In the ORCA meeting several weeks ago, we watched Bill Ryan’s DVD Teaching Your Dog To Skateboard. You can see a preview video clip of this DVD on the Dogwise site here.
It’s a short, but well done DVD that explains one method for teaching your dog to ride on a skateboard. The approach is well though out. Bill Ryan sets up the environment from the beginning so that the dogs have a very high chance of being successful. This is a defining characteristic of good training–the trainer has a well defined plan from the start and understands how to manipulate the environment to help the animal succeed.
The part of his training strategy that I liked the most was his emphasis on the dog standing with three legs on the board, which is the basic foundation for the behavior. Once the dog can stand confidently with three legs on the stationary board, teaching the rest of the behavior is downright easy.
So, foundations are important. Yet, how many times do we mess up our training or make it more difficult for the animal by asking for too much too soon, before we’ve built the basic foundation?
The horse who won’t trailer load–could she use some work on basic leading? The agility dog who’s going the wrong way–how closely is she paying attention to the handler? The horse who’s not taking the correct lead over a jump–might he need to go back to cantering figure-eights with drop to trot changes over a ground pole?
The problem is, when our animals have difficulties with complex tasks (jumping, agility, trailer loading, etc.) we tend to focus on the problem at the complex task level. Instead, these problems often indicated holes in the basics. This could be a variety of things, something we skipped over, something we went too fast on, something we though the animal understood when she didn’t.
Most complex behaviors might look like one fluid behavior, but they really consist of lots of already learned skills that have been pieced together. If we focus on the basics and get them good and solid, then it is much easier to get all the other pieces to fall into place.
What happened in the video? Bill Ryan spent almost all of the training teaching the dogs to be confident and comfortable with three legs on a stationary skateboard. Once they had this solid, they all progressed rapidly through the rest of the steps, until they were all skateboarding with ease.
So, the next time you’re training a complex skill, consider how you can break it down into fundamental component skills. Or, if a behavior falls apart, stop and think if there might have been holes or weak spots in previously trained behaviors. And, if you’re thinking about teaching your dog to skateboard, you might want to considering purchasing a copy of Bill Ryan’s Teaching Your Dog to Skateboard DVD!