In this episode we discuss:
- Tradeoffs when using systematic “drills” to isolate specific aspects of an exercise.
- Drills help us isolate specific aspects of an exercise and give us the advantage of Deliberate Practice for expertise.
- What is meant by “fun”?
- Play and fun often introduce more variability as well as a dialogue.
- Strategies to protect myself from myself.
- Using “play sandwiches” to break up a session.
- Training overlapping skills in the same session.
- Using “different-but-not-harder” creatively for novelty and flexibility.
- Episode 164: Play & Aggression with Karen London
- Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
- Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
This podcast is supported by: MET Conference 2023
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Hannah: [00:00:00] So then the contrasting play part of that session is going to be the opposite. I’ll often throw a ball or a treat down low so that now my dog is stretching out and they’re moving long and low. It lets them rest their body and their mind to give me that picture of precise, enthusiastic heeling that I’m after. I’m gonna have that play sandwich be pretty high energy.
Hey there, fellow training nerds! You’re listening to Drinking from the Toilet. If you like to geek out about combining the science of behavior with positive reinforcement philosophy in real life, you’ve come to the right place. And I’m your host, Hannah Branigan: teacher, trainer, podcaster, and author of the book Awesome Obedience, as well as its companion, Awesome Obedience: The Field Guide, [00:01:00] which are both available from clickertraining.com.
This episode is supported by the MET Conference and patrons like Randy L, Kate P, Sky W and Liz H, who are each unusually excellent people with very good taste and coincidentally, support this podcast on Patreon. If you also have really good taste and you’d like to support the podcast, get your questions answered and get access to our super secret extra podcast episodes, go to patreon.com/DFTT or you can always follow the link in the show notes.
Today, our topic is inspired by a question from a patron about how to avoid getting caught up with drilling during a training session and keep things more fun, which I think is a very good question.
Before we jump into that, I do have one item of business I wanted to let you know about. So, of [00:02:00] course, time is a construct, but as the wheel turns, we do get closer to the next enrollment for Zero to CD. This is my online mentorship program for training nerds who want to level up their training skills in the context of a long-term continuous program with a ridiculous amount of community support from other nerdy reinforcement-minded trainers, and also get started in competition obedience.
This program does sell out very quickly every year, so if you were hoping to get a spot this time around, you’re gonna wanna mark your calendar for April 24th. That’s a Monday this calendar year – it’s 2023. You can go to zerotocd.com for more information about the program and get on the mailing list for announcements.
Okay, so let’s talk about this drilling problem.
So this was a question that was written in from Cat B – actually she wrote it in a while [00:03:00] ago, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Because it’s a– I don’t know, I don’t have a great answer and I had to kind of let it stew for a while.
So the question is, “I’m breaking down a complex behavior, weave poles, into smaller pieces. While this is nice because it’s a methodical approach and building on successes, I have a tendency to get drill-y and less fun. Fun being unstructured, maybe silly. So I’m trying to find a way to mix methodical with fun. My current solution with my dog is to do some food-chasing between reps, but that really slows down a session. Any thoughts on ways to keep any type of training session short and sweet, yet methodical.”
So part of why this was kind of a challenging question, but also just really intellectually interesting to me, is that I know kind of intuitively exactly what she’s talking about, absolutely have experienced that myself. But also there’s kind of two concepts in here that are just exactly the sort [00:04:00] that I’m very talented at overthinking about. So we have the idea of drills or drilling, and then also the idea of fun.
And if you remember the episode we did with Karen London PhD (DFTT episode #164, Play and Aggression) where she was talking about play and how scientists can’t really agree on what play is, they don’t have a definition of it. And I think “fun” from the research (primarily through Google, but also Google Scholar and some YouTube), what is “fun” and what makes something “fun.” There’s so many different opinions on that too. So those are really interesting. But I’ll circle back to that in a minute.
I also wanted to think about this idea of drilling and drills.
Often in the dog world, I think when we say “drilling,” we are thinking about this really low motivation, high repetition. [00:05:00] kind of pattern where everything’s miserable. The tone that we take when we’re talking about it reminds me so much of repetitive times tables at school where the only real motivation in play, reinforcement in play, was avoidance, right? Avoidance of whatever punishment or aversives would come if you were to stop participating in the times tables. So like that’s drilling in a very negative sense and I have emotional associations with that.
But I also come from the human sports world where drills and drilling are different or can be different. I think that’s important too. So in the sports world, when we’re thinking about a drill, it usually means taking a specific skill out of [00:06:00] the context of the larger games. So we’re isolating some particular movement skill or I guess sometimes cognitive skills too, and you’re deliberately exaggerating something so you can really focus on an aspect of that skill that you want to strengthen. And they can be fun!
In fact, a lot of the drills that we would do in some of the sports that I participated in were often more fun than other parts of practice. Certainly the parts of practice that involved running laps! But there was a differentness to them. I think that helped. There was a novelty element.
So as we’re thinking about drills and drilling, I was thinking about what makes that difference between one that felt closer to what I would [00:07:00] call “fun” for me – and I do want to be very clear that I know sometimes my nerdiness in this area means that I find things fun that other people don’t find fun. But if you’re listening to this podcast, you might also be someone who finds similar things fun. So at least we’re together in this? I don’t know.
But what makes the difference between the experience that I would have with this kind of forced times table thing in traditional public schools, very miserable, and the more pleasant associations I have with some of the sports drills that I’ve participated in.
And then of course, the other question I have to ask is: is it fun for whom, right? Is it fun for the dog or fun for the person? I mean, hopefully, ideally our training sessions are both. It’s probably a little more straightforward with most of the dogs because we spend a lot of time thinking about those reinforcers. But I think it should also be fun for the person. And then [00:08:00] sometimes things that are fun for the human are not so fun for the dogs. I think if you spend a lot of time watching dog/human interactions, you see plenty of examples of places where the human appears to be having a lot of fun and the dog not so much. So we can definitely get disconnected there. But I do think both matter because this is, this is something that’s happening between the dog and the human. So we’re looking at the relationship as its own entity as well.
So what is good about drilling Well, drills or these types of training sessions where we are isolating a specific skill, the sort of methodical one-step-at-a-time kind of approach, kind of sessions, those definitely are very powerful. They really take that deliberate practice kind of focus, which is so important if you’re familiar with the term deliberate practice. One [00:09:00] of the books that I read way back – oh gosh, I can’t remember even remember, this was years ago – was Talent Is Overrated, which introduced me to that topic. And then there is another book from Andrews Erickson talking about deliberate practice. He did some of the original research on the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. So when you’re trying to build a skill, that focused deliberate practice seems to be a big part of how a lot of performers get better. In fact, one of the quotes that I have written down here where I can see it is “Great performers isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they are improved.” And then it’s onto the next aspect. And that’s from Geoff[rey] Colvin, author of Talent Is Overrated. And other folks have talked about this concept as well.
So there’s definitely something to that. When we’re talking about [00:10:00] these drills, these exercises, we’re designing something specifically so that you’re ingraining that specific aspect, that specific skill part of the exercise. And through that isolation, you can have more high quality reps because you can scaffold the exercise so that you’re not using up energy, you get more repetitions, more reinforced repetitions, and with less fatigue because you’re not asking for the same amount of distance or you’re not asking for all the stuff that comes with the beginning and the end. You can really focus on it and you can get a bunch of repetitions and in a short amount of time, like Cat says, building on successes systematically. So that’s really beneficial.
One of the other things that I really like about sessions that take this approach is that they protect me from myself in a lot of ways? [00:11:00] Because I’m removing the skill, the behavior, from a lot of the context that it’s gonna be in in the finished product. I have room to screw it up without damaging the finished thing as much. So I am less likely to do long-term damage. I can introduce distractions and other potential stressors. And if I go too far, too fast, I am a little safer. I can fix it more easily than if those distractions or potential sources of pressure are introduced in the same picture where I need the behavior to be performed in the finished application.
So those things are good, and that’s where these methodical, systematic, isolated drills come in handy.
But then there’s also a downside, right? Because there’s trade-offs for everything. And some of the things that can get us in trouble is one, [00:12:00] it can get pretty rigid and I think that that’s probably the biggest drawback to these sessions, is that we are taking the behavior out of the context that it will eventually be performed in, which means that it’s missing or potentially missing, a lot of the important cues. Now, the fact that those cues aren’t present is part of what makes those isolated practice sessions good, because again, that’s what makes it safer. I’m not putting something I hate on the cue that we’re gonna need! But it also means that I’m gonna have a whole separate training to associate those context cues with the behavior at some point. Totally doable, but it is a trade off. And some of the time, some of the context cues, especially I think those that are perhaps part of the internal cuing of the dog, the interoceptive and proprioceptive cues, can be different, especially with a moving behavior [00:13:00] like weave poles where the feedback from the dog’s own body is part of it and that’s gonna be really different if they are leaving the weave poles to chase a ball or they’re starting from stationary, which is not gonna happen very often. There’s so many little things that are hard for us to be aware of, to track, to replicate in that systematic skills breakdown that we’re trying to apply. And so we can end up missing things.
And I suspect that’s often what happens when we feel like we’ve trained the behavior in isolation, then you’d go to try to do it– I’ll just continue with weave poles as the example. So you train the weave poles in your yard and then you try to do it in a course, and it seems like it falls apart. That is not an uncommon thing. I think it often that we’ve missed some elements that were present in the context that were not present in the training session. And the more repetitions that you lay down, the more rigid and inflexible those are. So like the more you practice the same piece over and over [00:14:00] and over again, in the same way, in the same position, from the same angle, from the same speed, the harder it is to introduce variability later.
We’ve talked about before in this podcast, in other episodes, the challenges with training plateaus. When you reinforce an early stage of the behavior too many times or the same way, it doesn’t just keep you from making progress in that moment, but it also makes making changes to that behavior harder in the future. So it’s actually making it harder. So too much of these isolated drills without introducing variability is going to ultimately slow down progress. That’s something I don’t think we really talk about enough. And there are things that we can do to minimize that.
I think one of the other problems that I’ve run into and seen other teams run into with these [00:15:00] isolated skill sessions is that because they’re so focused on one particular aspect of the skill (and the whole point is to repeat that and get a lot of reinforced repetitions in an short amount of time), we’re using the same muscles over and over again. We’re not using the rest of the body as much, but using the same muscles in the same way, those muscles are gonna tend to fatigue – and I think that applies to both the physical muscles and the mental “muscles.” And when I see people saying things like, “Oh, my dog doesn’t tolerate a lot of repetition,” what it usually looks like is signs of fatigue. And that, again, can be physical, it can be mental. It’s not about fitness so much as it’s just – like if you move your finger in exactly the same way over and over and over again, it’s not gonna take very long for your finger muscle to get tired. And then you’re gonna find some other way to do it. Or if you’re having to hit a button with your finger – I don’t know I didn’t write this one down, [00:16:00] I’m making this up on the fly here. But if I’m hitting a button and the job is to hit the button and I am doing it with just my index finger, I’m gonna get real tired. My finger muscle’s gonna get real tired of hitting that button pretty quickly. And then the natural thing for me to do is to switch to hitting it a different way, hold my hand differently, hit it with a different finger, switch to a thumb, thumbs are stronger than other fingers. And maybe even eventually, move to an elbow. I’m not sure if that was a helpful example or just a thought experiment.
But I see that a lot with these kinds of good systematic sessions, but we maybe don’t account for the physical or mental fatigue that the dog is experiencing. And I think part of why that is is these systematic sessions don’t require a ton of cognitive work from us – which again, is part of it! I can really be focused on where I’m placing my reinforcement. I can really be focused on my timing and other [00:17:00] things that I’m doing, because I’m not making quick training decisions. I’m not having to switch from one thing to another. So I don’t get as tired in my brains as quickly to a degree. And I might miss that. And also because I am so focused on, say, my dog’s weave pole entry or I’m so focused on how my dog is coming to heel position, it’s easy for me to get tunnel vision and potentially miss some of those little micro-behaviors that we would call emotional signals, right? That my dog’s probably signaling fatigue more than anything. My dog’s ears are going down or I’m seeing a little increase in latency. I might miss that because I’m still getting the entry. I’m still getting that last step into heel that I’m looking for. And if I miss those, then I may be conditioning stuff into that behavior that I don’t really want, and again, because of the repetition, it may be creating some rigidity.
You know [00:18:00] I am a fan of lifelong learning and I’m always looking for new people to learn from because hopefully one day I will have learned enough that I won’t feel insecure anymore.
So just in case you also have this problem, I wanna tell you about the Modern Ethical Training or MET Conference, which is coming up in March. It is virtual, and yes, it’s recorded. This is a relatively new conference that has some familiar names who have heavily influenced my own training, like Kay Lawrence and Bob Bailey, as well as friend of the pod, Leslie McDevitt (who I’m not mad at), but also some speakers that were less familiar to me, like Lenka Blachová, who will be speaking about canine greetings, and Eliška Pavetta Šuhaj, speaking on enrichment, and one that I’m particularly interested to hear, ethologist Adam Miklosi, who is the co-founder of the Family Dog Project in Hungary, which I realized when I was reading his bio I saw featured on the Dogs Decoded documentary from Nova. So he’ll be presenting on social [00:19:00] hierarchy in dogs, and I’m very curious to hear what he has to say about current research on this old and often controversial topic.
This conference is approved for CEUs for CPDTs, and you can find out more and register by going to metconference.com or click the link in the show notes.
So I think what we really want is some ways that we can take advantage of the things that are good about these isolated systematic skills sessions without running into the trouble. Can we balance that trade off a little bit here or as much as possible and what might that look like?
So one of the things that’s an advantage– kind of a contrast here with what we might call “play” or “fun.” Play is– Cat uses the word “unstructured” here. And I’m gonna say “less structured,” I think, because when we’re playing with our dogs, if we [00:20:00] really think about it and we’re hair splitting (which is what I do), of course there is structure, because that’s how we keep it safe. Play always has to have some structure, but it’s different. It’s a different kind of structure and it’s probably less structured. Or maybe even a better way to think about it is that it’s more flexible.
And when we’re thinking about play with dogs, I think a lot of times we’re also thinking about a lot of movement and a lot of arousal. But of course it doesn’t have to be. I think about watching Amy Cook playing with Rugby (a memory that I have from way back, I think it was Rugby) and just like playing the bitey-face with her hand with him on the floor and neither of them were going anywhere, not a ton of arousal, but I think we could all probably agree that we look at that and call that “play.” So play could look like different things of course. And it’s got some rules, but it also has a lot of flexibility and there’s a lot of dialogue to it. Good play, healthy play. And that’s where I think both of us are having fun is because we, both the dog and I, [00:21:00] or you know, whoever you’re playing with, understand the rules, understand the structure, and there’s back and forth communication.
Now, I think that should apply to any good training session. It should always be a dialogue that should always be back and forth communication between you and your learner. And definitely that’s a key feature with play and with fun – that both of you have some control.
And then also there’s more flexibility. If I’m out playing, like the least structured play that I do with my dogs, with no real goal to it, like we’re playing I Got Your Pants, which is one of my favorite games, one of our favorite games to play with my bigger dogs where I get their pants and they love to spin around and evade me and then come and push at me. We are moving through space in a lot of different ways. So we’re covering a lot of three dimensional ground. Down low, higher up, turning right, left, spinning tight, making bigger [00:22:00] circles. And when you’re playing in that way, you’re using your body in a lot of different ways and that’s gonna introduce more flexibility. And now you’re gonna get fewer specific repetitions of any particular skill, because there’s a lot of other stuff going on. Those repetitions are gonna have a lot of the good kind of variation that we like for real life skill acquisition. And so that’s where using different kinds of reinforcers, including things like play, in a training session are really handy because that means coming into whatever that skill is, you may be coming from a lot of different starting points. You may be a little more distant, a little more angle-y, your weight may be shifted backwards, it may be shifted forward, and that’s all going to require slightly different motor skills to then make the turn, make the entry, whatever the thing is, to make the behavior happen.And that tends to create a robust behavior. [00:23:00]
So again, can we balance those things? Can we have whatever amount of arousal, but also just specific emotional behaviors. Can we condition those in to the behavior we’re trying to train, the skill we’re trying to train. Can we structure the session so that we’re taking advantage of a systematic approach, but also leave room for some flexibility? And what might that look like?
Okay, so here’s some of the things that I have done or currently do in my training or make part of my regular practice that I think (or hope) are achieving this goal of ours of balancing that trade off.
Alright, so the first thing that I do, every single training session that I do in some way, is the session itself is structured with what I call a play sandwich.
The basic idea is that I am deliberately alternating – so systematic play, haha – I’m deliberately [00:24:00] alternating between a play behavior or a period of “play,” I’m gonna put air quotes around that, and then whatever the work is that I’m doing. So if you visualize it, the play is the bread and the work is the meat, which is kind of fun. The session itself may have as many layers as makes sense for what I’m doing in time that I have available and just general resources. It may look like play, work, play, work, play. But the basic structure is that I’m always gonna be beginning and ending with some kind of play.
Now the play can look like a lot of things as I was just talking about. It could be something really obvious and traditional, like I’m playing tug or I’m throwing a ball or a Frisbee. It could also be a little Got Your Pants game. It could potentially be bitey-face. I’m trying to think if I really do that in a training session. Just because I haven’t doesn’t mean you couldn’t; it just hasn’t come up yet. It could be throwing [00:25:00] food around. It could be… I mean, I don’t know. It could be a lot of things. For some sessions, depending on the behavior you’re trying to train, it may be a big movement, higher arousal kind of things. And it also might not be. It depends on what’s practical and what makes sense. I do like there to be some contrast, so if I am working on like a really high precision behavior where there’s a lot of control where we’re really being in one place – something like position changes is one where this comes up a lot – I’m gonna do a handful of those and then switch. And I’ll often go to something that really lets my dog move their body and usually in a completely different way. For heeling, when I’m doing a heeling session with a lot of precision and control, that is a “weight shift back, head up” kind of behavior where I’m looking for a lot of collection, a lot of lift to the dog’s trunk, so then the [00:26:00] contrasting play part of that session is going to be the opposite. So I’ll often throw a ball or a treat down low. So now my dog is stretching out. They’re moving long and low, heads down, and going back and forth like that. So it lets them rest their body and their mind, while also, particularly in the case of heeling, when I want a lot of energy with the precision to give me that picture of precise, enthusiastic heeling that I’m after, I’m gonna have that play sandwich be pretty high energy. There’s gonna be a lot of movement.
For something else, it might just be, “Oh, I’m gonna bring you over here and do a belly rub.” And I definitely do that for– I’m thinking like husbandry behaviors. I’m still sitting on the floor. We’re working on some maybe chin rests for grooming or maybe nail nail trimming, I’ve definitely done this. And then I put that stuff down and we just turn to the side and we do just a fun belly rub wriggle around play. And then we come back. So releasing any pressure [00:27:00] that may have built up and hopefully I’m incrementing my criteria so that that’s minimized, but you know what, it’s just part of training in the real world.
Play sandwich is really helpful. Now, that does mean that during the play sandwich, during the bread parts of your training session, you’re not making progress on the skill itself in the short run. But I do think it’s worth it in the long run. And again, that’s just part of the practice for every training session that I do.
Something else that I do a lot, especially when I’m isolating really specific pieces of an exercise, is I will deliberately practice overlapping exercises that are on that same skillset – or overlapping skills on the same exercise? I don’t know, I don’t have a great clear language here.
But one example that I do a lot when I’m working on kind of coming from this place is a formal retrieve. So obedience retrieve with a dumbbell. Eventually I’m gonna throw the dumbbell out while the dog stays and I’m gonna give him the cue, he’s gonna run out, pick up the [00:28:00] dumbbell, there’s a specific way that I want to pick it up, he’ll come back straight and fast, and sit in front of me and hold it quietly.
There’s a lot of components to that behavior chain. And some of them have some dependencies. So like I can’t teach one piece before another piece is taught, but there’s also a lot that I could teach at the same time and separately. So often I will, in the same session, spend a few repetitions working on that quiet hold and then I might immediately switch and work on picking the dumbbell up off the ground, which they’re very similar. The dog is putting the thing in his mouth, but in one it’s a stationary position with duration, and then at the other one, much more dynamic, there’s a lot more movement. He’s picking the dumbbell up, but now he’s doing it with his head down. So it’s, there’s again, contrast between head up, head down, but they go together. And so I’m still making progress towards the retrieve, but I am doing it by [00:29:00] practicing those overlapping skills. And a lot of times, this isn’t super scientific, but it’ll just be like one for one handful of food we’ll work on hold and then for one handful of food, we’ll work on the pickup. And then for one handful of food, we’ll work on hold. And for one handful of food we’ll work on pickup. And I may also add play in between those handful of food, which could look like just tossing treats back and forth while my dog runs after them, it could look like tugging. I often do play sandwiches with dumbbell hold and tugging. That’s one of my favorite ways to do it because again, of the contrast there.
And I could do the same thing with weave poles. So you might be working on closing up 12 poles and working on that pattern and the dog’s footwork through that. And then you might switch from there and work on finding the entry with just two poles or three poles, or whatever progression of weave pole training you’re using, but add a jump in front or a jump after [00:30:00] or add something else to that. So you’re still isolating part of the whole weave pole picture, but in a different way. And I really like to add something to the beginning and some or something and/or something to the end (not both at the same time) when I’m working on that isolated skill as a separate training task, but within the same session or very close to each other, because I’m helping cover some of that flexibility that I know that I’m gonna need in the long run. Because the starting point and the ending point have a little bit of that variation to them. So that’s something that I do a lot.
I’ll also rotate through adjacent skills and I often will set up stations for myself when I’m doing these sorts of things. So I might set up– thinking about obedience, I might have a jump, I might have a platform, and it may be a cone. [00:31:00] I use a lot of cones with this. And I might decide in advance on three specific little exercises or skills that I’m gonna work on, and I will work through each of those three exercises as a station. Like I’m doing like a circuit, like if you’ve ever done centers in school or a circuit at the gym or something like that with a lot of variations.
So I’ll do, again, a handful of food at this station, a handful of food, a handful of food, and I’m working on those three different exercises right next to each other depending on exactly what it is that I’m practicing and what makes sense in the space.
Sometimes I’ll set it up so I’m almost working in a little circle, sort of around the clock. Sometimes it makes more sense to do them in a line, a lot of ways to set that up. And sometimes there are no props involved in the session and so it’s more just kind of in space. But I do often kinda move and then I’ll step to one side and I’ll work on that, and I’ll step to another side and I’ll work on [00:32:00] that.
And when I am working on that circuit style session, I do also always make a point to go back the other direction. So if I’m working my way clockwise through the little stations I’ve set up, then I’m gonna go and work counterclockwise, which again adds some variation to that.
So that’s another way that I can structure the session to introduce some variability. It allows me some room for little creative expression and how I think through the session and protects from a little bit of that rigidity.
Okay and then the last thing that I think about a lot in this space is applying the idea of “different but not harder” or “different every day,” which I’ve mentioned multiple times.
We talk about “different but not harder” all the time in Zero to CD because we are working through a really systematic, methodical training plan. And it is easy to get [00:33:00] tunnel vision or get too rigid with it. And so one of the things that I try to do in my practice is think about what are variables that I can vary? What are ways that I can introduce variation that doesn’t really change the fundamental nature of the exercise, doesn’t really make it harder, but it just makes it a little bit different. And there’s a lot of room there to allow creativity, flexibility, to be kind of silly. We’re introducing distractions in different ways, but not necessarily harder, just different. And so you’re just changing some of the sensory input.
I find trying to think of “different but not harder” options for a training session to be fun for me. I can get a little bit creative. We can get a little bit silly. If you think about some of the games that are fun to play in a class [00:34:00] some of the games and drills that I enjoyed as a kid doing sports, they often have a little bit of that silliness. So you’re doing the same thing, but with your pants on backwards. I’m not necessarily suggesting that, but you know what? Go for it. Why not? When you’re trying to carry a grocery bag, when you’re wearing a silly hat, you’re making it into a relay race.
I think we can do that in our training sessions too. One of my favorites – I think it was Lucy Robinson – put on a scuba outfit for a training session, which I think is awesome, like flippers and everything. It was amazing.
But wearing a backpack. I say they’re for my kid, but I love picking up costume pieces from like Goodwill or a thrift store. I put them in our dress up corner in her room, but I use them probably as much or more than she does for training stuff. [00:35:00] Depending on what your dog is tolerates – because again, it should be different but not harder – you might put costumes on your dog. Some dogs don’t care. Some dogs, it’s really aversive. It’s not worth it if it’s gonna be aversive to your dog. But it can be kind of funny. I bought– way back and this was totally a business expense; I think I even wrote about it in my blog. I bought one of those disco ball laser light projector things. And I would plug that in during a training session. Certainly music can be fun, like making yourself a playlist. I like using playlists when I think about it in advance because they work well as timers and you know about how long a song is. You can deliberately pick songs that you know how long each one is, and they give you cues for, “gosh, how long have I actually been doing this?” And then you can remind yourself to end when the playlist ends or when the song ends.
What else could we do? You can add interesting kinds of footing. You can hang stuff around you. Do the same thing in [00:36:00] different areas. Any sort of lateral changes that you can make that would make the exercise different. You can feel kind of silly. Like if you’ve ever taught a Halloween-themed training class, you can do loose leash walking exercises, but with whatever Halloween things I could– you know, every time I’m like, “oh, of course, that,” and I could have talked about it until I’m trying to talk about it and then I’ve never been to a dog training class before in my life. But maybe you have something in your repertoire already that is familiar. and you can use that as inspiration for something else. I don’t feel like we need to be limited to traditional timelines for seasonal decor. So I like to keep my Christmas lights up – they’re still up – but I also love to keep Halloween stuff out. Whatever makes sense for you! This is your justification to [00:37:00] buy that giant smoke-breathing dragon from Home Depot. Wesley has one so I think we all should have one. What if you put birthday streamers on your jump standards?
I’m also thinking about some of the games that I’ve played in the Frisbee dog stuff where you either– there’s one where we roll a die, singular dice, to get a color, I think? I don’t remember. Anyways, and then that determines where you stand or where you throw. There are games where you have to throw to a particular square, to a particular color or a particular shape. And we could absolutely take advantage of that in almost any training, not just Frisbees. I don’t know, put a Twister mat out there and throw to different twisters with your treats. You’re still doing the exact same exercise, but now you’re also trying to throw to different colors, you’re getting a little bit of variation, but within a range. So, you know, variability within structure, which I think is a [00:38:00] part of a game, part of fun. So you could introduce something like that. I’ve got a bunch of– if you’ve seen any of my videos– or they’re actually in the book as well, these little flat targets. I got them originally from a school surplus sale and they’re flat targets and they have a lot of different colors because they’re meant to be used for kids, like for kids to sit on when you do circle time or stations. And I use them a lot in training as targets for dogs. But I also use them frequently as targets for people. Maybe next time I go out and do an exercise where I’m throwing food is part of the reward, maybe I’ll set out some different colored ones and I will make a game of tossing to the different colors. So actually I kinda wanna go do that now.
So now I’m gonna stop recording this podcast because I’m gonna go out and play with different colored targets and maybe roll the twister die too. I don’t know. Wait, it’s a spinner. Twister has a spinner, right? Doesn’t matter. [00:39:00] Ooh, you could do a spinner!
Well anyways, I think those are some interesting ideas. I don’t know if any of those are what Cat was looking for with her question, but that’s just where my mind went and now that I’ve taken you on this very circuitous and rambling path, I’m really curious to hear what comes to mind for you. What are some of the things that you do to keep these sessions taking advantage of the systematic manipulation of criteria and variables while also introducing the right kind of flexibility and fun. Find this post on social media and let me know. Facebook, Instagram, I’m really always looking for new ideas.
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