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THE CIRCLE TRAINING METHOD

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An article on Event Based training
By Erik Hoffer THE TRAINING CIRCLE CONCEPT
BY ERIK HOFFER

I can’t say that I am an expert trainer because I’m not. What I can say is that I have trained hundreds of dogs in basic obedience and some in advanced work. These dogs have mostly been German Shepherds, a mutt or two and a few Golden Retriever’s thrown in for good measure. The concept that I will explain here seems to consistently work on all of these dogs and is a reliable training method for both rescue dogs and puppies.

There are dumb dogs and smart dogs, there are dense dogs who need tremendous repetition and sharp dogs who pick things up quickly. There are some dogs who work for food, like Golden’s and some who just saying their name in a squeaky voice, motivates them to do most any task. Positive training beats negative training hands down. Positive training reinforces your pleasure with the dog through praise, petting, treats or a toy reward. Negative training such as the use of shock collars, harsh treatment by voice or physical abuse are always bad. To get the desired result of any behavior modification method you need to enable communication that both the handler and the dog understand. Knowledge of your dog and his personality makes training that much easier. Understanding your dogs history, especially in a rescue dog, is not always available, hence training is used to build the bond and create a positive pattern of interaction between you and your pooch.

There are a few factors to consider in training your German Shepherd Dog. These are consistency and repetition work, and the knowledge that he wants to please you, but may not know exactly how. These are working dogs and therefore they need to work. Remember that training is work, and the more time your spend with them in training or just playing the better they will become and the faster they will learn and the better they will sleep! Their need for praise is also a consistent trait of German Shepherds and of course most are food motivated, which makes rewarding them for learning a multi-tiered means to modify their behavior.

Motivation is key to a successful training experience. The motivation of the dog also helps greatly, but it is the handler that needs motivation and reinforcement in order to successfully train his dog. If you don’t have the time or the desire to work your dog, a GSD may not be the right breed for you. The methods discussed in this article primarily deal with the first blush of training a rescue dog and focus on basic obedience, new owner interaction, situational corrections and behavior modification. Advanced training such as may be done off lead, Schutzund, agility and search all require a basic understanding of these methods in order to succeed.

Setting a knowledge baseline with your new dog is critical at the beginning. You need to know what makes him tick before you can know what you need to do to tune into that element of his personality. Training lasts for lifetime and spending the time now is typically minimal as compared to trying to modify a bad behavior after that bad behavior is learned and reinforced by the dog over time. It’s easier to correct and change things now because the time required to fix them is ten fold the initial time invested.

Training is in effect behavior modification. My training technique is a singular event based system that only looks at one thing at a time LIKE THE SPOKES OF A BIKE WHEEL. Each ‘thing’ may be a command, a trick or any behavior that daily life brings. Each spoke represents an action. Sit, off, down etc are individual actions. Correcting a bad behavior like counter surfing is also a spoke. When people approach the dog, his ability to accept their attention is a ‘thing’. When you tell Fido to sit, that too is a ‘thing’. So everything is a singular event that the dogs needs to understand and be programmed to react to in the manner you desire. Like the spokes on the tire end at the rim, each element of behavior modification must have an end or a hard and fast rule. Setting the parameter for event terminates the spoke to the wheel and gives the dor a clear unambiguous result of an action. Sit means sit and off means off. we don't use NO that often because that is reserved to bad stuff, such as a dog touching a stove or walking on an area that had broken glass.

Each event may require a correction or praise in order to get the desired result. If Fido gets on the couch and you do not want him, or permit him, to be there, you need to tell him to get down. If you do that each time he gets up he will learn quickly that this is not acceptable and he will no longer do it. The tighter the rim circle gets with each activity having a rule the faster he learns, the less problems you have and the tighter you can get the rim. The tighter the rim the smarter the dog. It’s not rocket science to train a dog but considering that the dog had no clue of what to do, it is essential to decide the rules before you begin and consistently reinforce them. Don’t modify rules at least in the beginning. If getting off the couch is the rule, Fido may try it with your wife or kids. If they don’t correct him, he has found a loophole and then getting him off with only be done in your presence since he learned that is a no-no with you, but fine with everyone else.

GSD’s are smart, they think and remember. They have the mental capacity of a sharp 4 year old and will push the boundaries until the behavior is ingrained. Because any rule must be repeated by everyone in the household, you should set the rules up in advance so that everyone living with the dog knows them. To modify a rule is to confuse the dog and take steps backwards. Stay consistent and mean what you say. If off means off, do not change your mind mid stream into allowing a behavior you didn’t allow previously.

Training therefore is an event based reprogramming system rather than a broad stroke of many learned behaviors simultaneously. Once training is done well, the result becomes this all encompassing behavior ‘circle’ where each cog in the wheel is defined and connected forming a perfect connected circle of rules and commands that Fido will understand and adhere to. When a dog is trained he becomes balanced and when people see these well schooled dogs they always remark ‘what a great dog’. This is the method to achieve the ‘great dog’ distinction. Focus on each event and provide the appropriate action or reaction. Do the thinking for your dog prior to his deciding what to do.

Typically a rescue GSD will give you up to 2 seconds to tell him what to do in a situation. If the bell rings and Fido gets nuts, you should tell him to go to his place, his crate, his room or whatever you wish and then enforce that requirement. If he gets up, replace him before you open the door. If he is required to do this each time without exception, it will become habit and a learned behavior and it will be easy to have visitors without this unwanted behavior. This is an example of one event, one cog and one learned behavior helping to form the circle.

Each event is a unique experience for the dog, who in fact may know what to do, but hasn't done it in a while. Many rescue dogs have had some training and just need your assurance or direction such that their reaction to a stimulus meets your approval. Some dogs that come in through rescue have no clue what you want them to do and therefore they need to learn. Since GSD’s are thinkers, they will make a decision as to what to do quickly, which you must either approve of or correct within the 2 second window. After 3 months the decision window goes to about ½ a second so be prepared. Each correction sets the stage for a program of learning. Reinforcement and consistency to adhering to these ‘rules’ or behaviors will reinforce them and create a programmed response.

The dogs that I have trained typically speak only dog… and some better than others. Dogs do learn from the pack and pack pressure, but in basic obedience training they have to be communicated with in a manner that they do understand. You also need to understand them and interpret if your correction or command is understood. Learning to communicate with your dog takes a bit of time but comes quickly once you have been around one another. If he has to go out to pee or poop, you’d better be able to interpret that or have lots of paper towels around to clean up. That communication is typically an easy one because you are in tune to what he is trying to say by going to the door, becoming fidgety or pacing. These communication elements are more easily distinguished than other more subtle behaviors like being nervous, frustrated, angry or scared.

If you think about how the animals thinks you will also get an understanding how to train him on a level he understands, which makes training faster and easier.

As I said, German Shepherds think all the time. They think about what to do, how to react, what’s expected of them, whose in charge, their place in the pack (which may be you and your wife and kids) or other dogs and cats if you have them. They see their surrounding differently than we do and you need to be observant of how each thing the dog encounters affects him.

Some dogs are just are ditzy and go with the flow of whatever happens. Golden’s are a good example of that. GSD’s look at each and every thing as a unique event where a response to a stimulus needs to be satisfied before another decision is made. The best of all worlds is when your GSD looks to you for a decision. This subtle communication occurs through a glance, an instant feedback by you to the dog verbally or by some signal, your stance, facial expressions, the communication through the lead to the dog or by some previously determined path ingrained in the dog through prior correction or issue specific training.

Each event creates a path and each path, or cog in the circle, is a programmed response to a stimulus. The door bell rings, your dog goes nuts, you do nothing but yell at him, the dog continues to become more and more agitated and then the next time the bell rings he does the same thing. You may wonder why after yelling at him the first time that he didn’t understand the second time? What he did understand is that the behavior he exhibited was okay since your correction had no meaning to him. Blah Blah Rover Blah Blah is all he got out of your tirade.

The need to set parameters and rules is the primary reason to train your pet. Once he understands your desires he will strive to please you, but failure to understand or communicate with your dog positively, means he pisses you off more with each inappropriate action and he winds up in our rescue. It’s that simple. If you train him to know what to do in each instance by providing direction and reinforcing it, you have a dog that is a pleasure to be around.

Training is actually programming or reprogramming. Each correction creates a desired action to identify a behavior as acceptable or unacceptable. Each act of praise either verbally or by offering a treat reinforces the behavior you want. If you train with negatives you get negatives, and if you train with positives you get the desired results. There are no bad dogs when it comes to training but rather uninformed owners whose frustration for immediate gratification supersedes the effectiveness of proper behavior modification.

Each time the animal is rewarded for doing something he is made to feel more a part of the pack, specifically pleasing you the pack leader. When he is trained to seek your attention he will quickly learn what makes you happy and how to exploit that. If you reward him and correct his mistakes with kindness and compassion, any errors will quickly change to the desired result. Focusing on each activity individually and reducing it to an act or a command that the dog can understand, sets these building blocks in motion making training and delivering results faster. You can only train for one behavior at a time. You can only correct a bad behavior when it happens. If the correction is not immediate, the dog will not understand. If the praise is not immediate it is misinterpreted. Offering rewards or correction is a requirement of effective training so plan on knowing what you want before Fido does it, so you know what to correct and what to reward. If you want him to heel and he gets out in front of you, pull him back, repeat the command and when he does it treat or reward him immediately. If he doesn’t go to his place when asked, bring him to the spot and then treat him there so he understands the command. If the dog jumps, correct him on the lead, make him sit and then reward him. Change the negative behavior to a positive one so that he learned that sitting gets the treat and jumping got the correction.

Based on this concept each cog equates to an action or reaction; each command, each instruction and everything the dog does becomes a part of the circle. If you set the rules you will fill in the lines of the circle. When you incorporate all of the many daily events and instructions that you have taught him, you come out with a finished circle that encompasses all of the desired behaviors you want from your dog. New events find their respective place in the ever widening circle. Each new learned behavior or task helps grow the circle. It never stops growing! If done in a positive light, learning new things is fun. A happy dog desires to do more to please you, and he can, once he knows what to do. As this transition is happening the dog will take on his unique personality. As that personality emerges, given the dog knows what makes you happy, they quickly become the best they can be.

If you allow the dog to learn through patience and tolerance you will have a perfect pet. If you take learning slowly and focus on event based corrections or rewards you will create the perfect pet.