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Learning is NOT Linear

Here is a concept that you may know but I want you to really feel it deep down. Your success at changing your animal's behavior relies on your ability to move forward with your training in a non-linear fashion.

Success pictures a straight upward diagonal line. "what people think it looks like". Success a scribbly line that goes up and down and in every direction before ultimately pointing up at a diagonal. "what it really looks like".
I love this meme because it completely captures what I'm talking about.

It's so easy for us to think about learning as starting at the beginning (unable to preform the skill) and then achieving the end goal. What happened in the middle? We often as human choose to ignore all the little failures, challenges, frustration, disappointment, tedious practice, that came along for the ride. The tendency is to focus only on the successful milestones. Up, up, up, like climbing stairs.

Take this concept right now wad it up and huck it in your nearest wastebasket. It's time we examined what the learning process actually looks like.

For starters we can't do something that we don't know how to do. I will steel the line "ask yes questions" a horse trainer I know of says. I love this idea. Sometimes in the beginning progress will feel like a huge mountain to climb, the gradual slope at the base will feel like you aren’t really gaining altitude. You have to crawl before you can walk.

Embracing easy practice and even day's off is as important to success as pushing to overcome the next milestone. You must practice consistently all the different elements at all the different levels that the animal can say "yes, I can" to.

Now here is where people get really stuck. They feel that they should make their animal's training more and more challenging! Then what happens when the behavior hits a ceiling? Everyone becomes frustrated. Training protocols designed to continually become more difficult will max out at some point. Why? Because the learner eventually says forget it! Losing isn't very reinforcing. Our brains start to look elsewhere for that reinforcer and when it finds something else it stops trying to shoot for the moon.

I see this most often when clients are trying to teach the animal to "stay". They keep asking for more and more duration. At some point the learners says I have stayed put long enough I'm going else where. Successful stay training usually incorporates many and random, 2 second stays as well as 30 min stays (and not all in one sitting).

The ideal training plan includes as much variety of challenge as it can. Keeps the animal guessing; they never know if it's going to be a tough training session or an easy win day. Slowly over time we then want to increase the challenge on our tough session and keep easy sessions where they are.

Dogs on a wooded trail running about.
When have you ever seen a dog move in a straight line down a road? This is about the same path they take with learning also.

You will see that the distance between the challenge and the easy day's will begin to grow. This would be a well designed training plan.

So when you are designing your training process and figuring out how to get your goal behavior remember that learning isn't linear. There will be bad days and regressions are expected, but also keep things fun and spontaneous with easy win and lessons where you push the learner just beyond their current ability level.

If you are prepared for this wild journey and all it's hills and valleys then you are ready to take on your animals most challenging behaviors. Of course this should go without saying reach out if you need more help and be safe!

Kind Animal Services offers customized training protocols that will carefully walk you through the stages and keep your training momentum moving in the right direction. We can help you climb back up when regressions inevitably happen, and celebrate with you when you achieve new (metaphorical) heights in your progress.

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