Let the Treat Fit the Feat

I am taking Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals professional online course. Woo hoo! It is incredible. My brain is so happy with all the new stuff I am feeding it. And the sense of community created by how the class is run is incredible. One gets glimpses of How the World Could Be.

I’ve got training and learning and behavior on my mind even MORE than usual.

So the other day I was explaining to a friend why I was buying multiple cheap toys at the Dollar Store for Summer to shred. We are preparing to compete in AKC Rally Advanced, where one of the exercises is to ignore either food on the floor (no problem) or toys (possible problem) while heeling off leash. Summer’s biggest fun by far with toys has always been to dismember them. She is a very “doggie dog” and I am happy to oblige her since she does these silly competitions with me. I wanted to treat her with a toy she could shred after successfully ignoring one on the floor, and to be able to do this daily or so for a while.

Adolescent Summer in 2006 with a favorite toy

I realized as I was telling my friend about it that we have a phrase in English, “Let the punishment fit the crime.” And a resonating cultural tradition for that that goes way back. An eye for an eye…. But I was grasping around for the positive corollary for that expression and it wasn’t there. Where is the saying for letting the reinforcer fit the task?

Dr. Friedman refers to the global confusion about behavior, learning, reinforcement and punishment as the Cultural Fog. I realized I had blundered into a really good example of it.

Then it came to me. The next time you, your companion human, or your companion animal does something really spectacular:

“Let the treat fit the feat.”

Here’s a nice example of it. Marge Rogers is reinforcing her dog for recalling to her away from eating a plateful of tasty food. At 0:50 when she calls him and he comes quickly and immediately, she gives him really high value food, a piece at a time from her hands, which extends the duration of the reward experience. She is also praising him and giving him her undivided attention. She is telling Rounder that he has done something really spectacular.

Here’s another one. Could you imagine Summer giving this kind of enthusiasm for one piece of kibble?

Soon back to our regularly scheduled blog entries.

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

9 thoughts on “Let the Treat Fit the Feat

  1. I’m in trouble…Taffy’s most favorite thing is to chase leaves blowing in the wind (suppose I could purchase a leaf blower) and Teena’s is chasing butterflies. They go nuts for these activities, but no interest in balls or sticks. Taffy likes playing with only two toys and Teena has NO interest in toys. You sure hit it right with Summer, you’re a smart cookie Eileen!

    1. Thank you, Marjorie. Hey, I was thinking about your girls. How about cat toys? Feathers on the end of a wire, that sort of thing. Would it be safe for them? Attractive maybe?

  2. Yes actually, Taffy goes nuts for bubbles. However, a local dog behaviour expert warned me against using them. She said that it could set up compulsive behaviour. She does tend to get quite frantic and really charged up. I know I can’t use them in warm weather because she has a sensitivity to heat and she gets so crazy I’m afraid she will collapse (did I mention that she is a very “emotional” dog).

  3. Actually Eileen, your idea is a most logical one as this breed tends to have many cat characteristics and they play they more like cats than dogs. I have tried the fishing pole and feather type cat toys, but they show little interest as they seem to know that it’s me on the other end of the line and I think the appeal is something moving independently and unpredictably without mom attached. I was always amazed that when mine are going nuts for blowing leaves, butterflies and snowflakes other dogs don’t even seem to notice them. Yet I throw a stick or ball and you couldn’t find two more disinterested dogs giving you the look like you have to be kidding right. I’m surprised actually that more dogs don’t share in their interests as I think it would be more exciting than sticks & balls too.

    1. I know a couple of Cavaliers but I don’t know what they like to play. I’ll have to ask their person, just as a point of interest. But I did know a Brittany pretty well and I remember vividly how attracted she was to anything that fluttered, even just a piece of paper in the wind. I always figured that was a spaniel-y thing.

  4. Yes, you’re right. Flags, paper anything wind related. I suspect it’s because spaniels are mainly used for flushing out birds.

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