The power of splitting

“Be a splitter, not a lumper”. I came across this edict early on in my readings about dog training. Behaviours tend to consist of more than one element. Too often, we think our cue is simple and clear — and wonder why the dog won’t “behave” — but if we break the desired behaviour into smaller pieces, we give the dog a better chance to learn. This is bad news for people, like me, who get bored easily and like to learn (and teach) quickly and in big lumps.

The above refers to everyday training: sit, stay, down, etc. It also applies to fear issues. My current project is to lower the stress of our walk to the vet’s. I’ve written about the method elsewhere. Here, I want to point out my first hurdle. Initially, I thought I’d broken down the journey into manageable chunks: we’d move from A to B once Lyra was happy at A, and so on. But it was still too big a lump. What I found is that Lyra struggles even to cross our road. This could be for one of two reasons: 1) she doesn’t like to change her route, and/or 2) she knows that crossing the road is an antecedent to the “scary road”.  I’m certain the first is true, and I think it likely that the second is a factor as well.

Here’s a map to show what I mean:

I thought A (the green circle) was a good place to start. But on our first attempt, she baulked at crossing the road, and was nervous once we got there. So I broke it up further. Yesterday, we played at going on and off the curb on our side of the street, across from A. By our third attempt, she was happy to cross the road, and happy to stay in place (at A) eat her treat, and play “find it”. I won’t try to move on to B, however, until I’ve had a few days of a +CER to A.

Here is a video from today’s 2nd session which shows Lyra meeting all three criteria at point A — in spite of the distraction of a man playing road hockey nearby (he hit the ball just before she took her food, hence the slight grab; I can control only so many variables!)

So, be a splitter not a lumper!

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