Time spent at a training project isn’t in direct correlation with progress.
I hear it from clients all of the time: “I’ve been doing this since he was a puppy, he should know this!” or, “I’ve been doing this for many months, he should know this by now!”, or something to that affect.
My clients are not wrong. Their dog probably should understand the concept or behavior if they have been working on it for most of the dog’s life.
However, time put into a training project is not a reliable predictor of success.
Training technique and execution of said technique is what we should be looking at.
If you set out with a training plan, you should be able to increase criteria within 1-2 training sessions. If you go out to do the exact same training session a third time, start to question your plan.
If you do the exact same session too many times in a row, the dog will struggle more when you do finally increase criteria. When you have a large reinforcement history for a behavior, it is more difficult to change. This usually plays to our advantage! However, if you are spending too long at the first step of a 10 step training project, your might experience frustration when trying to move on to step 2.
If you can’t increase criteria because you feel you have too many errors, your criteria was too high to begin with. If something isn’t working, take another look and see if you can split the behavior down again so that success is easily achievable.
Sessions should be split so finely that you can change one tiny detail every 1-2 sessions, so that when you put “x” amount of time into a project, you see progress.
Sometimes, the training technique just isn’t going to work our for you and your dog. Even if it worked well for your previous dogs, and even if it worked well for all of your classmates. And that’s ok! If something isn’t working out, take a step back, ask for help, and try to come up with a new training plan!
Sometimes, it is execution of the technique. We are all human, and we make mistakes. There is a lot to be said for good mechanics. If you are marking a behavior a little late, or a little early, it can really cause some behaviors to never progress. If your reward delivery isn’t ideal for the behavior, that can throw a wrench at things too. So, when reviewing your videos, make sure you’re taking a look at your mechanics.
Now, back to time. Do I think we should be patient and give ourselves and our dogs time to learn the behavior? Yes, absolutely! Time, however, is not what I rely on as benchmarks for success. I want to see progress in every single training session. I want to see that my dog is learning in every single training session.
Give yourself and your dog a reasonable amount of time at learning a behavior, and review your videos/notes: is progress being made?
If yes, great – keep on going.
If no, stop & think about how you can see progress again.