Friday, October 1, 2010

Why is Walking so Hard?

I work with pet owners every week. Some are more successful than others at getting polite walking.

What makes teams unsuccessful?
• They don’t practice at all. They’re not typically surprised that the dogs show little/no improvement, but still do half expect to see improvement.
• They don’t practice correctly. I specifically ask teams to go through the same steps we use in class in home and neighborhood environments.
• Reinforce pulling. I can easily identify these teams as they enter the classroom!
• Low rate of reinforcement. Some teams can stretch the ROR faster than other teams. But most teams do need to literally feed every. Single. Step. For 6-12+ steps before the ROR can decrease a little.
• Poor choice of reinforcers. The cheerios or biscuits can work okay for training in the house. Your dog may love those treats at home. But training will go faster and much better if you use those reinforcers in public.
• Poor leash handling/training skills. This is the hardest for me. I know some of the skills that make for good walking but I am not able to identify all of them. And if I don’t know the skills, I have no hope of developing a training plan to make this work.
• The team is feeding every 2-3 steps. Always. No variation.

It should be no surprise that good teams have the opposite list:
• Initially use a high rate of reinforcement and high value reinforcers.
• Good leash handling skills.
• Practice and require good walking. These students typically avoid any poor walking. And sometimes they give me numbers of how many pulls they had all week. This number is typically under 10. And sometimes it’s 0.
• The handler is proactive. When he or she sees a distraction, there is talking to the dog, or a higher rate of reinforcement, or the owner moves away/alters his path.
• Criteria management. These owners are able to easily adjust the criteria, moving from a higher ROR to a lower ROR and back as needed. And if you look at the ROR over the 5-8+ weeks, there is an overall huge decrease in ROR.

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