Thanks, everyone, for comments and e-mails about yesterday's post.
Some excellent points, to summarize:
A) Dogs do not generalize well; even though they may be brilliant in a familiar environment, that does not automatically extend to different environments. (This is hard for humans to grasp, as we generalize very easily.)
B) Our job as trainers is not only to teach a skill but to show the dog that performance of that skill is expected to be consistent in a variety of environments. In other words, a down signal means the same thing in the back yard, the shopping mall, when someone is petting the dog and in the show ring.
C) Proofing is essential in creating that understanding and confidence so your dog doesn't have a total meltdown in the ring under demanding circumstances.
D) Proof realistically. Don't overwhelm your dog. Build on success. The goal is to equip the dog to make correct decisions, not set him up to fail.
E) For an occasional training challenge, find a totally new environment and have a "run-through" type training session. Don't set up any deliberate proofs beyond simply doing each exercise as it would be performed in a trial. Watch how your dog reacts simply to the stress of working around new sights and smells that aren't interfering with him in any way.
Having said all that, yesterday after work, Phoenix and I went to a friend's building to train. We hadn't been at this building for a long time, nearly 6 months. I wanted to work some specific issues - namely alternating directed retrieves with directed jumping. The building was quiet. No one else was there. I thought it was practically a sterile environment.
And Phoenix made all sorts of crazy, insane errors. Ironically, they weren't what I expected (doing go-outs to glove corners or not doing them at all because of confusion - which happened at Sunday's trial). They were the sort of sloppy errors that happen when his brain is clearly only half focused on the job at hand and half focused on interesting smells on the mats.
It was a great session because it showed the weak spots in our training, which was exactly what I wanted. Then we had time to work on them. I didn't do anything to deliberately try to mess him up. The "new" environment, full of wonderful smells, did a fine job of that.
So I made some timely corrections, insisted he play with me (well, that wasn't too hard) and I came away from the session feeling good about our progress. Phoenix came away from it with a happy attitude in spite of having been corrected (doG, I HATE that word, it sounds so harsh and is so often equated with physical punishment - to me, a correction is showing the dog what he did wrong and how to be right) for a variety of errors, mostly lack of effort on his part. He was also generously rewarded for making the right decisions.
This afternoon, we're going to the local outlet mall to train a bit. It's a wonderful place for spontaneous distractions as people go in and out of stores or walk past with shopping bags and baby strollers.
I look forward to going to the mall because it means SPRING IS HERE (i.e., it's warm enough to train outdoors without fear of frost bite AND they've swept all the salt and sand off the sidewalks.)
At some point, I hope to write more about the train like you show/show like you train conundrum.