I tend to be pretty precise in the behavior I look for when training my dogs. I use a high frequency reward rate, higher than anyone I know or see on a regular basis. I am always looking to shape behavior with success. When training agility obstacles, or concepts such as commitment, convergence, distance, direction, effort to get to obstacles, etc; my expectations are completely based on what I see while I am training and the actual results I get during the training attempts. I am constantly adjusting my behavior to achieve success and to push them to the point of failure. This is when they learn.
I don’t let other expectations of what I think should be happening get in the way of good training or good performance. I don’t assume that my dogs should have done something. I see what they did and assume that they were successful because I was successful and that they missed because they didn’t know what I wanted. This might be because I am always pushing the threshold of what they are capable of. I am always aware of their limits in the skills I teach them and I absolutely control the circumstances to increase the probability of their success. Missing is something I don’t reward, but we do keep going and we don’t break our focus on what we are trying. We repeat things we don’t get until we get them and reward for them. If we don’t succeed, I do something else to achieve success. Then I think harder about what I was doing wrong! I don’t repeat failure and expect more.
Throughout the process I can absolutely assume that if they miss something, I missed! I pushed them farther than they were capable of, or I made a mistake. I never assume that because I wanted something, like if I wanted them to take a particular obstacle, that they should have been able to succeed. There are times when maybe this is true, but even then, if their brain, their thoughts, focus, attention, etc, are not where they should be, I have to accept this as my responsibility as well and that I did not prepare them properly. And I need to work on that first then.
If I wanted them to take a tunnel, for example and they ran by it, I have to assume I was not clear unless I know I was pushing them to the limit. Either way, positive experiences, lots of rewards drives them to try again and keep trying. They don’t know exactly when the rewards will come (variable reinforcement), but they absolutely know they will come. And they never fret about having made a mistake. In fact they rarely know what a mistake is because they are just focused on doing what I ask, the best they can. Their is always great effort in every attempt.
This is the ABC’s of behavior in action. I control the antecedent conditions (A) to shape the behavior (B) and I reward as a consequence (C), or if not, I repeat and a then I do reward.
Thoughout the process, expectations are always based on what happens and not based on something I think should have happened. This objectivity is really tough for some. I see a lot of dogs who are given trouble both while training and during competition because they did not do as the handler or trainer expected. The reality is, they are dogs and they don’t see the world exactly as we do and they don’t see the stress in their world in the way most people expect. If they don’t behave as you expected, change your behavior and change what you expect based on what you did and are doing; and certainly don’t get mad at them! They are dogs and we need to expect more out of ourselves. We need to accept responsibility for the results we get from them, regardless of what we think they should be capable of. If we adjust, we can get the most out of them.