What are you asking for?
When asked, what are you asking your dog to do, compare the two possible answers:
I am asking my dog to sit and stay. If she does well, I will increase duration.
I am asking my dog to sit on verbal cue, and remain in position for 5 seconds, no distractions. If she succeeds in remaining in position for 4 of the 5 times, I will increase duration to 10 seconds.
The second answer is clear. It states the exact criteria in which she will be rewarded, and the exact criteria in which we will drop, stick, or increase the difficulty. This is called a training plan - it is a contract between you and your dog.
It is only after the dog has consistently offered the sit for 5, 10, 20+ seconds can we then randomize the durations; and practice what are called cold trials, asking outside of a training session, once. The goal here is to begin to mimic real life scenarios, but not until we build the foundation.
Training Plans should be used in all steps in the Training Process, from getting the behavior through proofing the behavior; training plans are also used to build more complex behaviors, such as described below.
Step 1: Define the Target Behavior
Suppose you want to your dog to remain on her bed when a delivery person arrives at your home. This means she needs to learn to:
1. Lie down on cue
2. Lie down with duration, i.e. the time it takes for you to retrieve the delivery
3. Lie down with adding distractions, i.e. the doorbell, the opening and closing of the door, and a stranger at the door.
4. Lie down on cue, with duration AND distraction.
NOTE: If your dog is fearful, avoidant, or reactive to delivery people coming to your door, then you will need to resolve this first. A dog must feel safe before any learning can take place.
Step 2: Define the Criteria
You can see that the target behavior, remain down while the delivery man arrives, cannot be trained at once. Each component deserves its own training plan. For example let's look at the first step: lie down on cue (step four of the Training Process) This means we need to get the behavior with a lure, fade the lure, and add the hand signal. Your training plan may look something like this:
Target Behavior: Your dog lies down on cue, a sweep of the hand, palm up, held near your body.
Step 1: Lure her with a treat into a down position (treat close to her nose, and have her follow it to the floor.
Step 2: Do the same movement, but this time empty handed.
Step 3: Remain empty handed, but move your hand only 3/4 of the way to the floor.
Step 4: Remain empty handed, but move your hand only 1/2 of the way to the floor
Step 5: Remain empty handed, but move your hand not going towards the floor, just the hand signal alone.
Step 3: Execute the Plan
Work in Sets of Five
For each criteria/step above, we need to know when to progress to the next step. The rule is that you only progress to the next step once the current step is offered consistently. We do this by working in sets of of five and counting the number of times she offers the behavior. If the number of successes is:
Less than 3, or if she misses three in a row, then DROP to prior step.
Equal to 3, then REPEAT the set.
More than 3 correct, then PROGRESS to the next step.
If the dog fails at any one step twice, then SPLIT, and create a new step that is in between the two steps.
For example, for the training plan above, if your dog:
Lies down using food lure 3 of the 5 times; then REPEAT the set.
Lies down using food lure 5 of the 5 time; then PROGRESS to step 2.
Lies down using empty hand 2 of the 5 times; the DROP back to step 1.
Lies down using food lure 5 of the 5 times; then PROGRESS to step 2.
Lies down using empty hand 4 of the 5 times; then PROGRESS to step 3.
Continue to do this, repeating either the current step, dropping to the prior step, or progressing to the next step. If your dog is consistently good at step 3 but failed twice at step 4; then you should SPLIT the criteria (move your hand somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way down to the floor.
Step 4: Add the Verbal Cue
If you want this behavior to be on verbal cue in addition to the hand cue, then:
Say 'DOWN', wait one second, then give the hand signal.
Eventually, your dog will 'jump the cue' and offer a down before you give the hand signal. Mark and reward this.
Once this is happening consistently, use only one or the other - avoid using both simultaneously.
Each target. behavior generally requires multiple training sessions.
Each day is different, learning is not linear, and you may need to drop criteria.
If you increase one component, then decrease the others. For example, if adding Distraction (doorbell), then decrease Duration (drop down to 5 seconds).
Your dog determines the pace.