Tuesday, December 19, 2006


One has to be super careful before using negative punishment (timeouts). It is so easy to think the dog knows its job but find that you really have not training what you thought you trained.

Especially with contacts, I have found that I giving different body language at trials. A careful study of videotapes showed that instead of Wyatt knowing an independent 2 on, 2 off - which I thought he did - that he was relying on my body “jerking” forward as his release. Since I was running faster and much more “jerkily” at trials, I was pulling him off. Someone recommended timeouts which I tried but I ended up punishing him for doing what he thought his job was which just added to his (and my) trial stress.

I went back and also found that he was releasing on any command (and not just his release word) so I went back and proofed and retrained that. I also made jerky movements and made sure he stayed put as well as being in all kinds of different positions relative to him and the contact.

A lot times, we think the dog is doing X because of our Y cue, but in reality, they are doing X because of a cue Z that we are not aware of. And then we go and alter cue Z at a trial and wonder why they did not do what we said or even punish them.

The approach I have taken now has a couple of components. One was to do a lot of NADAC so I could redo the contact if need be without using punishment. Second was to really proof all aspects of the behavior including commands, position, and body movements. If not at NADAC and I have a contact issue, I may just pause long enough so I am at least not rewarded him for blowing a contact and then trying again at the next contact. A full timeout just seemed to bewilder and demotivate him. Plus, how sure I am that I was not the problem or part of the problem?

This has worked well for us. Now, I am having a different problem with not releasing but that is another story.

I think the biggest mistake we make is to trial too early. And unless you do NADAC, our very intelligent whippets (and other sighthounds) learn that the rules are different at a trial. I wish other venues allowed the limited training you can do in NADAC. It is SO good for trial issues. So we start seeing all our carefully trained behavior fall apart at trials.

Anyway, before you use timeouts, you have to be really sure the dog (and you) really knows the job under all kinds of conditions.

-- John Heffernan

Whippet Wyatt of Dodge City, CD, RA, SC, NA, NAJ, OAC, EJC, OCC, TN-O, TG-N, WV-N, CL4, CL5-SF, CGC “Wyatt”
Whippet AWC Triathlon Winner Ch Seaspell’s Concord Point, CD, SC, OA, OAJ, CR, OTR, NJC, TG-N, CL4, CL5-HSF, CGC “Patriot”

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