Providing contrast -- the "mistake" lure?

The technique is one for advanced handlers.  Beginning handlers, you have enough on your mind!  You'll get to this later, and all will work out just fine.

Although the practice is typically associated with positive-punishment (pain)-only training, the concept is valid, even if the pain is unnecessary.  The idea is to provide contrast.  Elicit or at least deliberately provide the opportunity for the dog to give a WRONG answer, mark it with an NRM (non-reward marker), WITHHOLD reward (or, in other words "negatively punish"), then elicit the correct response and reward it.

This works especially well for situations where the wrong answer is so very close to the right answer.  For example, "eye contact" that is only peripherally reaching your face -- the dog stares generally at the food dispensing area, your hands and middle.  Or a "heel" which has great eye contact, but is 12 inches farther from you than you'd like.  This is still pretty darn good behavior, pretty close to a heel. and 85% of dog owners would kill to have their dogs even doing that much!

Let's look at teaching eye contact (LOOK/WATCH command).  As long as you have eye contact, continue to repeat the word good or provide a stream of clicks.  If this is a new behavior or a newish dog, you may be using one kibble for each "good" or click. One for every 1-2 seconds of correct behavior!  Lots!  Wave a treat around the sniffer, and if the eye contact ceases, mark wrong, and KEEP GOING.  Don't let a mistake stop the whole show: simply elict correct eye contact again, continuing to use the stream of "good"s or clcks until you have completed a standard repetion, and release.  While each "good" or click can equal ONE kibble, a release equals 10 or more, and perhaps even freedom or play.  By giving more precise, up-to-the-second feedback info, your dog has to do less guesswork about what is right and wrong!

This level of precision can be a bit too demanding and stressful for puppies.  It can also be too demanding of the human, which is where I find it most commonly goes wrong.  If you are not capable of this level of focus, you can be with practice.  Start with ONE repetition of about 15 seconds.  Zone out, relax, and regroup before deciding to try another repetition.  Self-monitoring is difficult when you are so focused on the dog, so it may be helpful to train with a friend who can monitor YOU for signs of flagging.  When you get tired, you will get grouchy, and dogs who are grouched at tend to lose interest in training.  (No kidding!)

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