Frustration, the Crucial Element in Dog Training and Behavior Chaining!
The irony about this article is that dog training can simply be super frustrating! Everything about working with animals at some point has its frustrating moments, but all good things in life come with frustration and some sacrifice!
However, this article isn’t geared to the fact that training and working with animals can be so frustrating for us, it is to help us use the “gift” of frustration to have a better dog!
What’s that you say? How can frustration ever be a gift? But it is an essential part of good positive reinforcement training!
Let Me Explain
I don’t believe in forceful dog training, as those of you that read my articles know, I am a fan of positive reinforcement and clicker training. In my opinion positive reinforcement creates a superiorly trained dog to the dog that is yanked and pulled and forced to comply with commands.
A dog that is forced, timidly awaits the next command and what might be required of it. It is often fearful and unsure of its environment and it is scared to make a mistake so it chooses to show very little behaviors that are not forced upon it. It may comply with obedience commands but it usually does so out of fear and it is not taught to think for itself.
A dog that is trained with positive reinforcement is encouraged to think for itself and show a variety of behaviors. Not all of these behaviors it shows will be rewarded or encouraged, in fact some of the behaviors may be considered naughty; however it is trying different things to get what it wants. When the naughty behaviors are ignored they most often extinguish or go away.
With positive reinforcement, it is easy to manipulate your dog to do the things you want him to do; but, there are crucial steps to help your dog get from step one to step two and accelerate their learning to build a behavior chain.
A Behavior Chain: is defined as a chain of responses broken down into smaller steps using task analysis. Parts of a chain are referred to as links. The learner’s skill level is assessed by a professional (you the owner) and is then either taught one step at a time while being assisted through other steps forward or backward working toward the total task.
For example; I have extensive experience training Service Dogs for people with disabilities and you don’t just teach a dog to go over to the refrigerator and get out a soda, shut the door and bring the soda to the person in one fell swoop. What looks like one behavior must be broken down into very small behaviors that can be rewarded and worked toward the eventual total behavior.
Teaching your dog to sit or lay down is a simple behavior, one where only one successful behavior is required. Frustration in dog training is essential for behavior chains.
I think frustration is the least understood training technique in positive reinforcement, and yet I believe it is probably one of THE most important facets of good training and it is imperative to use to help your dog move quickly from one step to another.
Let’s go back to the first scenario about opening the fridge and getting something out. Because I don’t want to get into the intricacies of teaching the retrieve, let’s just assume my dog knows how to retrieve on command.
The next step is to teach him to tug an item so that he can open the refrigerator door. I would show him a soft tug-able item and ask him to retrieve it from my hand, clicking and rewarding him for correct responses. Next I am going to wait for a frustration response. I know what I want, but I need to teach him to show a variety of behaviors so that I can reward him and show him what I want from him.
I would stand still loaded with treats that he wants and is eagerly looking for with the tug in my hand and I would wait patiently. He will probably try to put the item in his mouth or retrieve it for me, however this time I am NOT going to click him for this response. I WANT him to get frustrated and show me an alternate behavior.
I would ignore any behavior that does not lead to what I want, if he barks, whines, sits or lays down simply ignore it. If he seems stuck walk a foot a two to get him moving and be patient. Don’t yell or give a command that means nothing to him, just wait. Within a short amount of time, which will probably seem like FOREVER he will undoubtedly take the item and yank with frustration…CLICK and tell him what he is doing by giving him the command “Tug”. Even if it is a slight tug, click and reward with a jackpot!
Frustration with the lack of being rewarded for one behavior leads to other behaviors that can be chained together for the final task! If you continue to click and reward for the same behaviors and never up the ante the behavior will never progress or change.
Frustration in your training program is crucial to good learning and understanding and the willingness to show a multitude of behaviors.
The key to remember is not to get frustrated yourself! If you dog is not understanding or progressing like you think he should, simply back up and try again later. Yelling, anger and frustration on your part will only shut him down because he will become fearful to try new things!
This is why force training doesn’t work to create a thinking dog. Dogs who are forced are too scared to experiment with new behaviors, they would simply rather wait for a command or to be forced to accomplish a task.
I like a thinking dog, and I like a challenge it means I can have dog that are able to accomplish amazing feats because they are happy and joyful about learning. But in order for them to progress in their training program I have to know just how far to push them with frustration to help them accelerate to the next level. My dogs are never afraid to make a mistake or show a wrong behavior because they enjoy the learning process and they know if it is not rewarded, it was not what I wanted!!
Good luck and have fun together!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.