Monday, October 17, 2011

The ice cream theory

Phoenix and I are rediscovering brief training sessions. I realize “brief” is a relative term. For me, 15 minutes or less is brief. For some trainers, 15 minutes is barely a warm up. For others, 15 minutes would be an eternity.

I have always been used to “long” training sessions and I’m blaming it on my young and impressionable years as a kid enrolled in the 4-H dog project. Our leader told us to train our dogs for 30 minutes every day. I think our leader was desperately hoping this would cause us to work our dogs for 10 minutes every other day. (Believe me, if you've had any experience with 4-H kids and dogs, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.) She wasn’t reckoning on my parents, who took her at her word and enforced the 30 minutes of training a day, whether my dog and I needed them or not.

Now, with 4-H years behind me, I realize the length of a session is less important than my dog’s response to what we’re doing.

I want to leave Phoenix wanting more, which means quitting when we’re having a grand time and things are going super good. This is hard because when things are going super good, I want to keep going so we can practice more super good stuff.

Of course, repeating stuff seems to eventually lead to variations on theme as the dog’s performance either disintegrates from boredom or physical tiredness or he starts re-inventing the wheel because he doesn't get WHY we're doing it over and over and over (and for many dogs "Because I told you to" doesn't cut it). Pretty soon, the super good stuff isn’t so great and you can either start making corrections (for problems you’ve created in the first place) or quit in frustration.

It’s kind of like eating a big ice cream cone. The first half tastes really, really good, then you eat the rest of it just to keep it from melting all over your car’s upholstery, not because you really want it. I want our training to always be like the first half of the ice cream cone.

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