Building a training plan (what we refer to as a “Mission” should you choose to accept it…) is a very detailed task, and customisation for your own dog is critical. There are no cookie-cutter plans that will fit all dogs’ needs as each step in the training plan relies on the result from the last step.
Have you been told to leave for 5 minutes and then leave for 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then an hour, and so on? We all have. The challenge with this is that the criteria are constantly increasing in difficulty and that is not desensitisation – that is going to end up being sensitisation – the exact opposite! Your dog will figure out very quickly that every time you leave, you leave for longer and longer and will quickly revert to panicking once again.
These steps should be staggered in length so that they are unpredictable but mostly under threshold. Why “mostly”? Because we have to push our dogs a little bit and avoid being too conservative while avoiding being too pushy! It’s a fine balance, but we’ll help you achieve that.
Think of it like going to the gym and building a muscle. Here is the anatomy of these missions:
Warm-ups & easy steps
We must start with a few steps that are well below our dog’s threshold – these, we call “warm-ups”. They are meant to be boring. We will also sprinkle these throughout each mission so that there is some relief and we can make it easy enough for the dog.
These steps will also be sprinkled into each mission so that we are approaching the threshold, working that muscle at a comfortable level.
We are often told in training to “end on a good note” but in systematic desensitisation it’s not important as it tends to be a “wasted step”. We tend to end on the most challenging step and simply leave it at that. We will throw in anywhere from 1-3 of these throughout the plan, just to push that muscle a little more without snapping it.
Each mission should be a max of 30min start to finish, including the breaks in between each step. If your dog is a young puppy, 15-20min should be sufficient. Anything more than this is going to be frustrating for both you and the dog.
We also need to track our progress in a way that makes it easy to gather important information and decipher patterns at a glance.
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