Poor Tess has not had good puppy days in these days leading up to the big exam! Fortunately we have 3 weeks of winter break to do some catching up and play fun games.
One of the best things about working with a knowledgeable friend or paying a trainer is the feedback/reflection of your training. Several important concepts I've been working DILIGENTLY to adhere to once they were brought to my attention are:
Say it Once - Don't say the command over and over, not for "encouragement", not for "motivation", not to make yourself feel better, not as a reminder to the dog while they are in the middle of the behavior. Say it once, and if the dog doesn't do it, don't re-cue - enforce the behavior if you can with either a physical touch or a hand signal (dogs often respond better to visual cues rather than verbal ones - so it's important to "pair" them, and then make sure that the dog understands the verbal cue apart from the visual one). If I feel the need to consistently re-cue Tess, I evaluate the behavior and decide whether I need to reshape it, re - pair it, reduce the number of distractions, or do more relationship building.
No Self Releasing - One thing I have to remind myself over and over is DO NOT RE-CUE THE BEHAVIOR IF SHE SELF RELEASES from a control behavior. Control behaviors things like sit, down, stand, bow, side, close, house, bed etc. I don't use the term "stay". When I ask for a control behavior, there is an understanding that she needs to maintain that behavior until she is released. 100% of the time - not just while training. Thus, if I tell her to sit because I'm cooking in the kitchen - I need to enforce that control behavior, just as if I told her to sit during a training session. Being really careful and consistent with my control behaviors will lead to more consistency in high distraction situations.
Don't Help -This is a hard one for me. If it's a high distracting situation and I've said "side" (which means line up in a sit on my right hand side) and Tess doesn't do it right away, I tend to step to my left to give her more room on my right and invite her in to that right side. Instead, I should just wait her out, give her a chance to be brilliant. "Side" and "Close" (same behavior on the left side) are solid behaviors - we are reinforcing them, but not necessarily training them. Same for heeling. When she gets in front of me and starts to pull, I stop. Because of the pressure on the leash, the correct response is for Tess to "self correct" herself into a side or a close and then we start again. If that doesn't happen, then I turn 180 degrees and walk briskly. I'm oh so very tempted to say "side" and "close" during these situations instead of letting her figure it out - and I should just let her figure it out. The point is that she self corrects/recognizes the error in pulling - it is not a side/close training session! However, by helping her, this point is lost. When first training or shaping a behavior sometimes I do help with hand signals, positioning etc. - however, those "helps" definitely become crutches later on and its more difficult to "finish" those behaviors at the very end (verbal command, consistent, Tess understands the behavior etc.)
Treat for the exact response - Here's another hard one for us! I tend to take into account Tess's mood and distraction level when treating. For example. If I ask for her to go to her "house" and she hesitates, and wanders because there's a dog distraction, but still goes in the house, I tend to think "Boy! That was really hard for her, so she definitely gets a treat!". WRONG. If I make it easier for her because she failed a previous time, or if she didn't do it with enthusiasm (just going through the motions), or if she got distracted and went a 'round-about way, or if she had to be re-cued or positioned - no treat, just verbal praise. The treat is for telling her "YES - that was EXACTLY what I wanted". Verbal praise tells her she did good, is on the right track, and she made good choices. If I can't give her a treat after 3 times of repeating the same behavior, then I need to switch locations, switch what I'm asking for etc.
Once I started applying this principle to Tess's training, I noticed that she tried a little harder - she no longer got treats for just going through the motions - she had to be focused and enthusiastic.
Treating for exact behavior doesn't apply to the same degree when I'm teaching or shaping a behavior. I'm treating for "try" and new behaviors, it's only when I get that end behavior and she understands the end behavior that I switch to treating for exact response only.