We always hear why it is important to set our dogs up for success when training, however we hardly realize the importance until it is too late. My husband recently took our two dogs for a walk to a place we let them run off leash. After running around they popped into a local hardware store, to grab a few things real quick….. Usually when we leave this store, he lets them back off lead in the field behind it and we walk towards home, but I am with. On this particular occasion, one of our dogs, Ruger, saw someone he knows from my Search and rescue team inside the store, and only got a quick pet from her, as my husband was in line checking out. Can you guess what he decided to do when they left and were back in the field walking home? Ruger ran back to hardware store, walked inside in an attempt to find her. After all, she does hide for him for SAR practice. Sounds cute? Well it was not. It was extremely dangerous. He could have been hit by a car or really scared someone… he is after all 150 lbs, if you are not a fan of dogs, could you imagine an overly excited huge puppy greeting you? When I got home that evening and the story was retold, it dawned on me I don’t think I have ever talked to my husband about setting the dogs up for success, as I am the trainer between the two of us. So what does it mean to set your dog up for success?
To me it means you have proofed every behavior, and made it as such that your dog always chooses to pick the right one, at the right time. For example an excellence recall, which Ruger failed at the other night, is a lifesaving cue. To me setting them up for success means you manipulate the environment to help your dog choose to follow the cue, and when they do recall to you, it is the best place on earth. For example when teaching recall you would never start out by practice off leash in a dog park… there are way too many distractions and uncontrollable variables. You would work your way up, to off leash recall. First you need to teach what you want, then add some distance, then distractions, then start all over being off leash and work your way up again, as you have now changed the picture. The moral of the story? Always set your dog up for success. Ruger was not set up for success and we have some work to do on proofing his recall, especially when the picture has changed.