To Fail Or Not To Fail?
We continued our weave training in a new environment today. We went to the LaZi course to change the scenery but not adding any over exciting element. Susan Garrett says at this point it is important to let the dog work through what ever difficulties he may have and him figure out the solution on his own.
To make a long story short: we ran into trouble! All along Poncho has done a great job at finding the entries when send from my left side. The right side has been troubling him a bit. I have never once raised my criteria unless the rate of success was at least 80%. Our success rate has been 85-95% at each stage. I'm keeping a journal of our training so I know exactly how each session went. But when I changed the environment Poncho had even more trouble with the right side than usual. I tried to let him figure out how to earn his reward, but he kept failing over and over again. When He once in awhile got it right, he didn't seem to learn from it and he would make the same mistake again. I decided to make the challenge easier for him by rotation the poles to 2 and 8 o'clock and moving them a couple of feet apart. It did help a bit, but I could see Poncho was struggling and just throwing himself at the poles hoping he was doing it right. Whenever I send him from the left he nailed the entrance right away. We took a break to think things through.
I've been in a situation like this before. Morgan Spector says whenever repeating a behavior 3 times in a row it becomes a life style. I know that letting the dogs figure out the solution to a problem helps them to figure out the boundaries of the behavior; what is rewarded and what isn't. But like I said earlier Poncho is a high drive dog, and when he fails he gets stressed. So what to do? micro-shape or problem solving?
I chose micro-shaping. When the rate for success drops so rapidly on a very specific thing it is not to be ignored - at least that's my opinion - specially when the dog isn't learning from his mistakes. I decided to face what has troubling Poncho, since I wasn't prepared to go home on a failure. I went back to one set of two and work the arch again focusing on sending from the left. To keep his stress level down I rewarded with treats instead of toy. There were leafs all over so treats wasn't really such a great idea, but it work out pretty okay. Poncho failed a couple of times, but not close to as much as before. He hit some pretty wicked entries. We ended the training session with success and with optimism instead of confusion.
Some times an 80% rate of success just isn't enough. I totally agree with Susan on letting the dog figure our the entries on it's own, but it really depends on what kind of dog you are working with. If it had been Jazz, I would had let her work out the problems on her own, but with dogs like Poncho and Cosmo micro-shaping is sometimes the best way to go.
It reminds me of when we had Jazz out for a photo shoot. I needed some photos for my article on the tire and it was the first time Jazz ever saw a tire. I shaped the behavior I wanted and then we needed a photo of Jazz failing - passing through the frame. Even though I set her up to fail and made the challenge so extreme she never failed once.
So in the mist of Susan Garrett's blog post on boys vs. girls I have to say the girls are way smarter then the boys. In my experience it is so much easier to set the boys up to fail then the girls. if you increase the challenge like baking up a bit and making the weave entry harder the girls might fail but they will pretty soon figure out how the earn the reward, and they are not likely to make the same mistake again. The boys thoug will suddenly be overwhelmed by the challenge and start to offer new behaviors or keep repeating something that you aren't even rewarding. If you watch the weave videos of Poncho you can see how he struggles when I increase the challenge and offers new behaviors. In the boys defense I have to say that when they've learned a behavior they are not likely to change it, where as girls will cut corners every chance possible. I am not saying that one sex is better than the other, just pointing out how sex-related differences can influence your training.