Think your training areas through, and keep them as functional parts of the motivational scheme. The key to successful dog obedience training is effective and functional motivation. 

Training Area Management

The training area is your silent partner, and it contributes as much to the dog's training as you do.

I qualify training areas into three categories, as

Controlled:  My small training yards are controlled environments which allow me to add or subtract motivational content as needed.  Remember that all decisions the dog makes are motivated, as are the behaviors which follow them.

Natural: These are places where one has little control of the environmental conditions except to understand those conditions common to the area.  The real challenges here are events or occurrences which present themselves unexpectedly.

Enhanced: Sometimes a real world training environment needs a little help with specific motivational challenges, and so the trainer will need to augment the condition with planted distractions.

Until such time that a behavior is proofed, managing the training area is the trainer’s responsibility.  And “proofing” does not happen with any one day’s training; you cannot proof a behavior in a day, nor in a week, nor in two weeks; and in some cases not even in three.  

Some behaviors cannot be “proofed” against, and so will require management always.  This is especially true of elicited patterns of behavior, particularly when the behavior supports the dog for the task it has been selectively bred for.  This is when thinking and planning out the training area to give you useful leverage against a modal switch can be most beneficial. (more about “modal switching” on the page discussing drives.)

Key to the successful use of the method is the use of distractions (or ‘competing stimuli’), and you will want to adjust levels of distractions based on the success experience of the dog.  This applies throughout the course of training.  Examples:

Teaching/training new material

Days 1 and 2:  work in low levels of distractions

Days 3 and 4: work in moderate levels of distractions

Days 5 and 6: Work in moderate to high levels, with an auxiliary area of moderate to low in case you need to backwash to recover for some bad experience.


Building/training an exercise

First week: Use distractors of prey, and defense, but keep competing social distractions well buffered (time/distance).

Second week: Moderate intensities of defense, prey, and competing social.

Third week: Moderate to high intensities of defense, prey, competing social, with an auxiliary area nearby of low to moderate.


Proofing known and well trained behavior

Increase the intensity of the competing stimuli by establishing a baseline level where the dog is succeeding 80% against the level of distraction, then increase the intensity by 20% .  At some point there will no twenty-percent more to increase, and at that point you will be at 100% performance against the environment.

When to be in which training mode (teaching, building/training, proofing)

The front seventy percent of any training level, be it novice, or open, or utility is spent in teaching and training.  These modes of training are critical steps in providing a good foundation and need to be exercised fully, progressively, and objectively.  Rushing the dogs through any of the modes can provide for what Bill calls “goofing gaps.”  And in those gaps grow what he calls ‘Training Gremlins,’ and these little buggers can pop up to reveal the goofing gaps at some really inconvenient times and places.  Don't rush the front, and the back thirty almost becomes self-tending; ‘almost.’ 

Think your training areas through, and keep them as functional parts of the motivational scheme. The key to successful training is effective and functional motivation.