I talk a lot about criteria in dog training. Having good criteria can make or break your dog training plans, and yet many of us, when faced with criteria, see nothing but a muddy mess! Where do we start?
Today, I set about raising the criteria on Tagg's Front. I noticed this past weekend that her Front, which should be a square sit facing me tucked up against my toes, was, in fact occurring about three to four feet away.
The plan: simple; incrementally get Tagg closer and closer to my feet.
So, armed with a clear criteria, I set up my video camera and went to work!
Yikes! Tagg's sit also slumped to the left, she rocked back into the sit when she sat, so even if she started with her nose on my knees she ended up a foot away.
I tried to fix everything at once! No treat, that sit is a mess! No treat, you were touching my knee but you rocked back and now you're a mile away! No treat, you parked yourself three feet away again! No treat, you are now climbing my leg trying to get my treat out of my hand!!!
She (and I) had no idea what criteria was most important and when she might get paid! The criteria were too many, and she had no idea what I was looking for because I was looking for the one thing I knew she didn't have (a sit close to my feet), and two things I hadn't noticed that she didn't have (a tucked sit that keeps her stationary from stand to sit, and a sit that doesn't flop to the left).
With this mess, there was no way to proceed.
That didn't stop me from trying for three long minutes! (poor Tagg!)
So, now what? There's no way I can fix these three things simultaneously because that makes success so rare as to be nearly impossible to track, and what is 'close enough' and which thing takes precedence over the other?
So, Tagg goes back to wrestling with Billy; the treats get put up, and I sit down and I hash out a plan.
Where do I start?
Well, in this case, I need a tucked sit. I need to focus on that until I get it. Once I get a tucked sit, if the sit is still crooked (and since we're changing the whole 'sit' picture, it may not be, or it may get worse, or it may change to the other side) then we fix that. Then, once we have the whole sit picture just the way I want it, then, and only then do I begin to bring the sit in closer.
So much for an easy fix!!
So, criteria in dog training tells us and our dogs very clearly what it is we want. Understanding criteria rescues us (as dog trainers) from asking for too many things at once (or at least it does sooner rather than later!). It makes us think harder about what it is we're looking for, and it helps us build solid foundations for behaviors. Tagg's rock back sit will also impair her heeling work in the future, had I decided to ignore that element and just gone with 'closer' as a criteria, I would always be battling her out of position sits!
All this for a sit!
Imagine the complexity of criteria for loose leash walking (no pulling, no yanking because - squirrel!, no maniacal barking, no switching sides suddenly! No stopping to sniff for half an hour, no dragging me to that tree, no going the wrong way round the lightpost!!) Poor dogs! Poor us!
Start at the fundamentals - the leash is never tight. Focus, focus, focus on that, and see all the other things that quickly fall by the wayside!
Helping you Build Your Dog's Best Life (one tiny detail at a time!)