So you’ve worked hard and … you now have a Level 1 pass under your belt. Congratulations! In our opinion, you’ve now got a great range of foundation skills that will serve you well going forward.
So … what about those Plus levels?
The Plus levels are designed to introduce you to the idea of generalizing your skills because the reality is, excellent training is much more than skills; it also includes reducing reinforcement, behavior chains and … new locations! So let’s talk about that last one.
The Plus levels are identical to the regular levels, except they take place in a new location.
How hard can that be?
Well, depending on your dog, it can be quite difficult indeed. It is fairly common for dogs to be either very excited, very curious, or very nervous when they go into a new environment. So the first thing to remember when you are preparing for your Plus levels is that your dog’s emotional state needs to be correct for work before you can get much done.
Is your dog excited? What can you do to calm him down? How about acclimation? That just means walking around an area until your dog is bored with the whole thing. And when he’s well and truly bored? Now you can bring out your cookies and train some 3-second behaviors. A 3-second behavior is anything that can be completed in 3 seconds, and the dog earns a cookie! Forget about practicing full TEAM1 behaviors! This isn’t about practicing TEAM. Remember, you already have a TEAM1 title. Your dog knows the skills. It’s about getting the skills in a new environment, and that is something you want to train for specifically.
Is your dog curious? What can you do to reduce his curiosity? How about acclimation? Wait a second! Didn’t we just talk about that above? Yes, because it’s the same thing. Curiosity is handled the same way as excitement; we try to reduce it through acclimation first, and then we move on to our 3-second behaviors.
And what if your dog is nervous? Okay, by now I’m starting to sound like a broken record but … ask yourself if you properly acclimated your dog. Did you let your dog look around? Take several moments to see where he’s at? Sniff the grass? Look at the things in the environment? If not, start there.
So, you looked at these issues of acclamation, and it’s not working for your dog. Your excited dog is getting more excited! You’re curious dog is getting more curious! And your nervous dog is having a meltdown. Now what?
The first thing to do is ask yourself if you’ve selected an appropriate environment. There’s a big difference between your living room and the dog park. Can you find something that’s a little more suitable, some middle ground? For example, how about your backyard? Before you try to work your dog in a truly public space, most dogs benefit from a quiet, and maybe even modestly familiar, new area.
TEAM is designed to be a gradual program of excellent training. You do not have to go from your living room to the dog show; investigate some of the steps in between!
It’s also worth considering your long-term goals. If your long-term goals involve dog shows where there will be lots of activity and other dogs, I would strongly suggest that you work hard on generalization. Don’t do your TEAM1 Plus title in another room in your own house! While technically correct, that doesn’t make sense if you really want to compete with your dog because you are not truly preparing. Plus, you will find that when you get to Levels 2 and 3, inside of your own house becomes close to impossible because of the space requirements. Consider the spirit of the Plus levels: to get you out and about with your dog, and to introduce you to the challenges of working in new spaces. It’s good for you!
Yes, it can be hard, and sometimes your dog’s behavior will make you want to pull your hair out. But it’s also a part of good training: working to get your dog’s arousal level to the correct point, so that you can perform in a wide variety of environments.
But how about if your long-term goals are more modest? How about if you have no plans whatsoever to do in-person competitions? How about if your dog’s temperament is such that it is unkind to ask your dog to go to a variety of new places, due to a basic nervous or anxious temperament?
Then it’s totally okay to use other rooms in your house, or your own backyard, or a training center that you visit frequently so that your dog can adapt, and then perform your work there.
Just remember, learning to generalize your dog’s behavior to new environments is fundamental to excellent training, and that’s why we require it! At the same time, the TEAM program has been designed to work for you. Figure out what your goals are, take a hard look at your dog, and proceed as it makes the most sense.