Sometimes it feels like you’re spending too much time training your dog and yet the dog keeps making mistakes. It may seem like they’re not learning anything despite the effort you’re putting in. You wish it didn’t take so much time to teach.
There is a solution for you.
Here are the tools you can use.
This can be done from the couch. All that needs to be done is when you see your dog naturally performing a behavior, you can give it a name. Be consistent and your dog will pick up on it. Dogs can learn words and associate them with behavior fairly easily, just like how my dogs have learned the words “feed the dogs” mean that they need to book it to their food bowls.
This form of learning teaches your dog how to do something in half the time of your good old fashioned trial-and-error type training. With errorless training, you only give the dog feedback when it is doing what you want and you ignore all other behaviors.
Here’s an example of errorless training:
You want to teach your dog to sit. Trial-and-error training has you bring the treat up and back over the dog’s head until they sit, then they are rewarded. You continue this until you add the verbal cue “sit” a few times. Then you try to cue the sit verbally only. The dog doesn’t respond and you give the dog negative feedback “uh-uh. SIT”. The dog still doesn’t sit, so you get frustrated.
Errorless training is basically where you get rid of the “uh-uh” or “SIT. SIT. SIT.” and take a step back if the dog isn’t doing what you want it to. You must realize that if the dog isn’t responding, you don’t need to tell him “HEY! You’re doing this WRONG!” You need to back up and say, “How can I teach this differently so the dog understands?”
It’s like taking a test where you weren’t prepared and all you get is your teacher coming over to tell you what answers you got wrong. Then the teacher gives you a test again.
How would taking the test again make you feel? Are you going to get the answer right this time? Maybe by dumb luck… but most likely not. You might feel worried that the teacher is going to come berate you for your wrong answers again.
The problem is, if you were never taught how to work out the answers and you’re left to figure it out, you might even think that taking the test in and of itself was the wrong thing to do! Whenever I come to school when there’s a test, the teacher gets upset at me! Yeah, that’d be a little anxiety inducing.
(This is why homework is generally useless, but I digress.)
Anyway, your dog doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, and he might start disliking training sessions or getting anxious and perform worse for you if you don’t fix your methods.
How to Implement Errorless Training
When you use this form of training, your dogs will pick up behaviors much more quickly because there’s no anxiety involved and whenever your dog fails, you try something different instead of just doing the same thing over and over again.
Errorless training means reinforcing correct behavior and making things easier for the dog if needed. If a dog is not responding to something you’re trying to train them on, it means you’re the one doing something wrong. Generally it means you need to simplify til the dog offers what you’re looking for.
So say you’re trying to teach your dog to look at you in the eyes. You’re whistling, holding a treat near your face, and you just can’t get the dog to look in your eyes. It’s frustrating, right? Well, maybe the dog is looking at your face. Start rewarding the dog for looking at your face. Then withhold a treat. The dog will look at your face and then probably start looking around nearby. He knows he’s in the right area for a treat. His glance briefly touches your eyes. Ahah! Reward.
Along this vein, if you teach your dog to look at you, come or leave it where they get a reward when they do these behaviors, they are a good way to interrupt negative behaviors without being negative or causing anxiety. The dog is barking in the backyard, for example and you tell him to come. The behavior is interrupted quickly and easily and your dog is told precisely what to do, rather than you fruitlessly yelling “no!”, which doesn’t tell him anything.
Here’s an article I found to be quite thorough on the subject.
Surprisingly, errorless learning is really controversial because many people think it’s important to tell a dog what not to do. It’s interesting to me that people think that because even in child studies, we learn that when the positive behavior that is the opposite of the negative behavior is rewarded and celebrated, negative behaviors often disappear.
What do you think of errorless learning? If you haven’t used it before, try it to teach your dog a behavior and come back and let me know if it teaches the behavior faster than normal.