Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Efficient Teaching ( Recall) When it comes to teaching new behaviours, we often visualize the "finished product". But is it ever finished?
The environment is ever-changing and the behaviour will change accordingly. Here is an example, I have been driving for many years. I started learning in a low distraction area (quiet industrial area) until I built up enough mechanical and observation skills to move to the more busy environments. I practiced every day and now I consider myself being an efficient driver. But... Every time I'm driving, the environment is different. Different obstacles are on the road, different cars with different drivers which are also at different stages in their learning journey. I still make mistakes. Other drivers also make mistakes.
The same principle can be applied to any skill your dog is learning but let's take recall training as an example. We start teaching in the low distraction area- at home, in the garden, progress with being outside in the familiar environment, practice in many different environments. And even after practicing in many different scenarios, sometimes dogs fail to recall. There could be anything in the environment that looks different to your dog. It could be a scent that you're not aware of or a visual stimulus that for some reason then looks different to your dog. Even if they haven't chased a squirrel before, but this particular squirrel waved its tail in a particular way close to your dog and caught their attention. And then, boom! The dog fails to recall because chasing squirrel looks way more fun at that moment in time than turning 180° and coming back to you.
Let's go back to driving. Imagine that for some reason you need to drive into an unfamiliar area. Maybe even a different country where the signs and road markings are different from what you're used to in your area. It can be overwhelming. The first time you're driving in an unfamiliar environment, you will probably be a little slower and watch the signs and road markings, be more cautious. Although you are an efficient driver, you will adapt your behaviour to that particular environment.
The same goes for our dogs. . Their behaviour will change according to the new environment
Learning a new skill is a process.
If I would only drive twice a month to the same location at the time when there's no traffic, I wouldn't be efficient at driving at other times in different environments.
Same with our dogs. If I only taught my dog to recall in my garden and would only repeat it once a week, it's unlikely that they would respond elsewhere.
So before getting angry with my dog for not responding to my request, I'll ask myself some questions.
Did I teach my dog to respond to that particular cue?
Did I practice that skill successfully in different environments?
What was different this time?
What did the dog learn?
How can I help my dog to succeed in the future in responding under the same circumstances?
Do I need to tighten up the management?
Should I practice more in less distracting environments?
Should I go back to basics and improve the reflex response, before asking my dog to perform the task in busier environments?
Should I change the reward for the behaviour I'm asking for?
Is that reward high enough value for my dog in that particular situation?
Foundations and the right motivation are the keys to successful learning.
Learn, practice progress...
Sandra Dlugabarskiene, MISAP, IMDT Dog trainer in Edinburgh, Scotland