Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you making progress?

For those in training classes, there are two people responsible for making sure there's progress.  The instructor and the student.  For those who are working on their own...  there's just one person to monitor progress!  It's important to be objectively monitoring any training process so that we can evaluate improvement. 

If you are seeing progress:
What's the rate of progress?  Can it be improved more? Do we need to set new goals?  What are your plans for maintaining what you've worked towards?

If you are not seeing progress:
  • Talk to your instructor.  I am always sad when I have students who are working with other professionals (trainers or vets) but are not seeing progress and have not discussed the lack of progress or additional concerns with that professional.   Utilize the resources available! Get some help.
  • Do you need to "break it down" into smaller parts?  Is the training plan not detailed enough?
  • Are you focusing on the right challenge?  Example:  When Luna is in class, she will often freeze up and stare at other people or dogs.  If I addressed this as an attention problem...I wouldn't see too much progress.  If I address this as a stressed/afraid dog challenge, we can work to resolve the underlying anxiety and then she will be able to focus on me.  
  • Look at the reinforcers:  What are you using? Is it actually reinforcing for your dog? Is there other reinforcement in the picture?  Example:  Young dog barking and pulling on the leash until he's allowed to meet the other dogs he sees during walks.  Now he does a lot of barking and pulling every single time he sees a dog.   The barking was reinforced with play!
  • How are you practicing?  Are you doing training exercises to address the challenges at hand?
  • How is your management?  Is your training being compromised at other times of day?
Monitoring student progress: 
I make notes about dogs in group classes. The notes include a listing of the goals the family specified and a list of my goals for the dog/family. These are not usually the same!    Each week I can add a few more things to the list or cross of those things we accomplished.  We prioritize based off of the things that impact living with the dog and the human-animal bond.  When students are not seeing progress, we can talk about what's going on. If they aren't working at home....then I'm not too worried. If they are practicing every day, then maybe the dog needs to see a veterinary professional, maybe the team needs a different learning style, or maybe we need to address some of the training skills.   For teams who are complaining yet not practicing, we can talk about why and how we can change things.  Some people learn better through reading. Some are great in class but can't remember a few days later.   

Monitoring our progress: Luna in agility class
About three years ago, I noted that Luna really wasn't making progress in agility class. We were still facing the same challenges we had been working on for over six months (focus, nervous with the teeter, speed).  I decided that we would take some time off to do some training on our own and then we would return to class. It ended up that while we both missed class, it wasn't reinforcing enough for me to head back soon with the hour drive each way and then bathing my dog most weeks (dirt arena.... great to run on. Not great with a longhaired dog!) We've worked on our own and have made improvements with her challenge areas and directly addressed her anxiety with veterinary help.  

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