I often talk about adding “complexity” to training. When I say complexity, I mean adding something, anything, that is a little bit different or new than what you did the last time you worked with your dog.
In heeling that could be going a few steps further, placing a toy on the ground, working in a new space, adding a change of pace for the first time, changing your energy, etc. And that complexity could (should?) be tiny! Almost unnoticeable to your dog or anyone observing.
When I train, I add complexity to almost every session but not to every exercise or behavior that we practice. My general rule of thumb is to add complexity to two or three behaviors and the rest is fun, easy, and light training – doing what we already know, relaxing, and having a good time together.
Yesterday, I added complexity by incorporating a recall between two targets (standing close to make success more likely), started a stand stay focused on a target (instead of a sit-stay), and worked on standing between my legs without grabbing the toy in my hand (by adding speed to the picture).
In addition, we messed around with a whole lot of stuff – playing with toys, position changes and rehearsing super easy behaviors so that we could have a ton of success and build our confidence as a team.
If you train this way, and if you know the behaviors that you will need for your dog sport, then you will make it there, assuming your dog has the temperament for whatever sport you are targeting. Really, you can’t go wrong! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, adding a tiny bit of complexity to each lesson, and after a month or so, it will be obvious when you look back that you’re closer to your goals. Hopefully, that will give you the needed motivation to proceed in the same way for the next month.
There’s no need to focus on one behavior until it’s complete. I almost never do that because it’s boring for me and I think it can put too much emphasis (read: Pressure) on that one thing. I find it’s better to use as much variety as possible and over time, circle around so that you cover all of the needed bits. Just a little complexity over here and a little over there….until we have the picture I want.
if you train with tiny bits of complexity, then one day you will have reached your needed set of goal behaviors. You can’t miss.
But what if you don’t have any goals in training? What if you just like to train your dog and mess around? That’s fine too! You can add complexity if it takes you closer to your “happiness” or “skill” goals but if not, then it doesn’t matter. There is no greater good in dog training if everyone is content.
But if you want to progress towards a specific thing, then this is an easy way to do it if you don’t want to create charts and structure to keep you on track.
It’s all about finding what works for you.