You cued your dog to something and your dog did something else. Or maybe your dog did absolutely nothing at all. Now what?
If you stand and wait quietly then you are teaching your dog that silence means they are wrong, or maybe you will teach your dog that whenever you are quiet they should offer another behavior. Most of us have seen that in action and it’s not pretty. Between these two possibilities, thinking silence means they are wrong and offering behaviors in the presence of silence and stillness, both will absolutely, positively bite you in the butt later on when you want your dog to believe that silence means everything is perfect. So what’s the solution?
In general, if I am at the stage of training where I am cueing my dog to do something and they don’t perform, I am probably going to use a cheerful interrupter.
In a nutshell, I praise the dog. Yes, some people find that counterintuitive but it is absolutely intuitive to me. The reason is that silence always means that you are right. And when you are right, eventually that leads to classic reinforcement like food or toys.
If one considers the context here, a cheerful interrupter stops the flow of training without adding emotional baggage. Your dog knows they made an error, the same way if you were working with a child on a rote memorization task like multiplication tables, if you cheerfully threw up your hands and told them they were wrong wrong wrong! They would laugh with you, recognize the error, and try again. It works fine with dogs as well.
Regardless of how you might decide to handle errors, don’t sit and stare at your dog. That is punishing/stressful beyond almost anything I can think of. Do something! Or you look mad. Or maybe you look confused. Neither madness nor confusion creates a desire to follow in a dog so it’s best to avoid both.
My preference is to connect with my dog through minor praise and then try again. Success next time? Reward! Continued failure? You may want to stop cuing altogether and go back to the learning phase where you either shaped or lured the behavior because for sure, there’s no reason to keep asking for a behavior while your dog runs through every other possibility under the sun. That’s bad training.
Someone probably wants to know how my dog knows when the praise means they were right and when the praise means something went wrong. It’s a matter of flow. If an exercise has been completed and I do not plan to use food or toys then I praise the dog and I move on to something else. If I literally stop the dog from whatever they are doing then they know they made an error.
Point of clarification: This is for a behavior which is on cue and is not performed correctly. A dog in the shaping or luring phase would be handled differently. Waiting for a response could well be appropriate under various circumstances.
Watch this video for a visual representation.
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