So now that we know how to make a good training plan and why that is important, we also need to know how we can make the best of it.
People often do not remember or care to keep a record of their training. This is interesting since to make progress, you should be aware all the time of the success rate in training. How can we otherwise know whether we should keep up the good work or change something radically. If the dog does not meet the criteria we have set in a couple of training sessions, we should check our training settings and criteria and make changes on our exercise. A good rule of thumb is that 80 per cent or 2/3 of the repetitions should be successful before the criterion can be raised.
Usually we trainers and handlers tend to have expectations on our training and really want the training to be successful. When focusing these successes, we often do not notice the small mistakes there but value the good parts of the training. We might end up praising an average performance. On the other hand, if we expect the dog to fail, we may judge it based on mistakes and ignore its steps forward. This is why everything should be written down when training.
Well – how is it possible to keep your eyes on the dog, possibly keep the reward/s in your other hand and the leash in the other? Maybe you also have a clicker. How do you manage to mark down all the data?
There are several ways to keep record. The easiest way is to have someone to watch you train and mark down every successful and unsuccessful repetition. Having an assistant also often helps you find out the possible mistakes you do during the training that you yourself are totally unaware of. Even more efficient it is if you take a video of your training session, watch it through in between every set and write down the repetitions yourself. Then you also see how the exercise really went and can make the needed adjustments for the next round.
But if you do not have anyone to help and setting up a camera is inconvenient, you can decide a number of the repetitions you will do in that session beforehand. Sets of 3-5 repetitions are the kind you can still usually remember during the training and then you can write them down straight after.
One way is to set a time limit and count only those repetitions that meet the criteria. Depending on what you are training, and how long does one repetition last, you may want to set a limit where you assume the dog has enough time to do certain amount of repetitions and count how many of them needs to be successful ones. Let’s say you work on “sitting on a heel position on a command”. You set the time to 30 seconds and evaluate that a dog is capable of doing 10 repetitions in that time including the time it takes from you to deliver the reward and reset the exercise. If you have 30 seconds and 10 repetitions, 80 per cent of that is 8 repetitions. Now you can take 10 pieces of food in your hand or treat pouch, start the timer and start the exercise. Stop the exercise when the time is up and count the rewards you have left. If there are 2 (20%) or less pieces, you have achieved the needed success rate to move to the next criteria. If all of the pieces are gone before the time is up, you should adjust the time and the amount of repetition for the next round.
“Using the amount of treats to count the amount of succeeded repetitions.”
If you do detection training, where the dog searches a specific area, the number of repetitions is not the issue. Then you can set a time limit or the number of efforts the dog has and write down how many hits and controls the dog alerts in that time. After the time or the amount of tries is up, you count the hits. If you have succeeded in 80 per cent of the hits in given time, you can change the criteria again.
The biggest benefit on collecting data is keeping on track of how your training is proceeding and the possibility to go back and review the whole process. You can analyse what were those harder exercises that you should have cut in smaller pieces and what criteria you could have increased faster.
When you work with scent detection, and especially if you train working dogs, the well collected data is part of back up, if anyone ever doubts your work or the way your dogs work. Collecting all the important facts like the amount of scent, used distraction scents, the blind and double-blind exercises and so on, will help you show the skills your dogs.
Do you have good examples of training logs? Feel free to share in comments!