There are several models and frameworks for writing a training plan. Where some are very extensive and complex, it can also be preferable to have a simple model. Mostly you have to deviate from your original plan, continuously adjusting your plan according to how your training develops. In this snippet are some tips & tricks about writing a training plan with some example files.

Why map the behavior in a training plan?

A well-thought training plan gives you a clear idea of your goals. It also avoids training yourself into a corner or a dead end. The training document acts as a base document. This will set the animal and you up for success. It also provides you focus, it is easy to get distracted and sidetracked. If you need or want a specific behavior, you have to be constantly aware of your final goal. But, you have to flexible as well. A training plan is only a guide: training is a dynamic process that requires you to respond to your animal's needs. Revisit your training plan often and change it when needed.

Steps to writing your training plan

Your training plan is actually a pre-training plan. You make a plan before you start with the training. Within a training plan are some key features you want to include. You can use these steps to define the desired behavior the animal will do and how to achieve this final behavior.

1. Start with some general information

  • Which animal are you going to train?
  • Who is the primary trainer of this animal? Is there a secondary trainer?
  • When have you planned to do the training session(s)?

2. Define the behavior you want to learn the animal

  • What does the behavior look like?
  • Describe the behavior without saying what the behavior is not (stop doing X, stop X-ing).
  • Don't use labels in this list when describing behavior.

3. Formulate short-term and long-term goals

  • What do you want to achieve in the short-term?
  • What do you want to achieve on the long-term?

4. Make a shaping plan on how to get to the final behavior

  • Formulate the closest behavior the animal already does at the top
  • Formulate the final behavior at the bottom
  • Fill in the gaps with small behavior increments required to get to the final behavior, sometimes it is easier to map out the steps in reverse.

5. Create a supportive environment

  • What can you change in the environment to make the behavior easier to do?
  • What cues will you use for the behavior?

6. Identify the reinforcers for teaching this behavior

  • Which reinforcement schedule do you plan to use
  • What kind of reinforcers do you plan to use

Example training plan

Training log - Record keeping

A training plan is like a road map on how to get to that final behavior. Often you have to choose another road to get to your destination because of certain challenges you did not foresee. During your training, you will probably have to change the training plan multiple times. You would be good to log your training progression. Documentation can be done in many ways, like written logs, video recording or digital tracking documentation on computers. Key parameters to log are date/time, who trained, location, step in training plan, behavioral rating and comments. Logging your training provides a means to examine your progress and adjust your training strategies when necessary. It is also useful for sharing training information among other animal trainers.

Example training log

Maintenance training plan

When the desired behavior is learned by an animal you need to formulate a maintenance strategy. How will the behavior be maintained by the animal? Different reinforcers, reinforcer schedule and session frequencies can be chosen. It is wise to formulate a training plan specific for maintaining behaviors.

Example maintenance training plan

For more information about Animal Training see other snippets.

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