The chart above shows a guide for developing training plans. There are seven categories of exercises, listed on the left: Environmental Stability, Socialization, Reward Object Engagement, Olfactory Acuity, Search, Physical Exercise, and Play. The arrows in the center describe the relative emphasis of each category throughout the dog’s development. Environmental Stability gets heavy emphasis** during the early months. With a good early foundation, as the dog gets older Environmental Stability challenges are incorporated into other exercises rather than worked on separately. The same is true for Socialization. Reward Object Engagement should also receive a lot of attention during the early months, although it’s important to note that tugging/pulling/twisting should be limited during teething. For most dogs, Reward Object Engagement doesn’t generally develop fully until between six and nine months of age, so the emphasis should continue to be heavy** until that point, then work to integrate it into other exercises. Olfactory Acuity starts with short, simple exercises in the early months and progresses to longer duration and increasing difficulty as the dog develops. Similarly, Search is extremely limited in duration and difficulty while the dog is young and progresses as the dog matures and consistently demonstrates success. Physical Exercise is critically important every day, at every stage. Physical Exercise creates dogs who are strong, healthy, and resilient and thus it receives bold emphasis from beginning to end. Play for a young puppy is all fun, no rules. Once obedience gets involved, it’s not play, it’s obedience. As the dog matures we gradually add rules until play morphs into training exercises, which the dog enjoys just as much as his younger self enjoyed unstructured play. The green oval on the right indicates that as the dog approaches twelve months of age, training exercises should integrate all categories of activities. For example, a search problem lasting 10-12 minutes, in an unfamiliar environment such as an unexplored playground. This exercise requires the dog to traverse uneven surfaces, go under and over things, stay on task despite human distractions, demonstrate independent search behaviors and olfactory acuity looking for his reward object, engage with the reward object once he finds it, and have the strength and stamina to move energetically throughout the activity. Highlighted by the turquoise oval on the left, we also encourage working breeding females through similar activities, from simple to complex, during her pregnancy.
What this chart does not cover is resilience. We build resilience in the between spaces, not necessarily through any training sessions. Living in a kennel, riding in a crate in a vehicle, putting up with barking dogs, being cared for by strangers, being cold/hot/thirsty/uncomfortable–it’s the background noise in the dog’s routine that builds resilience.
**When we say that something should receive “heavy emphasis” this does NOT mean you should be working on it for several hours a day!! It means you should be intentional about including it in your training plan. Decide what exercises you’re going to use to work on it (pick one or two). Decide how often (every other day? weekly?) and for how long (minutes, not hours) you intend to do those exercises. Remember, less is more! After a couple weeks, look back at your records, assess whether your training has been effective, and make changes to your plan as necessary.