Small Steps to Success

In addition to not allowing enough correct repetitions of an exercise, another common error is increasing more than one variable at a time, setting the dog up for a mistake. Of course, this means that as a trainer, you'll need to recognize what variables are involved in the exercise you are working on.

Setting a dog up for success means setting up an exercise so that the dog literally can't fail the task. Free shaping incorporates this philosophy well, as does shaping using lures — as long as the handler increases the difficulty of the exercise slowly.

For example, with the sit-stay, your variables are time and distance. You would never want to increase your demands for both the amount of time your Chi must remain in a sit as well as how far away you move from her. Instead, you could increase the time you expect your Chi to remain sitting by thirty seconds for a total of ninety seconds. When she can accomplish this reliably (and with confidence) nine out of ten times, you can then increase your other variable, distance. Depending on where your Chi was with this exercise, this might mean adding one additional step away from her for a total of four steps.

A variable that is often forgotten is location. If your Chihuahua sits reliably on command anywhere in the house, this does not mean she will sit on command when you are on the sidelines of a kids' soccer game. When adding a new variable to the mix, start at the beginning. If you're working on a sit, begin with the lure to shape the sit. You will progress more quickly this time; however, you are setting your dog up to succeed by giving her an easier, confidence building task.

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