What is a ‘try’? How to get a new behavior developed.

When I’m training a new thing, something the dog finds scary or uninteresting or bewildering, I’m looking for the slightest inclination of effort from them in the right direction that I can reward. Then I follow that reward asap with another and another as long as they’re still on the right track. This takes real focus as rewarding the desired behavior needs to happen within one second of the behavior. (The quick time frame is a reason clickers are handy to mark the correct behavior).


What I don’t do is sigh in disappointment, complain that whatever they’re doing is not right or pull on their collar … those things would just slow or stop the process of learning. Early criticism does not help to get more tries.

For example: physically pushing a hesitant dog into a crate is not going to get voluntary, happy going into the crate, non committed attempts to get a dog to play – when they’re distracted – will not get them to do committed playing, punishing by jerking/popping doesn’t make walking on a loose leash more fun/enjoyable,

If a dog is hesitant or distracted they need lots of reasons (value) to put in the effort. This means good rewards, fast and frequent. Many more rewards than beginning trainers are willing to offer, especially if the beginning trainers have before been shown the ‘force em’ model of training. (Note; the more punishment/criticism the dog has previously had the more likely they will be hesitant and distracted and the more likely, you as the trainer will express irritation).

And just because the dog did what you wanted early on doesn’t mean they understood, it may just mean they were lucky in their attempt, so be willing to build the behavior all over again multiple times.

How many times has someone taught you something, you thought you understood but the next time you tried you couldn’t remember what/how to do it? Well, it’s inter-species communication here, so expect misunderstandings.

However, once the first concept seems in place, move on. So if I wanted a dog to go into a crate voluntarily, speedily and they started to do it several times my next step is waiting to reward for the turn around and pause (jackpot) then if that’s established several times then go in (no reward) turn around (no reward) lay down (jackpot). Do not be stingy here, and celebrate early and often.

Then if I’ve pushed a bit too fast I may need to reward the look in, the go in again or the turn around/pause, but I want to build this series so I don’t want to get stuck in just repeating one early step. Then if 5-minutes of training have elapsed, it’s time to quit that game.April10Obe2013 001a Before we both lose focus, but I can play again after a brief break.

Almost any behavior trained can be ratcheted up to expert level with persistence and fun, creative ideas. Why stop at go in, turn around, lie down and wait. How about run to crate from distance, dash in and dog closes crate door, or waits for next cue or uses crate like a circus platform (spot to wait while other household critters get to do their tricks), or as a target ‘go to’ then gets sent to the next target.

OK, maybe your dog just wants to sniff or seems to quit any game awfully early … say after one or two repetitions. Well why do you want to quit something after you’ve done it once or twice? 1) It wasn’t that much fun – not really rewarding 2) It was too scary 3) The expectations kept rising too fast 4) The person I was doing it with didn’t seem to be enjoying what we were doing  5) Whatever new thing I try we keep on doing it too long …

Dogs learn a lot like people learn. They have a different culture, but cause and effect, benefits and rewards are important to them.


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