I was training with my agility coach the other day and my dog Rayya informed us she needed a break. She had just run a fast sequence and as she was being set up to run another one she went and sniffed the nearby fence. Megan (my coach) said “well, she’s the CEO” and we took Rayya on a potty walk. Sure enough, Rayya knew she needed a trip out of the arena to relieve herself. She returned strong and ran one of her most complex sequences to date with speed and enthusiasm. Honoring her request for a break is a hard rule for me (for all of my dogs) and this is a prime example of that working out really well for me. I have a lot of these rules, and they swing easily between my dogs in training (Felix my seven year old border collie and Rayya my two year old Icelandic Sheepdog could not be more different) as long as I am paying attention. So, I give you the guide to honoring your dog’s CEO status in training:
Rule One: You Get One Pitch
When you go out to train your dog you are making your pitch to the CEO. You better have a good idea, because they have a hundred other good ideas coming at them (like that bird flying overhead, the family of rabbits in the nearby brush, the other dogs in class, and the scents in the pile of leaves to name a few). This is not my way of telling you to be more interesting than dirt; you never will be. But if you’re as clear and as reinforcing as dirt you do have a chance. You can’t waste your pitch flubbing with your string cheese you did not open and cut before this session, looking for that target you wanted to use, or setting up your tripod. That all needs to be done ahead of time; a CEO is not going to wait while you build the powerpoint; she is ready to hear your pitch now and the clock is ticking. So have your setup prepared, your reinforcers ready, and your plan thought-out before you ever call the CEO into the room.
Rule Two: CEO is a Well-Paid Position
Y’all, the CEO doesn’t work for free. She is paid and she is paid well. If you want her to engage in a project, the payment needs to match the level of the project. For Rayya, sequencing agility requires a high dollar payout (miniature latex squeaky pigs, in case you wondered) and if she doesn’t think the payment matches the request, she will move on to one of those other projects that is calling her name (like the red tail hawk in the sky). Felix would sequence for free, so adding high-stakes reinforcement to that project is not my best move. If he starts thinking about the money on such a low effort project, he will make sloppy errors. The CEO sets the paycheck, and deserves an appropriate ratio of reward for their efforts. They will tell you with their behavior if the payment you have decided is inappropriate, all you need to do is listen.
Rule Three: Paid Time Off is Included
Some CEOs will let you know when they need a break and others won’t. Both are owed paid time off. Paid time off might be a break on a cot in the shade with water, it might be a lap in the adjacent field with a ball in their mouth. Beach vacations serve some while others need to climb Machu Picchu to recharge. A CEO gets to take the vacation she wants. During training session your dog needs frequent breaks to rest their bodies and minds. Both the dogs that will ask loud and clear and the dogs that will never ask for a break should be told to take a break before they need one. That looks like doing four reps only of something and then stationing the dog on a nearby cot, or putting them on a down stay. While your dog is the CEO, you are the COO and you need to make calls on the work. You know a CEO can only do so much well. Perhaps less discussed is the time off from sports in general that the CEO is owed. If you do not book solid downtime into your annual schedule you are not taking care of your CEO. She gets a lunch break AND paid vacation. She is the boss, after all.
So the next time you set out to train, remember that you have one pitch, you better pay well, and plan for breaks. You will be more successful no matter the type of dog you are working, and regardless of the work you are doing.