Ending a session on a good note?
Have you ever heard that you need to end a training session on a good note? I was told so 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 red 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 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 practices. 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.
Don't fear the confusion! Face it, work though it and learn just how smart the dogs are!
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, she 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 crate and ride home!!! Yes, 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!), so let me 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 leaping more and more. So she practiced leaping until the dog was so tired she finally stopped. Reviewing the video showed her plank set up was all bouncy and getting worse and 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 leaps, 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 heeling can be fun!
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 to 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. So very soon, when 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 lose more than very few opportunities that way!
Remember: dogs are smart. And probably even smarter as we think. 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!
Don't limit their options. Let them know all the options and still choose you.
Another footnote on a topic of dogs, being smarter as we think: another thing I noticed when teaching my classes is how very afraid people are to confuse the dog. Many think they need to master one trick before starting the next one, in order to not confuse the dog... And they think they can't have both running and 2on2off contacts in order to not confuse the dog. And they are surprised I teach left&right directional as a spin because that could confuse the dog when used on a course. And yes, of course it can confuse the dog - for first couple of training sessions! But hey, who cares? It's through confusion that we get the understanding. There is no real understanding without confusion: you need to question something first to get to a conclusion then and really get it eventually.
If you are afraid to teach that or another thing in order to not confuse your dog, you're just like those confirmation people who are afraid to teach a dog to sit because they think they won’t get a stand anymore then! It's just ridiculous! - You can have both! You can actually have it all!
Yes, you can also have a tunnel crazy dog who will NEVER take a tunnel when not cued to! Tunnels don’t suck the dogs in and being afraid to let the dog have fun with tunnels because of fear they will take every tunnel they see is the same as being afraid to tug with the dog because of fear the dog won’t release a toy then… You can have both! And actually, if you want to work on your dog’s speed and forward drive and obstacle focus, you actually do want to have a dog crazy about the tunnels! It’s a perfect reward that not only you can take also to the ring – the judge will set it there for you, how cool is that! So definitely play with tunnels just as happily as you would with a toy - I promise you can teach a come to hand as easily as you can teach a release of a toy!
You can have it all, you just need to dare and try.
Silvia Trkman has started agility in 1992 with a Samoyed. She is a 14-time National Champion of Slovenia (with 5 different dogs of 3 different breeds), 14-time World Team member, mostly with two dogs at time (three this year), 3-time EO winner and 2-time World Champion. You can contact her through her website www.lolabuland.com
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