Saturday, October 29, 2011

Asking the dog to work, compared to the dog asking to work.

Most dogs can fairly quickly to get to this point in class.  

For some teams, it takes longer to get to the dog demanding work.  The first things we look at are making sure the dog is comfortable (worried dogs have enough to think about other than work) and making sure the reinforcers are actually reinforcing.

Some handlers try harder and harder to 'make' the dog work and respond and even without using obvious and intentional punishment, the dogs can find the interaction unappealing.  And if the interaction is stressful...they have no reason to stick around.  The dog is more unresponsive and the handler tries harder and it's a really difficult cycle for everyone.  It's understandably easy for the handler to think about the dog as "intentionally" not responding and to start finding ways to justify the use of punishment.  Daily life and interactions become a battle that the person wants to 'win'. 

Many of these dogs are quickly unresponsive to luring. The handlers keep trying because at some point the dog responds, the handler sees the behavior happen, and then the handler is reinforced.   But it's a very different picture than a dog that is immediately and always following a food lure.

This week we saw success after long periods for two of these teams.   For one, I was able to get the owner to only be tossing reinforcers and not hand feed.  This changed the picture, decreased social pressure, and let us go for approximations. We were able to think about only getting what would be ideal and not asking for too much.  Just because the dog would do a million behaviors with luring and prompting didn't mean those behaviors were our competition ideal behaviors.  

For the other team, the person had a ton of stress over the week and really just wasn't caring about the training.  While the other things in the life of the family were unfortunate, it did take away some of the focus from the dog's behavior and misbehavior.  I didn't have to mediate the unspoken 'battle' to 'win'.  They just worked.  If we had a poor response, we easily and completely changed criteria and soon were back.  It was easier for me. Easier for the human. Easier for the dog.   

Until students feel the difference of the dog begging to work, it can be hard to understand the difference or even feel it.  My dogs sometimes overwhelm other people who are not used to the difference.  Once when Griffin was around 7-8 months old, I had a student handle him in a practice rally course to compare the difference between her dog who was lured through and not as responsive.  She enjoyed the experience but attributed to his breed and personality.  While those factors are important, it's not the only thing that gets a dog asking to work.

At the shelter there is a 8+ year old not-very-mobile beagle who always begs to work. She stares right at people and offers her behavior and offers stillness, trying to get any chance to work.  She used to be very non responsive, but with her love of food and a few minutes each week, she has become very demanding!        

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