Planning to Fail is the Path to Success

When you plan to fail one of the most important components of your plan is “what do I do when my dog does fail?” To answer this question, keep in mind the most critical element of training the way I do and that is you must control the access to reinforcement.

So the first thing that you must do when the dog fails is to stop any reinforcement your dog is earning while failing. That is why my dogs’ see their first planned failures in a shaping session. The task is a simple one and it is also simple for me to control the reinforcement. I have them on a leash or in a tiny room with no access to other reinforcement should they decide to leave work.

In actual fact, my dog’s first Planned Failure event often happens the day I get them home. I start to establish for the puppy that all good things need to be earned, that you have to fight hard for what you want and that all good things come from me. The puppy learns it all in a game of tug of war.

While on my knees on the floor I get the puppy tugging ferociously then I take the tugger away and ball it up, burying it in my chest. I wait for the frustrated puppy to stop bouncing and biting at the toy then I give it back to her.

Her first planned failure and recovery from that failure, all happening within a game that is so fun she has no clue she is working and learning the rules of work. That is how training is supposed to be, work=play and play=work.

Where is the value for your dog? Is it with the toy or another dog or chasing?

Just know that; the value of today will become the distraction of tomorrow.

SOoo, lets bring this all back to recalls. Have all of the failures been planned? Have they happened when you can control the access to the reinforcement once the dog has made his choice to not do what has previously been reinforced?

Since I train without physical or verbal corrections it is important that my planned failures during recalls be effective. If you are not effective with the “withholding of reinforcement”, the only thing left for you to do is to introduce positive punishment (here is where those that are fans of electric collars would jump in). If you, like me, would prefer to train without the use of any positive punishment, then we are left with only two options.

1) Become a trainer that is brilliant with the manipulation of reinforcement or

2) Restrict or manage your dog for the rest of her life.

Does your dog know how to fail and recover from it? I would go back to a simple shaping session and teach your dog the lessons of failing before going much further in your training. It will make all of your future training much easier for both of you.

Think about what reinforcement your dog has earned while failing. Do you see now how that reinforcement has created the distracted dog you now have at the end of your leash? Reinforcement got you there and reinforcement can take you someplace else.

Many of you keep writing that your cookie or toy can not compare to the reinforcement value of the swim or the chase. Hmmmm . . .  so what can you do to change that? I will leave you with that thought.

Today I am grateful for all of you contributing and helping each other you all have been doing this week on my blog, keep it up!

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