Training Tips for Sensitive and/or Distracted Dogs - Episode 2. Take a break!
Breaks can come in different shapes and sizes 😉 They are extremely important for effective and successful training, especially if you own a Sensitive / Distracted doggie. (For the purpose of the blog I'll use a S/D as an abbreviation 🙂). In general, I would say people don't give their dogs enough breaks and the sessions tend to be too long - we need to be aware of that as this is exactly when a lot of dogs will shut down/ get distracted. I could probably think of 4 main types of breaks. I'll explain all of them in as much detail as possible but with a bit more focus on the ones that will be especially helpful for S/D Dog, as well as I'll show you how they can assist us, the human part, in training!
Micro-Break - a type of a break I'd use DURING a session to give a dog a quick mental break. We could compare it to us having a nice stretch when working on something in front of our PC 😉 Most frequently, I'd throw about 3-5 treats for the dog to chase on the ground. I prefer to use treats than a toy as I want the Micro-Break to be short, stress-free and simple. Additionally, to make sure my dog knows what is happening I use my 'food, food!' signal that means I am going to be throwing treats!
We can use such a treat chase to actually double reinforce something but quite often I would actually do a Micro-Break if I see my dog's attitude dropping down a bit, them slowing down, thinking... or if I realised I asked for too much! My goal? I want to relax my dog a bit, allow them to just indulge in the treat chase and stop over-thinking. I want to bring the energy and confidence back! It's an amazingly helpful tool with S/D dogs as depending on for how long your dog can focus, the Micro-Breaks can take more time than the behaviours as such, and make the session really fun and low-pressure! It's great for us as well, as we can quickly analyse what has just happened in the session when our dog is doing the food-chasing.
Session Break - a break I'd use in BETWEEN different sessions when I want to give my doggie a longer mental break. It could be compared to our proper breaks at work eg. for lunch or coffee ;). When training, with this type of break I'd often change my body position to mark the end of the session, you can also start playing, throw treats to be chased or caught, praise and move away from the doggie, give a release command for them to 'be a dog' - you name it! Sometimes we can also put one dog away and start training another one.
I always try to make sure there are enough breaks in my training and the sessions are short, especially with a S/D dog. This will mean the doggie has enough time to rest and process what has happened during the session. How long is a short enough session? It depends on the dog - always! It can be as short as 30 seconds for some dogs, where other dogs will be absolutely fine with a few minutes. Remember that even if your dog is 'fine' it does not necessarily mean it's the most efficient length of training for your dog. After the break you can come back and still work on the same behaviour to progress with the training or start working on something else.
If you are not sure if your sessions are of an optimal length you can try a few things:
Filming your sessions - you will be able to see if the attitude of your dog dropped down at any point and in what situation. You will also know how long the session actually was!
Setting up a timer to make sure you are not going over the time you planned to spend training something.
Keeping track of the training and the progress of your sessions. If you cannot see it in your head you need to write it down!
Training Break - a longer break that might just happen because we've done all the training planned for the day or we won't have time/opportunity to train something for a few days, but we can also take a longer training break on purpose for example when we want to give our dog time to process what they have learnt (see 'Latent Learning' below) With some dogs it might be a good idea to do that before a competition to bring in some new energy and freshness in the dog's mind. If I was to compare it to anything from human world it would be having a weekend! If we are working on something really hard a good training break can do wonders - both to our dogs and us!
When explaining this type of a break I also wanted to mention the concept of Latent Learning as. It's a form of learning that happens when you are not actually training. Have you ever had a situation when you left the training session, sometimes even feeling you cannot somehow push it forwards, and in a couple of days it seemed that your dog has progressed with the training a lot? That's when Latent Learning is happening 🙂
Holidays - this is a long break from a specific activity for example doing Agility. If you do any sort of sports with your dog it is a good idea to give them a 'winter break' for example once a year for the body and mind to rest, unwind and be ready for the next season!
I hope this blog is going to give you some more insight on breaks, the length of training sessions and how to help your S/D Doggie to be braver and braver!
Next week my blog is going to be about the frequency and the quality of rewards we use in training. Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading and watching,