Recently, I wrote a blog on the meaning of silence. I discussed how we risk inadvertently communicating to our dogs that they are wrong if we create an association between silence/no cookies and errors. So what can you do when your dog makes an error, or when you strongly suspect one might happen?
You should always have a plan when you train; both for handling success AND for handling failure. “Helping” your dog is one of my favorite options when I am teaching something new and where I fully expect errors to occur.
How might I teach my dog to do a known behavior (fetch) with a new object when I expect errors to take place?
In this video, I am asking Brito to pick up an awkward object, so he’s probably going to drop it a few times. When that happens, I will simply help him. That’s it.
“Helping” dogs has developed a bad reputation. People seem to think that if they help their dog when they’re struggling, then they’ll be stuck with a lifetime of helping their dog. Or that their dog will rely excessively on them. Or that somehow they aren’t being scientific enough in their training. Or that their dog will never be able to do it without the additional support.
It’s up to you how you choose to train your dog; I’m not going to tell you what is right or wrong, but I will tell you this; I have a lot of experience with what works, and often helping your dog is exactly the right thing to do.
It communicates that you care. It communicates that you are a team player. It communicates that your dog is not on their own and that they can you look to you as a resource. It adds personality and energy to the training session, and that takes the focus off of the cookie! And possibly most important of all, your tone, and the way you help your dog, can communicate to your dog that you’re not the least bit upset with their errors. It’s just part of the process.
Let’s take a look at this video for an example:
Notice how much energy I am putting into the session; he makes plenty of errors, and I chatter and help him out!
And possibly most important, notice that when I “test” my progress at the end with a silent formal retrieve, he does just fine.
So, is that what you should do with your dog? I can’t answer that question; it depends on your dog and his temperament, the training you’ve already put into place, and the circumstances that led to the specific errors or situation. But I can tell you that it’s a viable option.
If you’ve never added personality to your training and you come on the way I did here with Brito, odds are you’re going to scare your dog. However, if you’ve always been an enthusiastic and engaged trainer, you might find that this is exactly the ticket to preventing your dog from opting out when inevitable errors occur.
Your options might range from a cheerful interrupter to different value of reinforcers to not even telling the dog they made an error, with all sorts of options in between.
If you want to learn more about handling errors, join me in my webinar this Thursday night, January 4th at 6pm PT. To learn more about my webinar, follow this link: FDSA webinars