Friday, January 7, 2022

Choosing Goals

How do you choose which goals to build into your training plan? 

 It sounds simple, but it can be difficult if you try to bite off more then you can chew.  I find that if you are new to planning people either don't include enough info in their plan or they include too much info so they never look at the plan again because it seems too hard.  I'm going to break it down into simple categories to help you decide what is most important to you.

The 3 Month Goals

 This is my start and sometimes my finish to my training plans.  If you struggle with planning and you can only focus on this part of the plan, then it's the perfect place to start.  And often this is the only part of my plan that I give to clients.  While I might be thinking bigger picture, I want to make sure not overwhelm them with too much too fast.

Ideally I want a 3 Month Plan that tackles 2-4 of the struggles a person is facing with their dog.  Common struggles might include negative behaviors such as barking, puppy nipping, counter surfing, or really any behavior that dogs often do naturally but really don't fit well in the human world.  Once I have selected my trouble behaviors I'm going to create a 3-4 step approach to solve that trouble area.  For example, if it's a puppy with a habit of jumping on people my suggestions might look like this:

  1. Teach puppy an alternate behavior that is incompatible with jumping on their person.  This could be going to a place/mat, sitting and waiting for attention, or centering under the person's legs.  This is going to focus on teaching the dog what to do with their main person.
  2. Teach puppy what to do with greeting strangers or other friends & family members that are in your house, yard, in the community, etc.
  3. Create a management plan to help your puppy be successful during the training period; use a leash, baby gates, etc to help puppy remain calmer without letting excitement get out of control.
This is really all about developing the relationship you want with your dog by focusing training around you first, others second, and management third.  While you may work on all of these areas at the same time, they each might have different rules or boundaries.  You want your dog to learn to make good choices, so you have to create clear expectations of what a good choice looks like and the reinforcement you will provide for those good choices.

Concept Training

If I want to push my plan a little bit further, I will develop 1 or 2 concept based goals.  I might include a little bit of this in my simple 3 month plan, but if I want to tackle larger concepts such as Cooperative Care, Settling Around Distractions, Intelligent Disobedience or other lifestyle goals vs specific behaviors this is where I focus on that.  These are generally things that will never been trained to a level where they will be completely learned because there are always ways to adapt them to be better and stronger.  Use scent training for example, I might focus on scent training a specific scent as a short term 3 month goal but I would put games that develop thinking skills around scent in the concept goals section.  Find It is a game that I play with all dogs, but since scent is so important for Migraine Alert Service Dog I want to really create a smart thinker when it comes to scents.  By starting small with easy Find It games and slowly increasing the difficulty my dogs learn to use their nose and brain together to locate things they are hunting for.  Now I might not add the scent training in every plan I create for my dog, but I will never stop pushing the envelope to make it harder and harder as my dog develops better skills.  I'm going to include the scent training concept on any plan where I feel that my dog needs more refreshing or practice with a particular part of the concept.

When it comes to concept training, you want to think of things that you will always reinforce in some fashion for the rest of your dog's lifetime.  Azul will always receive reinforcement for a migraine alert, a perfect recall, and awesome settles in public.  That reinforcement might change over time and most generally will change from day to day, but reinforcement will always be available for correctly applying the bigger concepts.  This is really all about teaching the dog to make choices in life and that choices matter; something happens around your dog, their reaction matters, reinforcement happens for reactions you want repeated.

Long term goals

This is where I'm going to tackle some of the more challenging behaviors that I want to teach my dog.  Generally this is going to be a multi-plan goal that is going to change as my dog continues to make improvement in this subject.  For example, leash manners...this is NOT a quick thing to teach and depending on what your criteria are, how many different sets of manners you are desiring, and how long your dog has practiced the behaviors that you don't want repeated.  Long term, I want a dog that can walk out in front of me on the trail, come to my side when needed, and prefer to be with me not running off towards distractions in our environment.  I use a wide variety of cues to let my dog know what I want in any given situation.  But I can't teach all those cues at the same time!  My dog would be totally confused and have no clue what I want or when I want it.  For the first 2 yrs of life with any of my dogs, Leash skills is likely to be included in any and all training plans I create based on the current skill my dog has when I'm creating the plan and the steps I will take to help my dog reach the next level of skill.  For long term goals, I will create objectives that help me to meet my dogs natural doggy needs for exercise and enrichment needs that slowly move toward fitting those needs into our daily time together.  I will list how we can use our daily sniff-a-bouts to teach new leash manners and cues while using management tools like a front clip harness to keep us safe while we are developing our teamwork.

Check out my Training Plan Template with Examples to see some common things that I will put in training plans including an example for a 4 month old puppy, 1 yr old working dog, and more advanced plan from Azul's past.

SMART Goal Planning


Does thinking about creating your training plan have broken you down and giving up?

Do you often take the approach of let's try it and see what happens?

Are you and/or your dog frustrated for not hitting your previous goals?

If so, this blog on creating S.M.A.R.T GOALS should help you out!

First, what is a S.M.A.R.T Goal

This means that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  Goals that meet this criteria will keep you on track to success while stretching your skills as a trainer and your dog's skills to thrive in your world.

  • Specific:  Simply states the end goal behavior that you want your dog to be able to do.
  • Measurable:  Should be something that you can clearly see happening.
  • Achievable:  Should be within your dog's natural abilities without asking them to do the impossible.
  • Relevant:  Something that will effect your ability to function in your everyday life more effectively as a team.
  • Time bound:  Realistic amount of time you expect to need to achieve your goal.

Here is a deeper look at potential goal that I have for Azul.

I want him to be able to enjoy strolls through the woods, off leash where he can satisfy his need for zooming, sniffing, and social time with friends.  But I'm not willing to risk his safety, my safety, or that of others on the trail when his recall is not rock solid.  I need to keep in mind that his age and environmental distractions play a huge roll in this.

Specific Behavior: Rapid Recall
Measurable:  Based in recall history around common distractions.
Achievable:  While this one may seem like it takes forever, it's totally achievable with time so I'm going to list some the general things that I will do to achieve this.
Relevant: We live in a rural area where this would be totally appropriate and help us enjoy more nature.  But safety is priority so for a relevant aspect here, I'm also going to include management to ensure safety.
Time:  This obviously is not going to be a 1 session, 1 week, or 1 month goal so I'm going to state in my goal that we are working on this throughout the year.

Here is my final goal and 3 objectives I will use to work on this goal.
Increase Azul's ability to recall in the presence of distractions including wildlife and dogs by expanding his reinforcement history with toys & games designed to make myself more fun then any distraction while using management to ensure safety without letting him practice ignoring behaviors.
  • Take longline sniff-a-bouts on our property and in lower distraction areas at least 3 times a week to practice in real life situations safely while practicing various directional cues; far enough, this way, & yoohoo Zuly.
  • Provide social opportunities for Azul 1-2 times a week in secured areas where he can safely run with friends.
  • Practice a more formal style recall at home and in public spaces where it is safe to add to the reinforcement history when it is easy for Azul to succeed.

Now that you understand more about S.M.A.R.T. Goals you can start thinking about what some of your training plan goals will be.  But don't start writing that training plan yet.  Wait for my next blog that will discuss how to choose what you should work on first!

Free Mini-course on Emotions, Learning & Animal Training


FREE Mini-course from ILLIS Animal Behavior Consulting

This *free* four-part video series is called “Emotions, learning, and animal training”.

Below are the dates to keep in mind for the 2022 edition of the workshop:
Part 1. How emotions impact learning. Released Jan 13th.
Part 2. Fun and Focus! Published Jan 16th.
Part 3. Good relationships promote successful training. Available Jan 18th.
Part 4. Fear and aggressive behavior. Hits the ether Jan 20th.
Access to the free content ends on Jan 27th.

If you're a dog training nerd who loves the science behind the training, you won't want to miss this mini-course! You can sign up here:


Monday, January 3, 2022

Creating a Successful Training Plan

 Creating a successful training plan can be challenging!

This post is going to highlight some of my best tips and tricks for setting your team (you & your dog) up for success with the help of a training plan.  These are things to think about before you begin planning your training session!

Document Your Plan

The most important part to a training plan is creating a written plan that you can refer back to as often as necessary.  But in order to do that you have to write that plan on a format that is easy for you to use, update, and use as a quick reference.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to document.
  • Excel Spreadsheet that allows you to sort, rearrange, and create columns that can do simple math calculations is my go to format.  But I'm kind of an Excel junkie.  The first template that I share with clients is a simple format with a few main concepts and some simple things we will work on over a certain time period to help with improvement of the main goal.  There will be more on creating smart goals for this later!  But here is a link to my blank Planning Template.  The second template that I share with clients is a more complex format that allows you track each and every behavior you are working with including the time you spend working on each behavior.  This one seems much more advance and is geared to working dogs that are ready to start doing early public access training, but it can be tweaked to fit any dog no matter their age or skill level.  Here is a link to my blank Tracking Template.
  • Post It Note on a phone or tablet is a quick way to access basic reminders about your training plan when you are away from home.  I prefer to use the Google Keep app because I can view this from my phone, laptop or tablet as well as make changes that automatically update to all my devices.  Any note type app will work, so there is no need to use my app of choice but if you want more info on Google Keep, I can help you get started.  I use the Post It format mostly for group classes and mini group sessions where I have multiple dogs and can easily lose my focus and that of my students.  But you can easily use this for any new setting or training you are focusing on.  For example, if I'm taking a puppy to a park for some socialization training I'm going to start a note that lists the top 5-10 items I think I'm going to encounter during this trip that I want to be able to check off my larger list that is in Excel.  I can then leave this open on my phone to use as a quick reference during the outing.  The nice thing is that when we encounter something unexpected, it's easy to add it to the list once the distraction has past so that we don't forget it.  I try to keep my Post It Notes short and simple, with the most important info I need to remember on the move.  I don't care about grammar or sentence structure or smart goals...just remembering all that I want to remember.  If Post It Notes are your specialty, there are some programs that allow you to expand this to be your main form of tracking and keep it organized in a way you can find what you want quickly.
  • Journal or Binder for hand written notes is preferred by some people.  I'll use this format when I'm taking a new class or working to learn something that is a bit more challenging because the act of actually writing info out on paper can help you to retain and understand that info more thoroughly.  If you're the type of person that finds writing to be relaxing, then this might be your best approach.  For me, I rarely write in a physical journal anymore but tend to use Google Drive for most of my writing needs because it allows me to make changes as needed, stay organized, and share the information among devices and with other collaborators.

Creating the Plan

I was going to write up info about how I decide what is in my plan, but then I found this website that says it so wonderfully.  So after you decide you will track your training sessions and progress, here is an explanation of how to create your plan.  

Starting at the bottom of this graphic: 
  • Define the problem you are having or the behavior you want to change.  You can tackle more then one issue at a time, but don't overwhelm yourself with taking on too many challenges at once or you will end up frustrated with slow progress in all of them.
  • Decide what a better behavior or reaction would be to your problem.  Think about in a perfect world type setting, what would you like your dog to be doing instead.
  • Closing the Gap.  This is where you think of a few simple behaviors that when put together will get you much closer to your perfect world scenario.  For example, if jumping on people is the behavior I want to stop, I might look at training a place cue, reward for "all 4 on the floor, and work on impulse control training levels.
  • Creating your plan.  This is actually putting it all together in whatever format or various formats you have decided will work best for you.
  • Implementing that plan.  While this may seem like the hard part and is often the place where many plans fail, this is really the easiest step along the way.  This month I'm going to be giving you lots of tips and tricks to help with this part of the pyramid
  • Results Matter!  Without them you wouldn't know if you have been successful or if you need to re-think your plan or search for advice from another trainer.  It's important to document those results with your plan because you may experience a setback and need to refer back to your training plan or you may want to follow that same plan with someone else struggling with a similar issue.  I like to video my early training sessions and final training sessions of each training plan.  This is an easy way to document the progress you made and it helps you to see what you may want in your new training plan.

Check out to learn more about this pyramid and how you can use these steps to help you plan for success in 2022!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Plan for Success 2022

This is our Yooper Paws New Year's Resolution for 2022, "Plan for Success!"

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not much for making resolutions which have a history of not lasting more then a week or two.  I'm not a fan of "big" changes either!  Instead think of this as more of a promise to everyone else; my family, my dogs, my clients & their dogs!  So here are just a few of the plans I have in place for 2022! (And they are not in order of importance!)

  • For myself and my family, I will be planning to spend some individual based time sharing experiences that are mutually enjoyable.  This means that I'm going to be looking for ways to have fun despite my physical, financial, and sometimes distance apart from those that matter most to me.  This is part of my, "Be the BEST I can be!" plan.
  • For my dogs, especially Azul but Cam too, I'm going to focus on training sessions that play to their strengths as individual dogs.  I pretty much took the last year off, when it comes to detailed plans with both my dogs to allow Azul time to grow up some.  But now that he is almost 2, I'm going to be switching gears to a "fine tuning" mode to help him become the best adult, fully trained Service Dog he can be.  No more having training sessions that are focused on solely meeting his physical and mental needs for training sessions.  This leads to hap-hazzard sessions that end up moving more slowly, so instead we will be focusing on just a few things and working on them regularly in more focused but still game based training sessions that are fun for us both.  Watch for a more detailed plan about this in a future post.
  • For my clients and their amazing dogs, I will no longer be charging a fee for a formal written training plan!  For all of 2022, I will offer this service for free to any of my clients that request it with their regularly paid services.  That means my digital based and local clients can ask for a written training plan based on the training sessions we've had at any time.  It might take me a week or two to complete it, but I will as soon as I can.  You might just have to remind me if you ask at the end of a busy training session or if we chat about it during a migraine.
  • And for the few people who follow this Yooper Paws website or our Facebook Page, I'm going to be focusing on a monthly theme.  This will vary based on things that I'm working on with my dogs and/or my clients dogs, but here are a few topics that I will start with.
    • January - Planning for Success - This will be tips and tricks designed to help you create better training sessions at home and out in the world with your dog.
    • February - Focus on Behaviors - This will involve teaching you as a dog lover how to change those pesky behaviors that drive you nuts into behaviors you will LOVE your dog to do.
    • March - Spring Fever Madness - This will involve a greater understanding of why our dogs do the the things they do every spring regardless of age, sex, or breed.
    • April - Foolish Follies - This is going to be more of a myth busting month where I talk about some of the silly things a dog trainer hears quite often and regularly comes to you as advice from someone who "once trained a dog, and that tip worked for them!"
    • May - Avoiding the Maybe's that are commonly found in dog training.  You're going to definitely want to be around for this month, especially if you have a puppy or are training a young Service Dog!
    • June - The Nose Knows - This is a repeat of a series I did last year about the amazing power behind a dog's nose and how we as dog lovers can use that power to our favor, and that of our dogs.
    • July - Independence Matters - This month is going to be focused around teaching our dogs to make good decisions that will make our every day lives more enjoyable together.  We will also dive into the whole "intelligent disobedience" topic in dog training.
I have a few other things in the works at Yooper Paws too!  For starters, I'm going to be enhancing my "at your own pace" training lessons geared toward all my online clients using a new training format.  The first of those is going to be the "Positively Puppy Paws" lessons for people with dogs less then 6 months of age.  Shortly after that change is complete, I will also be moving the "Crazy Teens" guides & "+R SD Tasks" training series to the new format as well.  Completely new for 2022 will be a series of workgroups designed around helping small groups of dog owners tackle some of the bigger training challenges.  The first workgroup will be focused on teaching Service Dog Handlers how to train their Service Dog to do scent based medical alerts, which starts January 10th for the low fee of $75.  I've already been asked to do a similar workgroup for training visual based, or observed behavior driven alerts to Service Dog Handlers.  This will cover medical needs that relate to some types of seizures, anxiety, PTSD, and other things that people do not realize they are doing when they need help from their Service Dog.  And I will continue to expand the SD Tips page to include even more great tips to helping your Service Dog Team become the best they can be.  I'm happy to do other workgroups based on client need throughout the year, but I need YOU to tell me what your biggest hurdles are that you would like help with, and they don't have to be Service Dog related!

Azul, a black & white husky with cute floppy ears is excited to see what is happening.Are you excited for all the 2022 will bring?  I know I am!


Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or j...