Just ONE more time….

How many times have you been in a situation where things are just not going well? You keep telling your dog (or yourself), “Just do it right ONE time and we will quit!”. Things keep spiraling downwards and you finally decide to make the request easier for your dog to be successful.

Lets look at an example – your goal for the day was to build on the training from the day before and increase the number of steps of attention heeling. The training location did not change and there was no significant change in the level of distractions or your handling (dog has been off a visible lure for some time, but is still heavily rewarded during sessions).

After a few good reps, however, your dog regresses. All of a sudden they can not even heel a few steps without breaking their attention. After several failed attempts, you take a cookie out of your pocket and go back to a visible lure to get the attention you want. But did you really? Unfortunately, you don’t have attention, you have a bribe. Your dog is no longer heeling for you, he is heeling for his cookie.

So let’s look at what you have just taught your dog…you have taught him less effort equals my making the job easier. I am not saying you should not help your dog get the behavior correct. But what I am saying, is to work harder on motivating and reinforcing your dog for effort.

Ten years ago when I started training, I’m sure I pulled out a cookie…or I over-corrected and killed my dog’s motivation. So what would I do differently now? I would put my hands in my dog’s buckle collar, hold his head in position and require that he heel in the manner in which I taught him. After I got a few steps of good attention, he would be released with a motivational pop to a toy or cookie (which had not been visible previously). I would play for 5-10 seconds and immediately ask my dog to heel again. But now, I am going to ask for A LOT more effort. With Gunner this means a very strong hand push during heeling, which requires him to drive with his rear and elevate in the front. On the next rep, I will go back to formal heeling, and see if he gets me the level of attention and drive I want. If he does, he is released and we play a rousing game of tug or chase the cookie.

How you handle errors is a personal decision. Some people put their dog back in the crate if the dog does not want to work. Some people will attempt to work through the problem. I will occasionally put a dog away, but it depends on the type of error and why the error is happening. Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury at a trial to tell the judge “Sorry, but can I give my dog a 10 minute time out before I come into the ring?”, so I will often deal with a lack of effort error immediately during training. But, if you ever start to feel yourself getting frustrated and you notice that you are beginning to deal with your dog differently, than just put him away. I would rather cut a training session short, than cause myself another problem to deal with later.

But, always, always, always keep the desired criteria in mind. For example, if one of your criterion is 100% focused attention in heel position, require it (and reinforce it!) EVERY time you train your dog. If you start to layer in proofing, than maintain your criteria, but shorten the duration. If your dog is having a problem, work through it, but reinforce (not bribe) effort from your dog. And always remember, they are dogs. Just like us, they have bad days or days they just don’t feel like working. Hopefully these don’t fall on the day of the big show, but by working through problems in practice, you will lessen the likelihood of them occurring later…or, if they do happen, you will be more equipped with how to handle them.

Train hard. Play harder.

2 thoughts on “Just ONE more time….

  1. Susan C.

    Thank you, Shannon! Wonderful post. I always wanted to know how to deal with problems in training – do I quit (and go to another exercise), bribe, or find a way to make them do it and be successful.


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