03/30/2017: Timing in Training

I was watching a youtube video a few days ago of a well-known trainer in which he answers questions that come in on an hour-long live stream. One question (and his answer) stuck with me and has been bothering me.

Question: If you correct a dog for digging in the yard, or for jumping on a person, will the dog learn to avoid the behavior, or avoid the location? Will they understand that I’m correcting the behavior, or will they just learn to avoid the area they were corrected in or the person they were corrected for jumping on?

Answer: I’ve never seen it happen. Dogs are smart.

This really bothers me because it ignores one of the most important parts of training any animal, not just dogs… TIMING! If you correct your dog at the wrong time, you can absolutely make the dog avoid a location or a person instead of the behavior!

Timing is everything. EVERYTHING. In both rewards and corrections.

When you’re training a new behavior or command, the timing of your marker word (or click) is the most important thing to help the dog understand what you want. For example, when I taught Abe to touch something with his paw on command, I would click the instant his paw touched the object. If I waited a few seconds before clicking, he could have already had his paw off the object and moved onto something else. There’s no way to get a consistent, correct response to my cue if you aren’t consistent and correct when you mark the behavior you want.

When you’re correcting a behavior you don’t want, the same thing applies! If you wait a few seconds after the dog starts the behavior you don’t want for the correction, there’s no way the dog can possibly understand! For example, I’ve discussed before how Abe has to wait to be invited up onto my bed. He can’t just jump up on his own. After we spend the weekend at my boyfriend’s apartment (he’s more lax with this rule and lets him jump up on his own sometimes), Abe will sometimes hop up on my bed on his own. As soon as his little feetsies hit my bed uninvited, he gets a sharp “NO! Off!” If I were to wait until he laid down and got comfy before telling him no, there’d be no way he would understand which behavior I was correcting.

In the example of jumping on a person, if you were to wait until the dog had jumped up and the person had started interacting with the dog for a few seconds, you can absolutely make that dog avoid that person instead of the behavior of jumping! Because you’re correcting the interaction with that person! Long story short, I realize that in the fast-paced question-and-answer live stream setting it’s easy to give incomplete answers, but that answer really bothered me. I hope this offers some clarification.

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