Building Enthusiasm: Take a Training Break

I created a protocol many months ago of ways to increase Barnum’s enthusiasm and “in the game”-ness. Eventually I want to post the whole list, and then do separate posts on each aspect. I already did one post on this topic, focused on treat delivery, and the stark difference in “Go to Mat” a year ago versus more recently.

One of my the main challenges with him has been his lack of enthusiasm, and I wrote about what it means to be in the game and how essential that is for clicker training my own service dog.

Recently, Barnum seemed to lose his gusto for training. I was somewhat concerned, but I also decided to give him some time. He might be going through a “learning plateau” where what he’s learned is being organized and stored into long-term memory, which can give the appearance of flaking out and forgetting everything he knew. The heat’s been a factor, too.

Also, taking a training break is a good way to get a dog back in the game. With Barnum, this seems to work best if I keep things very boring on his days off, and the only stimulating, fun things that happen are things I make happen. This means no watching squirrel TV, no unearned Kongs, no wandering around the house getting loved up by everyone else.

It’s much easier to take a training break if you are sick or tired or busy; in my case, I’ve been all three! Combine this with a heat wave, and a dog-training hiatus seems just the ticket.

Yesterday, I had time, energy, and an eager dog. I tested the waters and Barnum dove in!

Here is what we practiced:

  • take/hold with all three dumbbells, three sessions;
  • shutting doors (multiple doors in one session, and several opportunistic reps of shutting my bedroom door;
  • paws up/jump up to push a nose target high on a wall (will eventually be used for automatic door openers, opening/shutting high kitchen cupboards, and light switches);
  • brace (possibly his most solid skill);
  • go to mat (living room dog bed) — focusing on speed and cue;
  • simple commands outdoors (sit, down, touch, loose-leash walk);
  • turning on light switch (he really seems to enjoy this one);
  • sound alerts (toaster oven timer, infusion pump alarm);
  • and a bit of brush-up on a variety of other skills, as opportunities arose.

I was very pleased with his eagerness, focus, motivation, and stamina. We really, really need to work on Zen more, but I’m waiting until my New Training Levels books arrive to start back at the beginning.

We are also back to doing umbilical cord/leading the dance, which seems to help a lot.

Good dog! Good trainer!

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and possibly a contender

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1 Response to “Building Enthusiasm: Take a Training Break”


  1. 1 Laura August 9, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Yea! 🙂


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