Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enthusiasm as Part of Your Criteria

This week we had a training group discussion about building enthusiasm and having it as part of your criteria for behaviors.  I definitely intentionally do a lot of this.

When Blaze was young, I was constantly trying to suppress his behaviors and enthusiasm, but  I did learn to direct it in agility. This resulted in a LOT of distance, a LOT of obstacle focus and him learning to work away from me to access reinforcers.

With Luna, Griffin and most student dogs, I try to build that enthusiasm, and keep it.  And direct enthusiasm appropriately rather than suppress unwanted expressions of the enthusiasm (jumping up, mouthing, barking, etc).It's hard to do with the dogs who are very wild and very shy, and especially for the novice handler.

One of the best moments in class was when we had a group of students working together.  One dog staying, another walking past, and then switching roles.  One student who is great at encouraging and directing behavior. The dog was very focused on the handler, they were running past the other team.  If the dog did get distracted or broke his stay, the handler would quickly be calling the dog back and using a higher rate of reinforcement.  The other team was also new to dogs and very uncomfortable if the young dog jumped up. THIS handler would "off off! Get down! Stop Barking!" and constantly trying to 'make' the dog work properly.   Initially the handler was horrified by the other team who had great work and speed and enthusiasm.  But as class went on, the wild-dog handler started to imitate the other team.  She was finally able to see that the dog could still be running and working well YET be focused and working. It's not one or the other!

An area where this can be hard is with precise behaviors.  In an effort to get the dog to be careful, the humans slow down, the dog then slows down and then the behavior is very slow.  Some trainers say that speed is a later criteria and comes after experience and confidence.  But there are many behaviors were the fast behavior is physically very different than the slower variation. If you train get slow.    

An important concept for the dog to learn is speed and enthusiasm. If you get a few behaviors with speed and enthusiasm, it's easier to transition this to some others, and even all work.  This can become an underlying piece of criteria.

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