Friday, February 19, 2016

How Long?

"How long did it take you to train him?"

That's a question I hear quite often as Mystic and I do our education programs and he shows off the tricks and manners that he knows.  And it's a question that I'm never really sure how to answer because it's a question that has many answers.

Mystic knows a lot of behaviors.  He started learning stuff at the age of 9 weeks when he first came to me.  But I didn't barrage him with learning new things all at once; a lot of the things Mystic knows were introduced over a period of several years.  As a matter of fact I still sometimes teach him new things.  So does that question mean all the behaviors he knows?  If so the answer is 11 years (his age), although that might make him sound as though he isn't very bright, and Mystic is very smart. 

Mystic learns quickly, but like any individual he picks up on some things faster than others.  His "wave" trick was extremely easy for him to learn because he tends to use his paws a lot.  "Say Your Prayers" on the other hand took many, many sessions of training.  So I could ask the person which trick or behavior they are asking about.

Another aspect to training is the different stages an animal goes through.  There's the initial teaching of what it is the trainer wants the animal to do, the training the animal to do it on cue, and then there's training the animal to do it in a variety of situations with a variety of distractions.  So does the question refer to learning the initial behavior, or getting Mystic to do it reliably no matter when I asked him to do it?

But what most people think is that training an animal is like putting siding on the house.  Once the siding is up it's pretty much maintenance free, and they think that once an animal is trained he's trained.  But training is actually more like learning a sport or musical instrument.  There's learning the skill, perfecting the skill, and keeping up on the skill.

Professional football players don't come back from their time off and play their first NFL game without practicing.  Skills get rusty over time if they aren't practiced and it doesn't matter if you're a human or an animal.

So Mystic might know a lot of stuff, but if I don't practice his skills he will noticeably deteriorate in his performance.  So doing training sessions to practice things he already knows helps keep his skills sharp.

So I guess the answer is still 11 years. 

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