Planning to Fail

Reading through your questions and comments on recalls makes me wonder if you guys have introduced what I refer to as “Planned Failures” in your dog training.

Planned failures happen in a controlled environment when the following conditions apply.

Don’t fall for any cute looks when your dog fails, be strong and don’t “help” them.

1) First and most importantly there has been tons of reinforcement for the correct response. Build the value before you test the value.

2) The reinforcers the dog was given prior to the planned failure are so off the chart high in value the dog would never dream of not continuing to try to earn them.

3) The distraction I introduce is severe enough to cause a failure but not so challenging that I know there is no hope of my dog ever being successful at his current stage of learning.

4)The dog is in a controlled environment where little to no reinforcement can be found. You may control the environment by training in a small room in your house (I had one bathroom in the new house built specific for this reason) or by using a leash or baby gates or an ex-pen to restrict the dog’s movements.

Why do I set my dog up this way?

1) It stresses my dog. Stress is a part of life. Dogs need to learn to work through stress and not shut down and give up. The dog needs to learn how to work through an error and keep on trying because awesome reinforcement is right around the corner.

2)It allows me to test the boundaries of the dog’s understanding of the response we are training. So often trainers will tell me “but my dog will do this perfectly at home.” A big reason for this phenomena is that you have never really tested the dog’s understanding to make sure he “gets it”.

Those of you that bought my first ebook on weave training, there is a section in there on “Green Eggs & Ham Distraction Training.” This is exactly what I am talking about. “Can you do it with a fox or in a box, can you do it here or there, can you do it anywhere.” Test the boundaries of understanding in a controlled environment so you can discover the dog’s weaknesses and work at strengthening them.

Go back and look at disc 2 from the 2×2 DVD. You will see plenty of examples of planned failures with Feature at only 14 months of age. The cool thing that happens when you always train with planned failures is that sometimes you plan your failure but your dog surprises you and is succesful! That is way cool. It means the dog understood the behaviour better than you thought and you can fast track your training.

When training my dog it is my goal that all of the failures that happen are planned. Now, that doesn’t always happen, but it is a goal. If I have a response that has more unplanned failures then planned it must mean that I have been caught off guard too often and I will work hard to control my dog’s reinforcement better in the future.

Tomorrow  I will go further on the number one most important point about failure; what to do when it happens.

Today I am grateful for air conditioning in our office and am visualizing a day soon when we will have it fixed throughout the rest of the new house:).

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