Based on two experiences with Talos, who has a difficult time lying quietly, it's become clear that I need to create a training plan to help him learn how to settle quietly.
There are several steps involved when creating a training plan. No matter what behavior you want your dog to learn, you can use this template to help you develop your own training plan.
Step One: Define precisely what the finished behavior look like.
What does the finished behavior look like? Talos is able to lie quietly (preferably sleep) on his mat for 45 minutes in a crowded room regardless of the noise level (or the lack of noise), foot traffic, or other distractions.
Step Two: Determine the skills your dog needs to be able to accomplish the behavior.
What does Talos need to learn? He already knows to go to his mat and lie down on cue: when I say "mat" he goes to his mat and lays down. So the skill is there, but we need to improve two things: this behavior in public settings and we also need to improve duration (how long can he do this behavior).
Step Three: Teach your dog the skills (the components of the behavior) he needs to accomplish the behavior.
What skills does Talos already have? Talos doesn't need to learn any additional skills – he can already go to his mat and lay down. We need to work on two variables: distractions and duration.
Step Four: Create a training plan.
A good training plan breaks the behavior(s) into very small, easily accomplished steps, and should include distractions, duration, and distance. The settle training plan for Talos looks like this:
- Confirm Talos knows "mat" and will go to the mat when asked. Duration (how long he will stay): 2 seconds; Distance (how far away from the mat we are): no distance at this point; Distractions (what's going on in the background and our location): no distractions at this point. How will I know if Talos is ready for the next step? He's able to go to his mat when I say "mat" (and only when I say it), when I'm standing (or sitting) directly in front of the mat, and in a quiet house.
- Add Duration: I want Talos to stay on the mat longer before he gets his click and treat. Without changing Distance or Distractions, I will simply delay my click for two seconds. It looks like this: I say "Talos, mat." Talos goes to his mat. Talos lies down. I wait two seconds. I click and treat (throwing the treat off the mat so he gets off the mat). I want at least ten successes at the two-second level before I ask for more time. My goal would be fifteen seconds for now.
- Add Distractions. Once I achieve fifteen seconds on the mat, I'm ready to work with distractions. When we change criteria (move from duration to distractions), we have to relax our standards on the "old" criterion (in this case, duration). So I don't expect him to stay on the mat for any length of time now; I simply want him to be able to go to the mat no matter what's going on around him.
My job is to make it easy enough for him that he's able to notice the distraction, but be able to get to the mat and lay down. In the beginning, I might tap my toes while I say "Talos, mat." The instant he lays on the mat, I click and toss the treat off the mat. (Remember, we're relaxing the requirement of Duration while we introduce Distractions.). Again, I'll repeat this Distraction ten times to be sure Talos has really got the concept before I increase the distraction. Next time, I'll clap my hands when I say "Talos, mat." Other distractions can include: a ringing doorbell, someone running through the house, my body position (kneeling, laying on the floor, standing facing the opposite direction, waving my hands in the air, etc.).
This also includes changing locations. I would start inside the house, then move outside (at my house), then to a public indoor location, then a public outdoor location. My goal is that Talos can go to his mat in a crowded public location both outdoors and indoors.
- Add Distance. Because we're introducing a new criterion (Distance), we're going to relax the other two (Duration and Distraction). So we're back inside the house with no Distractions, and we're not going to require that Talos stay on the bed for any length of time.
I'll start off asking "Talos, mat" from my regular position. When he does the behavior and I click and toss the treat off the mat, I'll take half a step backward while he's eating the treat. I'll again say "Talos mat." If he lays on the mat (and doesn't inch forward to try to be close to me), I'll click and treat. I'll ask for this behavior from this distance ten times in a row before taking another half step backward. My goal is that I can say "Talos, mat" from across the room and Talos can walk away from me and go to the mat and lay down.
Once I have all three pieces of the puzzle (Distraction, Duration, and Distance), I can begin putting them together. I'll choose two to work with first and I'll keep both of them at their simplest levels. For instance, if I work on Distance and Duration, I'll be one step away from the mat when I cue "Talos, mat" and I will click him after he's been on the mat for one second.
I'll start working on this later this week and will be posting video of his "school work."