Friday, May 7, 2010

Tunnel Zooming

Luna really likes to go through tunnels. Sometimes she gets 'stuck' and will repeatedly want to go through it. Even if we turn it around so the openings are far away. In play, she loves to run through the tunnel. "Tunnel sucking" comes up on agility lists and in agility class. People laugh. It is cute.

But really, what is going on? Are the dogs enjoying it? Is it just me or do some of these dogs seem really frantic about what they're doing? Luna sure is.

How are tunnels often taught? We crunch up the tunnel. Someone holds the puppy at one end. The owner goes to the other and calls him through. The puppy is given no option but going through. Some puppies don't mind. Some are hesitant, some take a lot of effort. With many....there's some level of anxiety ("I want to be my person!" "This thing is closed in!" "I have to walk on this wobbly surface!" "It smells weird in here"). And they go through, get the treats or toy and the relief of being out. And all of those are reinforcers.

What if, for some percentage of dogs, that relief is huge part of the reinforcer? What if they're still getting some of that when they go through weeks, months, years later? Sure...they're liking it... but how is that changing the emotions and performance of the behavior? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

After class last week we talked about this. And an experienced dog person who does not do agility was able to come up with other examples of dogs somewhat frantically doing behaviors that originally may have or did have some relief-of-anxiety associated with the behavior. The dog really wants to perform. But is there some negative reinforcement associated with these, unintentionally created by us?

Do we need to re-think how we're teaching the tunnel and some of these other behaviors? _Agility Right From the Start_ has many additional activities to prepare dogs for tunnels, and then dogs are shaped through. We'll have to see how that goes with student dogs....

With Griffin, a friend's dog, and the puppies I'm working with... the tunnel is left up in the yard. They go through while chasing Luna. The puppy could go around or through. They choose to go through. They could back out. They could go around. But they choose to go through. Does this create a different behavior long term? Is the anxiety always present or not? What if the owner is great about stimulus control, how else might we know what's going on? (and again, is it bad? Hmmmm...)

And those are my disorganized thoughts of the day.

I would insert a cute tunnel picture if I had one.


Crystal said...

Interesting post. I did some shaping of tunnel behavior- every time Maisy sniffed the entrance of a tunnel, I clicked and treated. Slowly, she began stepping in it. But, I also did the scrunch up-call through thing. I never really thought about that as negative reinforcement, but I suppose it could be, huh?

How is that book? I've been thinking of buying it.

Kristen said...

Buy the book. I love it. I take it everywhere I go. I sleep with it. I love it. It's changed how I teach some behaviors in my pet classes and in my competition classes. I'm not kidding...the book is right beside me now!

And the authors are so so nice. I got to meet them at the KY Expo and -such- nice people.

There will be a yahoo group discussion group book group thing for the book, starting soon.

Crystal said...

Alright, sold! I've been meaning to do some dog book shopping lately, anyway. :)

Anything else I ought to have?