This is Part 1 of a series covering the three major stages of skill building in dog training.
Do you remember learning new vocabulary words in school? You might have used flash cards and repetitive drills to remember what these new words mean.
When we’re first teaching a dog a new skill, the process is similar (but more fun)! At the start, most of our practice is simply about teaching the dog the association between our cue and the behavior that goes with it. For example, we want them to understand that “sit” means “bottom on the ground.”
We introduce this association by practicing easy, rewarding, repetitive drills for just a few minutes at a time. Sessions should ideally take place in the easiest location possible, away from distractions. These “repetitive sessions” will include a loop that looks something like this:
You give the cue.
The dog performs the behavior.
Use your marker cue the moment they perform the behavior.
You give a reward.
Repeat Steps 1 - 4.
You’ll practice like that for a few minutes, and then end the session. Rewards should come frequently, usually only a few seconds apart, with plenty of them given over the course of the session.
At the earliest stage, it’s ideal to AVOID using the cue outside of the dedicated practice sessions. Even if your dog “knows” what sit means in your living room during practice, it doesn’t mean that they will get it right when you unexpectedly ask them to sit on their next walk. The next step (proofing the skill) is what gets them there!