Negative punishment, a further step forward

Negative punishment is one of the most widespread and advertised conditioning processes. It consists of the removal of a positive stimulus contingent with the emergence of a conduct that we wish to eliminate.

It is important to clarify from the outstart that negative punishment is not a sort of panacea to get rid off every kind of conduct. It is only useful with regard to operant behaviors, that is, those behaviors which have no self-reinforcement processes attached so that their emergence depends on the association with other reinforcers. Thus nobody should harbor hopes of getting rid off a behavior like digging in the garden by letting the dog doing it at will!

Doubtless it is very important to know the scope of application of a process. However, it is equally important to know the cases where that process is not effective. Few things have been as deleterious to the public image of negative punishment as its indiscriminate prescription also to sort out emotional problems and problems associated with self-reinforcing behaviors. Anyhow, the reputation of this process among professionals is excellent. The reason is that it enables us to consistently eliminate many conducts without generating conflicts or resort to aversive stimulation.

There are several ways of applying negative punishment but the most popular one consists of the suppression of the positive stimulus acting as a reinforcer for the targeted conduct. As a rule of thumb we advise clients not to reinforce dogs when they offer the unwanted behavior. In fact this is a mixture of negative punishment and extinction that will only yield slow results. We can speed up the behavior change if we organize things in such a way that dogs are being positively stimulated before engaging in the problematic conduct so that the pleasant stimulation can cease as soon as the problematic conduct begins.

For instance, suppose that we want to prevent the dog from jumping on persons to greet them. A simple way of doing this is to caress and pamper your dog while sitting on the floor. As soon as the dog jumps on you, you will end up the session by standing up. This intervention requires more preparation but it produces faster and more consistent results than following the typical advice of “ignoring dogs when they jump on you and pampering them when they stay with all four paws on the floor”. The reason is that with the latter advice dogs learn that they should jump once in a while to trigger the owner’s sequence of behaviors. It happens very often with regular owners, not with seasoned professionals hopefully, and this slows down and even blocks any progress. By organizing things in such a way that the positive stimulus is always present before the inadequate conduct emerges we will clean up the dog’s head, as well as the owner’s! This way a crisp and fast improvement will be achieved.

A more rare application of negative punishment may be carried out through satiation. Satiation is an application of negative punishment and it consists of keeping the positive stimulus active until it is no longer positive, either because of its prolonged administration or its intensity. Very often this is the most entertaining, effective and easiest way to eliminate certain operant behaviors. I sincerely think that my clever use of negative punishment through satiation is responsible for many of the private customers I have taken away from my competitors.

Whenever I had to go to an interview with potential customers and their dog kept on jumping on people I knew that no other firm would cause a better impression than ours. Why? It is simple. Customers would be confronted with three different strategies from our competitors. As we will see, even if all of them are effective when they are applied well, they are less amusing and clients do not appreciate them as much.

  1. Negative correction by the trainer like blocking the dog with the knee, bothering the dog in the hind legs or stepping on the leash to prevent the dog from jumping. Most of the clients do not like this strategy and, in fact, it may provoke a strong impression on many dogs. Furthermore, it requires skill.
  2. Punishing through suppression, which means to ignore dogs actively until they stop jumping. Once the bad behavior stops, the trainer will reinforce the dog. In addition to the problems I have already pointed out with this kind of intervention, some customers do not enjoy watching how their dogs keep on insisting. This phenomenon is due to the shape of the extinction curve and the over-arousal caused by the change of attitude from a social partner. Moreover, on that first session you can forget about achieving satisfactory results, judging them from the client’s point of view.
  3. Counterconditioning the dog with other conduct like sitting down. This is not always easy for clients on their first training day. They will be overloaded with information about what to ask their dogs for, what to teach them and what to assess.

So when I arrived with satiation in my toolbox, I said to my clients: Ok, your dogs want love and affection, let us give them that! So I told them to hug their dogs, and caress them enthusiastically. A few minutes later the dog would say: hey, that’s enough! But of course, we would keep on loving them!

The owners had fun doing this, it felt easy even on the first session and it produced faster results than any of the alternative strategies. I insist that the other strategies also lead to excellent results if applied correctly, but they require more time and clients like them less at the beginning.

I remember how funny it was for a client whose border collie was a sofa squatter not to let him walk down so that he would give up the habit of using it! Of course do not try this with lazy dogs, you may need some thirty hours for the intervention to work. It is very important that you adapt your techniques to each individual, as you wouldn’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

I really hope that you have enjoyed this article because I have unveiled one of my top commercial secrets to write it!

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About luring

In a previous post Richard Ibarburu commented about the excessive use of luring as an example of positive reinforcement based strategy that could potentially hinder the emergence of didactical choices. Richard’s wise comment made me realize that nowadays dog trainers, including me, always refer to luring to emphasize its drawbacks rather than its virtues.

Not long ago “Security Dogs”, a well-known dog training center, kindly invited me to a workshop they organized with Fernando Silva. At a certain moment Fernando made use of luring to induce a dog to perform a certain conduct. Two of the students looked at each other and one of them said: “luring!” Almost immediately a mock of deception followed in their faces. On top of that, the teacher himself explained almost apologetically to the audience: “This is too much luring for my taste but sometimes you have to do it”. It is my belief that at that particular moment and with the work Fernando was doing no other technique would have been better and more effective than luring. My claim makes sense if we take into account the high level of dog training that Fernando always exhibits.

So the question remains, is it really luring that bad? How did we reach the point where we all make bitter remarks as soon as we refer to this training technique? To answer these questions we have to analyze what is luring about as well as its effects on learning.

Luring is a training technique that consists of guiding dogs to perform a behavior directing their attention with a primary reinforcer, usually food. The continuous presence of the primary reinforcer contrasts with other techniques. Two important aspects derive from this definition:

  • The dog’s attention focuses on the primary reinforcer whereas other present stimuli lose salience.
  • Dogs feel that they are being continuously reinforced. In other words, reinforcement is not circumscribed to the point when they actually obtain the reinforcer.

From these considerations stem some important consequences regarding training. Such consequences should not be taken as good or bad in themselves. The right strategy is to assess in each case whether luring is playing in favor or against our training goals.

One of the main effects of using luring is that the dog will concentrate on the food to the detriment of other environmental stimuli. In other words, the dog may not perceive the clicker or even our commands, what can delay or worsen the learning of associations. On the opposite side of the scale, luring can be useful to help inexperienced dogs disconnect from the environment and learn to concentrate on their work. The latter effect may be of much use in private commercial training sessions in order to be able to work with dogs in the park where they play!

It is true that the timing is worse as the dog feels that he is being rewarded all the time. This may prevent us from giving full value to the dog’s higher quality behaviors. However, this effect can be useful to promote the establishment of a positive emotional association of the dog with the work. In some cases this is far more important. Luring is also useful to manipulate dogs with whom we have no previous bond, as it is the case in commercial training sessions.

In order to gain a broader perspective on this subject I am going to point out the benefits and drawbacks associated with the use of luring. In this way you will be able to understand when it is advantageous to rely on luring depending on three types of considerations: the specimen, the training stage and the type of work you are carrying out.

Benefits:

  • It helps training positive focus in dogs who have difficulties in concentrating for a prolonged period of time.
  • It promotes concentration in difficult environments and situations, a feature that as we have already seen can be useful to work in the park where the dog regularly plays and walks, or also when the training field is crowded with other dogs. Some trainers boast of working without resorting to luring, but then it turns out that their dogs are unable to work if they are not all by themselves and in complete silence. Wouldn’t it be more practical to plan for focus training during a couple of days relying on luring rather than to keep on organizing this sort of “mystical” training sessions?
  • It relegates certain stimuli when we do not want the dog to perceive them. This may help dogs in overcoming small lacks of confidence. In aggression cases, it may also allow to deviate the dog’s attention from other dogs or persons. At the same time we will be achieving a positive emotional state and, as dogs feel that they are being rewarded all the time, we are also reinforcing them for not offering aggressive behavior. This may work as a good kick start to counter-conditioning processes in the frame of behavior therapies.
  • It helps to train motor patterns as opposed to final conducts. In certain behaviors related to sports our aim is not so much the final position the dog reaches but how such position is reached. Thus I am not just interested in teaching the dog to lie down but in the dog performing a given motor pattern that ends in the lie-down position. The difference between final conducts and motor patterns is of the utmost importance for sport training. In this regard, to attain the desirable motor patterns from the beginning and to fix them in the dog’s muscular memory, luring is simply irreplaceable.
  • It would be difficult, if not impossible, to induce certain conducts without luring.
  • It is very useful to mitigate hesitations and lacks of confidence. Some dogs may want to work and to keep progressing but if they are sensitive they can become loaded with tension. In relation to hesitant conducts, greater consistency is achieved by using luring. Subsequently, on this more solid foundation, one may return to working with other training techniques.

Drawbacks:

  • Poor perception of the environment, including conditioned reinforcers like the clicker, the commands, and even the handler! This will pass its toll on the quality of the work which will be slower and less clear in relation to the parameters mentioned.
  • It promotes maximum concentration on selfish behavior engines. Since dogs are following the lure, they will fail to perceive the need to synchronize with their guides or to pay attention to the handler’s indications. Affection is also dramatically relegated. In sum, the coordination and activation of social engines is absent.
  • Poor perception of signals and subtle stimuli. Dogs are so absolutely focused on the primary reinforcer that they will be blind to other indications we want to introduce to fine-tune or to progress in our work.
  • It is “hard” to switch to other ways of working the behavior. Transitions are one of the main problems with luring and many dogs experience severe problems with them. However, once again, we can exploit this weak point to our benefit. This is what we do in our training proposal by introducing the so called “counter luring” step. It consists of providing dogs contradictory information, the lure may tell him to sit while the handler says “lie down”. This way we train our dogs to give priority to the latter so that they become more pro-social and less focused on individual reinforcers.
  • There is no activation of problem solving abilities. Putting “the carrot in front of the donkey” (and I am quoting from a comment to a previous article) does not engage problem solving skills at all.
  • Self-reinforcement is also completely absent from the picture because the dog is reinforced continuously and problem solving is not engaged.
  • Learning resulting from luring is rough and unrefined. Since dogs’ attention is totally focused on the reinforcer, they will only learn the most evident parts of the trained behavior. Subtle steps ahead or modifications to the main conduct will go unnoticed.
  • Dogs do not act proactively, they merely react. Dogs depend totally on us and other external stimuli to perform the trained conduct.
  • In this way, the autonomy of dogs is undermined. Hence they will be unable to work without strong support and will not take the initiative to offer the behaviors.

Overall, we should take into account our training objectives and our training possibilities to assess whether relying on luring may be of help or not. Sometimes luring may act as a false friend. Beyond its apparent simplicity it may hinder the achievement of the results we are aiming for. Keeping its pros and cons in mind will help you to take the right decision to use it or not. This way you will be able to proudly say “yes, I also use luring”.

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Bomb proofing mistakes

Isn’t it surprising how easy a clean conduct varies and yet how hard it is to modify flawed conducts? Proofing mistakes embedded within the trained conduct is a common problem among animal trainers of all levels.

Take a defective heeling behavior for instance, when dogs either walk crossing their handlers’ path, or behind or in front of them. A further example would involve those far from brilliant static shifts of position, when the latency before offering the behavior is really terrible. Why is it so difficult to get rid off the problems just described? It is as if it was only easy to modify a behavior that is satisfactorily shaped from the start!

So what is the explanation? As it is usually the case in animal training, the truth is that it is our fault. There are two reasons behind.

On the one hand, the technique applied to shape the behavior is of the utmost importance here. We should keep the final behavioral goal in mind and refuse any beginnings which are incompatible with it. Trainers may experience something similar to the “blank page syndrome” when they start working with a new animal. Just as writers do, it is normal that we are fraught with anxiety when contemplating the long road that lies ahead of us. There remains so much to do before being able to present our work that the task looks daunting!

When we face difficulties the temptation to take easy shortcuts is strong. We don’t want to get stuck with that particular exercise and hence we settle for a downgraded version of the original behavioral goal. In a previous post (“Less is more”) I wrote on this subject. What I want to emphasize now is the importance of reflecting on the influence that today’s training session will bear not on the training session tomorrow but in those that will be carried in two or three years time, once most of our work plan will be in place. In other words, will then the lessons taught today help us or will they hinder further learning so that it will be necessary to clean up the dog’s head before progressing?

Let me illustrate this point with an example: imagine that I want my dog to lie down by moving backwards in order to make the final behavior look faster in execution as well as to prevent the dog from gaining ground when he is supposed to keep a perfectly static position. Having set that objective, suppose that I start rewarding my dog for offering a two-stoke lie down. In other words, I reward the dog for sitting down before lying down. My laziness will increase the amount of work for both of us at a later stage. Thus it would be wiser to be a bit more patient and wait for the particular lie down behavior I am after. In fact it would be a far better policy to reward an approximation to the correct behavior than settling for a complete but flawed behavior.

On the other hand, there is a further and more fundamental problem for even after teaching a behavior with mistakes to a dog, there must be the possibility to get rid off the flaws. Theoretically, it suffices to reinforce those instances where the dog gets closer to the set behavioral goal. Why is it then that the mistakes become sort of bomb proofed?

“Frailty, thy name is dog trainer.” May be we just attended a competition (either as part of the audience or as competitors) and with the boost in motivation we adopt the firm decision to become stricter in order to correct the problematic heeling. We start training without rewarding any flawed repetitions. However, after a busy week, we lower down the criterion once again and settle for the behavior as imperfect as it used to be. Subsequently, perhaps we attend a training workshop where we learn a wonderful technique than can help us in sorting out the problem. Again we experience a boost in motivation and start training with a stricter criterion in mind. But progress may be made at a slower pace than expected, so we relax the criterion again and go back to square one. To feel better we may think that John Smith had a flawed heeling behavior too and he won the world championship anyway. Few persons ask themselves if the rest of the pack is as good as John’s…

Anyway, the point is that this sort of vicious circle goes on and on. At the end of the day the result is that the incorrect forms of the conduct are subject to a variable reinforcement schedule whereas correct behaviors are typically kept under a continuous reinforcement schedule. Remember that behaviors on an intermittent schedule are less susceptible to extinction. That is why we cannot get rid off the mistakes no matter how much effort we think we are putting.

The conclusion is that you should never train behaviors under intermittent reinforcement schedules until you have reached their definitive form, at least if you work solely on conditioning processes. Otherwise the behavior will be harder to modify. This is an extremely important piece of advice for new trainers, but one that is often overseen. In fact, in Spain I have heard just two instructors regularly underlining this fact in their classes, Carlos Bueren and Javier Moral. I think it is an extremely important point that we all should emphasize and clarify to novel trainers.

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Internal and external reinforcements

There are two ways of individual reinforcement for dogs:

  1. Internal, which makes the dog satisfied to be doing what he is doing, the behavior is its own reinforcement.
  2. External, which drives the behavior based on the expectation of getting something of interest (food, toy, etc).

The most interesting thing is that we now know that it is possible to make behaviors obtained by one type of individual reinforcement gradually become reinforced by the other.

This allows great advantages:

  1. For training where we can get a new behavior, learned with external reinforcements, it skips to become self-reinforcing with the benefits of greater efficiency in terms of reinforcements and pro-activity involved. Here I would give an example, but I think the Pere Saavedra video series “surrounded” by border collies is exemplary. The truth is that much of the new book I have “in the pipeline” focuses on how to achieve this and I will tell you in different entries.
  2. For behavioral correction, which is what I will focus on today, where the behavior that a dog does for fun (internal reinforcement) can be strengthened externally until it ceases to have any value of its own and is extinguished when leaving the external reinforcement program.

Here I will give you one very enlightening example that Pablo Roy, Head of sea lions at Madrid Zoo once told me: They had an orca who amused itself by ripping the silicone from the windows of the pool, which was a problem as it could break the enclosure. It was obvious that the orca was bored and they tried several measures to enrich its environment, but what it really thought was cool, was to rip silicone.

Working with orcas is very educational because you don’t get tempted to get angry with them or to punish them before considering alternatives (why is that?). What they did was use a continuous external reinforcement program: each time he took the silicone, he got a fish.

Were they crazy to reward it for bad behavior? Not far off, they were making a behavior which was self satisfactory and thus self-sustained, depend on external reinforcements. In addition to using continuous reinforcement we know that extinction while strengthening is faster: in a couple of months of work, the orca pulled out the silicone and came to ask for its reward, when they stopped giving it fish, the orca stopped ripping the silicone.

An alternative and different use of rewards to eliminate misconduct, we have tried many times with dogs and, if continuous reinforcement is achieved, it has ALWAYS came off. The owners flip and give you a wave.

The truth is to avoid being a “card” positive, I give positive work ideas. 😉

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Starting a new training business among friends

It is common for friends who share a love for training to make the move to the professional world by setting up a company of their own.

But these companies may end up as the rosary of dawn, ending in many cases not only the professional union but the previous friendship that united the partners. In the world of dog training, many have been through this unpleasant and emotionally draining situation.

However I think these arrangements can be successful with a set of rules that avoid most misunderstandings and disagreements.

Perhaps the main problem here is the level of involvement and the hours spent, often the availability of time (or inclination) of the different partners is different. This idea of “everyone do what they can,” which at first seems acceptable to all, ends up feeling like abuse by the more hard workers, who feel that they are doing the work of their peers and that the distribution of money is very unfair, with phrases like “you know that I cannot train in the evenings” do not help anything!

My proposal is to divide the work into categories depending on what is to be done, not many categories just two or three, for example: Office work, street work and long journeys. Then assign an hourly rate for each category, for example: five Euros/office hours, ten Euros/hour street work and twelve Euros/hour long trips. Each of the partners will get paid the hours worked and the (supposed) benefit will only be split once obtained after paying for the work of each worker.

In this model, it is very important to avoid assigning salaries according to technical difficulty, for example by giving a different price to the hours spent training than to the hours spent leafleting: both belong to the category “street work” and must be paid equally. This prevents some from feeling like subordinates of others, which is very common when not all members have the same level of technical skills.

I also recommend dividing at least a portion of the profits in proportion to working hours. This is important for companies that are set up with an initial investment close to zero Euros, although a partner does not charge for hours worked if they are to gain the benefits that, we hope, will be growing. To collect benefits, something must be invested: money or work, if not, rather than a partner, we have a parasite.

There should also be a minimum and maximum number of hours of work per week, the minimum makes us see if the members are really in the business or if they are just passengers. The maximum hours prevents people from overloading, with the mental exhaustion that this implies. If someone works to excess, s/he will be more inclined to think that s/he is the company, to feel that others do not take the project seriously…and this is not true in many cases, another partner really can work fewer hours but do them with enthusiasm and effectiveness. This is not a parasitic partner and it is not fair to take it out on him/her, it is not always the one who works most that is right in these discussions. If we set minimums and maximums, these problems radically reduce.

This model allows you to live everyday according to the phrase that my friend Cándido often repeated: “Clear accounts make for lasting friendships.”

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Points to consider to satisfy a customer

Sometimes good work is not positively valued, if we are offering a quality service but customers are not happy we have a problem. And it’s a big one.

Although it is common to hear commercial trainers complain about this, they almost never feel responsible: Because the training is good, they think it must be the fault of whoever cannot appreciate it. This assumption is often false, of course there are cases where this is true, but not often.

Customer satisfaction is the third key to commercial success (the other two are quality work and optimizing training), to achieve it remember the following things:

  1. Do not make deceptive advertising: A lot of the time in advertising we include everything that could bring in the customers and we do not stop to think about it later. The customer remembers and expects: If you do not do good work, do not say you do because it seems more commercial, however if you consider it best to leave a high percentage of failure rather than use negative techniques do not advertise 100% successful results. If you’re not really a specialist in a race, do not say you are. If what you say and what you do does not coincide, your customer will not be satisfied even if the training is good.
  2. Make it clear where you think the training will get to: Individuals often want their dogs to never fail, even if the heavens open and Troy burns down. This can not be achieved, if dogs did not fail there would be no training competitions as every participant would get a hundred points! Let the customer know where their dog can get to, and you must be clear about it, don’t respond with phrases like "we’ll see what happens", "I’ll do everything possible" … These ambiguities are often taken for fear of not being hired, you must be clear from the start. It is better to not hire us than to feel cheated.
  3. Make sure you know what the customer wants: Just because most people look for the same thing in training, do not assume that training is the same for everyone. Maybe the dog not coming into the kitchen while making dinner is more important than a perfect performance on the obstacle course. Take time to find out the priorities and objectives of each customer and before the end of training make sure you consider what has been achieved. It is better to give a couple of extra sessions than to leave a customer feeling like training has been interrupted.
  4. The dog must work with the customer, not with you: Perhaps the phrase that I hate listening to most as a trainer is "with me the dog was perfect, but from the beginning, I knew they would not obey them," Well if you knew it would not, don’t accept it! It is easy to forget that we do not charge for training the dog, but the owner(s)/dog team.
  5. Do not promise unnecessary things: One of the most frequent reasons for dissatisfaction is that the trainer says that "in a few days we will give an overview" or "see how it’s going," which arouses interest… and he doesn’t do it. When training is completed and there is work, it is easy to forget these things, which are often offered lightly. But the customer will have taken it as a commitment and if we don’t do it, the customer will feel that we have neglected them. Even though the dog has had exemplary training.
  6. Do not badmouth your competition: Sure you have arguments to defend your services without having to say how bad the others are, doing so gives a bad impression. We are also all in the same boat, let’s compete but let’s not fight.
  7. Be formal: Delays, cancellations of classes, changes of the agreed schedule… give the impression that "yes, they know a lot about dogs, but they’re not a serious person" Do not do any of the above unless it is unavoidable, feeling like a nap does not count as "inevitable"!
  8. Make it clear how much, how and when you charge: Being ambiguous in this raises susceptibility rapidly, and more as it is.
  9. Make sure you receive your money: Getting paid is not only important for eating every day and paying the mortgage, if someone does not pay you can be sure that they will speak badly about you to justify it. It can come to cause you a lot of damage, so avoiding it is a priority.
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How to optimize our commercial training sessions

I see many commercial trainers that are just starting out (and some that take time in getting started) asking for extra trouble and work by not optimizing their sessions. Training is a very vocational profession and it is often those who dedicated themselves to it that tend to look for training only in the technical area, that is, how to teach the dog, however in commercial training, like in any professional field, you must have some optimization keys to avoid having to work more in situations we have created ourselves.

Of the three variables of commercial success: quality of work, customer satisfaction and optimizing time, I will focus this article on the last, how to optimize training time? Here are a few clues.

  1. Train the call from the first dayIf you train the call from the first day, you will see the potential problems that may arise beforehand and will be increasing the volume of work on the most important exercise training in commercial training.In my opinion this is a fundamental point, the call is often the most problematic command and it is usual to start initial training with the simplest actions (sit, down..) and teach the call after several sessions with the other actions. As a result we often have to extend the training to finish training the call, more sessions that we could have saved if from day one we had given it training time. We must invest in what matters – what dog doesn’t sit or lie down as bad as the training is?None!, but don’t spend too much time on it, go directly to the core.
  2. If something in particular does not come off, don’t get obsessedIf the training goes well and the dog gets stuck on something concrete, it is best to leave that action for a few days.One of the best ways to stretch good training to infinity and beyond is getting obsessed when we fail to make the dog perform the actions we have to teach it (perhaps the action that most happens with is lying down).This is where many trainers get concerned and focus the sessions on “solving the problem,” this is a serious mistake: you can make both you and the dog nervous, neither will think clearly, thus exacerbating the problem at each session, you can generate learning blocks in the dog (and you). Remember that the whole is stronger than its parts, if the dog sees clarity in teaching and achieves results it will be more willing to learn and perform other actions that are less easy or comfortable, at the end of the day during a successful training session the dog is learning to learn.
  3. Work on the dog’s concentration before the behaviorThe first thing you have to achieve is that the dog has a sufficient level of concentration in class, do whatever is necessary: take it to a quiet place, use a disruptive stimulus when it is distracted… but do not work an unfocused dog.When doing commercial training it is difficult to devote two or three full sessions to only teaching concentration and not behavior, it seems that you’re wasting your time and do not progress, this false perception is our enemy: if the dog is not focused, its learning is slower and lower in quality, it will be dependent on all the help that you give to get the behavior and will never try to achieve the action, training will become much longer for you with those two or three sessions and will be lower in quality. Believe me, everyone has gone through this error at first (and some have failed to overcome it.)
  4. Split the session into three partsDo not put forward a session of forty minutes or an hour, think of three sessions of ten to fifteen minutes separated by a few minutes break.You have to “squeeze” every session so that your expense of time does not end. We all know that the best training sessions are very short, ten or fifteen minutes, which is commercially viable (especially if you work at home), so most professionals opt for sessions of between half an hour and one hour of work, the problem is that these long sessions tend to work with the criteria and techniques used for optimal sessions (of ten or fifteen minutes), lengthening the sessions is possible in dogs that are used to working, but a dog that is brought to commercial training will never have that habit, so the results are concentration and quality loss in its behavior.You must put each session forward as the sum of three different sessions and with concrete objectives: The first part with all the actions you are teaching except the call, not having to do the calls will prevent the dog from running out of energy when coming (many dogs of customers do not have a suitable physical condition) and provide the concentration to be maintained within the area of social care. After this first part a short break and we dedicate the second part to the call, as the dog comes to assist us and already has it in mind to work with us it will be much easier, we use the technique we use and belong to the current training to which we belong. The third part is dedicated to stays (stay, go), the dog is more tired mentally and physically, so it’s a good time to make progress in this area. It seems easy and obvious, and it is.
  5. Control bodily aidsIdeally, it is the customer who trains their dog under our instructions, but if for any reason (training in residence, inability of the owner …) we are the ones who do it we have an added risk that can really drag out the work: bodily aids.It’s easy to help the dog without realizing it, by accompanying the movement we teach with our body, this is not a problem if we are aware of doing it in a precise moment in which the dog needs extra help progressing, but if it becomes something involuntary it can happen that the dog associates the action more with our movements than with the command. For almost any trainer with the minimum experience, it is easy to lead a dog with the body (in fact the problem is when you come to a test and do it involuntary), but these movements, so natural to the professional are imperceptible to the owner, who normally stands still like a stick repeating the command. Has it happened that you have to tell a customer “not like that, don’t be so rigid, does it help the dog out at all”?Because you’re spending more time than expected because of your poor planning: You have taught the dog bodily commands and now you have to teach them to the owner, or get rid of them in the dog, in any case: double work. Train without bodily aids (or keep them to a minimum and always remember that they are a scaffold which you must quickly remove) from the first day. If you already have the bad habit of doing them and you don’t notice them, record it on video and when you see it (it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s worth it) note all the involuntary aids that you do and eliminate them. You’ll surely save three or four sessions.
  6. Properly evaluating the frequency of the sessionsOne of the most common reasons that make us need an excessive number of sessions is that they are too frequent or too infrequent.If you train the dog every day you’re not giving it time to consolidate the progress; you’re building on wet cement! Thus you will need more sessions for the same result, remember that learning is a complex process that restructures the dog on many levels, including neurologically. Have you never been to one of these intensive workshops when on the third day you can’t take in any more information? Well the same thing happens to dogs. But if you separate sessions too much, you will have to devote some of your time to regaining the level of the previous session so that you are also working double. Although every dog has its rhythm, three sessions a week is a safe bet to not overwork it.
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What makes for successful commercial training?

Today it is easy to find quality training to learn how to train in our country, it is not as simple as knowing the keys to apply that knowledge to commercial training successfully, trainers with extensive knowledge of their work do not end up “settling” in the commercial field.

I believe that much of the problem is not knowing what commercial success is, and relying solely on the application of our technical knowledge, but success should also include two coordinates: customer satisfaction and positive balance between hours worked and the price of training.

If the customer is not satisfied, despite the work being optimal, we cannot speak of commercial success, we will not be able to count on their recommendation, or on the good publicity that they could generate for us, quite the opposite! I remember a Dogue de Bordeaux that heavily assaulted a family and whose owners, after a perfect job told me that actually, what to them seemed serious was it burying toys in the geraniums. Months of productive effort from my point of view did not result in customer satisfaction because of a detail that they had mentioned to me, but I did not deem it important (it is difficult to deem the geraniums important when you see a sixty-kilo dog getting up off the couch and growling and all of the family members running out of the room “because it had woken up on the wrong side of bed”).

The other critical point for success in commercial training is time optimization, most trainers I know have a strong commitment to their work and are persistent in search of results, even if they have to invest a lot of time to get them. This is good in itself, but can end up harming the trainer (if they have set a fixed price and have to triple the planned sessions) or the customer (if they pay by number of sessions and must take on the extra cost for sessions that were not initially planned). Again, although the training remains impeccable, we have not been successful: in one case we have worked almost for free and in the other our customer feels we have abused them, with the negative publicity that implies.

The following articles will explain a way to plan and conduct training that takes customer satisfaction and the optimal planning of the sessions into account, but beforehand we must establish that commercial success is achieved only when we have completed effective training, the client deems it effective and the balance between hours worked and the price of training is adequate.

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