In my training, I WANT my dogs to make mistakes. I embrace them. I believe that dogs learn just as much from getting it wrong as they do from getting it right; they learn what doesn’t work! I want my dogs to be able to learn that, for instance, the reward doesn’t come when they break their stay – but the only way they can learn that is by…. well…. breaking their stay! For learning to happen, good training should be a balance between mistakes and successes.
So how do I handle mistakes? First, I evaluate whether what I was asking was possible for my dog to do? Are we at a point in our training where I can increase criteria and the dog will understand what I’m asking? If so, then I’ll ask the dog to try again. If the dog succeeds, he gets a reward, if not I’ll try once more. If he fails again, I’ll make the behavior easier. Why? Because dogs don’t fail to mess with us, they fail because there is a lack of understating of what we are asking them to do. I don’t want the dog to fail so many times that he stops trying.
I also don’t reward the dog for the “do-over” unless he does it over correctly. Here’s why: At some point in my training I want to decrease the amount of rewards I’m using. If I consistently reward do-overs, I teach the dog that if he hasn’t had a reward in a while all he has to do is mess up and he gets the chance to do it over and get a reward!
Let me give you an example. Let’s say I’m trying to increase the amount of time my dog will hold a down/stay and I’m using food as the reward. I’ll ask for a down, give a treat and then give treats periodically for staying in a down for a longer and longer period of time. What if the dog pops up? Well, we do it over, only this time there is no treat for the down and only treats for the stay if done correctly.
Real training is working through the behaviors you are having trouble with, adjusting your criteria, if needed, to keep the dog in the game, while still making it challenging enough so learning continues.