We are always worried about fading treats and rewards. Very few dog handlers worry about fading corrections, but this is the one thing you should work hard to fade.
We’ve talked before about the difference between teaching and learning. Teaching a task to a dog means that we are showing the dog the task, in various environments, with different distractions, and adding duration and distance to the equation. It can take 2 minutes to show a dog the task, but it can take several months to show the dog everything they need to accomplish in order to perform the task reliably anywhere, at any time.
This doesn’t mean that your dog will learn it in this time. Just because a dog is shown a task doesn’t mean that the dog understands what you want. People are focused on the end game. What sequence of events teach a specific task? Dogs focus on the moment. What am I doing right now?
This is one reason why shaping may not work. Too often people wait until a dog is finished a behavior to reward. They don’t reward while the dog is doing the behavior. So the dog has finished the sit. Its but is on the ground. Now it thinks ‘well, I’ve done it. I wonder what is over there.’ This is when the owner’s treat.
People never have trouble with corrections. They are always given while the dog is ‘in’ the act. Unfortunately, most of the leash jerks are given while the dog has no idea what they are doing wrong. They are looking at something.
Let’s say they look at a strange dog. They are punished. Therefore, strange dogs are bad. (Generalization and Building Associations) This is why I want people to learn how to fade treats as soon as possible. First, it rarely fixes the emotions. It just puts a cap on a bottle of volatile reactions. Second, there is a high likelihood of creating new behavior problems.
How to fade corrections:
- Learn to be aware. Try to stop bad behaviors before they happen. If you see a strange dog on the street then don’t wait to ‘see’ if your dog will react. Start redirecting and reorienting immediately. Next, either remove your dog, or keep your dog busy until the other dog is gone.
The more you are aware of your dog’s body language and environment, the more you are able to ‘act’ and stop in incident. If you are not aware then you can only ‘react’ to an incident that has already happened.
- Create a predictable routine. Practice until your dog knows what is going to happen when a strange dog appears on the horizon. Be consistent. Don’t change the routine. This routine is something that you and your dog will develop together.
- Stop yelling. Stop jerking the leash. Stop giving verbal corrections. If you are micromanaging your dog then it doesn’t have any reason to think and take responsibility for its own behavior.
- Instead of correcting, give the dog something else to do. Some people create an alternative behavior. I just give the dog a command and continue as if nothing happened. The calmer you remain, the calmer your dog will stay. Your dog is taking its cue off of you.
I have observed that dogs who are corrected never have as high a level of confidence as dogs who are ‘proactively’ managed. When your dog sees something it is getting ready to lunge at then ‘interfere, interrupt, reorient, engage’