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Understand the learning process.

Most people who get a dog know the basics of teaching some skills.

Pretty much the first thing people teach a puppy is 'sit' (product), using a recipe (process) of luring the pup's nose up with a piece of food, or maybe holding the collar while pushing the butt down, then praising once the pup sits.

They're simple processes which usually get results fairly quickly. Owners often now think their pup knows how to sit.

Spoiler alert. The pup learned how to sit weeks ago. They came to you knowing how to sit. What you're trying to do is teach the pup to sit WHEN you ask them to.

The learning process can be broken down into steps. I came up with these four.

  1. Teaching the basic skill.

  2. Practising to build fluency.

  3. Testing the fluency.

  4. Using the fluent skill.

Too often, I think steps 2 and 3 get missed out because people think that achievement of the basic skill IS achievement of fluency.

It's not. The skill might be very fluent in the specific circumstances that you have taught it, but out in the big, wide world - it's gone. Recalls at dog parks are a classic example. A pup taught to come when called at home might have a very fluent recall at home, but elsewhere - nope, not a chance.

What this means is that often when you think you're using a fluent skill (step 4), you're actually practising (step 2) or testing (step 3) the skill.

Practising requires lots of success. Continuous success may seem like your dog is fluent at the skill, but they may just be having a good day, or the setting may be manageable enough for them to succeed. Effective training requires a lot of practising and getting it right. You're doing well if your pup is getting it right a lot, but stay alert to where the skill is in the process.

Testing is important. It often involves failure. We discover that on this day, in this situation, our dog can't do as we ask. They may not be able to do it at all, or may not do it very well e.g. they recall on the 15th try, very slowly.

This is an incredibly useful part of the training process as it identifies gaps we need to bridge.

But we may not be able to bridge them right now. The dog just told us the situation was too hard for them. We're going to have to make it easier.

The full process is going to look more like this:

  1. Teaching the basic skill in a certain situation.

  2. Practising to build fluency in that situation.

3. Testing the fluency in that situation.

2. Practising some more in that situation.

3. Testing again.

4. Using the fluent skill in that situation.

1. Teaching the basic skill in a different situation.


Understanding the learning process helps us identify why failures might be happening and how we need to get back to success. Instead of seeing an end product issue (disobedience); see a process issue and adjust this.

Training is never done. We will ALWAYS need to keep circling back to different stages of the process because skills which aren't practised enough, do weaken. Dogs aren't robots and learning/ performance failures will happen. Situations will be too hard for them.

We also aren't robots and teaching/ performance failures will happen. Situations will be too hard for us too. We will ask too much of our dogs and ourselves.

Become aware.

“Do the best you can until you know better.

Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou


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