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Thread: A Broader Look at Drills

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    Senior Member Evan's Avatar
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    Default A Broader Look at Drills

    A Broader Look at Drills

    By Evan Graham

    In a general sense, most modern training systems and programs rely on drills to form behavioral habits in dogs. There are drills for skill development, and drills to fix, maintain, or at least support field skills. It is my position that drills are not as well understood as one might think.

    In the hope of starting with most of us being on the same page about what drills are in the dog training context, let’s examine what a good definition would be. Such a definition may or may not align well with dictionary, or textbook definitions – at least for our purposes. This is dog training, and we need to think like trainers.

    What is a Drill?

    From Merriam/Webster’s Dictionary

    transitive verb 1 a : to fix something in the mind or habit pattern of by repetitive instruction <drill pupils in spelling> b : to impart or communicate by repetition <impossible to drill the simplest idea into some people> c : to train or exercise in military drill

    It is reasonable to especially apply definitions “a” and “c” together to this discussion, and perhaps form a single definition that we, as trainers, can agree upon, understanding “b” as a good reference to modality. Although we all know that getting a group of trainers to actually agree on something is a tenuous venture, at best! But let’s give it a try.

    From yours truly

    Drill: 1 – instruct by repetition, 2 – strict training and instruction, 3 – term for a type of training exercise containing multiple exposures to a focused theme of training


    I consider #3 as the overall definition I tie most conversations about drills to, with #1 implied at all times, and #2 as a fairly frequent component. Strict, in my view, does not necessarily include significant pressure, but rather refers to tightly upheld standards.

    You may, or may not agree with this definition structure per se, but at least you understand the premise of my remarks on this topic.

    Why drills for dog training?

    Clearly, some trainers use drills because it’s what they were taught to do by someone they respected and/or relied upon. It’s not all bad to do something, or to do it a certain way simply because that’s what we were taught. But that usually has inherent limitations as to how far along someone will progress as a trainer. I understand that no matter who you are, you have to start somewhere, and drills have proven themselves as a good and reliable vehicle for teaching new dogs (and new trainers) how to form behaviors.

    I believe better trainers understand some important things about drills that maximize their usefulness in training. Some of that is realizing that there are inherent downsides in nearly every act we perform in dog training, depending on things like –

    1. Doing a drill or exercise too often
    2. Doing a drill or exercise with too much pressure (especially elective pressure)
    3. Doing a drill or exercise with too little pressure to cause a behavior change (merely nagging)
    4. Using a drill to accomplish what another approach might do better, i.e. a cold set up, or multiple cold set ups
    5. Robotically running a drill again and again, disregarding how a dog is negatively reacting to it, or the manner in which it is being applied

    This list could go on (and I’m sure it will!). But the point is that there is no magic bullet for what is “the best way” to train a dog. But I do strongly believe that, generally speaking, drills come closest to being the best choice of all approaches for skill development, and often for maintenance, with all the above considerations applied, of course.

    Finally, the “why” I believe in most centers around the fact that repetition is a key feature of any effective training exercise. Drills, by their nature, are repetitive. Better yet, they tend to often repeat a concept, rather than continuing to rely merely upon repeating the same retrieve over and over, although some early drills do just that. The important thing to remember about drills is that each has an objective that can be effectively met by even a novice level trainer, as long as they observe some fairly simple guidelines.

    There are potential downsides to nearly everything we do with these dogs. Most of them can be avoided through common sense. Understanding that “common sense” isn’t as common as we might wish, no drill or exercise can overcome human incompetence. Use any technique you like. Using it wisely will tend to produce good results with good dogs.

    Evan
    "Prepare your dog in such a manner that the work he is normally called upon to do under-whelms him, not overwhelms him." ~ Evan Graham

    “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

    ― George Bernard Shaw


    The Smartwork System for Retriever Training (link)
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    Senior Member stonybrook's Avatar
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    This is what this forum needs more of - insightful and useful knowledge and education.

    Thanks, Evan!

    Travis
    "Speed of the captain, speed of the ship."

    Travis Lund
    Stony Brook Kennels
    www.stonybrookkennels.net
    Foley, MN

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    Senior Member Evan's Avatar
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    Thanks, Travis. It should be noted that "drills" come in many sizes and shapes, with a wide variety of mechanics. One type of drill will impact a given dog much differently than another.

    Evan
    "Prepare your dog in such a manner that the work he is normally called upon to do under-whelms him, not overwhelms him." ~ Evan Graham

    “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

    ― George Bernard Shaw


    The Smartwork System for Retriever Training (link)
    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?...59&ref=profile

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    On this theme of drills for training retrievers, I'd like to share an observation, and ask a question.

    The observation is that with more exposure to different training programs, I have noticed there are pretty large variations in how drill-intensive various training programs are. When I began shifting my group training time from training with instructors to day training with pro's running trucks of dogs, I realized that many of the things my instructors had counselled should be taught with drills were approached differently by the pro's with dog trucks. They did a lot fewer drills and more OJT in set-ups in the field. But the dogs all seemed to learn the same skills or at least functionally similar skills. As an amateur, I came to suspect that one reason for the variation is that it is often easier for amateurs to handle teaching a skill by the drill method than the field-OJT method (drills needing less in the way of grounds and helpers) and often easier for the pro with the dog truck to handle teaching a skill by the field-OJT method (field-OJT needing less time spent on each dog for the procedure).

    The question arises from my observation that some dogs seem to thrive on drills and enjoy them, and others do not, even when we are talking the same drill and the same trainer. Evan (and others), do you agree with this observation and if so, what is it that is different about dogs who "don't like drills" ... or do you think the observation is wrong?

    Rig

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    Senior Member RetrieversONLINE's Avatar
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    Evan

    I agree with your synopsis of the potential merits of drills even though I think we both agree there can be pitfalls. You listed a few of them and I also discussed this on RTF in an early post, The Pitfalls of Drills.

    For some time now I have been unhappy with the way that people use the term drill becasue it confounded structured drills with good sound training set-ups that were then also labelled drills. An example is the ABCD marking drill. This has no set pattern and no set way of doing it and no retrieve is repeated. I think it really is an ABCD Marking Exercise. The classic drills such as lining wagon wheel, casting wagon-wheel are legitimately labelled "drill" since they have a structured type of set-up, a procedure for doing and involve lots of repetiton in the lesson. Even a 4 day Tune-up drill can fit this set of characteristics even though almost every one is designed differently depending on the grounds.

    However, I use 3-peat blinds a great deal in training. These might be 3 big realistic field blinds that are only run once but they repeat a concept such as cross-wind, or angle-entry, or over a point. These are not Drills in my mind but field set-ups that simply have a theme. Unfortunately if we accept your definition part 3 they would be labelled as Drills.

    3 – term for a type of training exercise containing multiple exposures to a focused theme of training

    If that's true, then every time we design a field set-up that repeats a concept or employs a theme (MANY of mine do!) then we are doing a drill. I think Drills are far more structured than that and invariably employ a repeating kind of repetiton if you know what I mean!

    So I'm wondering if you have a way to distinguish these exercises and field set-ups perhaps by modifying Definition part 3 or adding something about structure in there. I'm sure if you saw my all-age field set up quads and blinds, you would never label them drills and yet they could fit your definition.

    Cheers
    Last edited by RetrieversONLINE; 06-23-2010 at 02:15 PM. Reason: typos
    Dennis

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    In one of the Lardy's tapes he said some trainers are successful by training with repetition but he doesn't consider them good trainers my take on that is that though repetition you are training them to do a task but not making them understand why they are doing it. I do think drills are a great training aid but if you have to keep repeating it over and over you clearly haven't made the dog understand why hes doing it.
    Last edited by Scott Parker; 06-23-2010 at 12:43 PM.

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    Senior Member RetrieversONLINE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rig View Post
    On this theme of drills for training retrievers, I'd like to share an observation, and ask a question.

    The observation is that with more exposure to different training programs, I have noticed there are pretty large variations in how drill-intensive various training programs are. When I began shifting my group training time from training with instructors to day training with pro's running trucks of dogs, I realized that many of the things my instructors had counselled should be taught with drills were approached differently by the pro's with dog trucks. They did a lot fewer drills and more OJT in set-ups in the field. But the dogs all seemed to learn the same skills or at least functionally similar skills. As an amateur, I came to suspect that one reason for the variation is that it is often easier for amateurs to handle teaching a skill by the drill method than the field-OJT method (drills needing less in the way of grounds and helpers) and often easier for the pro with the dog truck to handle teaching a skill by the field-OJT method (field-OJT needing less time spent on each dog for the procedure).

    The question arises from my observation that some dogs seem to thrive on drills and enjoy them, and others do not, even when we are talking the same drill and the same trainer. Evan (and others), do you agree with this observation and if so, what is it that is different about dogs who "don't like drills" ... or do you think the observation is wrong?

    Rig
    I agree with your observation. I think it identifies that there has been a shift by some away from so many drills. I think several top Professionals and Amateurs have leaned how to do field set-ups that expose a dog to the big world but at the same time they teach concepts through a form of repetition. Thus, we have the ideas of using theming and doing 3-peats. These were not done much 30 years ago! I repeat concepts all the time but rarely do I repeat a particular retrieve back to back anymore. I don't label what I do as Drills.

    This is why I have asked elsewhere in this thread how we can better distinguish Drills and Exercises. It may all be semantics but I think the more we are all on the same page with terms and definitions, the easier it will be for all of us to communicate.
    Dennis

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    Quote Originally Posted by RetrieversONLINE View Post
    I repeat concepts all the time but rarely do I repeat a particular retrieve back to back anymore. I don't label what I do as Drills.

    This is why I have asked elsewhere in this thread how we can better distinguish Drills and Exercises.
    I would not call the things you mentioned, such as 3-peats, ABCD marking, etc., "drills." I am guessing maybe the OP would not either; I say this because he listed among Drill Errors the error of "4. Using a drill to accomplish what another approach might do better, i.e. a cold set up, or multiple cold set ups."

    I don't know what the proper name is for what you describe: "Themed set-ups"? They are somewhat drill-like in objective (accelleration of skill-learning) but not truly drills in design.

    You made an interesting observation about trends, namely, one reason for a shift from drills to field-OJT could be that some trainers are now learning how to design field set-ups and run dogs in ways that can accomplish OJT of specific skills without the drill stage. Are there superiorities to this method? Pro's and con's?

    This raises the related area of "balance" and something that is not often articulated in drill discussions--the need to remain sensitive to keeping a retriever in balance when imparting skills through the intensive medium of drilling. (Is it possible to be "too thorough" in dog training? I think in field work the answer is: sometimes it is.) Often the best--or even only--way to keep the well-drilled retriever in balance is, "Move on to the next drill!" The first-time trainer is often reluctant to abandon the well-mastered and comfortable drill for the inconvenient mysteries of a new drill. It is more difficult to be "too thorough" when imparting skills in field-OJT.

    Then there's "training alone." [Oh wait, I hear there's a DVD out on that now .] Do those who train by themselves make proportionately greater use of drills to get to the same place as those who train with groups? I think they do, for several reasons.

    Rig

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    Senior Member RetrieversONLINE's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rig View Post
    You made an interesting observation about trends, namely, one reason for a shift from drills to field-OJT could be that some trainers are now learning how to design field set-ups and run dogs in ways that can accomplish OJT of specific skills without the drill stage. Are there superiorities to this method? Pro's and con's?

    This raises the related area of "balance" and something that is not often articulated in drill discussions--the need to remain sensitive to keeping a retriever in balance when imparting skills through the intensive medium of drilling. (Is it possible to be "too thorough" in dog training? I think in field work the answer is: sometimes it is.) Often the best--or even only--way to keep the well-drilled retriever in balance is, "Move on to the next drill!" The first-time trainer is often reluctant to abandon the well-mastered and comfortable drill for the inconvenient mysteries of a new drill. It is more difficult to be "too thorough" when imparting skills in field-OJT.

    Then there's "training alone." [Oh wait, I hear there's a DVD out on that now .] Do those who train by themselves make proportionately greater use of drills to get to the same place as those who train with groups? I think they do, for several reasons.

    Rig
    I think there are advantages to the field heavy themed teaching set-ups but I think it can be very difficult for a novice to knowh ow to design them. For the experienced it can be very effective, extremely efficient and perhaps most important more interesting for dog and trainer alike.
    As for Balance, I have written about this so much I feel like a broken record ( a scratched CD?). Every issue of Retrievers ONLINE I somewhere emphasize the important of ABC-Attitude, Balance and Control.

    As for my Training Alone, I do very few drills with my all-age dogs-so few I often make notes to myself to do more!! I suspect though that you are right in that the average group trainer dwells to much on tests, rather than teaching set-ups in the field.

    Cheers
    Dennis

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    Quote Originally Posted by RetrieversONLINE View Post
    I think there are advantages to the field heavy themed teaching set-ups but I think it can be very difficult for a novice to knowh ow to design them.
    Could this be because terrain and its subtlties are such a central part of the learning platform for field OJT, and a peripheral player (when present) in drills. Understanding how terrain affects retriever work is arguably the most advanced area of knowledge in our sport, and taking the longest to master. (I mean, look at all the 8-pt judges who get surprised at the FT/HT at "what their test did to the dogs."...) Not to mention how hard it can be for many trainers to locate and get access to the terrain needed for a particular theme, let alone to put the same theme up in several different places.

    Quote Originally Posted by RetrieversONLINE View Post
    . . . and perhaps most important more interesting for dog and trainer alike.
    Yeah AMEN to that!!!

    Rig

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