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Watch Yourself Train: I Just Did, And Found A Big Mistake

Quick: Name your favorite dog-training tool.

Anybody say their phone? That's mine. Because nothing improves my technique more than watching a video of a session I just had.

Take this footage from 13-week-old Ruthie's first lesson. There's a lot I'm proud of here, but there's one thing that makes me cringe! I've developed a really bad habit, and thanks to my phone, now I've caught it and can correct it.


First, here are the things I notice that make me happy:

* JOY! FUN! LOVE! The vibe of this lesson is exactly right. Pup is learning that listening to humans brings her all the things she wants. Truly, she didn't want to stop. I was prepared to take breaks and go for a walk, but she wanted to "work" like this for an hour!

* NO-RUSH APPROACH. I'm happy to see on video that I'm not rushing Ruthie, and I'm giving her a chance to think things through. That's a huge lesson for owners. Take a deep breath, and wait.

* JUST-RIGHT ASKS. You want to set your pup up for success by asking for things that are at just the right level, so that she can get it right, and get reinforced for that. Go too far too fast, and you blow it. (For example, learning "stay" from a sitting position was too hard for Ruthie, so right away I switched to a down position which she could do beautifully.)

* DOWN. The very first attempts at "down" look pretty unimpressive ... until you see that half an hour later Ruthie's got a great hand-signal down, responding to two different people giving the cue.


Okay, so now we come to the part that makes me cringe.

I love clicker training, because using that very distinct sound to mark the moment the pup does the right thing offers perfect clarity for the pup. That speeds learning. With my own dog Mojo, I use a clicker whenever I'm teaching something brand new. However, lots of clients find clickers cumbersome (where do you hold it when you're also holding treats and the leash?) -- so I've switched to using a marker word instead. Rather than clicking, I teach clients to say, "YESSSS!!!" Theoretically, that can be just as effective, and the bonus is that your mouth is always with you! Since I'm hoping clients will find little moments all day long to teach, removing the clicker as a barrier felt like the right thing to do.

However. I have just, thanks to this video, realized that I've gotten into the horrible habit of saying my "YESSSS!!!" in all sorts of ways -- different pitches, lengths, volumes. From the dog's point of view, there is no way all of those sound the same, so I have utterly blown the power of the marker word. Now it's just me babbling. Sure, it sounds positive, but it does not carry the clarity I should be going for.

So. Now I'm going to focus on saying that "YESSSS!!!" the exact same way, every single time -- thanks to my favorite dog-training tool, the phone.

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