Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rule Ten

An often overlooked part of training plans is the plan for how to respond to errors. It can be hard to decide on the best type of response and it can be even harder to remember your plan when it is needed. Many games and activities have rules. At 4-H camp we have rules. This year, we started Rule Ten.

The full definition:
If your dog misses an obstacle or makes a mistake, keep running. We will do training and discussion later. Maintain speed now!

The short definition:

Speed can be more challenging than precision for many teams and we want to encourage full speed from early on in training. Many times errors are made, it’s a handler mistake and stopping the dog will only slow him down in the future because the silly humans sometimes stop without warning.

While simple, Rule Ten is much harder to apply in real life. Here’s a clip of Griffin and I this week. The first sequence went great. During the second, you can see my slight pauses every time Griffin makes an error. I soon remember Rule Ten and keep going. On the third sequence, I time my cues better and we have no errors.

One very smart camper did stop when she made a mistake. When I said “RULE TEN!” she turned to me. “But this is a chain of behaviors. If I keep going, I reinforce the mistake.” I told her she was very smart, and that yes this is a chain, and yes continuing can reinforce performance. In the case of agility sequencing, once your dog is familiar with obstacles and how to turn, mistakes can often be a handler mis-cueing or a dog not ready to perform at that distance or with that set of cues’ If we never addressed the underlying training and handling issues, we would have a problem. But at the time of the error, keep running!

Like all rules, there are exceptions to Rule Ten. For many beginning and intermediate level students… it’s very important!

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