Video on Demand by Karen Pryor Clicker Training |

Making New Mistakes

Errorless learning refers to training techniques that are designed intentionally so that the learner does not make mistakes while learning new behavior. Errorless learning is often contrasted with trial-and-error learning, in which efforts may be correct or incorrect with the intention of mistakes also assisting in the learning process.

Are errors beneficial to learning? Does “error-free” learning create superior behavior? How do mistakes help or hinder the learner? Do errors develop resilience? Is it even possible to ensure that learning is errorless? If errors do have the capacity to support learning, how do trainers avoid negative outcomes (for example, decline in confidence, increased mistakes)? This Session on errorless learning versus learning with mistakes will lead you to ponder your own training program.

In this Session, Michele explores how these kinds of questions have impacted her 45 years of training horses, guide dogs for the blind, and dogs for competition sports. In Michele’s first 25 years of experience, she trained through traditional methods that relied on using errors to train dependable behavior. Her last 20 years of training have been filled with discovery through practicing positive reinforcement methods. Through these extremely contrasted experiences, Michele will delve into the hot topic of errorless learning versus learning with mistakes.

Michele Pouliot

Michele Pouliot began her animal-training career through her love of horses. Immediately after high school, she attended the Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm, studying under the tutelage of Linda Tellington and Wentworth Tellington. After graduating at the school’s highest level, Michele remained as an instructor until beginning her next position, managing an equestrian center in North Dakota. It was there that Michele acquired her first dog—a move that would change her life and career.

With dog-training pointers from a former riding student, Michele became fascinated with her dog’s willingness to learn; she spent all of her spare time training him. It was then that Michele’s path changed toward a career in dog training, which progressed to guide dog training.

In 1974, Michele Pouliot began her career as a licensed guide dog instructor when she joined Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), the second-largest guide dog school in the world. In addition to personally training more than 350 guide dog teams over 20 years, Michele contributed to major change in the organization by leading the adoption of clicker training in the formal training of guide dogs and in the development of puppies raised for guide dog work. Michele also developed the education program for GDB’s blind clients learning to clicker train their own guide dogs.

Michele has been a pioneer and leader in the guide dog industry worldwide. Since 2005, GDB and Michele actively support and assist other guide dog schools in crossing over from traditional training methods to positive reinforcement and clicker training techniques. To provide further education to more individuals, GDB and Michele have held 5-day Guide Dog Clicker Conferences for international guide dog professionals. In 2016, the International Guide Dog Federation presented Michele with a Lifetime Achievement award for bringing clicker training to guide dog programs around the globe. Michele retired from her 42-year career with GDB in 2016 but continues to provide workshops around the world for guide and service dog organizations.

Michele has also been very active and successful in canine dog sports. She was heavily involved in competition obedience for 20 years, winning four Obedience Trial Championships with her personal dogs. Michele also competed in tracking and in the sport of agility. In 2005, Michele discovered the new sport of Canine Musical Freestyle and, with help from her first freestyle partners Cabo and Listo, became a leader in two years. Her current performance partners are Déjà Vu and Saké. Michele and her dogs have attained more than 10 Championship and Grand Championship titles and are winners of national and international freestyle competitions. They are known for entertaining routines with very creative behaviors. Michele and Listo made history in the World Canine Freestyle Organization as the first team to ever receive perfect “10” scores in both Artistic and Technical categories! They repeated this incredible achievement 23 more times with six different routines. Michele travels extensively giving seminars on clicker training for dog sports and for effective clicker training in general. She is well known for clarity in her teaching, her enthusiasm for training, and her love of animals.

Michele loves to spend time at home, in Oregon, with her dogs and her horses. A member of the ClickerExpo faculty since 2008, Michele partnered with Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) to create an online Canine Freestyle course. The course has received rave reviews from students and is popular even with clicker enthusiasts who are not involved in the freestyle sport.