Thinking outside the box is more than just a cliché. In dog training, the phrase “think outside the box” means to see outside of the ordinary or traditional exercises. Thinking outside the box enables a trainer to approach problems in new way. Viewing problems differently and/or understanding a particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before opens up a wealth of ideas and solutions.

Train individual skills before integrating those skills into Exercises
Periodically , we get into what is called ‘the exercise box’. We want to train the exercises that are required when we enter the ring. In obedience that would be things like the Heeling on Leash, Figure-8, Recalls, etc. In Rally, people want to run COURSES rather than work on the various skills needed to perform each sign. In Agility, people also want to run COURSES and/or long sequences rather than working on independent skills such as pinwheels, serpentines, weave poles, etc.

The exercise box creates a dog that:
• May lose drive, attitude, and focus because he is not having fun.
• May become bored because he does the exact same thing over and over again.
• May do a particular skill just fabulous but does not receive any reinforcement until later in the exercise or the end of the exercise.

We’re told to “think outside the box” all the time, but how exactly do we do that in training our dogs?

When making a training plan, think of and list all the individual skills your dog needs to complete a particular exercise. Take  that exercise and break it down into all the tiny pieces that make it up. For example the recall.  Individual skills would include the sit, staying as you walk away, staying as you turn around and stand there, waiting until called, coming immediately when called, the front, and finally the finish.  Teach, perfect, and proof each skill individually. Once a few skills are perfected, start to combine them, two skills at a time.

This method of training has an added benefit. Since the exercise is broken down into tiny pieces, you create a solid foundation for your dog by perfecting each individual skill. Later when showing, problem solving becomes simplified since you have and know all the pertinent skills and foundations.

How do we develop the ability to look at things differently??
Thinking outside the box should start well before we’re “boxed in”. That is, before we confront a unique situation or problem and start forcing it into the familiar “exercise box”.

When a problem arises, take some time to contemplate different solutions to the problem. Make a list of those solutions, other options and ideas. Consider possible effects and outcomes of the various solutions. Never be afraid to try something that appears “off the wall”. After all, you never know until you try!

Make an effort to push your thinking up to and beyond its limits. The talents you develop now will come in handy the next time you face a situation that “nobody knows” how to solve.

TRY TO STAY OUT OF THE EXERCISE BOX and have fun teaching skills/tricks, mixing things up, and keeping your dog constantly thinking about what will happen next.

Website Article: for additional information please see:
“Difference between a skill and an exercise”