Teaching teams in multiple sports and training my own dogs I often see where we just go through the motion and are not present to watch and learn from the training session and our dog. All training sessions give us information if we are willing to watch and listen!

I’m known for saying “be a good actor” in nosework training. In the same ways, we need to always be on stage in any sport we are training and trialing in. We need to be in the moment, in the spotlight so to speak – blocking out the rest of the world and totally getting consumed into our required “character” to play the role we need to be for our dogs and the environment we are training in. After a while, it will become second nature and won’t feel like acting. Initially, we have to practice to make it a stand out performance like any good actor!

When we put out NW hides, we tend to gravitate to that area and face the hide. When running an agility sequence, we don’t put as much effort or energy into the sequence as we expect our dogs to do. When training obedience we disconnect to reload treats or we are off in our own thoughts between reps and turn away from our dogs. All of these situations are missing important opportunities to stay connected and gain information from our dogs and the environment.

Recently I laid a track for Drac. I put a little twig on the corner for one of the turns so I didn’t lose where the track went. It was very short mowed grass and you couldn’t see any foot steps. As I ran it – I realized I was looking for the twig and not watching Drac! He had turned and I couldn’t see the twig and assumed he was off track. As I got closer – there was the twig! Darn! I fell into “going through the motions”.  Today I laid a nice long track, no markers and just watched and observed! So much so that I forgot I had placed an extra article early in the track and he stopped, was sniffing at a spot and then dropped! Oh, that’s an article! I wasn’t rushing him and simply observed. I thought maybe that was where I put the one treat on the track or he was distraction sniffing. I didn’t tell him to keep tracking or to down. Just watched.

When you need to regroup – release your dog from work and let them be on their own time or have them go to their mat, crate, etc.

We miss such valuable information in what we think isn’t actual “training” time. It’s all the same – the playing, the training, the inbetween. It’s all about staying connected with our dogs and reading and learning what’s going on with what’s working, what’s not, and if we are in tune with the training session.

When I video my sessions – do you know what I notice now? Not how I leave my dog in a down and how I signal him to sit – but what I did between reps – when I had to fix some equipment or get more treats or was in deep thought about what to do next, or totally being too boring to my dog without any animation, engagement or verbal praise. I also see tiny bits of frustration sometimes that I didn’t realize at the time. It’s been the most useful training input I receive! Just me watching my video training sessions!

In some of my obedience games from last term, we discussed how to be more interesting to our dogs during a training session and how to use secondary/conditioned reinforcers to keep connected. Teams were thrilled with the results and realized they weren’t being as fun or engaged as they could have and showed significant improvement in future video submissions.

Try it out! Set a timer for 1-2 minutes. And video your training session. Go back and watch and focus on what you did between reps or if you froze up or if your dog didn’t respond as expected. Are you properly cueing your dog or inconsistent with how you mark and reward?  Are you not giving your dog any information on what to do next? They need to know if they are on stage or off duty! Determine what you will change in your role during the next training session!

Registration for FDSA just opened and starts October 1st. Fabulous classes and instructors across all topics who are focused on this exact topic – making the most of your training to build better teams! My part 2 of Obedience Games OB330 is on the roster this term, as well as NW130 Advanced Nosework Skills. We’ll cover topics like efficiently covering your search area and adding more skills to your repertoire. Are you ready for the role your dog has nominated you to be 🙂 ?