Monday, January 19, 2009

Training Article: Practicing Failure

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." --Albert Einstein

"Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." --Vince Lombardi

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." -- Aristotle
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I want to talk a little bit about something that i think separates a good sheepdog trainer from a bad one, a quality that i think some people bring to this that makes them a "natural" at it. And that is the ability to try something, evaluate if it's working, and if it's not, to try something else. A sheepdog trainer has got to be flexible in his or her approach to training. If something isn't working, try something else! The handler is supposed to be the member of the team with the bigger brain. There's nothing that makes me cringe more than to watch a novice trainer making his dog do something wrong over and over and over, hoping that it'll get better. (See the Einstein quote above.) All you are doing is practicing failure, perfecting your failed attempts and firmly establishing a bad habit.

When my Jet dog was young and first in training, i was working with a trainer who really wanted me to get her bringing sheep out of tight corner properly. It made him crazy that she couldn't master it and he wanted me to keep drilling at it until she got it. She'd start into the corner but was uncomfortable with the tight space, and her eye would kick in making her want to cut back around the wrong way when the sheep would try to come out of the corner. So i went home and did some thinking about my young dog, who looked to be a talented girl with a little eye, was a little softer natured, and wanted so much to please me. And i decided i didn't want to bully this dog into doing something she clearly wasn't comfortable doing. I don't want that kind of relationship with my dogs, and especially didn't want to break the trust with this dog that was already trying so hard to be right. And i didn't want to keep hammering away on that corner work, having her doing it wrong repeatedly, and practicing failure. Being the (supposedly) bigger brained member of the team, i stopped to think about the skills she'd need to handle pulling stroppy sheep out of corners - a good flank with a nice shape and speed, confidence to pull up right in that corner to push the sheep out rather than flying through, etc - and i went and worked on the skills in an easier situation (open field), and practiced success. Next i took her into easier corner situations (easier sheep, a more open corner, etc.) and again practiced success. And when she had the skills to handle the tougher situation, we went back to it and she handled it beautifully, without a hitch, because the habit of doing it successfully was firmly set with her.

When you go out to train your dog, try to pay attention to what he's doing wrong, and try to figure out ways to help him be right, to set good habits. Unless you're intentionally allowing something to be wrong (see the article on Trading Problems), you should be trying to help your dog be right, and practicing perfection/success. I'm not saying your dog has to be 100% perfect all the time, but if your dog has a particular problem, you should be finding ways to help that dog be a little more correct all the time, and working your way towards perfection, rather than doing something wrong over and over and getting that wrong action firmly set in the dog's mind as "okay".

14 comments:

Darci said...

Cringe? I cried. And you almost got your wish for that collar name change, and still just may after all. It was not a pleasant hour and a half ride home all alone with me, myself and I while looking in the mirror and seeing my poor bloody little dog.
"Pracicing failure"...plain english can so bring things into the right perspective. Though your post brings me more shame than I have already subjected myself to, I can appreciate it, understand it and will try to dedicate myself to changing it. I do appreciate you, your knowledge, and your help, and hope you dont give up on us.

Robin French said...

Nah, you guys are fine. It was something else at the clinic that inspired me to write that article. I knew you'd taught yourself a big lesson. Been there!

fulltiltbcs said...

Great article Robin :) Very well put :)

Word verification: goilise

Which to me sounds like some kind if festering wound...how come you get all the cute ones!?! :)

Robin French said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

Eeewww, yep, does sound like an icky something or other.

How are those puppies?!! I'm having puppy blog withdrawal here.

Oh geez, my word verification word is achpit! LOL!

Kelly said...

Was it me that inspired you to write this article? :( If so don't ever be afraid to just scream at me.......

fulltiltbcs said...

The puppies are good...they are one week old tomorrow and I will be taking pics (really they don't look much different...but what the heck!)...

Will get them posted as soon as I can get them taken! The weather is above zero so trying to get as much dog work in as possible!!!

Eww...achpit...yeah...

I like mine better :-)) Sundishi..sounds fun! LOL

Robin French said...

Nooooo! :-) Just a stray thought based on something i saw at the clinic (none of you guys, promise!) that gained momentum and got me to finally write this article i'd been thinking about for awhile. It's kind of another version of the "corrections" article i wrote a while back really.

Kelly said...

Ok, just making sure. I think I am the most begginer out of the bunch, so i'm sure I make the most mistakes. I was truly impressed with Jen in the field on Sunday. I did get a little frustrated with Duke but I think he will get better if I can get his full attention!!

Robin French said...

I think i missed most of Jen's work but i did see the last session sunday, and she did look good! We'll mess around with Duke this weekend and see how he does in a different place.

Kelly said...

Great, I hope duke does get better just so I can have a little fun with him. Jen's last run was the best, she went out and did a nice little run there.

mountainside said...

Darci & Kelly, your both wrong, she wrote the article about me! Just kidding, I might could have thought that if I had done anything this past weekend (except scream at Joe for gripping Julie's sheep in the small pen after the clinic). Kelly, I have you beat in the beginner catagory. Truly. I'm still striving to get past my dyslexia of come by/away when the dog is facing me. Worked on a new trick on the way home that may help, Kathryn (10 years)told me how she visualizes it by crossing her hands behind her back. Humbling, but interesting. Thanks for the article Robin, I'm listening. Karen & girls

Robin French said...

Hey Karen, good to see you! Here's an older article on remembering flank commands that might help -- http://shooflyfarm.blogspot.com/2008/04/remembering-flank-commands.html

I had a terrible time with remembering them when i started. And just about the time i thought i had them down, i took a lesson from someone who started telling me "go left", "go right!" and i realllllly have trouble with those. :-)

It was fun working with you and the girls!

Darci said...

How Cool! Hi Karen!
It sure was great meeting you and the girls and Joe!
Keep in touch!

PS. Robin,they are getting better, my word verification was "surec" that doest bring up to many discusting images! LOL

Robin French said...

I love those verification words, they crack me up a lot of the time. :-)