Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Training Tuesday: Training Plans and Training Logs

You guys, if you are not writing plans and keeping records, you need to start. It immediately made my training so much easier that I can’t believe I’ve never done this before!

To be fair, I’ve tried. The problem was that I had no idea how to organize things or how to track things. For awhile, I simply wrote down what we worked on in a notebook. That gave me a nice record, but it wasn’t instructive; it didn’t move my training along any faster. Then I tried making weekly checklists of things to work on, but the tasks were too broad, and it was very difficult for me to adjust my criteria while using them.

Then, within the span of a month, I came across two things that helped me figure out a method that would work for me. The first was this post from my friend and trainer Robin, in which she discusses the way she keeps records. The visual diagram included made sense to me. Then, I read the book Dog University, by Viviane Theby. She described what she calls “stoplight training,” and combined with Robin’s chart, I found a way to keep training logs that work for me.

In stoplight training, you do five repetitions of a task, keeping track of how many your dog did correctly. If he does 1 or 2 correctly, you’re at a red light. Stop- the task is too hard, and you need to make it easier. If he does 3 or 4 correctly, you’re at a yellow light. Wait, because you know you’re on the right track, and should keep working at that level. If he does 5 correctly, you’re a green light. The dog has understood the task, and you can go on to the next level of difficulty.

With that in mind, I made a chart to record my progress (click to embiggen):

As you can see, down the left, I split the behavior (a formal retrieve) into small units. Specifically, I’m looking at holding the dumbbell with duration. Then starting at the top, I did each task five times. I would stop, record my results, and adjust my criteria as needed. I made any relevant notes at the bottom.

The very first day I tried this with Maisy, I was blown away by how quickly we moved through the levels. I had no idea she could hold the dumbbell for as long as she did- 4 seconds!- because the previous day, I was still struggling with 1 to 2 seconds of duration. This gave me a quick and easy way to assess our progress and decide how to adjust my criteria. Since I’ve often had trouble doing this on the fly, it helped take the guesswork out of the equation, and allowed us to work at a quick pace.

There are clear benefits to keeping a training log during a session, but I think it will be helpful to look back at several days worth of sessions and evaluate ongoing progress, too. For example, you can see that when she’s at home, she often struggles when we hit the step where she holds the dumbbell for an average of four seconds. I’m not sure if it’s the duration, or if it’s because she’s getting tired and making errors due to fatigue. Maybe both. However, with that knowledge, I can experiment a little bit, and continue working at her level.

At any rate, I really liked this method of planning sessions and recording progress. I will definitely keep working on this, and am excited to see the long-term effects. I expect great things!


Jennifer H. said...

Oh my goodness thank you for posting this!!! I was racking my brain trying to figure out a way to effectively keep training logs. I think this idea is super!!

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

Yay for dumbbell holds! Boo for records! ok not really, I just don't like keeping them so it would actually make me less likely to train my dog instead of more :P

For holding (and really almost every behavior) i find that once I get to a certain point I make much faster progress by adding in proofing. So with the db I will start holding out food and going back to 1/2 second of holding briefly. confusion at first but then it starts to make more sense to them. Of course every dog is different and every trainer too! Maybe i just like adding in some proofing earlier on because it keeps me from getting bored :)

Joanna said...

It's handy to see how you set up your logs. I might try out that format, too.

Crystal said...

Jennifer- let me know how it goes!

Laura- I'm willing to excuse you from keeping logs. You're an amazingly effective and productive trainer without them.

Joanna- what format have you used in the past?

Kristine said...

I admit fully that I am the worsr record keeper ever. But you make a strong case for it. Even if I don't use it for every single thing I am training, I should probably start something for the tough stuff. It might help give me some perspective when things don't move along as quickly as I'd like.

But it always looks like so much work.

Crystal said...

Kristine- I probably won't use them for everything, but definitely when I'm struggling to make progress. I was surprised by how easy it is, too. It really only takes an extra 5 seconds or so to write down the numbers.

Jess and Lola said...

After I read this, I decided to have a try today when working with Lola on her stay as we *have* only just really started it. And wow. I've adjusted the table to fit my needs (aesthetic and practical), but woah. It really helped! I've previously managed to get Lola to hold a 12-second sit/stay, but that was with ignoring a *lot* of times when she would pop immediately into a down or would just wander away.

It also helped to see where she was flagging. When she got to doing a few 3/5 reps on a 4 second sit/stay in a row, I brought her interest back by rewarding her next good rep with a quick game of tug and lowered my criteria to 3 seconds. She seems to understand much better now, already!

Thanks for posting this--it was the kick I needed to try myself. :)

Eliz said...

I heart your organization.

Crystal said...

Jess, I'm so glad it worked for you!! That's very exciting.

Eliz- I heart YOU. :)

Joanna said...

The format I'm using now a table which is arranged with columns for every day of the week, and a box for every session we do. Examples of my notes are:
"5 reps 'go to mat'. Clicked for 2 feet on mat, fed off mat. Was circling mat and offered sit x1. Keep building drive onto mat."
"6 reps 'head down'. Fed with lowered head, which seemed to help keep him from offering sits. Ira got in the way."
"3 reps 'hand target'. Held hand far out from body. Clicked for moving nose toward palm. Seemed to get deliberate movement toward hand."

I didn't split out my criteria ahead of time on the log, but I'm seeing what I should do in the next session every time I make a note.

Crystal said...

I think that's closer to what my trainer does... but just reading that seemed overwhelming to me! I do like the notes you're keeping, though. How many different things do you work on during a given session?

Joanna said...

I only work on one thing because I don't think Dragon could handle more. With Ira, I could work on ten different things and he'd be game for more. He has a cue that means "we're done with this and switching to something else".

Crystal said...

That's a great cue- what word do you use? I have a word that means we're done training for awhile ("all done"), and I think Maisy has FINALLY figured it out.

Joanna said...

His cue for switching to something else is "take a break" and his cue for stopping training altogether is "that's it". Initially I would put down my treats and pet and massage him after I said "take a break", and then I would pick them back up again and start training something that was clearly different (like with a different prop). He caught on really quickly, because he was always ready for more, and always ready to figure out what I wanted. "That's it" he also picked up quickly because I made sure that if I said it, I meant it, and I totally ignored him if he tried to pester me or keep offering behaviors.