Those who have read for a while know that I use Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels to structure my training. For you new folks: go check them out! They are a great resource if you are training your dog on your own and could use great training tips and structure to what you are doing. Also for you new folks, since I’m showing a training video on this page, please read the Welcome post if you haven’t already, to know a little more about the focus of my blog and why I post videos that sometimes, ahem, show errors.
Following the Training Levels helps me keep going, be consistent, and remember to generalize, generalize, generalize. It helps me keep track of three dogs. It helps me figure out what to train when my mind is tired and blank. Plus I get the benefit of help from all the great trainers on the Training Levels Yahoo group.
A year or so ago on the Yahoo group, Sue mentioned using her puppy Syn’s breakfast a few days in a row to get a jump start on a certain behavior. Now, using a dog’s meals for training sessions is not at all a new idea for me. But frankly, I had rarely done it up to then, except with Clara. The reason was that I had gotten into a habit of using higher value treats for training first Summer, then Zani, in agility and other performance work. That habit had carried over even into training at home in a non-distracting environment. Every task felt so very important; I didn’t want to devalue anything by using dry food.
But when I read Sue’s post that day, I thought wistfully that it would be so NICE if I could just use their breakfast or supper sometimes like other folks and not always have to dream up new good things for them to eat (and for me to cut up).
I thought maybe, just maybe, I could use the kibble for known behaviors and low key stuff. Since I was starting a project of rehabilitating Summer’s poisoned stay cue, I thought that might be a good candidate. I was going to need to do hundreds or thousands of reps, and they didn’t all have to be steak.
So I started thinking up some things each dog could do for some of their morning kibble each day. That’s when I found out that my dogs were now thrilled to work for kibble.
It turns out that those couple of years using high value treats got Zani and Summer addicted to the training game permanently. And Clara, well, she might work for cardboard. (Actually she would.)
Great! The kibble thing meant that finding the time and energy for training just got quite a bit easier for me. Set out part of a meal and do something with it.
I generally give them the meal part first. I rarely use my dogs’ entire meal for training, although they wouldn’t mind. I have always wanted to stay mindful myself that many things in their lives are free, and that’s how I want it to be. (My practice about that predates Kathy Sdao’s great book, but she said it very well.) Also recently I have learned that dogs, just like people, probably learn better when their stomachs are not empty. Why after all these years did this only now occur to us? Anyway, I give them some of their meal ahead of time and take the edge off, before training.
So here I was, finally having what a lot of people have had from the beginning: dogs who work very happily for kibble. What was I going to do with it? I work outside my home, so doing a training session in the morning (for THREE dogs) is still wedging something into a busy time. How could I make it easier on myself?
I took a page out of Lynn Shrove’s book. Lynn is the Empress of Level 1. Her dog Lily has an incredibly firm foundation, and I know it’s in part because Lynn does Level 1 behaviors over and over, everywhere, everywhen, with everybody. Check out budding trainer Bethany, age 7, working with Lily on sits and downs if you want to see adorable. Not to mention very practical on Lynn’s part.
So my version is the Level 1 Breakfast. Take a portion of everybody’s breakfast, and have a rapid-fire practice session of sit, down, target, come, and Zen. (Those are the behaviors from Level 1 in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.) We started off just doing it in normal places, in normal positions. All my dogs can use practice on verbal cues. None of them, for instance, is at 100% correct response of sit and down. Summer comes the closest, but you can see an outtake at the end of the movie where she has an incredibly creative response to the cue, “sit.”
I said rapid-fire above, because we are moving quickly, and because Level 1 behaviors don’t require duration, except up to 5 seconds for Zen. However, you will see me adding a second or two of duration now and then in the movie just to keep things mixed up.
We went on to more challenging situations, for instance, with me sitting or lying on the floor. And we found out quickly what needed some work!
So just from these couple of sessions I learned that the following things needed work:
- Zani has a big space bubble around her and tends to do her behaviors a fair distance away. I need to practice more recalls right to my feet and hands and generally shape her into working more closely to me. The directions for this are right in Level 1.
- I need to practice yet more collar grabs with Summer. She’s doing OK (better than Zani!), but her tail wag slows down a bit when I take her collar. I would love to get “delight” as a response.
- Clara got a bit stressed when I switched abruptly from having her run to me for a hand target to cuing Zen. She responded properly but looked progressively more worried (paw lift, shrinking away). She was fine with Zen in other contexts, so I think the sharp transition was difficult. I’ll practice more transitions and reinforce the Zen mightily.
- When I was lying down, Summer, who actually knows her cues the best in that situation, fixated on my nigh pocket and hand with the treats and was actually bumping my hand with her nose. Major distraction. What a time for me to cue Zen! I put the treat on the floor right in front of her it was an immediate fail. Several things to practice about that!
- Zani and Clara both had trouble sitting when I was lying on the floor, as is very common. I want to mention that for both of them I “helped” them by repeating the cue and adding another signal (verbal or hand, depending on what I had originally given). It would have been a bad idea to continue to do this, because it would end up reinforcing their incorrect response. The proper thing to do, and what I did do subsequently, is work gradually down to that position and give them a history of success.
So that’s what we learned over the course of a couple of breakfasts. Now we are filling in the gaps.
Thanks for reading and viewing!