Puppy Training Log: What to do with the "Bad"
This video is Halo working in the backyard for the first time. What do you think about it? Not too pretty, huh? This is where a lot of people get really disenhearted. All that practice! And then it doesn't look as awesome!
But what's really going on?
Dogs are extremely environmental animals. For Halo, the kitchen or the front yard are the obedience areas. The backyard is a play area. Obedience in the backyard is an odd combo! This isn't disobedience; it's just what trainers call a "lack of generalization."
What does this mean? "Generalization" is when the dog can perform in any and all environments without needing to think too much about it. Since dogs tend to be so environmentally specific, this is not something that's easy for them. In order to get it, you have to actually work in lots of different environments, starting with easy ones and gradually getting harder and harder.
Now, on to the nitty-gritty: What do I do about the "bad" behavior? What do I do about the jumping up at heel, or the galloping ahead during Fast Pace? Or the mouthy behavior during the handler engagement exercise?
Here's what I DON'T do:
1) I don't reward it. Obviously she won't get a treat for jumping up on me in heel, but if you look closely, when she gets mouthy during handler engagement, I actually stopped play -- all movement stopped, so that she wasn't rewarded for mouthing by then getting more play. I waited until she'd stopped mouthing...and THEN more play.
2) I don't punish it. The reason Halo is such a cheerful and enthusiastic worker is because she is free to make errors. Punishing a dog for enthusiastically leaping into the air would get the dog to stop leaping into the air. BUT it would also get the dog to stop being enthusiastic. The saddest thing in the world is a sad Golden heeling sadly. I don't want any part of that picture. Training and practice will get rid of the jumping up, and keep the bright eyes and waving tail.
3) I don't immediately pull out a treat and show it to her, encouraging her to get back into position for the treat. This literally teaches dogs to disobey and not pay attention until it sees a treat in your hand!
4) I don't despair, not even inwardly. I'm still having fun with my dog!
Here's what I DO:
1) I might recue -- ONCE. If she misses the first "sit" then I might say "sit" again. Or I might use a hand signal to remind her. But just one re-cue; after that I've got to accept it as a missed exercise.
2) I might let her work it out on her own. If I'm running along and she's bouncing and playing, I might just continue running and let her figure out what she's supposed to be doing -- then reward when she does it.
3) I might do a little play or sniff break. If I think that a dog is just getting frustrated and is beginning to disengage, they need a break. Some dogs need more breaks than others. Stamina for training is something that dogs develop gradually; it does not help if you insist that they "focus, and pay attention."
The more you work with your dog, the more you'll develop a sixth sense about what to do and when. It's a skill that all handlers develop!