What IS Ideal Meaning of A NRM?

Posted on 02/17/11 35 Comments

Now to answer an unanswered question from last week; when exactly DO I use a NRM? The answer is I only use a NRM if, by not using one, the dog can earn reinforcement. Routinely I can only think of two examples in my training (in the value testing stage) where that may occur.

The first scenario is in agility for a wrong entry. As soon as I seen the wrong choice has been made I will use an “Ooops!” for my dog. If I send my dog to a set of weave poles and the dog enters at the 3 pole and I say nothing the act of weaving will reward that incorrect entry.  Weaving, for the dog, has be conditioned to mean a reward occurs at the end.  The act of weaving is allowed only if the correct weave entry is acheived. It is a chain, you get the first part of the chain you earn the right to drive through the rest of the chain to your reward at the end.

Those people (and I have met many) who believe you should never take a dog out (once he has started the poles) but rather allow him to finish and start the weave poles again are making a serious error. I understand why people do this, it is because they want to teach a dog once you start weaving you never leave the poles. But by doing this you are in fact reinforcing the dog for missing his entry. I have seen many dogs that never have reliable weave pole entries in competition because of the reinforcement they received for not entering correctly.

For some dogs the reinforcement is the chance to carry on weaving, for others it is the big outrun they do after they are told the entry was incorrect. The dog is stealing reinforcement from his environment and that reinforcement is what grows the response of missing weave entries.

You need to question a dog that doesn’t come right back to you after he hears a NRM. Why would a dog do that? My opinion is the answer is stress. What does that NRM mean to the dog. The goal for my dogs is that a NRM means “you are close, try something different and the next time may earn your reinforcement”

If one of my dogs is given a NRM in training she actually will drive back to me as fast or faster then she sped away. The dog will come directly to me and often line herself up to be sent to try again.  I have often wondered why that is, and why others don’t have that same response from their dogs. But before I share my thoughts I put it back to you.  What is your dog’s response when he hears a NRM? What happens to his enthusiasm for work? Does he come back to you and if so does he come back fast and happy ready to try again?

Next question why do you think my dogs do drive back lightning fast lining up to try again when they hear the word “oops”?

Hmmm, I had no idea this discussion would go on so long, but lots to think about before you think about training!

Today I am grateful that there is a sale on airline tickets traveling between the UK and Canada. As I work on getting “that puppy” (either Penny’s or mine) and her breeder over here it is nice to see the price has dropped for her by almost 70%!



  1. Wendy says:
    Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 5:35pm

    I missed this, but I use an NRM like you do in weaving. If I use it once, she drives back, wagging her tail, eager to try again. If there are repeated failures in a row, her posture becomes uncertain, and her behavior is decidedly slower and less confident. Eventually she’ll start looking for jumps she can jump, teeters to go over or anything similar that she’s more confident she can get a reinforcement on. At this point, I usually change the picture, offer her less weave poles, a different entrance or less distractions in order to help her be more successful. I’ve even put her on lead and led her through the poles just to offer her a successful reinforcement, which makes it all a game again.


  2. Christine says:
    Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 8:21pm

    I don’t have a NRM for my youngin yet but thinking it’s about time as we’ve been working on the weava’s.

    My other dog give me the the bark and load response….bark for what appears to be caused by interupting someone’s work flow and then the load back by the body line again, I think the return to RZ is that there has been so much value there over the years and that value has been transfered to the equipment therefore, they are looking for direction to be released to that value again.


  3. Nelci O'Brien says:
    Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 4:44pm

    Three words:
    1) Value
    2) Choice
    3) Balance




  4. Debbie says:
    Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 7:52pm

    I’m really trying to stop using a NRM.
    I believe my dog understands “nearly” (NRM) to mean, you’ve almost got it right but you aint gonna continue, please try again. For him when I say this, he comes running back to me, barking his head off, then throws himself at everything and anything in his way, to a point of almost non thinking! I believe it elevates his arousal to an “off the planet” stage.


  5. Penny Mead says:
    Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 3:24am

    So, these are some of my thoughts … the terminology we use should be dictated by the response we see in the dog. Just as a blast of water from a hose can be 10+ punishment or 10+ reinforcement, depending on the dog, I think the same can be said for what we are calling a NRM. We need to look at how the dog responds immediately and over time to see whether our NRM is truly that, or whether it may actually be a punishment.

    And something Denise (I think) said has prompted me to think some more too … she said that maybe NRMs work better for Susan because she delivers them in a neutral fashion. Actually, I think it might be almost the opposite … I think Susan’s NRMs may actually reinforce her dogs, as an LRS (least reinforcing stimulus), there is sufficient reinforcement from even a “wrong choice” to keep the dog engaged and enjoying the session. Coupled with this is the massive reinforcement history of the training context, of the training expericence and of Susan herself and you have a dog that can “fail” multiple times without any loss of motivation or drive (or even increased).

    Great topic for a dog trainer and compulsive thinker!!



    • denise says:
      Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 3:17pm

      You’re right Penny…..Susan doesn’t deliver her NRM in a neutral tone as she is sometimes (if not often) laughing at her dog when she says the word/phrase, hardly neutral! 🙂 I guess what I should of said was that she is better than us (definitely me) at keeping negative tones/body language out of the NRM so her dogs see no negativity in the experience?


  6. Mary M says:
    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 10:01am

    Susan – You did something in this post you don’t typically do….you used “he…him” to describe the dog…..ummmm Freudian slip maybe?! Just saying, LOL.

    Anyway, my dogs drive back harder when their hear “oops” in the weaves then they do after they receive the reinforcement, always thought this was odd, but in thinking about it the lack of reward and acknowledgement that they need to try again gives them more drive to fix it….it always makes me laugh. One of my dogs however usually talks to me as she drives back (with a goofy bark) like she is upset with herself and “needs” to make it right that really cracks me up!

    Great discussion!


  7. Allison says:
    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 2:27am

    my NRM is oops, with one of my dogs when he makes an incorrect weave entry or really if i use it at all, he comes back to me ready to go again, but usually with a verbal protest on his part as soon as he hears it, its quite funny really and i usually do laugh at him for it, tell him to try harder then and off we go again… not sure if that should be the right response on my part but…. it works for us…

    interesting topic…


  8. Julie S says:
    Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 12:26am

    Susan’s NRM does not function as a penalty or is not aversive to the dog. Just a cue to “start the game over again.” The value to the dog is from playing again. This is because the dog has learned from experience that the reward comes from work. Based on experience, the dog is confident that the reward is achievable. Returning to Susan does not end the game, but makes the reward possible.


  9. Barb says:
    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 5:15pm

    I have had the shut down problem. I’d be interested to hear that other situation in which you use a NRM, Susan. My dog skips the second to third pole when I’m on the right. Which is why I’m going to start over this summer with your 2×2 weaves. I easily can see that the way I’m using the NRM is not helping my dog. I’d love to know how you get yours to run to you to try again!


  10. Naomi says:
    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 4:05pm

    What I wonder is… how DO you get the ‘desirable’ response to your NRM?

    After all the word (NRM) means nothing, and unless the word is followed by a consequence that makes him stop gaining reinforcement- the word will remain nothing but a word and the rewarding will not be stopped.

    If you train the desired response to a NRM by rewarding it, the NRM itself will become rewarding and really no longer be a “non-reward marker” but a reinforcer.

    Usually 1+1=2 to me… but obviously I am a little lost. Can someone enlighten me?


    • denise says:
      Friday, February 18, 2011 at 8:08pm

      This is my question too Naomi 🙂

      At some point the dog has to learn the significance of a NRM. In what context do they learn this?


    • Clyde says:
      Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 12:29pm

      @Naomi..I think the NRM is paired with the opportunity to start the poles again. “The opportunity to go for a swim becomes more reinforcing than the swim itself”…..The opportunity to START the poles again is more reinforcing than running the poles????
      Don’t know if I’m right on this, thou……


  11. LINDA BLACK says:
    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 11:11am

    So what is the second scenario???


  12. Lindsay King says:
    Friday, February 18, 2011 at 4:48am

    Hi, My two boys will come back to me to try again and will drive faster than the first try. Because the NRM means no poles and no reward at the end. So coming back is the quickest way to get rewarded. My female, who is also faster when NRM is given, cuts out the middleman, ME, and self corrects, she instead heads straight back to the start of the poles to redo them. This kinda worries me as the angle of approach is then different to where we started. Should she be rewarded for this. Or should I call her back to me.


    • brittsdeux says:
      Friday, February 18, 2011 at 8:40pm

      Lindsay, I have the same issue. Thanks for raising it.


  13. Jo says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 8:24pm

    I think I’m a BIG overuser of NRM in general – I’ve been listening to myself these last few days and I just can’t seem to stop “helping”! Any tips on breaking that habit gratefully listened to! My young dog shoots back to me as you describe, desperate to start again as soon as possible – good – but he also yells at the top of his lungs all the way back – no noise once in position to go again or when “on course” normally, though he is naturally a yodeller when free running:(. I kinda ignore the whole yelling thing as over enthusiasm but I know there’s a healthy dose of frustration in that yell too – not good??? So would we class him as happy to be stressed!!! Anyway I’m pretty sure when he shoots back to try again it’s because we have built a history of training where he is set up to achieve correct results most of the time,if we have a failure, we have another 2 tries with pretty much the same cues – I’d say 98% of the time we get a correct response within those attempts, if not I go back to a stage where he can be rewarded. Plus he seems to adore the training – or the possibility of playing with me and the toy – I get the impression that you and your dogs love training time too – gotta be a big factor on why they come back like that!

    I would guess another place you may use a NRM in training is when a dog self releases – i.e. stays??? I do. Can’t wait to see if thats your “other” scenario or, more likely, is this another area where I have Chronic Inappropriate NRMism?!


  14. denise says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 7:19pm

    When my dog comes back to me after hearing her NRM for missing a weaver entry she comes back a little worried. She comes straight back to me but not as fast and happy as she left me. She doesn’t like to be “wrong” and her response to the NRM really bothers me. I wish I could train weavers without it but I need to stop her when she gets the entry wrong.

    I think your dogs come back to you so happily and so fast because they have learnt how to fail in shaping without it being a negative experience. They know they are that much closer to getting it right and receiving their reward so their enthusiasm and drive remain high. I’d say you’re also so more successful at delivering your NRM in a neutral non judgementive tone.

    I do wonder though…. is weaving the first time in their life your dogs hear a NRM or do they learn the meaning earlier? At some point they have to learn that THAT word means “stop and lets try again” right??


    • veronica says:
      Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 8:36pm

      Could it be that you just answered you own Q ?
      The key being “teaching your dog how to fail and recover”.

      I think Susan has a post on this.

      Maybe we ( me too) haven’t properly shaped this behaviour response.


  15. Trudie says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 4:04pm

    The answer is: “The value of the distraction gets tied to the permission to do it” (where “the “distraction” is the big reinforcement the dog wants from doing the weaves, “the dog has to do behaviors with me before they get that big reinforcement they want” (from Brilliant recallers Webinar 2)

    Now I’m interested in what the answer is to Lori Kline’s scenario with the dogwalk — because my dog will sometimes “steal” this distraction!
    Not the same as a stolen obstacle, I do recall on a previous post you described a contact mistake : a NRM, dog gets returned to crate, to watch other dogs get a really high value reward (pool) followed by heel work, hand touches, and return to training for another try.


    • Esther says:
      Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 1:12pm

      Hi Trudie, got your message. Last time also, but you didn’t leave your email. Can you try again?


  16. Lee says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 3:45pm

    “I can only think of two examples in my training (in the value testing stage) where that may occur.”

    Ok, am I missing it, but I only see the weave example. what is your other training situation where you would consider using one?

    My take on why my dogs race back to me after an “oops” is cuz it’s serving as a conditioned negative punisher, terminating the opportunity for reinforcement on this rep, so there’s no reason to continue since it won’t be reinforced. The fastest route to earning the toy is to hurry up and start a new rep, so they race back and “push” me to let them go again.

    Lee Baragona


  17. Craig says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 3:09pm

    Perhaps it would help to provide a context, such as what is an NRM using positive reinforcement?
    For positive reinforcement, NRM is an acknowledgement to the dog, that the dog has done something, but not what the criteria for the request requires. Hence, there is no additional value/reward added to the NRM vs. RM, where additional “positive” value/reward would be added — treat, toy, etc.
    NRM would be the lowest ‘positive’ reinforcement/reward, everything of higher positive value would be associated with an RM with added “positive” value/reward.
    So, from the dogs perspective, the motivation would be to get what the dog perceives as the highest value/reward out of what the dog is being requested to do.


  18. Linda says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 2:02pm

    Because the NRM was never used during the process of learning weave entries and I’m sure it’s not used with connotations of anger or frustration attached to it(it simply means ‘oh no what happened?’),the dogs are confident in their abilities and in your relationship to want to try again immediately and prove they can do it right.
    The NRM isn’t your training crutch, so there isn’t the confusion attached to it that would a cause a dog to wonder what they’ve done wrong per say and then not know what to do even or shut down.

    And don’t forget value, there’s so much value in playing the game correctly with you that they are always ready to go.


    • Esther says:
      Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 8:00am

      Wow Linda, that last line hit a button with me.
      “And don’t forget value, there’s so much value in playing the game correctly with you that they are always ready to go.”
      This is what happens with my dog and playing will the launcher and the ball. Since recallers class, play=work and work=play. When we play ball I ask for random stops, sits or down before releasing to chase the ball. In the beginning they were very slow. Whenever they were too slow or wrong (a sit iso a down f.ex) I asked to come to sit next to me, or another exercice. Some extra work. As soon as it was done well, relaese to chase the ball. Little by little the dog has learned that he will always earn reinforcement when he tries. And he got faster and faster. Perfect positions at distance, (relatively) fast recall to RZ and all that because apparently for me it is easy in that game to transfer to my dog that “there’s so much value in playing the game correctly with me that they he’s always ready to go.”
      Thanks Linda, now I just need to find out how to apply that to my other training.


      • Trudie says:
        Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 12:57pm

        Hi Esther, just to let you know I enjoy watching you and Calou

  19. Craig says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 12:53pm

    > What is your dog’s response when he hears
    > a NRM? What happens to his enthusiasm for
    > work? Does he
    > come back to you and if so does he come
    > back fast and happy ready to try again?

    My dog(s) response on hearing an NRM marker is to check-in. Enthusiasm is dependent on what happens before the NRM marker and after the NRM marker. I typically use a NRM as a “focus shift” vs reattempt (depending upon the type
    of training being done).
    The assumption about using NRM would be that appropriate training took place before the NRM request (value/understanding). So, I assume that one could say, the more an NRM is required to be used, the less likely the dog or the handler is/was prepared for the given task being requested.

    > Next question why do you think my dogs do
    > drive back lightning fast lining up to try
    > again when they hear the word “oops”?

    Appropriate ‘value’ was built into the weaves along with the dog’s understanding of what the weave critera is.


  20. Lori Kline says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 12:44pm

    I understand and agree with using an NRM in the scenario you present. But, what about a contact? If they decide to do the dogwalk instead of the tunnel (assuming the handler has cued it correctly here, I know 99% of the time the handler cues the obstacle the dog ends up taking), would you call the dog off of it? I don’t for safety reasons. I don’t want to leave my dog hanging up there trying to decide if and how to turn around on a 12 inch board several feet off the ground to come back to me. The contact is also a chain of behaviors with reinforcement coming at the end.



    • veronica says:
      Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 7:56pm

      Good point.I too would like to know what to do and Susans opinion when that happens.


      • veronica says:
        Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 8:21pm

        As for the “weave poles”if my dog misses a pole( happens now and then)I say my NRM word “oops”,my dogs immediate response is she stops returns to me then will goes and trys again.Some times she goes back to the beginning other times she decides to enter where she made the mistake.
        I just assume that the dog when hearing the NRM realises she has made a mistake and there is going to be no reinforcement/reward so why go on to do the rest of the poles.
        I assume she is using her mind and problem solving.I guess…

  21. Noomi says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 11:23am

    I think my dog often barks at me and then tries again, sometimes before beeing told to do that, if I oops her out of the weavepoles or other things.


  22. Jodi Altman says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:48am

    Come to think of it, I am going to use the “that ain’t right” n-i-c-c-c-e as my NRM. Hope 2Do gets the nuance.


  23. Jodi Altman says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:32am

    Now when you say N-i-c-e I have to determine if you’re saying nice like “nice” or n-i-c-e like “that ain’t right” n-i-c-c-c-e.


  24. Andreja says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:22am

    This is what my dog does! Well, he usually won’t do the full speed, but it’s a respectable gallop, and he looks quite happy when coming back to me. While he likes to do a “winners round” when he gets a toy, if I say Oopsie he will come straight back to me for another rep (well, almost straight, he tends to overshoot when running fast).

    As long as I use it rarely the reinforcement he gets from correct repetitions leaves enough cash in the bank for him to continue going even with occasional Oopsie, but I still don’t understand why he looks happy when he hears it. Not happier than before, just happy…

    Can’t wait for the next post so you can explain this part 🙂


  25. Clyde says:
    Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:03am

    I think they come back to you right away because oops is the opportunity to gain reinforcement. They line up again because the act of trying the poles is reinforcing.


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