Monday, February 29, 2016

Increasing Difficulty and Handling Mistakes

When training your dog, you want to vary the challenges you give her. Sometimes, it will be hard and sometimes it will be easy. And sometimes, you'll hit that sweet spot where it's hard enough for the dog to feel challenged and easy enough for the dog to win, over and over again.  Challenge and mistakes are a natural part of training, especially once you get into the more advanced stages of your training. When laying down foundations, you want the learning to be as errorless as possible.

I started the training session by combining two well-known behaviors in a training session, matwork and platformwork. I expected her to make a few mistakes, but she did it perfectly from the get-go, even with the cookies on the floor. She didn't even look at the cookies on the floor. I finished this set (I train so that the short sets contain only a few reps) and continued with the session. Some sets were easier than this one and some were much harder. And it's okay if the dog makes some mistakes on the harder ones. It just all depends on how the mistakes are handled and what the team learns from them.

Here are some of the mistakes Pip made in this session. I picked out the two reps that I think show some good ways to teach your dog about how the team will handle mistakes. In the first rep, I show Pip she's allowed to take alternative routes if the temptation is too great. She follows my direction and hops onto the mat when asked. After she finished that, I asked her to hop onto the platform. It is obviously hard for her to make that choice, but in the end, she made it and didn't need to take the alternative route. I reward her not just with treats, but with a couple easy reps.

After a few easy sets, I ask for another which is too difficult for her. I try to make it easy by calling her away from the food, but the temptation is too great and she runs over and starts eating the food on the floor. I don't chase her or move her or rush her. Instead, I hurry to save the rest of the treats and then I put away the props so that it's very obvious that the consequence for deciding "Well, now it's too hard, I'll just do what I want" is that the training session ends. You can see how she begs to try again. When I set up the props, she tries them both in turn.

However, this time, notice that I make it only slightly easier for her because I understand I pushed her way too hard in that rep and I knew I did (bad trainer). I didn't want to make it too easy (which would teach her that if she doesn't feel like doing something, she should mess up and then I'll make it easy for her) so I put the treats not between the two props but alongside the path she would take. On the way to the mat, she slows down for a second to look at the treats. She knows it's too tempting when I ask her to go to the platform, so notice that she makes a slight arc away from the treats (perfectly OK) and makes it to the platform. I end the set and the session there.

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