It’s human nature for all dog owner/trainers to want to protect their animals in every way possible; that’s the sensible thing to do for your young, innocent puppy. You put a leash on your dog to prevent him from running into the street and getting hit by a passing automobile. You remove all forms of toxins from your home to prevent the little fellow from being poisoned.
It’s not difficult to understand why we try so desperately to avoid having our puppies make any mistakes in life, and that’s okay as long as we are protecting them from harm’s way. However, in the instruction of some drills and skills that we teach our pups you need to allow them to make mistakes as part of understanding the lesson. They have to not only learn what is the right way, but also what is the wrong way to perform the new commands. Allowing mistakes is actually helpful. Just the physical process of a pup making a wrong action shows him what the new right action should be.
Take, for example, the teaching of double marks (two birds thrown). Before being properly taught, dogs want to do what is familiar, so they attempt to go back to the mark they just retrieved instead of going to the first bird that was thrown. One of the ways to prevent that from happening is to stand in the gateway of a fence and throw a bird on each side of the wire, which will prevent the animal from switching back to the bird already retrieved.
That’s fine for an initial lesson but after that, why not allow him go back to the old fall area to discover that there is no bird there, at which point you can help him find the bird he should have retrieved. Failure in many instances is a great way to learn. In another example, on a higher training level, dogs that are being taught to take hand signals must learn how to turn in the proper direction with each cast that is given. But, at some point the trainer is going to have to stop giving grossly exaggerated casts and allow the dog to fail so the trainee can learn to pay closer attention to each cast.
Some owners go to great lengths to make sure their dogs don’t make mistakes by actually doing the work for them. One example I can give is something is see frequently. When a dog is reluctant to come to a proper heel between while retrieving multiple marks, instead of demanding that the dog heel properly, the handler will move to the dog. Believe me, dogs notice these small lapses by their owners and they use that kind of action by their handlers as a gauge to determine just what level they have to submit to in all the lessons they have been taught.
Dogs find out quickly that they can be made to behave by applying the proper amount of discipline to make them submit. A better way to train a do is to make him to choose the right action on his own, without the assistance of discipline.
In other words, while teaching a new command or skill, a dog may have to do it wrong before he learns how to choose to do it right. Don’t be afraid to let your dog fail; it can be a good thing.HAVE FUN TRAINING!
Dog trainer Grady Istre can be reached at Reibar.com. His column on dog training appears every other week.