Developing the training plan, part I

A written plan will make your training time more productive. 

We have all heard it said, "We don't plan to fail, we fail to plan."

This is found to be one of those absolute truths in most of life, including
retriever training.

A training plan causes us to remain focused on
skill development, to reflect and to document. It requires one to
think in terms of causal relationships rather than individual drills or

It encouragers the handler to proceed more slowly and
not skip mastering important small steps, which may prove
problematic much later in training. A progressive training plan
actually promotes the dog's learning chain; sequenced thinking and
learning built upon the successes of the former lesson or skill. This is;
of course, the way dogs learn behaviors.

The plan itself must be detailed, flexible and under constant

You may find yourself re-engineering and altering the
sequence of things, adding steps, deleting unproductive drills, etc.
over time and this is totally proper and expected.

Also, remember,
what works for one gundog may not work for another. Dogs, like
people, have different aptitudes, maturity, temperaments, and
attitudes. Training plans must be flexible to account for these

Each training session should be a planned, thought-out event. What
are you going to achieve? Are today's lessons built upon previous
exposures/successes? Do we see a natural progression even if we
are working on problem areas?

This is no place for random jumping
about on varied drills you read about in your newest publication.

Stick to the plan!

Successful training is progressive learning
achieved through consistent repetition of inter-related skills to the
point of habit formation. If you randomly apply tips, concepts, drills,
exercises or commands, confusion may occur or you may leave holes
in your dog's development which will become evident in later

Rules to remember

1. Drill a command, skill or concept twice as long as you think it
should take to learn. Then double that amount of time again to
assure habit formation.

For example: If you think it should take 5
days to teach a skill, it will take 10. Then double the repetition to
20 days to insure the pup mastered the command or skill.

2. "Make haste slowly," says P. R. A. Moxon, a famous English
retriever trainer and author.

Don't be rushed. Use patience and
consistency. It's tempting to rush or avoid boring drills to "get to
the good stuff." Don't! Master each step before moving to the
next level.

3. Document and evaluate each session from two perspectives — the
dog's responses, attitude, success, problems, etc. and yourself as
a handler and trainer.

How could I improve? Did my actions
cause a problem? How was my patience? Did I read the dog
correctly? Were my commands clear? Was I consistent? Self reflection
is equally important to that of your dog.

4. Break all concepts and skills down into their simplest parts and
teach them separately.

Once success is achieved, begin linking
the skills together to form the concept or the desired outcome.

Remember testing is not teaching. Failure teaches a dog nothing.

Build the pup's confidence through successes.

If problems
develop, simplify the exercise until success is achieved.

plans must be flexible. They should reflect a teaching approach,
not testing.

The plan

The first step in the actual plan is for you to carefully define your
expected outcome for your training process.

Begin with a picture of the
desirable qualities and abilities for your pup based upon your
expected utilization.

What do you want form your gundog — competition, upland game, waterfowl, both upland game and waterfowl, companion dog, hunting companion, game tracker,
flushing gundog, pointer, etc?

Once you have the realistic picture in
mind, begin building your model composed of the necessary
elements, which will give you the desired outcomes.

Now that you have listed your desired outcomes in writing, build your plan with the
necessary elements that will enable you to:

  • Stay focused

  • Teach progressively

  • Employ repetition to the point of habit formation

  • Evaluate results

  • Remain flexible

  • Break all skills down to their individual components

    Part II of "The Training Plan" will discuss the construction of a written plan by defining the major components involved in the training process.