Most positive dog trainers that you will meet will tell you that you have to “set your dog up for success”, but what does that actually mean?

The definition of success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. So, in dog training, one could assume that success is achieved when a behavior is accomplished. Which makes sense and in a way is correct, but this phrase “set your dog up for success” has so much more depth to it than just looking at a behavior.

Set your dog up for success. We want them to accomplish a goal. So, we set them up well to accomplish that goal. But how?

First, we look at the environment. Dogs, similar to humans, learn best without distractions. Set up your training space to be the least distracting environment possible. Pick up all toys, remove other dogs not in training, and keep external distractions (people walking by, cars, other dogs passing) to a minimum. Usually, this means beginning training in an interior room, a basement, or a living room where the blinds can be drawn closed.

As your dog learns the foundations and what you are asking for, slowly you can add those distractions in until you can use the behavior in real life.

Second, we look at the dog. Have they had adequate exercise and play? Dogs with pent up energy are more likely to be a bit more scatterbrained during a training session than those who have had the chance to move their bodies. We also need to ask ourselves if they want to learn at that moment. Dogs have off days, as well, and sometimes our dogs may be overtired, stressed from going to the vet, or just not into learning. We need to take their state of mind into account and choose different activities for those days when our dogs tap out of training.

And finally, we need to look at ourselves. Are we in the right frame of mind for training? Are we calm, patient, and ready to teach? Do we have a plan for how to progress the training? If not, then maybe you take a time out and instead of training, you go for a nice long walk or have a session of play. Training is a two-way street and if both parties are not up for the task, then it will be a lot harder to have an enjoyable session.

Setting your dog up for success is more than just removing distractions. It’s also about taking your learner into account. By keeping things manageable, your dog is able to understand what you are asking of him and training can progress to real-life situations faster.

So next time you are getting ready to do a training session, remember these three things:

  1. Is my environment conducive to learning?
  2. Is my dog ready to learn?
  3. Am I ready to teach?

When you answer all those questions with a “Yes!”, go and have a great time bonding with your dog through training!