Principles of training

I love training animals, and what I also love is how transferable skills are. I read books on training horses, books on training dogs, books on training children and what is noticeable is how the skills and lessons I learn when working with one I can use on another.

All the scenarios are different. Teaching your toddler to use a potty, teaching your horse to do a half-pass and teaching your dog to sit, may at first glance appear different, but there are themes of similarity through all of these.

Firstly, they all have a clear outcome. You know what you want to achieve. In each instance you want to teach them to do something rather than to teach them not to do something. In each scenario you praise the moment that they begin to do what you are asking, praise and reward.

Rewards don’t have to an actual “thing”, rewards can be a sticker chart, a piece of cheese, or the release of pressure. (I’ll leave it up to you to match up the rewards with the scenario!)

In each instance you ask for something to happen, you praise and reward the moment an attempt to do what you asked is made, and then you repeat. And as the understanding expands, so you begin to only praise when you are closer to the desired outcome.

In all instances, if you ask in an unclear manner or are inconsistent, you will make it harder for the other party involved. If some days you can’t be bothered with potty training and just leave your toddler in nappies, if you put your legs in different places on the horse, and if you use a different word for sit every time, you will make life harder for yourself.

Equally if you don’t praise and reward the other party has no idea whether or not they have done what you wanted. The repetition means that the other party learns. So, all of these three scenarios can be broken down into the same stages. Ask, praise, reward, repeat.

I would also put wait in there. When we are learning something, it can take time for our brains to process the information and work out what we are being asked to do. Think how slow you are the first time you do something new, and then how it becomes second nature once you have done it many times? So, after you have asked, pause, give them a chance to work out what you are asking and how they are going to do it. If you make the time span on your instruction being followed too small, you are asking for problems.

So, ask, pause, praise, reward and repeat.


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