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Lettre d'information de mars 2010

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March 2010

One on One

Training More Does Not Necessarily Equal
a Better Dog

by James Keldsen

dog in water

It's a common misconception to believe that in order to get better at something, you simply have to work harder and practice more. This is perhaps most evident with team sports. When a team is not winning as much as the coach believes it should, the coach increases the frequency or duration of the practices. He may also increase the intensity of the practices in order to toughen up the players or improve their endurance. But often, this not only doesn't improve the team's play, but it can actually make things worse. The strategy of "more training" leads to mental fatigue, physical fatigue, burned-out players, and injuries.

We can do the same to our dogs. With spring in the air and the cold behind us, many of us are itching to get out to the field and exercise the dogs. If you want a good retriever come fall, now's the time to train. You know where your dog came up short last season, and you can decide what skills need improvement. But don't rush out to the field and start hammering the drills and clocking the hours. If you only repeat what you did last year, you will only get more of the same. Training without direction wastes time and may not lead to the improvements wanted come fall.

Albert Einstein is attributed with defining insanity as "... doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Einstein's definition describes many of us in regards to our dog training philosophy. If it applies to your training habits, it's time to change them. Do not run the same patterns in the same fields, or throw the same marks in the same setups. Change the training to improve the dog.

Several studies have concluded it takes upwards of 10,000 hours of practice in order for a human to master a skill, and that natural talent is not nearly as important as so many believe. Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and Outliers by Malcom Gladwell are two good books that explore this subject (though neither deal with dog training). In a nutshell, so say the authors, the idea is that people, despite what many believe, are not born gifted in particular skills but instead come by their talent through years of deliberate practice. So-called "natural talent" is instead the result of years of dedicated work. As an example, people routinely describe Mozart as a child prodigy and believe he was born with an ingrained ability to compose music. In reality, Mozart's father was a music teacher who trained him from a young age, and it took many years of practice before he was able to compose his first masterpieces.

Now, I do not claim the 10,000-hour number is directly transferable to canines. But I do believe the concept is the same, with less hours required. Regardless, the point is that the more a dog practices a skill correctly, the faster and better it can perform the skill. Based on this, someone can say that the more often you train your dog, the quicker the dog will reach the level desired... but it's not simply a function of hours spent at the task. You also have to control the quality of each training session. Do not just train your dog, but deliberately train your dog.

The full article "Training More" by James Keldsen appears in the April/May 2010 issue of The Retriever Journal. If you are a subscriber, that issue will soon mail!

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