Good Trainer Habits

How do you become a better animal trainer?

Here’s four quick tips (discussed in more detail here):

  • learn from many teachers
  • learn from many individual animals
  • learn from several animal species
  • keep an open mind

Another useful approach is to acquire overall good trainer habits. And in the video below (chapter 12 from the final module of my online course Advanced Animal Training) I discuss what I think are 30 such useful trainer habits.

Not that the concepts are that terribly advanced, frankly – most of them are very useful to beginner trainers too!

When I first started planning this lesson I was originally thinking of discussing common trainer mistakes, but that would end up being a long list of don’t do this, and don’t do that.

So, rather than bring your attention to undesired behaviour I’ll introduce some useful trainer habits, and explain why I think they’re valuable.

The do’s rather than the don’ts.

I realize I need to temper the statement that “the animal is always learning”. Strictly speaking, that’s not true – learning is not going on 24/7 all throughout the animal’s life. However, I think it’s a useful mindset to have, and to behave as if each moment is a potential learning moment.

I published and discussed each and every one of these habits on my Facebook page – head on over there to check them out in more detail, and follow the individual discussions!

Also, which useful habits have you acquired (and there are bound to be many that I’ve overlooked!) that’s helped you become a better animal trainer? Please let us know in the comment’s section!

Several of my students asked for posters illustrating the different habits, so I prepared a pdf with all of them. Interested in a copy? Just click here.

Of course, acquiring good habits is not all there is to becoming a great animal trainer, but it’s a start.

And as Zig Zigler once said: you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.


Interested in learning more? Check out the available courses, or grab a copy of the free e-book covering some of the things I wish I had known when I first started training animals.

8 Replies to “Good Trainer Habits”

  1. Hi Karolina, I rewatch these sometimes, always good reminders! I have a question or maybe comment on ‘Focus on movement first’.
    With horses all R+ trainers I have studied with start off with teaching a calm, non SEEKING, standing still behaviour first. They have various names for the same basic behaviour: Standing Still Facing Forward, Calm Default Stationing, ‘Grownups are Talking’ (this last one is from Alexandra Kurland). The reasoning (which I agree with) being that a horse is big and powerful and even a little bit of trial and error mugging of the human and her treat pouch can become dangerous. Second reason being that when there is misunderstanding the horse will most likely revert to this very safe behaviour that has the biggest reinforcement history.
    So we first teach the horse to take food from the hand that comes to its muzzle, not to follow the hand but wait for the next pellet to magically arrive while they stay still. As I understand it the current thinking is that it is most error less to shape this from continuous feeding (ex. one hand refilling the other so the horse can keep eating, or simply eating from a feed pan) and gradually inserting milliseconds to eventually whole seconds of mini breaks without new food. Or if a start is made with marker + food, then it is done with protected contact so moving towards the trainer / treat pouch is not an option.
    Of course the individual horse is taken into account, a too enthusiastic horse needs a strong foundation of this first (so that whenever he is in doubt he can fall back on this highly reinforced ‘calm waiting’ behaviour). With a shut down horse (we might actually be happy if she started to mug us a little) we would quickly go to target training and not spend a long time on reinforcing standing still initially, but we still might need to teach it again later on.
    What are your thoughts on this? I will be starting R+ with a green horse coming winter, so am interested in all sides of the argument.

    1. Oh, such an interesting comment, thanks for bringing this up, Nathalie! I would think that horses would perhaps be the exception, then. Horses and other animals where “standing still” carries immense value. 🙂

  2. The Never Wrong, Sometimes More Right skill/method is really helpful for motivation. So many times people shut their animals down and blame it on the animal. You see it in agility where the dog does zoomies, runs slow, and goes around stuff. The signs of stress are all there, but the human doesn’t acknowledge them, or rather makes an assumption. The NWSMR “protocol” helps give the animal hope.

    Short sessions!

  3. Hi there I have been doing BAT with Hannah and it is amazing how well and the changes are slowly coming. Her focus is now her nose she didnt learn any as a pup no matter what i did she was always in reactivity mode and didnt know how to sniff she was to focused looking for other dogs or cars to react to! Instead of going off the deep end underneath it all is a terrified little girl! You will think im crazy but one night she gave me a vision of her terror as a pup and all her behaviour started to make horrific sense as to why she was the way she was. She has learnt to trust and we are enrolled in a nose course in feb. I still do use an ecollar just for safety because you will get dragged if she redlines but she has learnt other behaviours and coping skills so now it is 99% positive. I will keep you informed of how its going! Also Growing up I know exactly what she is going through as i was exactly the same with my own fear and aggression and rage issues but i had to learn a whole new foundation myself as it would take three cops to haul me off somebody when i was redlined so believe me she is with the right person! Thanks for all the help i couldnt have done it without your help! Sincerely Janet Coy

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