Why I Still Like To End Sessions On A Good Note

Silvia Trkman said many great things in her latest blog post on why we don’t always need to end sessions on a good note (seriously, you should read it), but I do have some reservations.

I think ending on a good note has its advantages even for those trainers who use only dog-friendly techniques and make training really fun for the dog. From human psychology we know that how the session ends can have a big impact on how we’ll remember it – if it ends on a good note we tend to remember the whole session more favorably than a session that went well, but ended with a disappointment. I have no proof, but I’m pretty sure dogs are the same. This would mean that too many sessions ending on a bad note would have a negative impact on how your dog feels about training.

As Denise Fenzi wrote in a blog post (this is part of an excellent series of posts on behavior chains): when we train we don’t just train behaviors, we also train a Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) to the trainer and training itself. If the dog is excited during trainings over time their CER to training will be excitement and if the dog is usually bored or frustrated during training their CER will also reflect this. So if by keeping training sessions exciting we built a great CER then by ending on a bad note repeatedly the CER could shift from excitement toward something less.

It also depends a lot on dog’s character and life experience. Just like the same event like loosing a job can impact two people in a different way, one searching for a new job with optimism while the other one wallows in depression, so the same event (ending a session on a bad note) can prompt some dogs to try even harder next time while it can deflate others.

With Ruby who loves to work and believes that if something went wrong it was all my fault, I can end a session when things go wrong and it’s no problem. I don’t think he learns anything from it, we just quit, I think of a new approach and next time he’s no worse for the wear. With Java, who also loves to work, but believes that everything that goes wrong is her fault, I try not to show her that things went south. After all, if she can’t get it right that’s my fault, not hers. I messed up by making the task too difficult for her. After too many unsuccessful repetitions I find something that we can do successfully, we do that and end the session – i.e. we end on a good note.

Maybe a part of the reason why Silvia sees this situation differently than me is in our personalities. When things go wrong she seems to get curious (from what I was able to observe) while I get frustrated. Java can sense my frustration, so I need to candy coat it with good stuff (making success easy) so she won’t think she did something wrong. Ruby on the other hand doesn’t care if I’m frustrated or not, he is sure it was my fault anyway 😉

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12 thoughts on “Why I Still Like To End Sessions On A Good Note

  1. OOO!! A way that Lu and Ruby are different!

    I definitely understand that frustration bit though – especially if you’re working so hard to solve a problem (I guess if there’s that much of a problem you should end already). Sometimes I find it easy to say: “y’know what, nevermind, we’ll try later” and just walk away like that, without the frustration being there, just knowing that for whatever reason it wasn’t working right then, but other times I definitely feel like there needs to be a celebration at the end, otherwise it just feels ‘flat’…

    • Haha you forgot about forward focus. Ruby used to have none (he’s getting better since we’re not doing just twisty stuff all the time).

      But if you just walk away don’t you think the dog knows something’s up? It’s like walking out on a friend in the middle of a conversation.

      • Hmm… Yes, I think maybe, but I like to try and say: “That’s ok, we’ll try again later!” and not necessarily be ‘up beat’ about it, but just be like: “no worries, it wasn’t great, but it’s not the end of the world, maybe have a think about what we need to do next time?”
        And I think sometimes she actually needs that- I found with the weaves in particular, if she couldn’t get a particular entry over and over, I’d call it quits like that… come back in the afternoon and she could usually get it then… I Don’t ALWAYS do this, of course, since Lu has motivational things anyway, but sometimes I do – I think maybe it depends what we’re working on. 🙂
        Maybe if it’s something I know she should be able to do, I’ll leave it where we are and try later… if it’s like a new skill or something, then maybe go back a few steps or do an easier version to reward THAT…

        • Very interesting with Lu & the weaves. I wouldn’t guess that she would be OK with this approach. It just shows how much it really depends on the dog. Java gets a really sad expression if she can’t find a way to please me. Maybe she would be fine, but I can’t stand seeing a sad whippet 😉

          • See I’ve been thinking about Lu and Loki and the difference, and to me it seems like everything with Lu is on HER terms, and everything with Loki (and Mal) is much more about ME…. so when we aren’t getting things rights with Lu, I don’t think she cares at all that she isn’t pleasing me, she’s more interested in the fact that it’s not interesting for her, and there’s more interesting things she could be doing. So it depends on her frame of mind, too, I think. If she seems to want to be solving a problem, then we’ll try and solve it… if she’s already ‘meh’, then we won’t and we might try and end happy. She’s a strange dog.

            • Oh yeah she’s Ruby’s soul sister… everything is about HER 😉 So it makes sense that she wouldn’t care much what you think of her efforts… the only thing that matters is whether she was having fun.

              • Yep!!!! Gosh it’s funny how similar they are isn’t it?! 😉
                And which is why it’s been so hard so far- she hasn’t found it fun until recently (even though I’ve tried to make it fun, she doesn’t care if I think it’s fun, only whether it’s fun for her!)

                • Of course 🙂
                  BTW you know when you took Ruby over obstacles in Hrušica? Remember that ball on rope that you used as reward? I tried to play with it the other day. Ruby said it was the most boring toy ever. Then I remembered that I “charged” that toy by playing agility and sure enough when I took it to agility field he thought it was great! It reminds me of Lu’s weirdness with toys.

  2. Like you said (and like everything!) it really seems to depend for me. I think the important thing to take from it is: when people are hung up on having a session end on a good note, they sometimes push through a very frustrating and unsuccessful training session to get to that good note. That doesn’t sound like what you’re doing with Java though. 🙂

    For what it’s worth, Fenzi also said she doesn’t feel a need to end a session on a good note. If a dog goes off and sniffs, and checks out, she’s happy to end the session, and that was a revelation for me too. Riley will sometimes do that, and no way am I going to force her to work when something is “off.” So I put her away and work another dog. Generally she’s pretty darn keen to come out and work after 10 minutes of that. She’s SO sensitive to any disappointment from me, or any frustration, and it makes her either frantic or to avoid me (sniffing, wandering) so I’m best off just stopping before anything escalates. There’s no lying or candy coating for her, she sees through it.

    But you know, maybe it’s not so different. I like to end a DAY on a good note, so if after a try or two, I get a really good session, I’m inclined to leave it there for the day, and not keep pushing. If I don’t see improvement after she’s sat out a round, then it’s not our day and/or there’s something else going on.

    • Oh yeah you’re right – it makes no sense to continue with a bad session for the sole purpose of getting one good rep so you can finish. That creates a lot of frustration on both trainer’s and dog’s part.

      What I wrote in this blog post is about me & the dog solving a puzzle together and the dog is giving their best, but not making any headway. If my dog walks out on me that’s a completely different case. They could be stressed (in which case: what am I doing that is causing this?) or they could have poor understanding of working in certain conditions, like Java did during her first heat. I see this as *dog* ending the session – so I am certainly not going to ask them to do something that could get them a reward. I put her away just like you do. I only had to do this twice with Java and she never again let being in heat distract her from playing with me. With Ruby the process was somewhat longer, but he got it in the end 😉

      I like it that you like to end the day on a good note 🙂

  3. Penny

    Wow, so many different opinions. I was going to write a response the other day but ran out of time. Probably good because it was going to be quite dumb.. along the lines of “GOOD! YES! Thumbs up!”.

    As a master of feeling guilty I always tend to be very hard on myself if the session isn’t full of joy and wonder and learningment (totally a word). I *do* struggle with watching an animal confused and/or failing multiple times. It evokes not nice feelings in me. That said I can squash them for a short period of time in the hope that learning takes place but if I don’t see it quite quickly then I am going to get sad. I just will. I will fully blame myself for not constructing the session better.

    Like you, I don’t get curious from this kind of session, I get frustrated. If I end the session on a good note, it will take away that frustration and I will go into thinking-mode about how to improve the setup for next time.

    I don’t think I have ever had a dog that I have trained that hasn’t also taken on guilt from not doing something correctly. I train them good, so that they are all kinds of f*****d up and have the same mental issues as myself. And I believe their anxiety would be mildly relieved by having a happy end note.

    • Yes! Ending session on a good note totally works as emotion-management technique for me, too! It’s not just for the dog! It makes a real difference in how I think about the session (I don’t forget everything of course – it just lessens the frustration). Dunno maybe everyone else never gets frustrated and they don’t have to manage their emotions like this?

      Penny I don’t think you can train a dog into “feeling guilt” if the dog doesn’t have the character for it. So cut yourself some slack, it’s not about how you train, it’s about what kind of dogs you like to pair yourself with 😉 I am lucky that Java and Ruby are so different in this regard because I am pretty sure I didn’t create this is Java. That’s the way she was born, she always cared about what I think and sometimes she cares a bit too much, and sometimes she guesses wrong, but it makes her so easy to live with and so easy to train basic manners to and such complete sweetheart ❤

      And if you saw Silvia's answer to one of the the comments she said that Bu is so soft that she still gets rewarded for pretty much everything…

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