In training dogs, it is pretty much always us who make the errors.
Behaviour stuff is different, of course.
But in teaching a dog to, say, run through a tunnel to their owner on the other side, the dog has two options: either they run through the tunnel or they don’t.
If I restrained the dog three metres back from the tunnel opening, and their owner was crouched down, calling them through, the option of running around the strange and novel obstacle is far more obvious than going through it.
If, however, I restrained them very close to the tunnel opening and released them when they were looking directly through it, the chance of success is much greater.
And there it is, we have to set our dogs up for success.
The more repetitions we do, the more times the dog is rewarded for going through the tunnel, the more reinforcing it becomes. Then we can take some steps back and up the criteria, since the tunnel is no longer a strange and novel obstacle, it’s a super-fun way of getting treats and toys and praise.
And this applies to all types of training, not just agility. If the dog isn’t behaving the way you’d expect them to, they probably don’t understand what you’re asking of them. No dog is dumb or untrainable, some just need us to re-analyse the way we are doing things.
This is why I’m a huge advocate for filming training sessions and analysing them. Pretty much every time the dog makes a “silly mistake”, we revisit the video and realise we are the ones who’ve made the mistake.
A great example of this is a tracking client Jack and I had this week. The dog was highly anxious and frustrated and instead of continuously tracking, it seemed to randomly check in with the handler for reassurance.
To start off with, we were a bit stumped, however after watching and re-watching the videos we had taken, frame-by-frame, we realised that the dog was so sensitive to the leash handling that pretty much any initial movement would cause disengagement from the track.
Because we were able to identify the problem, this dog that many people may have simply said was incapable of tracking actually managed to focus incredibly well in her second 1-2-1 and stayed on the track the entire time, as we came up with a plan to adjust handling to her individual needs.
There is no “one size fits all” in dog training.
But if we set our dogs up for success and are flexible enough to change training plans if we need to, it’ll pay off!