Agility is changing and now nearly every agility organization offers or allows some type of training in the ring (or is at least going to test it out). How can you use these allowances to your advantage?

One thing to keep in mind is that you were always training in the ring. Your dog was learning something, even before we could bring in toys, or reattempt the entire contact obstacle.

Now that we have the ability to maintain better criteria, we will, right? Well. Maybe. We always have had the option to maintain criteria, just not one that allowed us to keep running the course afterwards.

Before you use fix and continue (without a primary reinforcer on you), take a quick study of how you respond to mistakes in training, and how you have been responding to mistakes in competition. Then, study how your dog responds to that feedback from you.

Is your dog happy to reattempt obstacles or sequences? Is your dog frustrated by having to reattempt something? Is your dog demotivated when asked to do an obstacle again?

How can you help prepare your dog for these situations?

  1. Split your training into two types of sessions: a) training and b) working
  2. Train your re-do procedures as behaviors that are on cue and act as conditioned reinforcers

Training vs Working

Most of my time spent with my dogs is what I call  training. My reinforcers are present, the rate of reinforcement is high, and I have a specific objective for the time spent. When I plan a training session, I plan out the details. What the conditions are for the training (antecedent arrangement) what criteria I am looking for (behavior), and the reinforcement strategy I plan to use or, what I will do if I fail to see the criteria I set (consequence).

When I want to sequence multiple things together, I transition into  working. This is my competition prep work. I set up a course of an appropriate length and complexity for their skill level and my reinforcers are not on me. They are on a table near by, similar to a competition. I still plan out the details, just like a training session, focusing on the ABCs and making sure I know the path to reinforcement is clear to my dog.

Train Your Resets

When I'm  training, resetting my dog is usually pretty easy – cookies and toys are present! If I'm training an obstacle, I usually set up a two cookie contingency: cookie for the correct behavior, cookie for the reset. So, if my dog doesn't offer the correct behavior, I can skip the cookie for the correct behavior and just cue the reset & reward that, and continue training. This keeps your feedback look clean and avoids frustration or demotivation in dogs.
When I'm training a handling skill, I use a similar approach, if the dog is truly responding incorrectly to my handling cues, I use a two cookie/toy contingency like above and will eliminate the first reward for an incorrect response. However, most of the time, the dog has responded correctly to an incorrect handling cue, and therefore I deliver reinforcement as planned.

When I'm  working,  resetting requires trained behaviors because I do not have cookies or toys present. So, if my dog misses a contact or pops out of the weaves, or drops a bar during a working session my options are:

  1. ignore it and keep going
  2. ask for another stationary behavior before continuing
  3. end the run, removing opportunity for reinforcement
  4. fix and continue – go back to the beginning of the obstacle where a mistake has happened and start again

Whichever way you go, understand that the dog should see these consequences before he gets into the trial setting. The dog should have some expectation of what your behavior will be in each context. I do not have a problem using any of the above consequences, so long as I have trained them with food/toys, then trained them without food/toys, and applied them in a  working session at home/in class.

Observe how your dog responds to each of these and decide what is best for you and your team. A lot of different factors go into my decisions about responding to mistakes for each of my dogs.