The Training Triad, Part 2: Raising the Bar.

This the second in a what is now a four-part series on how to raise your training to the power of three with the Training Triad. Check back soon for Part 3: The Turn, turn, turn. Part 1: Wading In can be found in June 11th’s post.

The Training Triad. Part 2: Raising the Bar.

Lindsay and I followed Jeff downstairs. As he went to get Sally, Lindsay interjected, “I know I described what I said as a pre-brief, but let’s wait until after we really get on the same page before we bring her into the picture.” I smiled as I thought to myself, “Yeah, she gets it.”

Lindsay began, “I want to make sure I get this Coach thing right. Jeff, what is your goal for this exercise?”

Jeff replied, “Rather than bolting over or through objects in the search area, I’d prefer Sally follow an arc around them. It’s unreasonable for us to expect that in the real world if she can’t do it on a scent wheel in controlled conditions.” My inner smile grew even more as it became apparent that Jeff was getting a handle on both his dog’s needs and the benefits of the Training Triad.

Sensing that for now her role was to lead, Lindsay started the Pre-brief. “Jeff, how about if I set things up so that as you enter the courtyard the scent wheel will be upwind, with can #5 being hot and at the 12 o’clock position?” Jeff nodded and Lindsay went on,” This means you’ll approach from the downwind side with Sally on lead just as before. The courtyard gate will be closed so you can cut her loose later if need be. Do one rep as a baseline. If she correctly arcs around the wheel and identifies the hot can with a clean Sit-and-Stare, you can pay her at the can with the ball. If she fails to identify the hot can within 15 seconds or bolts across the wheel, then lead her out of the courtyard, put her up, and come back so we can debrief. You can warm Sally up with some obedience and play while I set up the wheel. Does that check all the boxes, Jeff?”

Jeff gave a thumbs-up and repeated back in bullet-point fashion:
“One rep cold baseline;
Coming in from downwind;
Hot can is #5 at 12 o’clock;
Paying only for a clean arc with a solid Sit-and-Stare;
Put her up immediately for the Debrief.”

Lindsay responded, “Okay, go get your dog!” Jeff paused and looked at me. I remained still and silent. Lindsay stepped in, “Good catch, Jeff. I forgot to check in with our Observer. Steve . . .?”

I pondered what I heard a moment and asked, “Considering that you’ve both agreed that Sally will only be paid for a clean arc around the scent wheel and a solid Sit-and-Stare, what do those things look like . . . both individually and together?”

Lindsay replied, “Just what they mean in plain language.”

I walked over to the scent wheel and walked a smooth arc around it, intentionally looking away from the scent cans and then squatting in mock doggie-sit about five feet from the wheel and stared intently at the traffic cone six feet to its right. “Would this qualify?”

A scowl briefly crossed Lindsay’s face, then it faded to sheepish grin while she chuckled and said, “Why do you always do this to me? I should know better by now. How many times have you said, ‘Metrics! Not adjectives.’?”

Embracing her role as Coach, Lindsay turned to Jeff and asked, “What are your fluency metrics for a “smooth arc”?

Jeff answered, “I expect Sally to move to the board within a half-second of my ‘Find it!’ cue, to get to the board two seconds after that since we’ll be about ten feet away. Then she’ll move around the wheel without stepping on it as she puts her nose within 1 inch of each can and inhales until she hits a hot can.”

“What about the Sit-and-Stare?” asked Lindsay.

Jeff replied, “When she gets to the hot can Sally should pause there long enough to confirm it’s hot in her mind . . . say one-half to three seconds . . . then she should sit squarely and stare at the hot can from about 18” away. That motion to sit should start and finish in under a half-second each. She should stay there, staring at the can, for up to 5 seconds while I move around until I click and deliver the ball to her.”
Lindsay grinned ear to ear as she said, “Niiiiice! That’s pretty clear to me, Jeff. Hey, Steve, did he just tick off each of the fluency boxes?”

“Yes, he did. Accuracy, Latency, Speed, Duration, Distance, and Distraction are all addressed. I am impressed. Who schooled you, dude?”

Jeff grinned as he pointed at Lindsay and said, “That Übertrainer right over there.” A bit of a smile crossed Lindsay’s face, as she said, “Thanks! I still have two concerns though. First, we haven’t addressed the vaulting over the wheel we saw last time. Second, there are still a lot of moving parts in this exercise; the approach, the locate, and the report. They all have their own fluency metrics. If something gets wobbly how will we handle it.”

Jeff answered Lindsay, “I’d like to let the exercise run its course, so let’s put something . . . like that traffic cone maybe . . . in the middle of the wheel to manage her tendency to jump the wheel. Then if something falls short of the metrics we can break the behaviors down into smaller components addressed in separate exercises. Either of you two can call ‘King’s-X’ if things really run-off the rails. Clear enough?”

Lindsay exclaimed, “Dude! You are SO thinking like a trainer. Steve, are we ready?”

“You betcha!”

Jeff bubbled, “Let’s do this!” as he went to get Sally.

Lindsay pulled out her cellphone. “I don’t trust my memory any more than I trust yours, old man. Let’s use video to see how Sally hits the metrics.” I chuckled and nodded my agreement. Making sure Sally would have her head in the game, Jeff let Sally take a play and potty break across the road before bringing her into the training area.

Approaching from the downwind side, Jeff cued Sally, “Find it!” and cut her loose. Sally approached the wheel like a rocket, almost skidding to stop as she surveyed the traffic cone where she had once had free passage over the wheel. She trotted around the wheel pausing briefly to sniff each can. Sally hit #5 at the 12 o’clock position, took a deep sniff, and immediately sat, staring at the can. Jeff arced to his right around behind her, watching carefully for any lapse in attention on the can. Once he was about six feet behind Sally’s right shoulder he paused and gently tossed his ball-on-a-rope toward her, giving a clear tongue click as the ball reached the top of its arc. Sally quickly turned and caught the ball as it reached the ground by her right forefoot. She immediately brought it over to Jeff and they had a brief play session.

Barely able to contain his enthusiasm, Jeff let go of the rope and said, “Did you see that? She acted as if that traffic cone was a brick wall . . . and then . . . She. NAILED. It.” Meanwhile, Sally wandered back toward the hot can. Lindsay saw where Sally was headed and said, “Station your dog!” Jeff exclaimed, “Sally, ‘Heel!” Sally spun around and came to a quick seat at Jeff’s left side and he paid her with a quick game. “Crap! I got so excited that I forgot to put her up for the Debrief. Sorry!” Jeff clipped one end of his service lead to Sally’s collar, walked her over to the fence, put her in a Down and clipped the other end of the lead to the fence. He returned to us and said, “Okay. NOW I’m ready to debrief.

Lindsay opened with, “How’d that go, Jeff?” Jeff replied, “Frickin’ awesome, that’s how!.” Standing by quietly in my Observer role, I watched as Lindsay replied, “I agree. Now, what about the metrics?”

Jeff thought for a moment. “Her Latency was under a half a second, Speed to the wheel was about three quarters of a second, Speed around the wheel was about two or three seconds. Accuracy on the cans was 1” . . . maybe less.” He paused a moment then shared, “Geeez, Lindsay, I see what you mean about all the moving parts. We didn’t really specify the Distance metric, but I am happy with the ten or so feet for the approach and the roughly 18” inches away she sat. Duration and Distraction were both sufficient for our purposes; long enough for me to catch up and arc around her to toss the ball, but I didn’t really count the time and I don’t remember how much scuffling I did.”

Lindsay asked me, “Steve, do you have numbers for the release and duration?” I sheepishly shook my head and apologized for not thinking of that from the beginning. Lindsay then whipped out her cellphone and pulled up the video she just recorded. “Well, Jeff, meet your most reliable training partner. She never blinks, never lies, and never passes judgement.” As we watched the video, we noted that Jeff was right on the money in his assessments of Latency and Speed. Then we figured the distance from the wheel on release was twelve feet and the duration of Sally’s sit was eleven seconds before Jeff clicked the ball-toss. As far as we could tell Jeff was silent as he moved into position to toss the ball.

As Lindsay put her cellphone away Jeff said, “Since Sally hit all her metrics, I guess this is where we morph this De-brief into the Pre-brief for the next exercise. I propose we shift from baselining mode to training mode. The first thing I would like to address is fading the cone. That one looks to be about 18” tall, I have 12” and 9” cones in my car, so we can try those after we see Sally no longer attend to the cone before sniffing the first can. We can move the hot can one position on each rep so she’s not just doing memory hits. Once all that’s solid we can get rid of the cones altogether. Once she’s solid on a cone-less wheel I’d like to concentrate on Duration and resistance to Distraction of the Sit . . . but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.”

As we discussed the training plan for the rest of the session, I marveled to myself at how Jeff had mentally shifted from being a handler to a trainer. He started realizing that whenever we’re with our dogs, training is always happening. It’s our responsibility to remain present and take the lead. The three of us embraced our respective roles as Trainer, Coach, and Observer as we went through the Training Triad’s Pre-brief, Be brief, De-brief process. Moving continually forward by selecting successive fine criterion shifts, Lindsay coached Jeff through a smooth training session in which Sally quickly settled into the task and made solid gains. Jeff finished the session with, “That was awesome! This Triad thing really helps clarify those murky moments in the training process. I learned so much.”

Lindsay replied, “You’re not done learning yet, buddy! Steve, can we impose upon you to do a couple of rotations so Jeff can experience the Coach and Observer roles?” Impressed by her commitment to her student’s professional growth, my appreciation for Lindsay as a trainer grew yet again. I gladly replied, “You bet, Lindsay. How about it if I take the Trainer role first? That would make you the Observer, Lindsay. Jeff, you’ll be the Coach.” They both nodded, and Lindsay said, “Steve, go get Val!”

Continued in The Training Triad—Part 3, “Turn, turn, turn!” Check back soon!


About Steve White

Steve has spent most of his 42-year law enforcement career working in K9 assignments. Steve's passion is helping people and dogs learn how to love life together.
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