Wait! I’m Not Ready. Or am I?

When shaping and teaching our dogs new skills, a good rule of thumb (well actually it is scientific animal learning theory)  is to reach just an 80% success rate from your dog  before moving ahead in the skill breakdown. That is to say, do not wait for perfection before moving forward and asking more of your dog.  If a dog achieves what you want 8 times out of 10, then moving forward to the next step is appropriate and a good thing. This challenges the dog and prevents potential stagnation and actually quickens the shaping process.  Hmm…I was wondering… how many handlers do this for themselves when working on their canine support skills?  The ‘perfectionist’  type handler stays in one spot, polishing and polishing without a thought of proceeding forward towards the next training step in their handling skills. There is another type of handler who will happily move forward when they are ‘mostly’ confident and able.  I hadn’t really thought about it much before, but in a lot of instances and with a lot of training teams I do nudge them to move on slightly before they are performing at 100%. That is my natural tendency in teaching depending on the dog/handler partnership in front of me.  I find most people move on well with this learning curve and like their dogs, benefit from moving forward with about the same 80% success rate. The 80% rule does not mean a dog won’t ever ‘perfect’ a skill, instead it places importance on having just enough knowledge and fluency for each step along the way without staying in one spot for too long. The result is a ‘perfect’ end goal or skill. As your dog’s handler do you keep at a handling skill until it is absolutely perfect, or do you also move on when you ‘mostly’ have it right? Which type of handler has the most success? Does your dog need a ‘perfectionist’ handler or a ‘let’s move on’ handler to compliment his learning style? Just another thing to be thinking about when we are learning to be the best handler and partners for our dogs!