Dog’s Eye View: Feedback an important part of training
April 7, 2016
Feedback: the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original controlling source.
— Merriam–Webster Collegiate Dictionary
Once, upon starting a new job, my supervisor said to me, "I'll tell you when you do something wrong; otherwise, you won't hear from me." Yikes! Talk about fumbling around in the dark and never knowing when a shoe would drop. I think that, sometimes, this is what happens to a dog when he goes home with a new owner. I can empathize.
I was thinking of how we speak words of encouragement to children at each small step of learning. We might say, "Good job," for brushing their teeth, or "Thank you for helping," when they pick up their toys.
In Family Dog Class and Puppy Class, one of the first things we teach is the importance of giving plenty of feedback to our canine buddies in the form of tasty treats delivered immediately after a behavior such as "sit" is accomplished.
Part of the speedy reinforcing treat delivery includes the generous amount given — sometimes a "jackpot" (three to five treats), delivered "rapid fire," one tidbit at a time, right to our dog's mouth.
The reason we take time to teach this skill is that trainers in training may not yet understand how critical it is to get the message across that a certain behavior such as "come here" pays off big time.
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We like to keep the dog/human conversation going by delivering a "paycheck/treat." Stay engaged with your dog when you're training. Be careful of long, uncomfortable pauses in any training sequence that leaves your dog wondering what's going on. He might decide to start doing something unrelated to the task at hand.
Does your dog sit quietly when someone approaches? Tell him what a good boy he is. Give him some feedback
Does he run back to you when you call him? Tell him that he's right. Give him plenty of feedback.
When I see a new student giving just one measly, boring treat for a behavior their dog really worked hard to accomplish, I think of a favorite behaviorist, Kathy Sdao, who, in her book, "Plenty in Life is Free," writes "that behavior doesn't deserve minimum wage." I might add that frequent words of encouragement go a long way toward good behavior, across the board.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC, with more than 30 years of experience.