March 4, 2021

Episode 278: How to Help Your Dog the Right Way

In this episode (18:56)

In this episode, Sarah and Jennifer discuss how to help our dogs be successful and improve their learning at the same time.

You Will Learn

  • Why helping your dog be correct doesn’t always teach your dog the right lesson.
  • How you can help your dog without changing your handling.
  • Why it’s helpful to work through problems when they occur.


- You're listening to bad dog agility, bringing you training tips, interviews and news about the great sport of dog agility. (bright music) - I'm Jennifer. - And I'm Sarah and this is episode 278, today's podcast is brought to you by and the new Teeter TeachIt, an easy to use tool that controls the amount of tip on your Teeter so you can introduce motion to your dog in

a gradual way. Go for the new Teeter TeachIt and other agility, training tools and toys. Use discount code BDA 10 to get 10% off your order, that's Today we're gonna talk about how to help your dog the right way. And I think right off the bat that kind of implies that there's a wrong way and we're gonna talk about that too because I think that a

lot of people make mistakes when they are attempting a sequence that their dog has already failed and they're trying to get it right. And so we want to talk about some ways that you can help your dog that will help their learning rather than hold them back from learning. So let's take like a situation in practice where somebody is running a sequence and their dog falls for an

off-course trap. And because it's practice, they get to try it again. And I think that a lot of times, what happens is people end up over handling that space where they had the air. They might call really hard, they might turn their shoulders more than they normally would or they might completely face their dog and kind of call their dog to them, but they do all this stuff

and their dog gets it and they're like, yay I got the sequence, but did your dog really learn anything? Because I think for a lot of people and a lot of dogs anytime on course you turn and face your dog and start yelling their name. They're going to come to you, they're not going to go take these other obstacles. But that doesn't mean that the next time you

are running a course and you come into this area with some sort of discrimination that your dog is gonna get it right because you didn't actually teach them anything. You were so focused on getting to the next correct obstacle that you didn't take the time to break down the challenge and teach your dog how to respond to your normal handling not your yelling and screaming and call off

handling. How often do you see that Jennifer in class? - [Jennifer] Absolutely and I think you hit the nail on the head with the word learn, even with your intro, what is our dog really learning? And I think that's really what we gotta focus on, is it's that difference between a short-term fix, what I will always talk to and those examples that you just use that student in

class is will you put a great bandaid on your dog? That's what you did, you turned, you scream, you holler, you got it done. But it was a bandaid, it wasn't learning. So when we think about, what does learn mean? Definition of learn to acquire knowledge or skill in by study instruction or experience. So that means that they are acquiring the knowledge or they have the skill, not

just you got them through that sequence at that moment through a quick fix of screaming, clapping, facing your dog all those things that you just said. So I think the scenario that you just built is very common I see it all the time particularly at trials, when the cues are on the line and they just want to do what it gets at, what it takes to get the

job done but the dog's not really learning the skill, they're just getting a temporary fix. So one of my favorite quotes, I feel like really applies when we discussed that this podcast which is "don't give up what you want most of all for what you want right now." And I know I've mentioned that in past podcast with contacts where people will let the contacts go for the sake

of the cue. But I think it applies here with handling and just overall learning and proficiency of a skill that people get through something on the short term, they get through class they run the sequence or course clean. So they get that short-term goal, but what did they accomplish? Long-term is the dog really learning, it is the dog really understanding it and that to me is just such

an important part of this. - [Sarah] And I think to build on your definition of learn, your dog is learning something. When you do that they're learning how to respond when you yell and scream and turn towards them, - [Jennifer] Absolutely yeah. - [Sarah] They're actually building the skill of call-offs. Which there's a time and a place for that, you're like, we're not gonna talk about learning when

you were in the middle of a finals run with the championship on the line, we're not talking about learning in that scenario. There you do whatever it takes, you put all the band-aids on just bandaid it like stack them on top of each other. But we're talking about practice primarily and I think it carries over to trials but let's start with practice because that's an area where it

just to me as an instructor does not make sense to focus on just getting through however you can get through. Because there's nothing on the line there so take the time to do something to help your dog actually learn the skill they needed not the skill of calling off. So let's give some examples of the right way, because I think the motto that I always have is "don't

change your handling, change the environment." And by that I mean, if you handled it the way you intended, if your handling was correct, timing was correct and your jaw dog just didn't respond or maybe they're not quite strong enough in that skill but your handling was the way you wanted it. Don't suddenly change your handling because then whatever they do learn is not the real handling even if

it's not as extreme as our example of yelling and screaming and calling off the dog. But even if you slow your motion down when you don't ultimately want to do that or rotate a little bit more than what you normally want to do, they're going to learn that more exaggerated handling and that's not gonna help them in the longterm. So I like to change the environment and so

one, I have a couple of different ways to do that. Let's talk about the first one. The first one is placement of reward, so you can use placement of reward to help influence what your dog does. So let's say that my dog falls for an off course trap, and when I go back and try it again, I'm going to as they are taking the obstacle before the off

course trap, I'm going to toss my reward on the line I want my dog to be on. And this first time, that absolutely may be a lure. They may have been headed for that off course tunnel but the toy comes out in between the two jumps that I want them to take and they come off the tunnel and get the toy. Then the next time, when I throw

the toy on the line that I want them on, they're a little bit less wide and then by the third time they've got it. They figured out the path and then I can just delay that toy throw. So that's kind of a breakdown of how I would use placement of reward to kind of systematically teach the dog while my handling remains the same, all of those repetitions including

the one where my dog took the off course and the one that my dog went wide if my handling was correct the first time and it's just an understanding thing my handling is gonna stay the same. The difference is gonna be that reward placement and that's gonna help the dog get it right and then once they get it right, they get the reward and once they get the

reward they're more likely to do it right the next time. So I really liked placement of reward for teaching like in the moment. Is that something that you use in your classes or how how do you have people use their rewards? - [Jennifer] Absolutely, I think a huge part of any of the dog's learning, whether we're talking handling, or we're talking reinforcing on agility lines or just kind

of basic dog training, you're shaping a behavior with a 12 week old puppy placement of reward can be so critical and the dog's understanding of a specific behavior. So the example of what you used in placement of reward a super great example of changing the environment. The one that I will often go to is another way we can manipulate the environment for better learning is and I think

this one being super relevant for agility is decreasing the speed. I just had this example earlier this morning, I'll use the example of a tunnel discrimination. I was teaching a lesson and the dog was struggling with a U shaped tunnel discrimination. So it was taking the one directly in front of it and instead of the one nearest her, what she elected to do which (indistinct) gonna DSL and

I'm gonna use the dog's name because her threat verbal her tunnel threat over verbal was not working and I said, "that's fine, we can do that." But what happens when you're not ahead to be able to decelerate, what happens when there's not as much distance, the using of the dog's name already indicates that your tunnel threadle or verbal broke. If your tunnel threadle verbal was working you wouldn't

need the name. So we just broke down the amount of momentum impact change. So maybe back chaining would kind of be another word to think of the same thing. So instead of doing jump, jump to the tunnel we just put the dog on the landing of the jump got rid of the momentum, let the dog be a little bit more a little slower, a little calmer, worked to

the thread. Then we went back from one jump and we slowly worked ourselves back to building up the full speed and in this case, the speed and the distance kind of go hand and hand of building up the speed and distance that it took for the dog to successfully understand the skill. So where she wanted that short term bandaid of will let me just see someone use the

dog's name I said, "absolutely not." Let's just break it down, eliminate some of the speed and distance that was causing the dog to struggle in the first place and build back. So there would be a second way to control that environment or to manipulate that environment for better learning is speed and distance. - [Jennifer] I absolutely agree with that and I think, let's build on the idea of

making it easier, making the actual sequence easier. Another way that I will approach that is for instance maybe I'm in a lower jumps, so if it's a difficult, maybe it's a difficult backside, maybe it's a difficult threadle or maybe it's a difficult serpentine. A lot of times those maneuvers become a little bit easier when the jump is a little bit lower so I might lower jumps. If it

is weave poles I might open them up, so I'm not gonna change, I'm not gonna suddenly go and get in my dog's face, trying to get that entry. Instead, I'm gonna open up the weave poles just a little bit just enough to help the dog be right and then slowly close them up. So those are ways that you can make the obstacles themselves a little bit more easy

and inviting it's almost like taking some of the thought pressure away from one aspect, so you don't have to think so hard. My dog you don't have to think so hard about the jumping mechanics cause the bars are low, now you can concentrate more on what I'm doing and my handling and things like that. So taking away a little bit of that pressure. And then another way and

this can become a little bit more difficult like in a class environment but is to change the environment such that the problem is less likely to happen. So in the case of an off course I might move the off course away, it would still be kind of relative the layout would be relatively the same but maybe it's three feet further away from the dogs line and see if

I can get my dogs successful at the sequence and then move it back. And then sometimes I'll even go the other direction and once they're doing it right I'm gonna challenge them by moving it even closer to their intended path to really make sure that they had understanding. But again, my handling is gonna keep looking the same. I just made them a little bit more likely to be

right because when they're right I can reward and when I can reward then that's when the learning is gonna take. - [Sarah] I absolutely love it because that's one of my go-to moves probably more than almost any of the other things that we've already mentioned is changing the difficulty of this sequence by making a situation of an off course putting that off course further away. Your dog is

not coming in on a serpentine because there's an off course tunnel out there an off course shot. I'm just gonna move it further away and keep moving it further away until the dog has the successful line. Just like you said, handling stays the same. And every time you reinforce the dog is that much more likely to do that and then bring it in to the point of exactly

what you said almost to the point where I'll bring it in so close I'll make sure my dog can do it with that off course, four feet away which I know we would never see in competition but to work through it that way. So love, love, love that idea I do that a lot with both my own dogs and the students' dogs. - [Jennifer] And it's not just

off courses, like think about the failure that your dog did and what it would take to make it easier. So for example, a backside, not all backsides are created equal. Not all backsides require the same amount from the dog. We use a backside cue even if the dog is heading like almost at the wing, like the headache sideways at the jump, we still use that backside cue and

it's just not as extreme and so you could take a backside where the dog is really going perpendicular to the jump. They have to really go all the way to the backside 180 degrees turn to take the jump. And you can just rotate that jump so that now when they go to the backside, they only have to go 90 degrees or 120 degrees or something like that but

you can make these things easier. So it's distances matter, so like a serpentine. Typically a serpentine is easier when it's not as spread out threadle is easier when it's more spread out. So you have to kind of learn like what aspects of this challenge make it more or less difficult and then those are the things that you're gonna change on course and then gradually changed back so that

your dog can learn it. And this goes hand in hand with another idea and I know that there is an article on it and I can't remember if we ever did a podcast on it but the idea of on the job training and I use that to mean when my dog makes a mistake I want to work on it When it all possible, I want to work on

it right then when they made the mistake I don't want to just mentally say "my dog doesn't have a good threadle I'll go home and work on that." I wanna work on it right there because every threadle you encounter is slightly different. And every time your dog makes a mistake there are different aspects of it that may have contributed to the mistake and you have that picture right

there in front of you. Like that's the time to try to work through it and I think that a ton of learning can happen just by setting up sequences, attempting them, working through any mistakes like right then and there and then moving on to the next sequence and so some of our dogs that is essentially the majority of their training is just like once they've learned the basics

of handling, the majority of their training is just throwing different sequences at them and working through every mistake they make. So I think we've given everybody some great strategies for how to help their dog after a mistake is made. And I think that this is how I approach training for sure and this is how I coach people in terms of when they send me a mistake or if

I'm working with them live I'm not focused on getting the sequence right, I'm focused on getting the handling right and if the handlings right and the dog's still making mistake in helping the dog work through that or letting the handler know what additional training outside of the practice with me that they need to build that skill up to the level where they can handle it. Because sometimes you're

going to especially all of the instructors in there. The instructors listening there are going to be times where somebody fails a sequence and there is just no way for them to get it right then, right there. Like if the skill isn't there are some sequences that they just can't get through. And so you have to be able to guide people through where the deficits are, so that they

can work on those and then that's a skill that they will have on down the line. And I think then as handlers, I want people to understand that is the case also. I can't always give you something that's gonna work for every sequence right now. It's going to depend on the skills that you have, the skills that your dog has and then everything else on top of that

is just gonna be about identifying what needs work so that you can direct your training. That's it for this week's podcast we'll have in the show notes, we will have links to some of these other articles that we referenced because they think there's some really good demo video of helping your dog be right without changing your handling and that will really help everybody out. We'd like to thank

our sponsor, Happy training. (bright music)

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