One suggestion I give to most of my clients and students is to keep some sort of training log, journal or diary. It does not have to be fancy! But it's so helpful to have a written record of what exactly you've been doing with your dog and how he/she's been responding.
If you're a client, especially on the "part-time" or "half-time" training package, it's especially helpful for me to see a training log! For example, say there were two dogs, both of whom were showing aggressive behavior towards other dogs on walks. (Yes, I can pretty much assure you that at ALL times I have at least two dogs in my string who show aggressive behavior towards dogs on walks! It's such a common problem! Luckily it's fixable with some hard work.)
In this example, let's say that both dogs I work with on Monday, and then on the following Monday, I go back out to work with them and ask the owners how they're doing.
Let's say both these hypothetical owners tell me, "Not much improvement."
Uh-oh! Leash aggression should slowly start getting better from Day 1! Why aren't these dogs improving? Here is where the Training Logs come in. I ask both owners for their Training Logs, and read them.
Dog #1: The training log only has one entry, because the owner was busy that week and didn't have much time to train. The only entry is a short walk where an off-leash dog ran up to them and the client dog barked and lunged.
Dog #2: The training log has entries most days, where the owner has counted up how many dogs were encountered, and what happened for each encounter. I see that there were a total of five training walks over the last week, and on each walk there were between 5 and 10 new dogs met. That's up to 50 "practices!" If there's been no progress after all this work, something's up. Either training tactics have to be changed, or perhaps the owner needs some coaching on setting the dog up for success.
Either way, with these training logs, I've now got a plan. For Dog #1, all that needs to happen is more practice. For Dog #2, a refresher on handling methods for the owner, or even consideration of a different training plan.
So what should your training log look like? I keep mine very short and sweet. The date, the name of the dog, what I'm trying to do, a brief note of the environment and distractions present, then a few notes about what the dog did. I usually will write "PASS" or "NO PASS" in each entry so that for my next training session, I know if I should escalate the difficulty level of the exercise or if I should repeat the same lesson. (If I see more than 2-3 "NO PASS" in a row, then I need to re-think my lesson and probably scale it down in intensity.)
Here is a peek into my training log. The example I'm using is the same exercise with two different dogs, on two different days. The exercise is one that's used for weaning a dog off treats; it's called "Handler Engagement." Basically, it's an exercise where you can see if the dog can remain engaged with the handler for a full minute without the use of commands, toys or treats. You can pet or play gently, but mostly it's an exercise to build focus and engagement. (Try it -- it's harder than it sounds!)
Here are the notes from the two dogs:
"D" 8/25/14: Basic Handler Int. In kitchen, no distraction, no food. Very good, engaged full minute + more, loved petting, being bumped around, good time, big open mouth happy face, PASS.
"P" 8/28/14: Basic Handler Int. In kitchen, no distraction, no food. Not great, got excited, ran around to different rooms (for chase game?), wagged tail, seemed unsure of what to do, found a toy, lay down to chew, lost some interest after 15 seconds and all interest after 30 seconds NO PASS.
Now, for the interpretation of the training log entries! For the first dog, "D," she did so great that I'll scale up the difficulty for the next session -- I'll repeat the basic exercise, but do it in a place where there are slightly more distractions (for example, the backyard or front porch.) For the second dog, "P," I'll give the basic exercise another shot. If he still can't do it, I'll change my goal to maybe a 30-second handler engagement, then build my way back up to the full minute goal again.
Your turn! In the comment section, send me a "snapshot" of your most recent training log entry. If you don't have a training log, give it a try! You can even try that "handler engagement" exercise -- it only takes 60 seconds! Then write your experience in the comments section. If you want feedback on your training log, just ask!