Do you struggle to make training progress without a coach? Has this time of madness and isolation seen your training stall or go backwards? If so, you’re definitely not alone. There’re a number of reasons why training alone can be a struggle. Let’s start with…
You don’t train at all
Yep, without accountability – you know, the fact that if you’ve not done your homework your coach is going to know – you struggle to even get started. This is very common. Very few people can train “just because”. Humans really don’t work like that. If you’re struggling to even get off the start line, here’re some ideas to help:
– Enlist a ‘virtual’ training buddy
Make a deal that both of you will report on what training you’ve done, either daily or weekly. For real effectiveness, make it so that your partner can only have certain rewards if YOU do your training. Maybe they’re allowed to have an extra glass of wine if you achieve your training targets? Obviously, this arrangement only works if you’re both honest about what you’ve done – video proof should be required!
(As an alternative to having a friend as a virtual training buddy, work with a professional trainer who provides online/virtual training. This has become far more popular of recent weeks. Basically, you and your trainer set up a Skype or Zoom meeting. You set up your device to video your training and your trainer gives you real time feedback via the video conferencing set up.)
– Consider WHY you train
Knowing why you do something can help with finding the motivation to do it. Your ‘why’s might be immediate or they may be long term goals. It really doesn’t matter; what matters is that when you feel that lassitude you can pull out a reason to get started. Here are some of my ‘why’s:
- My dog needs the physical and mental stimulation.
- I need the mental challenge of teaching new things.
- I want to compete so if I don’t train…embarrassment in the ring!
- I need some structure in my day and regular training slots can provide that.
- I get a buzz out of seeing my dog having fun.
If you have excellent reasons to train it’s easier to justify taking steps to make sure you get sessions done regularly.
Set yourself up for success
If you have to do a lot of prep work before you ever get your dog out, then it’s not surprising if training doesn’t happen. Do your best to get any prep pre-done so you can just grab your dog, toys and food and get stuck in.
– Training space
To do that, prepare a space to train, and leave it that way if possible. So, if you’re working outside, clear the area and leave any props within easy reach. If you video your sessions (more about why that’s useful later), mark out the field of view and leave cones, cans or whatever you choose, in place so you only have to do it once.
Training indoors? If you can, have a designated indoor training space so you’re not moving furniture every time you want to train. I know that’s not possible for everyone but even a small prepared space is better than none.
– Training treats
Make sure your training treats are ‘grab n go’. That might mean you have to batch chop and then freeze them. It might mean scheduling chopping during a regular part of your day – maybe while you wait for your kettle to boil for your morning cuppa. Whatever it is you do, make sure that when you decide to train you can just get on with it.
– Schedule training into your diary
Seriously, one of the biggest reasons we don’t do something we want to, is because we just don’t make time to do it. Either we spend too long on things that ‘have to be done’ and seem more important, or we get lost in Netflix or FaceBook and run out of hours. If you really want to train your dog, put a slot for it in your diary.
I carve out 20 minutes at lunch time and 20 minutes before tea for training (that’s one slot for each dog). Because I know those slots are ‘pre-sold’ I work other things around them. You don’t have to train every day, but make sure you know WHEN you plan to train so you don’t accidentally lose that time to something else.
– Have a training plan
If you’re like me, you may be ready to start a session and then think “but what am I going to do?” The best way to fix that is to spend 15 min once a week putting together a rough plan of what you want to cover in the week ahead. So, my plan might look like this but yours can be as detailed (or not) as you like:
- Monday – retrieve
- Tuesday – scent
- Wednesday – presents
- Thursday – sit at heel
- Friday – retrieve
- Saturday – scent
- Sunday – ????
Or you can write a short list of the main areas of focus. The thing is, you don’t have to follow the plan, it’s only there to get you started. Another way of doing it is to schedule ‘skill training’ one day and ‘attitude training’ another. Whatever works for you!
– Why plan?
A plan, no matter how loose it is, will help you make progress and avoid the ‘stuck in a rut’ problem. If your tendency is to repeat the stuff you and your dog find easy, or you struggle to progress a skill, then planning is the way to go.
Most of us find it hard to structure a training session on the fly. We either do what we always do and make no progress, or flounder trying to teach something new because we’ve not thought about how to do it! A little bit of planning can save you a whole lot of wasted training time. Schedule planning sessions – reward yourself for doing them. Chocolate is my reinforcer of choice!
So now you’re all set to do some excellent training at home! Go get prepared, then come back to find out the ways to make the most of that training you’re doing.
Pitfalls of training alone
One thing that many clients tell me is that they struggle to make progress when they’re training alone. It’s actually not that difficult to be your own coach, you just need some strategies. An in-person coach will always be the ideal because they can see stuff that we might not, but we don’t all have access to one. I’ve been successfully training alone for a long time – here’s how I do it.
– Use mirrors/shadows/windows/props
If you’re doing any type of sports training what YOU do is as important as what your dog does. I strongly recommend you invest in some mirrors or find ways to check what you’re doing. If I’m outside I’ll use shadows or windows to check what I can’t see easily.
Another trick is to use lines on the ground to check for straight positions such as fronts or finishes – and to arrange my feet square! Depending on what you’re working on, use props such as cones, platforms and guides so you know exactly what is happening and where.
– Video everything!
Another excellent way to make progress when you lack feedback from a coach, is to video everything. Yes, everything!
However, don’t just video 20 minutes of training – that’s not going to be of any use to you at all. Instead, video 1 – 2 minutes. Stop and review that short bout. Give your dog a break or put them on a station while you review what you just did. Did you like what you saw? Are you doing what you thought you were? Or does something need tweaking? If so, record the next 1-2 minutes with the tweak, then take another break. Better this time? Excellent!
Still not there? Change it up again. Can you see what you might be doing that’s causing an issue? No? Try changing your camera angle a bit. Record another short bout.
– Be your own coach
By working like this you can give yourself almost real time feedback. It prevents you getting stuck in a rut with a problem – or digging a huge hole you then have to try to un-train. And I speak from experience, if you ingrain something yucky into a behaviour like heeling you’ll regret it for a very long time.
I know it seems like an extra effort. But I’ve seen clients and peers train things they REALLY didn’t want, just because they were working on their own and weren’t aware of it. Sometimes a little bit of effort in the moment can save an awful lot of training pain down the road.
– Video practicalities
These days there really is little excuse for not videoing your training. You don’t have to show anyone else! I ditch a huge amount of footage once it’s done its job for me. Training video is for you, not for sharing – unless you want to share of course!
The easiest way of videoing I’ve found is to use my smart phone. You can either invest in a little tripod or make a stand yourself. I’ve used egg boxes, mugs and bits of string to tie it to trees. For my new tablet I got my hubby to make a simple stand: a block of wood with a groove in it. Doesn’t come much simpler that that.
Training away from home
Once things get back to normal and we’re all released from house arrest, you’re going to need to practice all that good training away from home and in different places. For some people, this can be a huge stumbling block. Even if they’re good at getting home training done, they fail to work through the ‘generalisation’ part of the process – so their dog is great at home but is ‘variable’ in different situations. If this is you, here’re some ideas to get you started:
– Make a list of training places
One reason we fail to generalise our dog’s training is because we are habitual beings. We go to the same places again and again. It’s so easy to train at home and then train at club and think we’re done. But training doesn’t work like that. For bomb-proof training you need your dog to practice in as many environments as possible.
My suggestion is to sit down with a map of your area and make a list of all the places that you can access which are suitable for dog training. Remember that for many skills you don’t need a much room; the longer your list, the better. Here are some suggestions:
- Car parks – quiet times
- Sports ovals
- Near schools
- Near dog parks
- Friend’s back yards
- Outside shops/malls
- Tennis courts
- Plaza areas
Now, when you want to train away from home, randomly choose from your list. If you need accountability as well as a plan, contact some friends and arrange for group training sessions in different places. This works well because most of us are more likely to get out and do something if we know others are relying on us being there too. Also, different people can make suggestions about where to meet which means you’re probably going to find some new places to take your dog.
So, there you have it! Planning is the key to successful training alone. Plan your training time, plan your space, plan your treats, plan your session structure, plan for how you’re going to critique what you’ve done. Or don’t. Wing it when you feel like it, have fun – or beat yourself up for lack of progress. Everyone is different but I hope that some of these suggestions will help you make the most of whatever training you do with your dog, no matter what your goals.
– Sarah and the Gang
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