To evaluate Feature’s understanding of her job on the contacts I needed to set her up for a planned failure. This was going to take a few days for me to set the stage. I spend several sessions over the course of the week reinforcing her with her highest value rewards; raw chicken necks, the chance to go swimming and the chance to go running with Encore.  All of that lead me to the big event. The planned failure.


I needed to get Feature to fail for one reason only. To see what she gave me after the failure.  Her response after the time out would tell me what I needed to know about her understanding of criteria.


Up until now anytime Feature failed at a contact attempt I did nothing more than withheld her rewards and set her up to try again. Keep in mind though she has never missed or left the contact without a release in practise. Failure to Feature would mean she may not have been fast enough or not straight enough, or not close enough to the bottom of the board etc. 


However the day had come when I was going to try for a major failure so that I could give her a “time out”. Today I had decided I was going to amp her up and make her give me a colossal failure in order to execute my test. Here is how I did it. I got all of my dogs excited to go swimming. Just before I let them go into the pond I had the Buzzy, DeCaff and Encore lay down as I ran Feature across the dog walk. Not only was she excited by the thought of swimming but I challenged her further by running away from the dogwalk on a diagonal across the field, towards the pond. That is all it took. For the first time ever, Feature ran her dogwalk contact at home.


I told her “you win the prize.” Now that may be a surprise to those of you that were thinking I should have told her “wrong!” or, “NO!” or “bad dog.”  I told her she got a prize and I said it in a cheerful voice.  I took Feature by the collar and walked her off the field into the garage, into a crate and then told the other three dogs to “go for a swim.” Ouch. says Feature, that really stings! I can only imagine that she was thinking “this prize stinks! I need to avoid winning this prize in the future!”


So Feature stayed in the crate, just around the corner from where the other three dogs were swimming. I only left her there for 2-3 minutes and then let her try again.  With the other dogs now in and around the pond (an even greater distraction than before) I asked Feature to do another dogwalk while I once again ran away toward the pond.


She nailed it. Gave me and awesome performance, rocked back, stopped in position and started nose touching immediately. I released her at once and away to the pond we went together.

Feature prepares to nose target at the NE regional in Washington. Another great shot by Ken Kennedy

Feature prepares to nose target at the NE regional in Washington. Another great shot by Ken Kennedy

Had Feature ran off her contact again (which I really didn’t think she would do) her lack of performance would be giving me great feedback about my training. It would have told me her foundation was not as strong as I thought it was.  The thing about punishment (the time out she got was negative punishment) is the dog should learn from it. If he doesn’t, it can mean that your foundation dog training needs more work and it would be unfair to continue to punish the dog. I may let the test happen one more time but that would be it.  


Your dog training should be centered around reinforcement. The only punishment used should come in the form of negative punishment and it should only be applied when there is a strong history or reinforcement first. The punishment ideally is planned and applied only when you feel it is absolutely necessary (10-20% of the time at the most). Once you apply the punishment you must evaluate it’s effect on the dog.  If the dog didn’t learn from it, change your path and use reinforcement to help create the new path you desire.

Today I am grateful for all of you. It is awesome to read all of the wonderful comments that have been written on my blog. I am thrilled that you allow me to play a role in your dog training.