All Aboard the Re-Train

All Aboard the Re-Train

Many flyballers dread the word "re-train". Perhaps because they feel its a reflection on them personally not initially doing a stellar job in teaching the game or maybe because they like all the fun parts of lineups and racing in tournaments and "retrain" means that has to temporarily stop. Even the best trainers occasionally have to go back and retrain because not every dog learns the same way or new environments and stimulus reveal holes in your training with that specific dog. As dog trainers we learn alot from these dogs and add skills to minimize the posibility of a retrain for the next dog we teach. Quite often I have a flyballer come to me and say "Can you fix my dog's box turn?" My response "Nope, but I can help you fix your dog's turn." Then I proceed to lay out the blueprint in accomplishing this goal which didn't include a magic wand and fairy dust. I honestly think that students who seek help from us are disappointed to learn we don't just have a magic solution that can be applied in one session and "tah dah" off to the races. Re-training a behaviour can be hard work especially when it has become a strong habit repeated over years in many new environments. It takes patience, understanding, time, and sacrafice to break a habit and create a similar new habit. We are sometimes talking about small details that make a huge difference but some dogs find hard to recognize and other times its a huge change that is very noticable. Either case it's important to have a plan on how to proceed effectively.

1. Identify the Problem

This isn't as easy as it may seem. For instance, sure its easy to say "my dog smashes the box, i wanna fix that!" but is that enough information? Why does he smash the box? Is he ball obsessed? how was he taught to hit the box? does he have a strong motivator? is it only when he is in a race? is it the box style? is he sliding on his approach? I could go on and on. You could put all the props in you want to fix a turn but if your dog is ball obsessed or lacking a reward system you might as well wait for that magic want because I guarantee you will not get the results you are seeking. You need to know the history of training, identify the reinforcers in the training program, and sometimes video analysis in order to succesfully identify the problem. Sometimes this is the toughest part.

2. Pull from Tournaments

You CANNOT re-train while allowing the dog to race in tournaments. That would be like you thinking 2+2=6 and me telling you in class that it = 4 but whenever you answer it on a test as 6 I mark it as right. You will never learn. So make sure when you decide to re-train you have a break from tournaments or your team isn't relying on your dog and he can be pulled for as long as it takes.

3. Break Down into Smaller Exercises

This makes it easier for your dog to understand which behaviour is being rewarded and allows more opportunities to reward successes and not reward the failures.

4. Manipulate Technique to Suit the Dog

Whichever technique you choose to use make sure that it is working properly for your dog. Adjust distances, heights, or timing so that it works for the build or movement of your dog.

5. High Levels of Repetition with Success

You can never overdue rewarding successful reps of a desired behaviour but not rewarding enough reps for it to become habit can come back to bite you. Make sure your dog can perform each step with solid understanding before moving on to the next step in your blueprint.

6. Setup for Failures

I think failure is important for your dog to have full comprehension of a behaviour. Knowing which response will get rewarded and which response won't is imperative to create incentive to do it right. A dog that is always right with the new behaviour will easily go back to the old behaviour when given the opportunity. For eg. good box turn with props vs bad box turn without props. if we dont teach them how to do a good box turn without props in practise then when you take props out in tournament the bad turn comes back. They have to understand the criteria to earn the reward.

7. Move through all the steps until full criteria is accomplished in practise environment.

8. Start all over again and move through step at accelerated rate in new environment

9. Allow limited competing as long as criteria is being met. Pull from race at any sign of relapse to old behaviour and get it back in warm-ups when you can train again.

In general, when teaching a new behaviour that involve using training aids. Once the new behaviour is learned with the aids you then have to remove the aids and get the same behaviour. You can phase the training aids out or you can add and remove them rewarding only the correct trials. If my dog is wrong 3 times in a row without the training aids then I make sure to put them back in and show them what will be rewarded for 1 rep and then try it again without the aids.

Good luck with your travels on the Re-Train and enjoy the ride.