What IF?

What IF in a training session my dog doesn’t respond or do a skill properly?

If my dog doesn’t respond or give effort, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Do I need to help my dog with this skill? If yes, then Level 1 “teaching” was not complete. This means that my dog really doesn’t understand the skill nor how to do the skill to my criteria. BUT BEWARE of staying at this level too long. If you stay at this Level too long, your “teaching” level will become how your dog thinks the skill is to be performed. That is how you are teaching the skill (using a lure, showing your dog the food/toy, etc.) quickly becomes the “habit” and in your dog’s mind, the finished skill.
  • Does my dog really know the skill? If I feel that my dog knows this skill, then I need to ask myself if I am helping my dog too much, i.e. saying “hurry” on the outside post or a figure 8, or giving more than one command for a contact behavior, or saying “watch me” when my dog looks away, etc. If I feel my dog knows a skill, then I need to add consequences so that my dog will know he is wrong.
  • Is my dog performing the skill to my criteria 80% of the time? When my dog is performing the skill to my criteria 80% of the time, I start to polish and proof the skill. This teaches my dog how to successfully do the skill under all circumstances and in all environments. Beware that too much precision and not enough spontaneous games or rewards, diminishes my dog’s desire!

Here are a few examples:

  • Heeling is a very skill intense exercise. Anytime I see a hole while heeling, say my dog lags on an about turn, I review the above set of levels. Then, I remove the piece (i.e. the about turn) from my heel training, and work on what level applies to that piece. Only once the skill, the about turn, is perfected, will I add it back into my heel training.
  • Contact performance is a skill that is very hard to maintain through the career of the dog. If at any time my dog does not perform the bottom contact behavior to my criteria, I review the levels of training. I will break down the skill going back to the foundations that were used to teach my dog and build the behavior I desire using these steps.
  • NOTE: One of the areas where trainers seem to fail, is being able to shift responsibility to their dogs. OR going to Level 2. When their dog falters, they tend to “help” their dog, such as giving extra commands, instead of applying consequences. Oftentimes, this leads to what I call a “helpless” dog. This is a dog that is used to getting help and stops responding to commands, because the dog knows their handler will help. As a result, the dog no longer knows how to respond without the help. :<(

Learning to be aware of what level of training your dog is at on a particular skill will enable you to respond appropriately regardless of any mistakes your dog makes while training.

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