Why and how to set up for success
We’ve all heard it – maybe even said it.
“Dogs learn through their mistakes”
With any luck, we all learn from our mistakes! But is it really the best way to learn? Should we embrace errors as an effective form of learning?
In training for performance, there’s no time for that! We have so much to train and so little time! Each repetition that ends in error works against us. Each successful repetition moves us closer to our goal.
If your goal is a straight back up in heel, then having your dog practice it any other way is an ineffective way to reach your goal. You set the dog up in heel, take a step back, and your dog isn’t able to stay straight. Now what? You need to rewind and set your dog up for success!
All too often, we go into a training session not really knowing how we are going to reach our end goal. We may not even have a clear picture of what that end goal is. And that can result in practicing errors.
If your goal is to have your dog respond to your verbal cues – your words – not having a clear understanding of the exact steps you’ll use to teach the verbal cue will be inefficient, more error-prone, and likely confusing to your dog. Errors aren’t limited to our dogs! (Gosh do we know that…)
The time to ask the question, “How will I help my dog be successful at staying straight when I take a step back?”, is before you start the session.
Plan for Success
In planning for success, we want to work to eliminate errors, both on our part and our dogs’. We will not eliminate them all – most of us aren’t that good! (And that’s okay!) My goal though is to get the greatest number of correct responses (small successes!) during the session and to have a strong understanding of any processes or protocols I’ll be using to reach my goal.
Does that mean that experimenting is not a good idea? Or that we should always maintain a strong structure to our sessions? Not at all! Be thoughtful about the goal or outcome you want at the end of your session and create a strategy to minimize errors and maximize clear communication and reinforcement.
Making some simple changes can increase your rate of success, decrease any frustration for you or your dog during a session, and decrease the time it takes to train a behavior.
Before you start your session:
- Have a clear picture of the finished behavior or outcome.
- Have a clear picture of the piece of the behavior or skill you will work on in that session.
- Consider all the possible errors that could occur during your session.
- Plan to minimize errors (and what to do when they occur) and how to increase the likelihood of success.
- Reinforce your successes generously!