End on a High Note

A New Interpretation

I am in the first week of Summer Shows and am finding that I am woefully unprepared for the rigors of show stresses with three (THREE!) new dogs in the show.

Happily, I am enrolled in The Karen Pryor Academy and am re-examining techniques and theory that I already know.  The difference is that now a phrase will just spontaneously, seemingly randomly, pop up while I’m trying to decide what to do in the heat of very intense training.  While the phrase might be one that I’ve internalized long ago, I see it in a different way.  And this leads to a little refinement in my actions; my actions, the very interface between all the theory I know and what the dog sees.

Case in point, “Always end on a high note.” This phrase, while true, I think ruins tons of dogs.  A trainer gets towards the end of a training session, the dog gets tired, yet the trainer still demands (demands!) the same high standard of compliance-in fact will even raise criteria to end on a really high note (or prove a point).

But that’s old news for me-I know to keep sessions short and fun. But there’s always a refinement.  While training, I often think about the infinite number of numbers that exist between any two numbers as an example of that refinement.  Sometimes I think that fractals are actually a better example, but that’s just how boring training can be.

Anyway, the reason this idea of “End on a high note,” comes up:

Three times today, I got to the very last of a dog’s rationed treats (40 bits, if you’re interested)-and I mean the very last nugget that he or she is going to get and s/he balks; doesn’t do the behavior.  Just sits there, looking at me with a smile.  I wait, nothing.  S/he’s been doing the behavior perfectly well for much of the session, making progress even!

I know from experience that there is nothing further to be learned-at this point the dog has made all the gains s/he will for the session.  I can fight to get that behavior to prove a point….but then that phrase, “Always end on a high note,” pops up.  There was a time that I thought that meant that the dog needed to do the behavior.  Today that phrase pops up and I realize there is no way we’re going to have more fun than what happened just a moment ago.  In fact the dog is still looking at me happily and with more treats I could get him/her back in the game.  And I realize: I MISSED THE END!!!  So the dogs got a little free food (just with NO click) on the way out the door-what’s wrong with that?  They didn’t seem to mind a bit.