1. Raising Criteria (successive approximation)
2. Breaking Down the Behaviour
3. Vary the Reinforcement
5. Plan Ahead
6. Don’t Change Trainers Mid-stream
7. Be Flexible! When necessary, Change the Plan
8. Don’t Stop a Session Abruptly
9. Regress When a Behaviour Deteriorates to Refresh Your Dog’s Memory
Behaviours (like any activity) will regress id they aren’t practiced regularly. In many cases what we want is for the behaviour to be so well practiced that they become muscle memory.
So if you see that your trained behaviour has started to deteriorate then instead of letting your dog practice at this less than ideal level, go all the way back to the beginning of the training to refresh your dog’s memory.
Most of us only train a behaviour well enough to get to the next level of that behaviour. Then we only train that level of the behaviour well enough to get to the next level. This creates an upside down pyramid shape to the learning process. This upside down pyramid does not have a strong foundation base so as soon as you bring that dog into an environment he isn’t used to he won’t be able to perform the behaviour (the pyramid falls over).
Lets go back to your maths… when you were learning addition and subtraction you would have needed to learn how to count before hand. You need to know how to do addition and subtraction before you can learn multiplication/division. You need to understand all of those things before you can start with algebra and on to calculus!
So let me ask you this. How long did you practice counting before you were introduced to addition? How long on addition before multiplication? Algebra? Calculus? Weeks if not months of each of those, yes? Now. How long did you practice “lay down” in the house before you asked for your dog to “lay down” outside? In the park? when friends visited? in a class? at a competition? I bet is was a lot less that weeks or months… I bet it was days… maybe even hours…
Dogs are amazing, they do learn these kinds of things quickly if given the right conditions. But it is unfair to ask a dog for a calculus level “down” when he has only practiced addition level downs for the last few days at most. What will likely happen is the dog will not be able to perform the behaviour at all, or he will try a fail. A lot like what would happen if you put a calculus level question on an 8 year old kid’s math exam.
Rule 9 for easy shaping means that you have to regularly revisit the easy levels of the behaviour in order to build your behaviour like a right side up pyramid. Create a large stable foundation to build the next level on, and your pyramid will not be knocked down easily.