Timing is everything

My husband, the bass player and professional musician, tells me I have no rhythm and can’t sing.  It’s true.  Until I met him I had no idea what a ‘count’ was for in music, and frankly it still kinda baffles me.  And, sadly, I really love karaoke!  Those cheesy 70’s and 80’s songs, I love getting out there and singing with all my heart.  No alcohol necessary.  But I’m usually flat, and can’t always find the right key.  Hub has stopped suggesting we go do karaoke, and he gets plenty of stage time on his own…sigh.

One day, we were driving down the road and I was trying, in vain, to tap my hand to the beat of the music on the radio.  Hub just shook his head.  “You’re early,” he said.  “You’re always early.”  And then, it hit me like an epiphany; why I couldn’t find the beat.  The heavens opened, choirs sang, bells rang, and everything became clear.  I was anticipating it.  I am too much an animal trainer to be a musician.  Now, I feel a certain vindication about having no rhythm, but have no excuse for still wanting to inflict karaoke on my loving, musically talented, husband.

That has what to do with animal training, you ask?  It’s all about the timing.  There are two key ingredients to animal training that apply whether you’re trying to train a dog, a cat, a wolf, a cheetah, a dolphin, a sea lion, or a hawk.  Timing and consistency.

Timing and consistency

We’ll get to consistency; for now, it’s all about the timing.  You will get faster results when training if you are accurate in your timing when you bridge your animal.  To be accurate, you must be able to anticipate your animal’s behavior.

Okay, in English:  be sure when you tell your dog ‘good dog’ that what he’s doing at that exact moment is ‘good.’  In other words, he is doing what you are asking him to do.  Accuracy in your timing comes from anticipating the moment your dog does the behavior you’ve asked for so you can time your ‘bridge’ appropriately.

Not that kind of bridge!

Animal Training Glossary:  Bridge.  A bridge is a signal that tells the animal ‘yes’.  It communicates that the behavior the animal is doing at that moment is correct, i.e. what the trainer desires.  Usually a sound, like a click, or ‘good!’  Can also be visual or tactile.  So called because it bridges the time between the animal completing the behavior and the delivery of reinforcement.


Unlike my lack of rhythm, you can refine your timing

What does this mean?  Tell a dog to sit and praise him, right?  But when am I giving that praise?  If I tell Jake to ‘sit’ and he plants his butt, then stands up and takes two steps before I tell him ‘good dog’ then what have I communicated to Jake?  That I want him to stand up and walk toward me when he hears me say ‘sit’.   My timing is waaaay off; I am late with my bridge, so Jake does not understand what I am asking of him.

Have you ever seen the dog that sits halfway?  The owner says ‘sit’ and the dog’s legs start to fold, and then the owner tells the dog ‘good girl!’  The dog instantly hesitates; maybe she slowly completes the sit, or maybe slowly stands back up, or just stops and does the hover.  The slowing down or stopping indicates the dog’s confusion, because you were too early with your bridge.

You do not want to confuse your dog; it will frustrate her and could lead to behavior problems.  Be watchful, and know your dog’s behavior, so you can be accurate in your timing.  It takes practice, you will make mistakes, and this is okay.  Dogs are very forgiving.  Practice, and practice more; your dog will love you for it!  You can help her understand if you know exactly what behavior you are looking for, so you can anticipate your dog doing it correctly.

How do I do all that?

When I tell Jake to sit, I expect he’s going to fold his hind legs and plant his fanny on the floor.  I have a very clear picture in my head of what that behavior looks like, I know exactly what I want Jake to do when I say ‘sit!’  As soon as I see his back end start to drop, I get ready to tell him ‘good dog’ so that I can say it as soon as his haunches touch the carpet.  I anticipate the moment he completes the sit, so that I can bridge him at the exact moment he does what I’ve said.

Simple, right?  Think about your own dog, and when and what you praise him for.  Every time you tell your dog ‘good’ you are telling him the behavior he’s doing right then is correct.  Now consider, is that something you really want him to do?

Practice refining your timing so that you deliver your bridge accurately.  Have you been trying to train your dog?  Does he complete the behavior you ask?  Stop halfway?  Have you been timing your praise accurately?  Where do you think you are early or late?

I'll let you know if your timing is right!


All photos taken by and under copyright to ME! 🙂  Please ask permission.


22 Responses

  1. Happy New Year, Serena! I actually read this advice right before Christmas and have been working on it with my 1 yr. old dog. This just reinforces it for me. It always amazes me how willing they are to learn and want to do what makes us happy.

  2. Timing is everything, once again, hmmmmm? And consistency?! The only thing I do consistently is eat too much! What about that hobgoblin on little minds thing? LOL! Thanks for sharing, Serena! Our Maggie has us fairly well trained, but I’m guessing it was quite a trial for her, given her humans’ shortcomings!

  3. Once again, Serena, you have completely impressed me with your knowledge. The biggest problem we have in my house is that not everyone will do the same thing with Jack, so there’s no consistency, no agreement with training methods or rewards (good dog, or a small treat). I’m going to have to turn into the wicked witch of the west, I guess. 🙂

  4. Oh Serena, I can just imagine how crazy you drive your husband! Music runs in my family and to keep tempo I think is a natural ability. But for you to come in before the beat must drive him freakin nuts. LOL!!! This is not good news for an Edison girl.

    But I am impressed with your ability to train animals. It’s usually the other way around. I do not have a dog right now because we are in a rental at the moment but I do miss having a dog.

    Is that a picture of your dog? Soo cute!

    Well keep trying Serena. I know that some day you will come in tune with the beat. I have faith! 🙂

    1. For a time, I loved playing Guitar Hero, and poor Hub HATED it! I sucked at it; I mean, I was really, really awful and I could hear him grinding his teeth from across the room. Gave it up to save his sanity. 😉
      Yes, the dogs are ours; I have so many pictures, I use them instead of swiping shots from the web.

  5. This is such a great post. I need to send it to my husband because this is something he sometimes struggles to understand with training our Luna, making her wait too long for a reward when we’re teaching her something new. I think this will really help him visualize it better.

    One thing I’ve noticed with Luna (and I have no idea if this is normal or not) is that if I can recognize when she’s thinking about doing something bad (e.g. stealing my chapstick off the table and eating it), and give her the “don’t do it,” we avert a problem. If I catch her in the act of doing something bad, it seems too late. The good taste of the cat food she’s scarfing down outweighs any punishment.

    1. Sounds like you’ve got a good grasp of your dog’s precursors. 🙂 Stopping the behavior before it starts avoids a whole bunch of problems. There are some things, like cat food, that will be too good to avoid, no matter what the consequences. I keep my cat’s food where my dogs can’t get to it. Thanks for reading, Marcy, glad you found it helpful!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.