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Would anyone like to discuss attrition as a training method? I’m a little unclear when to use it or not, and exactly how to use it. So many people, me included, rely on collars too much, and not on attrition.

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Hi! Great question and discussion topic.
Attrition is simply teaching by repetition, and eliminating or preventing or ignoring incorrect responses in a non-punitive way. It is teaching by wearing down.
I think we encounter mention of attrition most when talking about training blinds.
As always, there is an art to training and nobody can give you a checklist on when to use attrition and when not to. There is no perfect formula.
I would say, use attrition when you are in a patient stage of training. When the dog doesn't 100% understand the exercise, he is learning and you're there to help him understand the big picture. Using collar corrections erodes confidence in these situations, he needs the benefit of the doubt that he doesn't understand exactly what he's doing.
Again my random thoughts….
I've learned over time that dogs learn to run good cold blinds by running a lot of cold blinds. That running good cold blinds is based on a solid foundation of obedience, force conditioning and thoroughly teaching all the prescribed steps of the Lardy flowchart from force fetch to pattern blinds with diversions, not skipping around or skipping steps, but also not running these drills ad nauseum. Going too slow or spending too much time perfecting these steps can form a dependence on the structure of the drills, so when the dog goes "live" and runs cold blinds, he is befuddled because there's nothing telling him exactly where to go. I look for about 85% compliance on T through pattern blinds, that the dog has the general idea and a general proficiency and a really good work ethic before moving on, but I do not expect perfection. Once we leave the pattern blind field we never go back to pattern blinds, taught blinds or sight blinds.
BUT ----------- if you are having a pattern of training issues crop up while running cold blinds (no goes, bugging, popping, slow sits, loopy sits, etc.) -- don't address them with collar while running cold blinds. Take the problem into a drill setting and address is there with corrections. Get it worked out there before you go run more cold blinds. Only if the dog was really confident running cold blinds can you take your corrections there.
I use a LOT of attrition on casting and lining. They will improve with attrition over time. Nitpicking or collar pressure on these skills leads to doubt and paranoia, where just using attrition improves outcomes over time. Inexperienced dogs running cold blinds are afforded a BIG margin of error and allowed to make mistakes if they are giving effort and not committing training sins (no goes, not sitting on whistles, pops, etc).
What does attrition look like?
First -- give your dog room to work. Set up big, widely spaced, long cold blinds in big, open fields with few factors. Run with the wind at your back. Run 3-4 separate blinds per session. Do NOT repeat blinds. Do not. Kick the dog off once he's looking in roughly the right direction. Don't blow a whistle for the first forty yards. Give him big, direction-changing casts and let him carry them for a good while even if he's not on the perfect line. Don't nit pick. Don't call back for bad initial lines. No collar corrections for cast refusals, just stop and cast again. Even too many whistles can be demotivating, only stop and cast immediately for really terrible casts (i.e. you give a left over and they take a right back. These big open cold blinds are where your dog has the room to run and be rewarded for change in direction. Over time he will learn to take very precise initial lines and literal casts because there are no other factors influencing him. It's pure lining and casting. Nothing else is pushing and pulling him.
Dogs need a HUGE backlog of running simple, long cold blinds like this before you start adding in factors, marks, and corrections for bad decisions. They need that repertoire of success before adding difficulty.
Having said that…..there's a tipping point where attrition is no longer effective or warranted with a more advanced dog. I see this commonly with mainly initial lines and subsequent casts en route. There's a point in the dog's experience level when he needs to be responsible for being increasingly precise, and there is a consequence for not minding. Some people start with the "strikes" rule -- you get three bad casts before a collar correction. This is an OK theory…I understand it…you try so much attrition before you get tired of being blown off, then you correct the dog. If in this scenario, your dog DOES improve his cast after the correction…guess what…no more three chances. That means he's doing it on purpose and needs a correction immediately for a bad cast. No more freebees. Do this too much and guaranteed he takes your cast on the third try because he's learned he only gets corrected on the third try. But we have to be careful here. WHY did he make the bad cast. What is his overall attitude? If you nitpick and over-correct, it's going to take a lot of therapy to get him back to where he was. Again -- the art of training!
That's all I can think to type at the moment.
 

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wow what a great response, Anney. I would say right now I'm training Dilly by attrition. She is 5 months old and I don't like using real pressure yet. So like Anney said, right now, I have a lot of patience at this stage. Since she's come to me I just keep doing the same repetitive movements with her and things are starting to come into focus. Today she did much better healing to the line, I take my time and redo it over and over till I get what I want going to the line. For watching the marks I just keep doing the same heel, steady stuff over and over again. Coming in bringing me a mark, I would walk out there and make her bring it back over and over if she would drop it coming in ready for the next mark. Today the pup is steadying well, heeling well and bringing her bumpers all the way to my hand. I don't go to her any longer. I never have let her have her way but I've also not done any force pressure just kept doing the process over and over and over and now it has become more habitual for her. She has to do things my way and luckily she is smart enough to realize fighting me just takes SO MUCH LONGER cause I make her do it right before she gets to the fun part (the mark)
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Attrition in marking might be something like walking singles. We have lots of repetitions in a session (can do 8-10 marks in ten minutes) and we let the dog work it out if he doesn't step on it. Hopefully he learns over time to mark better because his only option is to be successful.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Great thoughts, thank you both!
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Annie
I have to say that was the best written example of teaching cold blinds that I’ve ever read. I sat at the kitchen table and read it to my husband at dinner. He thought it was great and very informative. I can see many of my mistakes more clearly that I’ve had with my dogs. I think you understand how to communicate and what to expect out of a dog very well. You should write a book!
 

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K-9 Design's excellent discussion leaves little more to be said!

Dog people have their own language, so I thought I'd see how other folks view the meaning of attrition (bear with me) ... Merriam's defines it as:
1: sorrow for one's sins that arises from a motive other than that of the love of God. [I'm not even sure what that means, but we can come up with some interesting analogies with this one!]
2: the act of wearing or grinding down by friction, i.e., stones can be smoothed and polished by attrition. [Interesting ... applicable.]
3: the act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack. [Yeah, maybe; not too distant from #2.]
4: a reduction in numbers usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death. [Nah.]

The way that I think of attrition, which is probably too narrow, is generally when in a teaching mode. For example, when teaching them to go over a log and they try to go around it, I'll say "NO- HERE," move up and re-send; once the dog does it correctly at that closer distance, I'll move back a bit and do it over. This falls most closely in line with Merriam's #2.

Training with attrition is not training without pressure, however it's not physically felt pressure (if attrition didn't involve pressure of some sort, the dogs wouldn't be likely to modify their behavior). Like with collar pressure, attrition can reduce confidence, which is why it may be necessary to simplify the dog's task.
 

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Attrition can be effective in lining and casting for blind retrieve training.
For lining, the retriever should have many no-no barrier drills in different locations first,
so the retriever understands and is comfortable being recalled.
The retriever should understand wrong route, wrong decision,
not a big deal, lets try again and success.

Attrition in cast refusals is calling the dog back to the location of the cast refusal.
This may be effective for at least 3 reasons:
1) It counters the momentum of the cast refusal which is typically a "scallop" or "digback"....
180 degrees from cast refusal.
2) It also may "break the spell" in the dog's mind where he wanted to go and
gives the dog time to think about the mistake he just made.
3) It may also be effective because the handler is instantly controlling the dog immediately
after a cast refusal by insisting he come back, instead of testing with another cast.
So the handler is immediately regaining control after a cast refusal.
 
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