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.
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