Steve is big on what he calls “Training Triads,” which are teams of three people per dog. This might sound like overkill at first, but he thinks it’s valuable to have so many sets of eyes on the dog. No one person can see everything, and after experiencing training triads, I agree that it’s a valuable experience. All of our working sessions took place in triads, and each person on the team had a specific role.
The trainer is the person who works directly with the dog. They do the hands-on implementation of the training plan. Their most important job is to be fully present. They should not try to talk and train at the same time as multitasking does not truly exist. What we think of as multitasking is actually rapid task switching; most of us are not good enough to do this while working with an animal.
The coach works with the trainer. They help facilitate the design and execution of the training plan. After the training session, they provide either affirming feedback (that looked great!) or adjusting feedback (this time, let’s change this…). The most important thing the coach does is nail down the specifics of the training plan; exactly what the criteria are, the number of reps, the amount of distance, etc.
The observer probably has the hardest job because they work with the coach. They watch the interactions between trainer and coach and help clarify miscommunication. The do not provide any dog training advice except when necessary to prevent a complete train wreck. This is so hard! Before each training session, the coach and observer clearly state to one another what they are about to see the trainer do.
Roles should be traded regularly, and done so in a manner that everyone performs each role in relation to one another. In other words, both of the trainer’s teammates should act as the coach at some point.
Training sessions are structured as pre-brief, be brief, and debrief periods. During the pre-brief, the trainer and coach create the plan and define criteria. The training phase should be brief; Steve recommended a maximum of 60 seconds or five reps, etc. During the debrief, the coach and trainer discuss if the plan worked, and how to change things for the next rep. This naturally leads into the next pre-brief.
Before we ever brought our dogs out, Steve insisted that we work on our mechanical skills. During the first round of doing the triad, I worked on treat delivery in heel position. My teammates refined hand signals and heeling footwork. Only after we had done this were we allowed to bring our dogs out to train. It really made a difference.
In fact, I was so impressed with this that I’ve decided to change the way I teach Growl Class (reactive dog class). Currently, the class is structured so that the first week is held with people only- no dogs. We do a LOT of talking, and while I think there is a lot of value in that, I think we could use that time better. Two things that I see my students struggling with, especially during the first week with dogs, is mat relaxation with slow treats and the humans continuing to breathe! Although we manage things well, the dogs are amped up the first week, which makes the humans tense.
Each week, we have people come in and set up their stations first, and then bring in their dogs. I’m thinking that it might be nice to have a little human-session before dogs come in (weather permitting, of course). Otherwise, the use of crates or second handlers might be helpful… it will be interesting to play with these concepts and see if they help my students be more successful sooner.
Do you use training partners? How have you done it? What about practicing mechanical skills separately? Is that something you’ve done? I’d love to hear about your experiences with either of these things.