I would say, the first and foremost question to ask yourself when training a dog is “what do I want the dog to do?”. You need to narrow down what it is that you are wanting to teach the dog to do. Not everyone is going to want the same thing out of their dog, so it is important to ask this as both a trainer and as an owner.
The next question to ask would be why – “why do I want to train this?”. Is it simply because it is cute, is it a safety measure, or does it have a purpose like turning on a light switch? The “why” of training is something that is often overlooked but is crucial. Humans tend to operate better when they have an answer as to why they are doing what they are doing, and training your dog is no different.
Another question to ask yourself regards motivation. “What is it that motivates this dog?”. Is it treats, playtime, toys, affection? Dogs differ in what motivates them, and I would venture that there is a such a thing as motivation hierarchy. Some treats are far better than others, and some dogs value going after a ball as much as they value a tasty morsel. Use each individual dog’s motivator to your advantage.
How is another question to ask yourself. “How will I train this behavior?”. Are you going to shape, back chain, or capture? As with defining what you want, the way you want to train it, and what the motivator will be, defining the how is extremely important. You want to train in the way that will be best for that dog and get the results that you want.
Another question to ask yourself is if you can do it better. Can this behavior be improved? Do you want to improve it? If not, that is fine.
One of the last questions to ask yourself is about maintenance. What will you be doing to maintain this cue/behavior? Will it be part of the daily routine? Cues can get sloppy and fade away if not practiced. Let’s say you teach a dog to spin and it knows it reliably. Then you do not utilize the “spin” cue or six months. The next time you cue “spin” the dog may not do it, or it will be sloppy. To maintain a behavior or cue it needs to be practiced and reinforced regularly.
©Kate Godfrey 2018, ABCDT-L1 Comprehensive Canine Training, LLC www.comprehensivecaninetraining.com