Busting some myths…
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.
Way to go Silvia, this really needed to be said 🙂
Though I must admit I find it very hard to finish a running contacts session when things aren’t going well. I feel so optimistic while we’re running, like he needs just one more try and then it will be perfect. And if during the next session things are going well I tend to make it shorter because I’m afraid that if we do too many repetitions he will start jumping again…
I KNOW I should be doing it the other way around, but my hopes and my fears are working against me :S Perhaps when I grow up and start thinking rationally 😉
wow, I started reading cause I didn’t quite agree with your point of view.
I like to train with short but numerous sessions, and that way, I usually end the session when things are going great by reinforcing enourmously. I like it that way cause it helps me grow criteria, in order to shape behavior, more easily.
But, just like you said, that is just so natural to me that I would never think someone would put that as rule and keep a bad session going only to end on a good note!
I guess it is very important to be question things when you train a dog 😉
Sure, I didn’t want to imply you should wait until things go wrong to stop either 🙂 But yes, keep a bad session going definitely doesn’t do any good!
Thanks Silvia, I really like what you wrote 🙂
Thanks Sylvia, I really needed this reminder especially as I start to introduce Nero to sheep where I am such a novice. I really have this point ingrained and I don’t know why since I am mostly self taught.
I really love the story of you as such a young kid being so persistent to get to a training session. The 30 minute walk at the end of those bus rides brought tears to my eyes to think of a kid with this much drive who went on to be a World Champion. A friend of mine from Norway who was a great skier had a similar story of skiing 30 minutes to practice and back every day. I remember your Samoyed from one of the first World Championships videos that I bought. Didn’t you place top ten one year?
Again thanks so much,
No, he was 23rd… -- still good for a Samoyed 🙂 Becoming World Champion was never my motivation though -- a Samoyed sure teaches you to be humble 🙂 -- so I always went for little goals like keeping the dog from running out of the ring 🙂
I frequently question my instructor’s “truths” when it doesn’t make sense to me. When I first started Agility classes, they would tell me that if he doesn’t want to do it, take him by the collar and make him do it. When we made mistakes they told me to do more repititions. I quickly found out that those things don’t work for us, because nothing got better. So after a while I would just refuse to do those things, needless to say that the instructor didn’t like it that a novice like me would butt heads with her. 🙂
I was thinking the other day when ending a training sesh with Ben that the end of training is actually kind of punishing for him because he enjoys it so much
Although it does depend what happens next 🙂 He used to be really not a fan of the seasaw until we always did it just once right at the end then went for a fun walk right after -- I knew he had overcome his fear when I was putting my shoes on for a walk and he ran off and did the seasaw all by himself to hurry me up
I like to end with a jackpot to counter the “punishment” of ending a good training session, or even better, play for a few minutes. 🙂
This is a great post, Silvia! It’s something that I’ve learned is true for my dog, yet I still occassionally have trouble following it because of the old ingrained “truths” I’ve learned.
Yeap, that’s a great training plan, to use big rewards like going for a walk, for a swim, to get dinner etc. for things that are hard for that particular dog. Many people think the reward must be either a treat or a toy, but there are actually many more options as that!
Thanks for writing this and sharing it with us. Can’t wait for #2!
Yes Silvia, I was also told the same “end the training session with good note and keep him wanting for more”
And yes it does make sense that if the dog is not giving 100% attention then we must stop and wait for few minutes and let him give the attention to you. If he does not then stop and go home.
I think it is same as free shaping. If you let the dog do the action that you want him/her to do and then make him know that that is what you are looking for by using a marker (using clicker and not using verbal marker because I think the verbal marker will have emotion and the dog understands it and would behave differently.)
Especially with German Shepherd, they are a independent character they just want to do what they want to. Yes you can force them by using pinch collar and such. And I have see that if you stopped training them for few months and then come back and do obedience they have forgotten the routine and you have to start from the basic and put the collar.
I hope what I said makes sense.
When I was driving back home after training Danny (my GS) I was thinking about why is clicker important, why can’t I use verbal marker and what is the difference in free shaping and making a dog do the action that I am looking for.
And now when Silvia talked about stopping the training session if the dog is not interested which would make him realize that if he does not give 100% focus to me when I am with him then he will not get 100% attention from me.
Which means I am making him think and also making him do what I want him to on his own will. And that is a big difference other that forcing him to by using a pinch collar.
Thank you Silvia
So after a while I would just refuse to do those things, needless to say that the instructor didn’t like it that a novice like me would butt heads with her
Probably spam I think…