Splitting vs Lumping (behaviors that is)


“Training is Simple, but not Easy” Bob Bailey

Our dogs are generally eager to learn, happy to participate and do want to do the right thing! It’s up to us to make it clear what we’re asking, and what we expect of them so they are clear on what gets them the reward. Splitting vs lumpingrefers to how we train the behaviors we’re asking our dogs to learn and perform, and how we can make our training as clear and efficient as possible to reduce their frustration and confusion (which often is the cause of them 'not listening')

Ideally we split the behavior into the smallest components possible to be taught separately, then put together later.

If you think about it, simple behaviors can actually be quite complex. For a dog to really learn and understand something, it’s best if we split it down into the smallest possible pieces, and teach each piece separately. Then put them together bit by bit. In the long run this is actually a much faster way of training. Our dogs not only have a better understanding, but also have a better foundation to fall back on. If we lump training behaviors all together, important parts might get glossed over along the way, not understood, or it may be just flat out too much to try to learn at once.


Can you rub your belly? Pat your head? While hopping on one foot and reciting Shakespeare? Maybe...but it’d be a heck of a lot easier if you mastered each piece first before putting it together. Marching band members don’t learn how to march on formation together while also learning a new piece of music. One thing at a time! 

What does a stay require? Your dog needs to know how to hold still - easy, ya? But there are a few things we can break down to make the concept more clear to our dogs. First, does the dog know a sit or down position? Can they stay still in that position *without* you moving? If not...that’s where we start. Once the idea of holding still (perhaps just between treats coming every few seconds) then we can work on 3 D’s - Distance, Duration and Distraction. If your dog can’t stay for 10 seconds, but it you try to walk 20ft away, which takes you 20 seconds to do - well then you’ve just lumped together learning more duration and more distance at once. For new distractions, stay close and keep it short so they’re successful and working just on the concept of staying during the distraction.

Loose leash walking requires that your dog understands focus on you, focus on you while moving, what leash pressure means if they pull (to give to the pressure), a general heel position (not weaving and tripping you), to not dart after the cat crossing the street, moving with you if you change direction or speed, maybe even stopping and sitting at an intersection, omph that’s a lot for your dog to keep in mind for just a simple walk. 

So next time your dog isn’t learning something quite as fast as you’d like - think about how clear things are to them. Could you split down the task into smaller behaviors to work on separately? Are they worried or distracted by something, while also trying to learn something new? Those are two very things to work on. Maybe focus on just attention, engagement and having fun playing before training any skills.

I'd love to hear your examples of how you've split behaviors into smaller pieces for training, or ideas on how you're going to try in the future!