A very common question I ask folks is “do we want the dog to come off the bed without permission?” 99% of the time, most folks answer “No, we don’t want the dog to come off without permission” and that’s where I say, “Yes, we do.” I really want the dog to make the mistake, but let me clarify what I mean by that. Whenever we’re working a drill with a dog where we’re teaching them how to do a particular skill, we want them to make the mistake at that moment because when they do, we get to not reward them, and we get to place them back onto the bed or the target. However, you really want the dog to think about this because as the dog comes off when you’ve already shown them what to do, then doesn’t get rewarded, what’s actually going to get rewarded now is an opportunity to get the dog to think, and man, this is so underrated.
I love it when dogs actually have to use your brain to solve the problem that we’ve set up for them. When your dog does make a mistake, I’m not saying to just let it go by. You shouldn’t reward it, and you should correct the dog by putting them back onto the thing that you wanted to do. Then, let the dog decide, especially in the early stages, if it wants to make the mistake again. That way, you can go about doing the whole thing again, or if they can figure out how to do it even better. When they choose to do it better, for example on a place stay, the dog is on the bed, they’ve chosen to come off several times and you’ve put them back now. Maybe the dog will decide to go into the down position on their own, and then you tell them that that’s right then reward them, what you’re actually rewarding there is not just the down, but that the dog came up with the idea of the down.
Truly, and honestly, do you always want to have to give a command to your dog to get them to do the things that you want, I would say “No.” I really like for dogs to do the right thing without me having to ask them, so part of that process is allowing the dog to make a mistake. When they do the right thing on their own, go about rewarding them. The dog’s going to think “I’m a genius! Every time I do the right thing and they didn’t tell me, look at this massive reward I get! I’m going to keep doing that now.” Don’t keep making a massive reward each time though, keep your dog guessing just a little bit, but that’s a really, really great way to go.
So the next time that you have a training session, let your dog make the mistake. That way, you can go about not rewarding them. You might just put yourself in a position where they’ll choose used to do exactly the right thing. Then, you can reward and you’ll be in a better position.
Hey, have a great weekend. I hope your training is going well. Take care!