get him out of your backyard and into many different training locations. Each new location will challenge your dog with different distractions he must learn to work through. Think of how many different locations the average performance dog will have to perform in throughout his career.
The “number” of different locations necessary to create a confident dog will be dependent upon the confidence of each individual dog. There is no magic number of different places to train. For all dogs, it is true that the more environments your dog experiences will help him to quickly adapt to any location you may decide to work.
So change your “H” frequently throughout your training. This change can be as little as working with your dog on the left and the right or moving from one side of a room to another to seeking out other facilities or Fun Matches to train in. In all of these different locations, you want to reward your dog for correct behaviour to help increase the chance that this good performance will be repeated in all environments.
Habitat is a synonym for environment – remember the need to generalize all skills in different locations to be sure the dog understands that the cue, task or skill, is required regardless of where you are and what’s going on around you.
The root of Habitat is “habit”. When you start with “D” (desire) grow the “A” (accuracy) in achievable increments you are allowing “S” (speed) to develop as confidence grows. Moving all of these elements around to new “H” habitats is what will allow brand new HABITS to develop in both you and your dog!
Considering D.A.S.H every training session will help you plan your games and transitions from “work to play” and “play to work”, it will help you assess arousal, manage your dog’s excitement and GET ORGANIZED! You may not get it perfect at first, and you may not get it perfect every time, but your goal is to constantly improve what you have so that you maintain your dog’s focus and JOY into and out of every training session.
Today I am grateful for Steve at AgilityNerd who shared how much he refers to my training principle D.A.S.H. to his students and prompted us to post this resource for all to refer back to. 🙂