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Make it failure proof

A training tactic that applies to all aspects of a dog’s life

Having a high intelligence breed has occasionally made me raise my expectations and believe that my dog should be perfect.  If my Aussie can learn a new trick in under a minute, why can’t he understand that I don’t want him to drink out of the toilet?  Shouldn’t he be able to differentiate between actions I would praise and actions I would scold?  If he knows me so well that he goes to the next room I’m about to inhabit without me showing any body language in that direction, why does he still try to go after cats?  The answer:  He’s a dog!  He might act like he understands my every word and responds to my emotions, but he is still an animal.

A trainer once said to me, “Don’t set him up to fail.”  At the time, I figured that there was no reason to avoid such setups, because that was the only way for Trooper to ‘learn on his feet’; to do something outside of a training environment and have to learn that it was right or wrong.  I have since experienced the pitfalls of that mentality and now know that the trainer was absolutely right.  I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement, so how can one expect to praise a situation where the dog has failed?  Dogs, especially Aussies, might understand a lot of human vocabulary, but they are not likely to grasp, “No!  That was a really bad move, Fido.  I am disappointed in your actions, but I still love you and think you can learn from this situation.”

If you make your dog’s world failure proof, you remove situations where you have to punish your dog.  By process of elimination, that leaves only situations where you praise.  Praising Trooper makes him more responsive to me, in training situations and in regular life.  If he thinks he has my approval, then he puts on his front-row-student-cap and looks for even more opportunities to get reward (verbal or otherwise).

I have learned this lesson a few times.  Recently, I took the garbage out of its can to get ready to take outside and I left it, untied, on the kitchen floor.  I had to go to another room for a quick task but ended up taking about 10 minutes to return to the kitchen.  By the time I returned, Trooper had removed several things from the garbage, creating a huge mess and eating who knows what.  I did not scold him other than pointing at the mess and saying “No” because I knew that it was my fault, not the dog’s.

So how do you make your life and home failure proof so you strengthen the relationship with your Aussie?  If a situation is ever about to unfold and you think for a second, “He might do that, but….he knows better,” then stop!  Prevent the disaster!  Put the toilet seat down, take the trash immediately outside, keep the dog and cat in separate rooms when left alone, don’t leave nachos on the living room coffee table, close the fence gate, and do everything else that if gone wrong, would upset you and result in discipline for your dog.

With working breeds especially, a happy dog equates to a tighter working relationship, which results in a responsive pet…which means more rewards, making a happy dog…and the cycle continues.  Protect your dog’s and your own happiness:  Make it failure proof.

One Comment

  1. Love this article. It’s so applicable to many situations in life, even outside of dog training. As an employer, I can see how I can strive to “make failure proof” many situations at work, with employees, especially when training new people. If I think it’s ok to be lazy in training because the trainee will probably figure it out the little things I leave out, thinking that those things are “common sense” I’m going to think again. I should be coming from, “is this failure proof?” The thing I want the most is to set people up for success and reduce or eliminate as best as I can situations that will inevitably cause failure and upset. This is a great training tool for improving performance…. Thank you for sharing it!!!


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