Dog’ Eye View: More feedback
April 14, 2016
In a previous article titled "Feedback," I explained the need for a prompt and generous response to our dogs' effort to understand and perform a specific behavior, such as "come here." This is a basic premise of teaching using the principles of reinforcement.
There are other forms of feedback, as well. What if your good little buddy gives you the "wrong" answer to your cue to come to you? Perhaps he just sits there and looks at you. I put the word "wrong" in quotation marks, because this term is sometimes used as a reason to punish a dog.
In my experience, a wrong response is usually based on lack of understanding or lack of practice with positive and timely feedback. Often, we ask for a perfect performance when we haven't sufficiently prepared our dog. Maybe we call him to come when we're at a dog park and he's romping with another dog. Maybe we've only practiced "come here" at home in our yard. He's been so good at home we think he fully understands what we want. That's not how it works.
Unfortunately, it's us who are usually at the root of a wrong response. With plenty of practice in new places, we can help dogs understand the cue to "come here" means the same thing, even in different locations.
Additionally, it's important to be aware of how our own cues for each behavior are presented to our dog. Our new students learn the importance of being consistent with their cues for sit or lie down, for example. It helps the dog recognize what we want when we use the same hand shape or voice or body language.
Dogs, like other living beings, usually do things because they think they're right. It's up to us to teach the response we are looking for by the feedback we give them. One is called a "no reward marker." Basically, it's similar to saying, "Oops, wrong answer. Try again."
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If my buddy makes a mistake, I might just ignore the behavior for a few seconds. I'll disengage eye contact with him by looking away. This let's him know the behavior he just offered didn't earn a reward, but another one will.
I can then look back at him and signal the cue for that behavior again. I've given him a chance to try again. It's okay for him to keep trying until he gets it right. When he's right, he gets the supportive reward, and there's no fear of punishment.
Remember: Learning success isn't a straight line from point A to point B. That line usually looks more like a bowl of spaghetti with lots of starts and stops and steps both backward and forward.
Remain calm, and laugh a lot. It's more fun for everyone.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with more than 30 years of experience.
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