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  • dave44054

Are you Teaching or Testing

We talk a lot about communication when working with our dogs. A big part of communication is understanding the intentions of the communication. What are we trying to communicate? Is it something they know or is it something we need to teach. If we are communicating something that they know we can be in a test mode. If it is something they don't know, we need to be in teaching mode.


good choices are key to getting along
The boys enjoying some free time. Tate, Turk, and Pete


What is the difference? The difference is in the corrections. I know some of you will be "but I thought we were talking communication?". We are, corrections are part of communication. How we correct is the difference between teaching and testing.


When we are teaching our corrections should not be harsh or hard line. We want those corrections to communicate they are making a wrong choice and to try a different choice. This can come as a "think" command or tone, or it can come in the form of physically making that wrong choice difficult. We then should be willing to allow them to make or help them understand and make a better choice.


Teaching requires us to still hold them accountable for choices they make while at the same time helping them understand the correct or acceptable choice. Choices are not free, there need to be consequences for choices made. We are responsible to make sure consequences match the choice, good consequences for good choices and uncomfortable consequences for wrong choices. When we have to make a wrong choice uncomfortable we then want to guide the dog into making a good choice so we can reward with a good consequence. There can be a long list of good consequences that would include but not limited to, allowing the dog to continue working, verbal praise, physical praise, calming tones, affirmations etc.


Once we know that a dog understands a choice is wrong, we move on to testing of that principle. Each time we ask our dogs to do something that they know, command or task, it is a test. When it is a test the tested is entirely responsible for their response. It is at this point that we are not going to just rescue the dog from the choice it makes, it is either right or wrong. It is at this point that our corrections can be blunt.


When we are at the point of being able to make a flat correction people will often get caught up into holding a grudge. It is very important that we don't get pulled into the idea that the dog should know better and not let go of the correction. When the dog changes we must change as well.


There are dogs that can learn just by being corrected till they make a good choice. It works, but with a select number of dogs. It will also break down a lot of dogs if the corrections are not clear and timed correctly.


Rather than run the risk of breaking dogs down, teach till they understand. Help dogs learn to make good choices. Teach them what is acceptable in the situations they are in. If we teach before we test, we can spend more time building dogs up and less time breaking them down. I understand this requires more patience but if we do it both we and our dogs will benefit.



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