Clean Run - December 2012 - (Page 48)

© CLEAN RUN Building Resiliency to Failure! By Tracy Sklenar In agility training, most people dread the F-word: failure! Many of us try to avoid failure during training at all costs, fearing that allowing the dog to fail might cause the dog to stress, lose focus, or lose motivation for the game. However, failure will happen in competition, whether the dog makes a mistake or he has to deal with our error. This makes failure a critical part of training leading up to competition. Never allowing the dog to fail during training will have far worse results than teaching the dog to be resilient and bounce back from failure. I recommend that handlers build resiliency to failure into their dog’s training at every level. It is relatively easy to do by making the training a game, then failure can actually help build understanding, drive, and focus! Confidence, accuracy, and speed come from the understanding and passion built for agility during training. Positive reinforcement is the key to this— keeping training fun through play and 48 The F-Word rewarding the dog for the desired behaviors will build the skills, drive, and focus we want in our agility partners. However, we must remember that simply giving the dog a steady flow of treats and toys is not reinforcement. To be effective, reinforcement must be selective and contingent on criteria, and the dog must learn that not every behavior will earn reinforcement. The dog must have the opportunity to be operant and discriminate which behaviors will “work” (earn reinforcement) and which behaviors will not (failure to earn reinforcement). This leads to clarity and understanding for the dog, because he will be motivated to choose the behaviors that lead to reinforcement, rather than the behaviors that do not. If the dog is never allowed to fail and see that certain behaviors do not lead to reinforcement, then he is likely to get confused or worse—particularly in competition when failure will indeed happen and we do not have treats or toys available. “But He Doesn’t Like To Be Wrong” Students often tell me that their dog doesn’t “like” to fail or to do more than one repetition of an exercise, and he will “shut down” if he knows he has made a mistake or has to repeat something. Generally, this is because the dog is unclear about how to earn reinforcement, and has not learned to be resilient and try again after a failure. So, if there has been a mistake (from either the human or canine) and the handler needs to try again, these dogs will be very confused when reinforcement is withheld. Trainers who are afraid of allowing the dog to fail, often use reinforcement poorly. I have seen handlers dole out treats and toys for incorrect behavior in the name of “maintaining drive” or “not wanting the dog to get stressed and shut down.” However, this is actually a misuse of operant conditioning, and the dogs are likely to perceive the Clean Run | December 12

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Clean Run - December 2012

Clean Run - December 2012
Table of Contents
Editorializing: All Roads
Tip of the Month
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Agility…
Backyard Dogs
From Hoof to Woof: What Riders Can Teach Handlers: Identify Patterns to Gain Perspective
Challenges for Rising Stars
Power Paws Skills: Front Crosses
Agility Mind Gym: Full Circle
Training a Deaf Dog to Go the Distance
Awesome Paws Drills
Does Gender Matter When Choosing an Agility Dog?
Control Unleashed Solutions and Answers: The Overexcited Spectator
10 Games to Play with Dogs That Are Recovering from an Injury
Gait Analysis Helps Diagnose Early Lameness & Improve Performance
The F-Word: Building Resiliency to Failure!
Training with the Stars: Maureen Waldron
Building Blocks: Developing Solutions for Agility Problems
Being a Good Student, Part 2

Clean Run - December 2012