Time to bust some myths on dog training! I was reminded of that thanks to my long-distance classes: in each and every one of those, I realized how omni-present two "general truths" are: 1) end a training on a good note and 2) if the dog gets scared, take him back to that situation immediately to show him it's o.k....
Of course, that's what I was told too 🙂 But it's just very hard to make me believe... It's in my nature, it's there since ever, I was always a nightmare kid who questioned everything if not well argumented. Authority of the argument has always been the only authority I could stand: and anything that smells like argument of authority or "general truth", gets my head beeping in read signs, saying "alert, alert, alert". I guess that's what led me to study something as little dog-related as philosophy is. But I would choose the same again. Because after all, thinking and understanding is the most important part of dog training.
And the more I think why somebody would think you need to end a training on a good note, the more I believe its roots are in dog-unfriendly-dog-training. If training is stressful for the dog, then of course the end of a training is reinforcing and of course you want to end it with something that you would want to reinforce with something as reinforcing as the end of a torture as we could call some of the "dog training" practises. But if you're reading this, I'm sure it's not that way for your dog. I'm sure your dog LOVES working with you more than anything and doesn't find end of a training reinforcing at all.
A friend of mine reported an interesting observation with her BC: she usually started agility training with some sequences and at the end, for some extra fun, did some more dog-walks (she has running contacts), trying to always end with some extra good ones. After a while, she noticed that her dog's contacts are still perfect in sequences, but got really bad when training just the dog-walk, as usually at the end of a session. After it got too frustrating to keep trying and trying to get some good ones, she stopped training dog-walk at the end and instead did some repetitions at the beginning of the training: and the contacts magically got perfect again! After playing some more with when to train contacts and how to end the training, she came to the conclusion that when her BC thinks the end of the session is coming, she will start making mistakes on purpose to be able to do things again and again and again and keep training vs. go to the car and ride home!!! Yeap, dogs are very smart! Their heads are free to think and not made slow and lazy by general truths 🙂
So no, I don't think you need to end on a good note. When things go well, I just enjoy it and have tons of fun. When things go wrong, I simply quickly end the session, go home and think WHY things went wrong. Not only I can think better when I'm not getting frustrated about a failure after a failure, my dogs don't get a chance to practice a failure after a failure that way AND they also learn that if they don't make an effort and keep dropping bars, missing contacts, entries or whatever goes wrong, the fun might quickly end and they will only get a chance to play again after I do my boring thinking thing. 🙂
To handle things that way is just so logical to me that I must admit I obviously often don't tell it to my students loud and clear enough (BAD teacher!!!), that's why I decided to say it loud and clear here: you don't need to end on a good note!!! Have fun when things go right, stop and think when things go wrong!
I had this student tell me she did tons of plank running that day because she wanted to end with a good one and the dog was just jumping more&more... So she practiced jumping until the dog was so tired she finally stopped. Reviewing the video showed her plank set up was all bouncy and getting worse&worse and poor dog felt uncomfortable running on that bouncy plank and started to try to get off of it as soon as possible... If the handler stopped after a couple of jumps, go home and review the video, she would see the problem right away and by the next session, the dog would already forget about the bouncy set up. But as she was teaching poor dog how uncomfortable that plank is to run on for half of an hour, we needed to go back to the carpet to get the running again...
Even more... When teaching something like heeling or tricks and the dog is unfocused, if you just wait him out and then reward as crazy for finally giving you a fraction of a second of attention, you are just teaching him that he can choose when he will give you some attention and when he wants to do some other things first - and then get heavily rewarded for that! If my puppy is unfocused, I will just end a session - oh well, whatever, maybe she is just not feeling good. We can try again later. If she gives me 100% focus, I give her 100% focus back and we have some great fun. If she gives me less than 100%, I give her a break - and I always do it with no hard feelings 🙂 - but no, I won't wait there and ask her to play with me instead. I want HER to ask ME to work with her! She has all other options open in our house, she can go away play with other dogs, sniff, go out... - but they soon learn they can do that 23,5 hours per day, anytime they feel like it. And that half of an hour I have for just them is special, precious, not to be lost. And at the moment they see it's dog training time, they will all scream "me, me, me". If it goes well - perfect, if it doesn't, that's fine too, I definitely have another candidate - and they are way too smart to loose more than very few opportunities that way!
Remember: dogs are smart. And probably even smarter as we think 🙂 And they love to work with their handlers, so no, end of training is no fun. The training as such is. And if it's not, you definitely need to do something about it!
More on 2) next time.