Proper timing of praise and correction is one of the most difficult skills to teach in obedience training classes. However, if the student can be provided with some key movements by the dog that signal the need for praise or corrections, this aspect of teaching is made easier and the training improved.
Praise is not applied at the same times for moving and non-moving exercises. When an exercise requires motion, the dog must at some point make a decision to actually move; this is the time praise should be applied. If the dog does not move, he should be encouraged to do so, but not corrected. A correction implies something being done wrong, and, in this case, a decision has not yet been made.
The movements the students are to look for are reasonably obvious once they are pointed out. When teaching the sit, the dog should be praised at the first downward motion of his hips since this is the first visual indication that the dog has decided to sit. Initially, the dog may not actually complete the sit, but the first downward motion is still rewarded with praise. The praise should be moderate so the dog is not distracted and gradually delayed so finally the dog is sitting and is being praised for having done so.
When beginning heeling, any forward motion is praised as well as a change of direction as the handler changes direction. Lagging or forging are handled differently. A lagging dog is encouraged both with the lead and voice to stay near by and is praised for being close to the handler. Forging should be corrected as soon as it occurs as indicated by the forward motion away from the handler.
With the sit-stay, a correction is needed when the dog’s head drops and the shoulders move slightly forward. These movements must occur before the dog can stand, and are our cue that the dog has decided to get up.
If the recall is taught using a come-fore, any movement of the head toward the handler is praised. If taught from a sit, dropping of the head and forward movement of the shoulders are praised as the indication of a correct decision to move. If the dog’s attention is lost, a change of voice or slight tug on the lead is used to distract the dog away from his outside interest. As his attention is regained, the dog is praised.
While these are obvious indications to most instructors, they are not to the novice handler. Demonstrating these movements helps the handlers feel more confident about what they are looking for and in the long run improves the dog’s performance.
Once the dog has learned the proper response as indicated by consistent correct action, praise is used to reward the completed exercise. Thus we also praise at different times depending on whether the dog is learning or has learned the response we want. Praising the dog for learning each part of an exercise then putting the parts together and praising the dog for successfully completing the final product is the same approach used to teach more advanced exercises.
©1980 W.H. Morrison, III