Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Always End On a Good Note?

Always End on Good Note? (Please Don’t, Not Always.)

How many times have you heard or said “Always end a training session on a good note?” I heard it repeatedly when I first went into the field and said it myself, until I saw how much trouble it could cause a dog and his handler. I got to thinking about this training aphorism when I was working sheepdog Maggie this weekend, and she and I weren’t able to drive the sheep in the “practice course” I’d set up for her. It was just too difficult a task for her and me on the particular day with those particular sheep. Years ago I would have switched tasks and set her up to do something easy before I said “That’ll Do”. But I didn’t. I just called her back, said “All Done, that’s a girl Maggie” and walked her back to the car.

It got me to wondering about why I made that choice, rather than “ending on a good note”. And it got me thinking about the concept as relates to family dog training, and why I think it often gets people in trouble.

I’ll start by noting that a significant factor in my stopping Maggie’s session this weekend was that she was hot and tired. Maggie loves to work sheep–if she could talk she’d edit that to “Maggie LIVES to work sheep“. However, when she’s hot and tired she has trouble focusing on both controlling the sheep and listening to my signals. She doesn’t want to quit, but she begins making mistakes and behaving as if her brain is a little rattled. It is not a misuse of anthropomorphism to argue that most of us can understand what that feels like. There was simply no value in asking her to get more tired by doing something she already knows how to do well. She doesn’t need me to build motivation, and I didn’t need to set her up to fail at something she’s normally good at. Read the entire article

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