Gather your Evidence

When you keep track of your training, you give yourself the opportunity to step back and see your progress.

Being able to evidence and assess progress and development is invaluable in focusing your time and energy where you need it most.

One of the most entertaining seminars I have ever attended was given by respected animal trainer Ken Ramirez in Edinburgh 2012. My key takeaway point was that ‘Dog Training should not be considered a luxury that is only provided if there is time; it is essential for a dog’s welfare’. Teaching and training your dog is as important for their welfare as shelter, food, water, and veterinary care. To motivate yourself and keep your training on track you need to keep records of progress.

Professional animal trainers, like Ken, know the importance of keeping records, but even when we are paid, it easily becomes one of those tasks to put off until tomorrow.

Some things that could be measured:

  • The number of behaviours that are followed with a piece of food.

  • The number of behaviours that do not receive a piece of food.

  • Any changes to the behaviour – faster, slower, different

  • The onset of extinction (where we see the behaviour beginning to fade)

  • The onset of acquisition (when we see the behaviour getting stronger or maintaining)

  • Cues or rewards in the environment that change, and the dog responds to (distractions)

  • Types of reward – food, toys, movement, social interactions, play

  • Conditions – time of day, weather, location

In the dog training world, we can be poor at:

  1. Employing a systematic approach

  2. Taking responsibility for our lack of teaching skills

  3. Not being careful enough, thorough enough with our assessment process, we jump to offering solutions before we have identified the learning gaps.

  4. Really observing our dogs. Do we know which way they circle before they lie down, are we aware of the exact point a behaviour begins or ends.

  5. Consistency – dog training is our ‘hobby’, we are not as consistent or disciplined as we might be with our ‘work’.

  6. Evidence gathering – is the dog really learning what we think we are teaching. Are we being honest about what is happening, how we can change and progress.

Record keeping doesn't need to be notebook based. Photographs, videos, voice notes can be as equally effective as a written record. Maybe a combination of both. Professional trainers have an obligation to keep records of their clients training sessions, homework and progress. As a client you should be able to receive a copy for your own use. Over to you, how do you like to keep records? Any resolutions for improving your data collection at the start of a new year?

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