Training dogs is partly science and partly an art. The science part is something you can learn by reading books on training and by practicing in real life with a dog. Training as an art happens once you learn how to do the technical part, which is then when you can, if you wish and enjoy it enough, innovate in the training of your dog. This is what makes training fun in my opinion.
Even though I have been a professional for years, I still make mistakes while training. Most of the time in the past when I was less skilled at it, I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong. Now that I video all my training sessions, I can see exactly what I am doing and where the mistakes happen.
How the heck does a person prevent this, or at least reduce making mistakes and then learn fro them?
Training mistakes are easier to avoid when training certain behaviours such as I found with the Shell Game.
Well, the simple answer is, unless you are not human, you can’t prevent every mistake.
Last week I was working with AJ doing the object search trick where she has to find a playing card scented with vanilla. She was finding the card alright, but only when I was holding it. After a few repetitions, I realized she was watching where my arm was so that she could follow it to the card. We had worked on this trick several times, and this was the first time I clued in on what was happening. I noticed it when I decided to put the card on the seat of the chair. I then moved my hands away from the card into my lap. She went for the hands in the lap. Oops.
So I had actually been giving her two cues; a verbal cue “find it” and a visual cue – my hand to find the card. She was supposed to be finding the card by its scent.
Things To Do To REDUCE Training Errors
One: Video your training sessions. If you can and its not too inconvenient, set up a camera and record your sessions. You can delete them after if you want, but watch at least a few of them to give yourself an idea of how you are doing. You may only need to watch one or two videos to get an idea of how you look during a training session. Sometimes body language can be awkward and may throw off the dog, you can be late or incorrect in giving the food reward or many other things that will affect the training. Watching yourself train can really help.
Two: Read some books on training. Good training always starts with training yourself on how to train. You can also learn how by taking training classes, which are actually for the HUMAN and not the dog. Then, when you finally learn the skill of training well and start to innovate during your sessions, you will be able to offset some of the few mistakes you will make.
Three: Have a loose plan of what you are going to do during that session. I know in the past I have said that it is sometimes good to do spontaneous sessions, and this is true and can be true, but not all the time. Especially if you are just starting out training a behaviour, you will want to write down how you are going to accomplish this. Create a training log – could be a small note pad or your smartphone if you are so inclined. You will want to include the date, the behaviour you want to work on, location first trained in, and level that the dog is at i.e. level of distractions, distance, duration etc. This way, you will have something to follow and progress through the levels with, which will help you to remember where you are from one session to another. This in itself will reduce the likelihood of you repeating the wrong step or the wrong technique altogether.
Four: When you do train, try not to worry about making mistakes. Even with the best intentions you’re likely going to make them, but safe to say that if you are not using corrections to train – which is unlikely considering all the research you have done learning how to train – you will not have much of an impact on your dog. It is often easy to retrain when you use food rewards if you have found that something isn’t working right. The worst thing that could happen is your dog might get a few too many food rewards!
If you want to see the training mistake I made with AJ and how I started to fix that mistake you can check out the video below.