I'm sure I've shared the story of when Barley's first agility trainer stopped me and said, "In agility, you will fail more times than you will succeed" (this was possibly said on the same night Barley chose to jump on the cart used to move the tunnel's sandbags and skateboarded across the room instead of going over the jump I asked her to go over). That was a lightbulb moment for me.
Failure is not easy for me to embrace. Growing up, when I brought up a quiz with a 95 on it, I'd hear "Uh oh. What happened?" until about the time I got to Algebra 2 and WWIII almost broke out each night when I sat down to do my homework. With the exception of math, school always came easy to me and I expected perfection. Nothing made me crazier than when my 10th grade English teacher told us that she never gave a 100% on an essay because there was always room for improvement.
When our trainer told me that failure was expected in agility, things changed for Barley and me. We'd gotten to the point where we weren't having as much fun with agility because I was getting frustrated and then she'd get crazier and I'd get more frustrated. Once we had permission to fail, we learned a lot more.
Barley's current trainer stresses the importance of failure in learning. If a dog does something perfect the first time and gets a treat when they're done, they don't necessarily know why they got that treat. Similarly, if my students write an essay with every comma in the correct spot and get full credit for the grammar and mechanics part of their grade, they don't necessarily know why the commas they used were correct. However, if a dog gets something wrong and doesn't get a treat and hears a quick "Nope. Try again" or a student sees a comma circled and a comment about comma splices, they learn something.
Most recently, we put this into use when Rye and I were doing some agility in the backyard. I set up a line of three jumps and I wanted to be able to lead out past the third jump before Rye went over all three (because let's be honest, the only way I'll ever be able to keep up with her on a course is if I can get a big head start). I set her up in front of the first jump and she held her stay beautifully--but when I asked her to jump she skipped the middle jump.
We tried again and it happened again, so I learned a couple things from that failure:
- Rye didn't know what I wanted. She's only had 8 weeks of agility class, so she's still learning how to read lines. If the jumps had been set up directly in front of each other, she would have had no problem jumping all three, but since they were set up on a diagonal line, she was unsure.
- I didn't set her up at the best angle. Even though it seemed obvious to me that there were three jumps, the first spot I set her put her at an angle where she saw the first and third jump clearly, but the second jump wasn't quite in her direct line of sight.
Because we hadn't quite done it right the first two times, I knew what we needed to do to fix it. First, I had to set her at a better angle so she could see all three jumps more clearly. That involved a lot of squatting down to be at her level and testing out different views before I set her up. Then we had to shape the behavior I wanted by breaking things down a bit. I set her up in the right spot and then went out to the second jump. I made sure to stop and treat her after the second jump every time so that she knew taking that jump after the first jump was exactly what she was supposed to do. Once we had that down, we did the first few jumps and then I ran with her to the third jump. Finally, I set her up and l walked out past the third jump--when she got the second jump, I made sure to give her an enthusiastic "yes" before saying jump a third time. When she got it all right, she got showered with treats after the third jump.
If we wouldn't have failed the first time, neither one of us would have learned as much. Failure can teach us just as much with our other training, too. If one of the dogs has a bad reaction to another dog on our walk, I ask myself questions to try to understand why that happened and what I can do to prevent it from happening in the future. If every walk goes perfectly smoothly, we get too comfortable and our training suffers from that.
|"You mean it's ok that I didn't hold my stay because we can learn from this? Oh boy!"|