Sometimes we hear that someone is a “natural” with a dog. He seems to do everything right so easily. We assume this lucky person understands animals and has been around them a long time. This may be true but most often this “natural” trainer has developed a sense of timing which is another of those intangibles so necessary to good training.
Timing is as hard to explain as it is to understand. It is the art of making a correction and giving praise at exactly the right second. That split second is actually when the thought comes into the dog’s mind and is a split second before his body reacts. It takes a very good and knowledgeable trainer who can read his dog quickly and well to have this perfect timing. Most of us have to settle for second best, if we can’t have perfect timing. If we can’t have perfection, we strive for good timing. Timing is something beginner handlers have difficulty with because they have not yet learned to read their dogs.
Almost anyone can develop good timing by concentrating on the practice sessions. Keep attention riveted on the dog so the voice or leash can prevent a mistake and permit praise. Please don’t interpret this as stringing up the dog on a tight lead. It means watching every movement of the dog on a loose lead and the split second you see him begin to move away from heel position or hesitate before an automatic sit, you can correct and praise simultaneously. Apply this to everything he learns to do.
Sometimes a distraction or reinforcement in that fatal split second is better than a correction. In fact, a reinforcement of the command is a distraction, which is a break in the dog’s train of thought. For example, during a long sit a trainer who is concentrating on his dog may notice a blank look coming into the animal’s eyes and the body begin to relax. This is the time a second command, “stay”, quickly given can bring the dog back to the reality of the movement. Every time you can distract a dog from thinking a mistake, you help him learn.
Good timing is about as hard to learn as riding a bicycle or ice skating. Once you have a firm grip on it you never really lose it. It should become second nature – something you never have to think about. If you drive a car these days and want to stay alive, your eyes, mind and body must function together. If you see an oncoming car way over the yellow line, you can’t wait to think out your move, you do it. That’s timing! If you see your dog begin to get up from a long down and wait until he is in sitting position before you correct, that isn’t.
Timing is hard to develop and it takes concentration and practice. However, when you can distract or correct and praise when the dog is beginning to err, you may suddenly realize you didn’t even think about it. You just did it naturally. That’s timing.
©1981 W.H. Morrison, III