Getting it Right
Q. How should I correct my Labrador Retriever, Blaze? When he gets something right I give him a treat or throw his toy, but what do I do if he gets it wrong? If he breaks a wait, jumps off a contact or misses a weave entry, I don’t want to yell at him or be mean.
A. I’m so glad to hear that! You should never abuse your dog. Mistakes are inevitable and an important part of the learning process. They’ll happen even though you try to make it easy for Blaze to get things right. Mistakes also occur because our performance criteria change in different environments. A paw-perfect dog in training will
break waits, miss weave entries, and jump off contacts in competition.
Types of correction There are different types of correction. Not all mistakes are serious offences. Use what is appropriate. Fit it to the error. Here are various options
Ignore it. It may never happen again.
Look the other way and shrug your shoulders. Withdrawing your attention cuts a dog right to the heart.
Mark the mistake with a phrase like ‘oh dear’ or ‘wrong’ so that Blaze will learn where he went wrong. Withhold his praise and rewards. Don’t give Blaze a treat or throw his toy if he gets it wrong. Try again and if Blaze gets it right, he gets his goodies.
Halt the game If agility is his thing, go to the end of the line in class. Or leave the building.
Get it right next time Mark the mistake and then show Blaze what you want. If he lies down when you left him in a sit wait, put him back in the sit. If he pops off the contact, put him back on it. If he misses a weave pole, take him back to where he came out. You can do this at your local agility club or at simulated shows. But be aware that if you do this at a competition, the judge will eliminate you for training in the ring or touching your dog. He will ask you to leave his ring.
Balance If Blaze needs correction make sure that it is balanced with praise. Don’t follow a strong wrong with a wishy-washy good boy. And if Blaze is putting a lot of effort into trying to get something right, put a lot of effort into your praise. For example, if Blaze keeps missing his target at the bottom of the A-frame, he will need a big, big reward when he finally gives it a nose touch. You’ve had a breakthrough!
Drastic Steps Don’t let desperation lead you to desperate measure. Rattling a can filled with pebbles or squirting water will certainly get Blaze’s attention. A puff of vapor from a remote citronella collar will stop him in his tracks. However, Blaze’s misdeed must be pretty evil before you would want to take such drastic steps and resort to something so negative. You don’t want him to be frightened of the agility equipment. If Blaze makes a mistake, don’t punish him. Correct him and show him how to win your love and approval next time.
Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
Visit Mary Ann at http://www.aslanagility.com/
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