|Sorry for the quality on this image. It's a screenshot from my video!|
Recently I was inspired by one of my favorite dog trainers to do a post about how I handle errors my dogs make during a training session. We've been playing that new impulse control game a lot and Zoe gave me the perfect opportunity to show you what I do if one of my dogs makes a mistake.
If you've read my post "Positive Does NOT Mean Permissive" or any of my other dog training posts you will know that I don't use aversive punishment when I train my dogs. Sometimes I will use a "no reward marker" (Oops) which tells the dog that they did not make the right choice but it's not done in an intimidating manner and I try not to use it very often because it will deflate my sensitive dogs pretty quickly. 95% of the time I focus on what the dog is doing right and mark them for that.
Since I don't use corrections and my dogs are never told "no", I am frequently asked what I do when one of my dogs makes a mistake when we are training. The answer is different for the individual situation and for each dog. If I am training a brand new thing, often nothing will happen when the dog makes a mistake. I have to figure out what I am doing wrong, where the gap is that the dog doesn't understand and we will go back to the previous step. I also try to figure out how I can make the thing I am teaching easier on the dog and more clear.
The clip below is one of our recent Impulse Control training sessions. To read about the new game we're playing please click here: Indoor Exercise and Impulse Control.
In this situation, we had been playing this impulse game for two weeks and when I asked Zoe to sit for whatever reason she chose not to. Maybe she just was not ready to work yet and if that was the case then it's okay. My dogs are allowed a choice and they don't have to do the thing if they don't want to. So I decided to try again and again she chose not to. Instead of getting frustrated or annoyed and using some sort of force or intimidation to get the "sit", I decided to send her back to her "place" and gave her a few minutes to think about it. Then we tried again. As you can see from watching the video, after her break she chose the correct position when I said the cue. Sometimes dogs just need time to think about what you are asking. Sending her to her place was not a correction or a punishment and you can see that she happily complied with it and was still happy as soon as she was released to try again.
If my dog had raced off after the cookie and ate it instead of doing the cued behavior, nothing would happen. It's already too late. If that were to happen then I failed somewhere in the earlier training with the previous games we played and we would go back to the previous step in the game. I would hold the collar, throw the cookie, cue the "sit" and then I would probably feed a treat directly to the mouth once that butt hits the ground and then release them to the second cookie with the "get it" cue.
I always want my dogs to be happy when learning and training should always be fun!
If you watch the video carefully, you can also see that I made a few errors myself, too! I was not using my "marker word" and marking her clearly. Her marker word is "YES!" and sometimes I was just saying "good girl" or "get it" without clearly marking her. Which makes for confusion. I could of also made my criteria more clear to her if I had delivered a treat to her mouth and marked her for sitting instead of immediately releasing her to the cookie. So I definitely plan on doing a few sessions where I deliver the cookie to her mouth (feeding for position) before I release her to the second cookie.
I definitely recommend taking video of your training sessions with your dog. That way you can go back and watch them and see what's going on. What you did right and what you can fix so you do better next time.
What do you do when your dog makes an error during a training session? Or if you have any questions, please be sure to leave them in the comments below!
Note: A training session and real life are treated as separate things. One is actively learning and the other is not. For a real life "bad behavior" the way I handle it would be different, although I still do not use aversive punishment. If one of my dogs does something undesirable outside of a training session, we often have an alternative behavior to fall back on. For instance if my dog is barking at the window, I can ask her to go to her bed. Or if my dog is jumping up, I can ask for a sit. Where as in a training session, I'd probably give the dog a break like I did in the video or go back to the previous step. Occasionally in a training session I might ask for a very easy task that I am sure the dog knows and then end the training session on a good note and try again later.