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