I’m experimenting with a new system for homework – one of the things that gets tough for more advanced dogs is just keeping track of everything you need to practice. It’s easy to practice the things that are easy and fun, but harder to remember to practice things that are more of a challenge. And what about the things your dog learned two months ago, but you haven’t really made use of; is he going to forget all of those?
I tried making some flashcards for my own dog Halo, and so far so good. When I really thought it through, there are almost 100 flashcards of exercises, commands, etc. That’s…a LOT. I’m working through about 5 of them per day. They’re going really great and after the first week or so I decided to try it with some of the dogs in the string, and that’s going great also!
Here’s how you can get started with flashcards – I’d suggest to keep it as simple as possible to make sure that it’s actually easy to do as a habit.
Get yourself some index cards – the Dollar Tree has a pack of 100 for $1! I’d suggest the bigger size of cards so that there’s more room to write on them.
On individual cards, write down the name of one exercise, drill or command your dog is learning, such as “Sit.” The cards should be simple skills or behaviors that can be done quickly; you’ll want your skill cards to be able to be worked through in 30-60 seconds each.
You can work through your flashcards however you’d like. I just keep a pile of them on my dresser, and pick whichever ones are on top to do. If I have lots of time I take a handful, or if I’m in a big hurry I might only pick one. Work through your card and then make a quick note of your session – indicate where you practiced (in the kitchen, in the backyard, etc) and a very brief note of how your dog did. That’s it! You’re done with that card. Rotate it back into the pile.
You can also take some flashcards out with you the next time you go on a walk or other training outing. A quick review of “sit-stay” or "down" before you get into the car, for example, is so easy. As your dog progresses in training, just add more and more cards for the new things it’s learning. You will likely be practicing mostly on what’s new, but keep your old cards in the rotation and review them every once in a while.
Give it a try!