I am just wrapping up my first online puppy class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com.  I have spent 12 weeks with a wonderful group of pups and trainers.  I am sad to see them move on because I will miss them.  But I am so proud of how far they have come.  And I am very excited about their futures.  

And now I am reflecting on future classes and revisions.  In looking over my lesson plans I feel like I have pinpointed where all pups need to start.  And it’s not necessarily what people think it should be.  We start with concepts, not behaviors.  Concepts are general ideas.  They need to be learned through repetition and generalization of related skills.  

The five concepts are:  focus, impulse control, recalls, being operant, and interactive play.  

1)  Focus:  Focus is so much more than attention or eye contact.  In particular, we want offered focus.  Offered focus is valuable.  It becomes a default.  If my dog doesn’t know what to do or how to act, he looks to me.  This makes everything else so much easier.  A focused dog is ready and willing to work with you.  He has learned how important you are in his universe.  And he knows that cooperating with you is always in his best interests.  

2)  Impulse control:  In particular, we want to instill self-control.  It’s not external.  If I have to physically hold my dog back from something he wants, or verbally remind him constantly to leave something alone, that’s not self-initiated.  A dog with impulse control learns the general concept of looking to us for permission when he encounters something he wants.  He learns to think before he acts.  You can leave your sandwich on the table, walk out of the room, and expect it to be there when you return.  Now that’s a useful skill!

3)  Recalls:  This is a year long process.  If you spend a year consistently reinforcing your recalls (in a variety of ways) while increasing the challenges, you should have 15 years of reliability.  There will be some bumpy spots in adolescence.  But the biggest problem is that trainers take it for granted too soon and don’t push their dogs to a higher standard.  They have a “barely there” recall that is fragile and won’t hold up in difficult situations.  An excellent recall needs to be built over time with repetition.      

4)  Being operant:  This concept can be one of the most difficult (for the trainers).  An operant dog learns that his behavior is directly tied to consequences.  In particular, he learns that trying new things pays off.  In the context of a training session we encourage our pups to try out lots of new behaviors and we pay generously (free shaping).  This concept is very useful in the future when we want to develop new behaviors.  We have dogs that are eager and happy to offer.  

5)  Interactive play:  Positive reinforcement trainers are often considered “cookie pushers”.  And sometimes that is true.  Food is quick and easy and it almost always works.  But there is a world full of other possible reinforcers out there.  And interactive play of all sorts can be extremely useful in later training.  Tug, fetch, and chase are some common examples.  Personal play (without toys or other objects) can have excellent carryover to the performance ring in the future.  These ways of interacting with our pups need to be developed and nurtured.  But they are well worth the effort.

Within each concepts there are a variety of exercises and skills to be learned and practiced.  All of this should come before you teach a sit, down, or any other specific behavior.  All your subsequent training will be so much easier if you have these 5 concepts in place first.

*To learn more about these concepts check out my book ‘The Focused Puppy’ available through Clean Run Productions http://www.cleanrun.com.  

Here’s a trailer for my puppy classes!  I’m having fun with iMovie!