One of the most pervasive myths is the world of competition obedience is that at some point in your training, corrections will be required to convince your dog that performing is not optional. Corrections are added to give…reliability.
How’s that working for us? Let’s consider it.
The logic goes as such:
“There are no cookies in the ring. If the dog dog only wants to work when there are cookies to motivate him then he can simply opt out. You must add corrections so that the dog understands he has no choice about working, even in competition where there are no cookies.
I’ve been competing for about 35 years in AKC obedience. I started well before anyone used cookies; the only training method on the table was corrections – from start to finish. It wasn’t pretty.
The “pass” rate in Utility B – the highest competition level for seasoned dogs, was roughly 50% at that time.
35 years ago – no cookies and all corrections in the highest level class for dogs that had demonstrated competence with all of the exercises. Yet, half of the dogs in that class – the well trained “good” ones – had figured out that they did indeed have a choice. Sometimes they performed, and some times they didn’t.
How about nowadays?
The failure rate is STILL about half of the dogs in Utility B.
So we have a logic problem here. Our pass rates should have plummeted if compulsion gave compliance in competition, or our pass rates should have skyrocketed if it’s the combination of cookies and corrections that’s the real ticket. We still have to try and explain that pesky 50% failure rate.
We all fail. Regardless of method. Without exception.
The fact is, dogs trained with “have to” fail on a very regular basis. Maybe the dog lost attention, got stressed, or just decided that they weren’t going to do it on that day. How is this possible if that dog was trained that it would be corrected for…losing attention, stress was no reason not to work, and that opting out is not an option?
It’s possible because there is no “have to” in competition. What happens, happens. Now go home and train better.
If you’re looking for a guarantee, it should be obvious that neither corrections (have to!) vs. cookies (want to!) is going to get you there.
The solution is excellent training. The best trained dogs have the highest pass rates. Not the ones who got the most cookies or the hardest corrections – the ones that are well trained, regardless of the handler’s choice of method.
And the best trained dogs are often of breeds that, by temperament, do very well under the stress of competition. They are not stupid. Seasoned dogs know perfectly well that there are no corrections or cookies in the ring, yet they do it anyway. They like to work or they perform out of habit.
And the best trained dogs with the best temperaments are often owned by…the most experienced or determined trainers! Who, regardless of their choice of methods, have worked hard enough that they have figured out how to get dogs trained – or at least dogs of the temperament that they tend to select for.
I choose to train with positive reinforcement. I do this because I want my dogs to work for me because they want to, and it is obvious to me that the “have to” method is just as risky as the “want to” method. There are no guarantees. Instead of worrying about that, I’ll put my energy into becoming the best possible trainer I can.
It’s a myth that adding corrections to your training will make your dogs more reliable in competition. Pay attention to what actually happens on trial day and this will become clear to you.
I know the “have to” idea sounds good in theory but in practice? It’s not holding up.