Riley-listeningMost good dog trainers understand that if a dog fails the same difficulty level more than 2-3 times in a row, things NEED to get easier or you’ll frustrate the dog and risk losing some of the progress you’ve made on the behavior as the dog loses confidence that they know the cue.

However, this is often something students struggle to understand.

A while back I stumbled upon a fantastic way of explaining this (I can’t recall the source, so if someone knows who originally suggested this idea, please speak up!).

Explaining Why Repeated Failure & Fading Cues Too Early Is Bad

When discussing failure in class I stop and ask if there’s someone in the class who doesn’t mind being a bit embarrassed (or pick someone I know isn’t overly sensitive) to help me prove a point. When someone volunteers, I ask them, “What day is it?”

Regardless of their answer, I respond by asking them the same question a second time: “What day is it?”

Then, when they respond, I repeat the question a third time.

Most of the time the student responding will give you a different (generally correct) answer each time — the first time they might respond with the day of the week, the second with the date, and then on the third they tend to get stuck…

Explain that when you repeat a cue before your dog really understands what it means, without rewarding them, it’s like asking them “What day is it?”

They assume they offered the wrong behavior, and try again — or try something else. Eventually, they run out of ideas—they don’t know what you’re asking for and give up.