Training has been a real pain in the butt this week. We're living in one of the outer rings of Hell. I've been getting up at 5:30 a.m. to train and it's already 80 degrees with dew points that are higher than coastal Louisiana. By the time I get home from work in the afternoon, the heat index is about 110 degrees and it stays that way until well after sundown — forget doing anything outdoors. It's just plain miserable. Needless to say, we're not training a lot, just trying to work through a few things each session and calling it good.
In weather like this, it's easier to write about training than it is to train. So here you go.
When the treats and toys disappear in training, sooner or later your dog will make a mistake (usually a lack of effort error, since he’s not getting what he perceives to be any reinforcement). If you want him to understand that he has to do his job no matter what, you’ll need to make a correction.
Of course, no one WANTS to correct their dog. We would all prefer our dogs never make a mistake! Any of us who started training during the jerk and yank era probably have some pretty negative associations with corrections. It’s no wonder people start freaking out when they worry they'll have to “correct” their dog.
If you keep motivators like treats and toys present when you train, dogs are much less likely to make a mistake and handlers are much less likely to have to deal with it and everyone is happy. A side effect of too many cookies in training is a sense of false security that my dog really understands what I want him to do. Then we go in the ring and I can’t deliver on any of those “Do this and you’ll get a cookie” promises I've been making. And the wheels fall off. Or, as a friend said, "It was a dumpster fire."
When I took the food and toys out of the picture, Phoenix was confused. He was also pretty honked off. Some of his errors were from confusion but many were from lack of effort. So the corrections I give are a teaching tool to make performance expectations clear.
Your dog wants to know what you expect from him. When the cookies disappear, he may ask questions like, "What are you going to do if I don't retrieve?" or "What are you going to do if I do signals really slowly?" Any time your gives you a less than desirable response on an exercise he was sharp at before the cookies disappeared, he is asking a question. "Is this what you want?" "What if I do it this way?" Corrections will help him figure out that you still want the same thing you did when cookies were present.
What IS a correction?
• A correction is information that shows the dog what you want him to do.
• A correction should not hurt, frighten or demoralize a dog.
• A correction should communicate the idea “That was wrong, here’s how to be right.” Period. No huge emotional meltdown for either party.
• A correction only needs to be strong enough to get your point across; if it doesn’t make an impression, you’re just nagging your dog and that’s not going to fix anything.
• A correction addresses the problem at the point where the error occurred (for example: at the point of pickup on a retrieve or during a slow response to signals)
• It is better to make 1 effective correction than 6 naggy ones.
What is NOT a correction?
• Giving a second command - this only tells the dog not to worry about not doing it the first time because you’ll tell him again.
• Starting over - this doesn’t tell the dog what he did wrong, just that it didn’t really matter what he did because you’ll give him another chance.
• Motion by the handler in order to cause the correct response by the dog (like backing up and cheering to keep a dog from walking in or stepping forward when the dog hesitates to pick up a glove).
• Verbal rescues - similar to second commands but easily become a habit which ensures the dog never actually makes a mistake because you are constantly rescuing him before he gets to the point of error.
• Maybe the most important - A CORRECTION IS NOT PUNISHMENT! IT IS INFORMATION!
Stay tuned - there's more to come. I'll try to cover the basic corrections I am using, plus some I used that didn't work.