Had a GREAT puppy agility class with Vixen today! It was filled with mistake, after mistake, after mistake! You did see that I wrote it was “GREAT” class didn’t you…?
Why do I like mistakes so much? Well, quite simply, our dogs learn from their mistakes – mistakes create an opportunity to learn! During our training, when she made a mistake, she was not punished – she was not yelled at, or corrected with a leash ‘pop’, she was not scolded in any way. What we did was show her that her incorrect ‘choices’ would not yield any rewards. We did this by simply removing the ability to access a reward. We control the reward…not the dog. We then provided her with the opportunity to make correct ‘choices’ and when she did she was rewarded for making that decision!
This exercise showed me that my puppy has two really great personality qualities. First, she is tenacious. She has great focus and keeps going after what she wants. My challenge is making her want what I want her to want instead. Second, is that she can continue to work through mistakes. She never threw a fit, she never resisted, she never lost focus - she just kept working until she got what she wanted….which coincidently ended up being what I wanted!
So what were we working on exactly? Well…recalls past distractions! Our goal today was to get the puppies to fail. We wanted them to fail so we could show them how to make good choices in the ring. First up was recalling past a noisy border collie. I was sure she would try to “put that noisy beast in her place” but she ran right by with no second looks!
Next up was recalling past an empty food bowl. Well, this apparently is her kryptonite! The food bowl is empty so she cannot self reward for NOT coming when called. Even though the food bowl is empty, the handler must still rush in and cover the food bowl to prevent the puppy from continuing to look for rewards. This is IYC at its finest. Remove the dog’s access to something rewarding, and wait for them to make the choice of NOT continuing to steal.
It took a few different set up to find where we could get Vixen to be successful, but once we did, we were able to reward her good choice twice! First with a food reward for recalling to me, and then a bonus reward of getting to get a treat from the alluring food bowl! Rewarding back at the food bowl helps the puppy understand that choosing to ignore a distraction can actually lead to that distraction becoming your reward!
This same principal applies to putting agility obstacles under stimulus control. Most dogs are tunnel sucks – if they get one on their line there is almost no change of pulling them off it. The game we played with Vixen grows in to the tunnel games I play with Indie. When running towards a tunnel, instead of cuing him in to it, I may cue a “down” instead. The question is ‘can he listen to my verbal cues even when faced with his most favourite obstacle’? The reward for going in to a “down” is immediately being released and going in to the tunnel! The side effects of this game are a really great “down” cue - any where, any time - as well as a super fast reliable tunnel performance!
Remember – If it isn’t fun, then you are doing it wrong!