OODA Cycle

OODA Cycle (The Art of Good Timing)

Timing is everything.  We’ve heard it a thousand times.  Common sense tells us that good timing is crucial when delivering praise, correction, and reward, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.  Is there a way for trainers and our clients to cultivate a knack for good timing?  The answer is, Yes!!

At our canine training academy, we teach our students how to get a ‘feel’ for good timing by utilizing the model of Boyd’s Loop, a four-sided, decision-making strategy that includes Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action.  We call it the OODA Cycle.  The OODA cycle, with its distinct elements, goes far in helping our students learn how to gain and maintain control of any training situation.

While we can apply the principles of the OODA cycle to every area of training, for this discussion we will use it to help teach our dog “Jake” the Sit/Stay.  By learning the OODA cycle, you can break down your training and instruction to students into a step-by-step approach, which will quickly help you develop the skill of good timing.

Let’s get started by placing our dog, Jake, into the sitting position.  The instant Jake is seated; we enter the Observation phase of the OODA cycle.  We must observe Jake’s behavior closely in order to recognize any signs that he is thinking of breaking his sit, (fidgeting, fixing his gaze on some distraction, wiggling his rump, etc).   We must also become aware of our surroundings so we can spot any distractions which might influence Jake’s behavior (such as someone moving nearby, a squirrel, the grass growing). You get the picture.

Because Jake is new to all of this, we will only keep him in the sitting position for a short time and will be careful to end the exercise on our terms.  It is up to us to make sure he remains in a sit until he is released.
Since Jake will become antsy with very little provocation, we quickly move to the Orientation phase.  It is in this phase, that we will orient our own body’s position so we can quickly deal with any attempt Jake makes to break his sit.  Jake should be well within arms reach, and we should have our leash efficiently placed in our hand so we don’t waste time grabbing for it.

While we are Orienting ourselves into position, we must mentally establish a plan to maintain Jake’s Sit/Stay when (not ‘if’) he tries to get up. This is the Decision phase.  This phase dictates that we must create a plan of action for what we will do when Jake makes a mistake.  We must have our plan clear in our mind – before Jake attempts to break.  Our mental plan might include bringing the lead up short, placing our free hand on Jake’s wayward rump to keep it from completely leaving the ground, and having the word “Stay” ready to roll off our tongue.

As expected, Jake makes a split-second move to break his sit.   Since we have already Observed, Oriented, and Decided, we can immediately Act on our plan – even before Jake can completely abandon his Sit/Stay.  Because we were ready, we could stay ahead of Jake’s thoughts, and therefore maintain control of the situation. Once we have reached the point of action, we arrive back at the beginning of the cycle and are now ready to re-observe.

Observation is the most important element.  This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but here is something to think about: When it comes to Observing, even though you can be sure of what you have seen, you cannot be sure of what you failed to see. Failing to see something that could affect your training situation can cost you when making split-second decisions. Remain highly aware of everything about the dog’s behavior and what external stimuli may possibly affect that behavior.

You must position yourself appropriately to be ready to handle your dog’s behavior as he reacts to surrounding stimuli in any given situation. Orienting yourself appropriately requires you to evaluate your surroundings and determine a plan of action.

You must create a mental plan (decision) for what you will do when your dog does anything other than what you intended. Your inability to evaluate your surroundings during the orientation phase can lead to a no-decision situation.  This is what we affectionately call the third “O” of the OODA cycle:   “Oh….. Shucks!”  Make sure that you have a clear mental plan of what you intend to do prior to the instant you actually need to do it.

It is here that your plan becomes split-second action.  You have observed what was going on around you, oriented yourself to be ready to handle the situation, decided ahead of time on a plan of action for when things went wrong, and now you act.  Before Jake can even get his rear an inch off the ground, you have already worked your plan, issued your command, his rump is firmly back in place.
You have now arrived back at the beginning of the cycle and are ready to re-observe.

It is important to realize that dogs go through their own OODA cycle.  They too, Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.  To a dog, everything is a contest. Not necessarily a contest of wills, but a contest of speed.
For example, if we are teaching Jake to sit, and Jake spots something distracting – but you did not – Jake will not only observe it, he will orient himself towards it, make an almost instantaneous decision, and act on it. This could happen in less than a second.  If you missed whatever it was that influenced Jake, you will suddenly be forced to react to Jake’s response.  A reaction on our part takes much more time than does action on Jakes part. This delayed response will put you a step behind, put Jake a step ahead, and the instant of good-timing is lost.

One common mistake handlers make in good-timing department is developing tunnel vision when working with their dog.  This happens when we fix our attention on just one small area of focus (i.e. the dog alone –excluding the distractions around you; these distractions alone – excluding the dog’s reactions; your own thoughts whirling in your head – tuning out other influences, etc).  By focusing too intently on just one thing, our vision can become much like the zoom-in feature on a video camera.  We can see what we are looking at, but lose focus on other significant pieces of information that might well be important for us to know.  For example: You may have your eyes fixed on Jake, but failed to notice that someone nearby is just pulled a ball out of their pocket, or another dog showed up, etc.  Just because you did not see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and that it didn’t influence the dog’s behavior.

In light of this, Observation is your highest priority, because whoever observes first has an immediate advantage.  Keep your eyes open and stay aware of everything that is going on around you both.

A final thought:
Even though both dog and handler revolve through the OODA cycle, they do NOT go through it at the same rate of speed.  Whoever advances through the cycle the fastest is usually the ‘winner’.  On the other hand, the one who moves more slowly will usually be overcome by the events, and will be unable to maintain control of the exchange.

Applying the steps of the OODA Cycle to all your training exercises will definitely improve your timing skills, which will make learning much easier for both your client and the dog.  The timing is perfect to learn a better way to train!

Copyright © 2006 Behesha (Grist) Doan EXTREME K-9 Training Academy
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