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!