eileenanddogs

Tag: distractions

It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!

It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!

This is the short version of this post. Here is the longer version.

Some dog trainers who use tools such as shock, prong, or choke collars, or startle the dog with thrown objects or loud noises, claim that these things are done only for the purpose of “getting the dog’s attention.” They may further insist that the dog is not hurt, bothered, or scared.

Others, while well meaning, use a special sound or a “No!” to get their dogs to stop doing something. Not the worst thing in the world, but these people will try to argue you to the ground, insisting that the noise or word is “neutral.” They’ll say that it doesn’t carry any aversive effect, that it “just gets the dog’s attention.”

If only! This sounds like the Holy Grail of dog training. It’s the Magical Attention Signal! It can get your dog’s attention, get him to do something, or stop doing something, all rolled into one. You don’t have to use those pesky treats or toys, and it certainly doesn’t hurt or bother the dog!

Gosh, who wouldn’t want that? Life would be so easy with the Magical Attention Signal!

Unfortunately, the Magical Attention Signal is utter nonsense.

I have another version of this post in which I analyze the possibilities of the so-called Magical Attention Signal using learning theory. Feel free to check it out. Or read forward and get the story through some straightforward analogies.

Glumph

Imagine that you and I don’t share a common language or culture. But a friend in common has dropped you off to stay at my house for an afternoon.

You are looking around the house. You come into the bedroom and start looking through my jewelry box. I look up and casually say, “Glumph.” In my language, that means, “Please don’t bother my stuff; why don’t you go look around in the next room.” But you don’t know that. It was just a nonsense sound to you, so you keep looking through the jewelry. “Glumph” perhaps got your attention for a moment, but nothing else happened. It was a neutral stimulus. Now here’s where it gets interesting. What happens next?

Scenario 1: The “Neutral” Attention Signal

So what if nothing else happens besides my saying, “Glumph” every so often? If the jewelry (or my mail, or my wallet) is interesting, “Glumph” will not get your attention. In fact, the more I say it (staying in a neutral tone), the more it becomes part of the background. You habituate to it, and it loses even the tiny bit of attention-getting power it may have had at the beginning through novelty.

Outcome: “Glumph” is a neutral stimulus and doesn’t work to get attention.

Scenario 2: The Raised Voice

This is one of the likelier scenarios. After my first statement of “Glumph,” I say it again, but this time I raise my voice. I really need to interrupt you from going through my things! This time you are startled and you stop. Oops, the host is mad!

“Glumph” is now more effective. But how is it operating? It is interrupting you either because it is intrinsically startling, or because you know that yelling humans are more likely to harm you.

Outcome: “Glumph” is an interrupter operating through fear or threats.

Scenario 3: Taking Action

This is the most common scenario in dog training. What do I do after I say “Glumph,” conversationally to you, and you don’t stop what you are doing? I yell “Glumph,” I jump up, and physically stop you from going through my jewelry. I might do this a number of ways. Even though I’m upset, I might take you very gently away from my jewelry. Or I could do something less gentle. I could grab your hands or whack them. I could close the lid on your fingers. I could yell in your face. I could push you away. I could hit you.

So what does “Glumph” mean now? You will likely pay attention the next time I say or yell it. Because it means at the very least (the gentle scenario) you are going to lose access to the thing you are enjoying. But most likely you will have learned that my yelling “Glumph!” is a precursor to something unpleasant happening to you.

“Glumph” has become a punishment marker, and can operate as a threat.

A neutral stimulus by itself has no power, and the dog will habituate to it. If a word or noise works reliably to stop behaviors, it is not a neutral stimulus. It doesn’t just “get the dog’s attention” in a neutral way. It works because it is either intrinsically unpleasant or predicts unpleasantness.

Outcome: “Glumph” scares the dog or predicts something painful, scary, or otherwise unpleasant.

But Wait: There are Positive Interrupters!

Yes, thank goodness. There is a positive reinforcement based method for getting your dog to stop doing stuff. You can condition a positive interrupter.

Here’s a video by Emily Larlham that shows how to train a positive interrupter. Here’s a post about how I conditioned yelling at my dogs to be a positive thing for them—and it ended up having a similar effect.

But the thing is, the people who have conditioned a positive interrupter will tell you so. They can tell you the systematic process they went through to create it. They created it before they ever used it, not in the middle of difficult situations. They will emphatically not claim that their cue is a “neutral, attention-getting stimulus.” They know better. They implemented positive reinforcement.

 

No Magical Attention Signal

If someone says that Tool or Method A, B, or C is designed to “get the dog’s attention,” ask what happens next. Once they get the dog’s attention, how do they actually get the dog to do something or stop doing something? Also, ask them what happens if the first implementation of the tool fails to get the dog’s attention.

Many promoters of aversive methods in dog training don’t want to say that they hurt or scare or startle or nag or bully dogs. And our mythology about dogs is so strong that most of us want to believe them. Hence, the lure of the magic signal that works all by itself, with no other consequences. I hope this post will bolster your “nonsense detector.” Behavior is driven by consequences. If no change in consequences occurs, there is no reason for a behavior to change.

A woman with her back partially to the camera is sitting on a lawn. There is a wooden fence in the background. Three dogs are lying down nearby, all looking into her eyes.
Attention in the backyard, achieved with positive reinforcement

 

Copyright 2017, 2018 Eileen Anderson

Related Posts

 

It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!

It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!

An updated version of this post.

Zani head tilt
Zani keeps her eyes on me a large part of the time

Some dog trainers who use tools such as shock, prong, or slip collars, or startle the dog with thrown objects or loud noises, claim that these things are done only to “get the dog’s attention.” They may further insist that the dog is not hurt, bothered, or scared.

This sounds like the Holy Grail of dog training. It’s the Magical Attention Signal! It can get your dog’s attention, get him to do something, or stop doing something, all rolled into one. You don’t have to use those pesky treats or toys, and it certainly doesn’t hurt or bother the dog!

Gosh, who wouldn’t want that? Life would be so easy with the Magical Attention Signal!

Unfortunately,  the Magical Attention Signal is utter nonsense.

Nonsense Clue #1

We almost never want only our dog’s attention.

Let’s say that your Magical Attention Signal is tossing a lightweight coaster towards your dog. Your dog doesn’t particularly care about coasters. (Folks with disc-crazy dogs, hang on, I’ll get to you.) So you toss the coaster and the dog looks up. Yay, success! You’ve got the dog’s attention. Mission accomplished!

Um, no. Of course we don’t want only the dog’s attention. When we want their attention, it’s for a reason. The reason is almost always one of two things: to get them to do something or stop doing something. Getting their attention is only the bare beginning.

Nonsense Clue #2

Non-predictive stimuli are subject to habituation.

Habituation: A decrease in response following repeated exposure to a non-threatening stimulus.–Klein, Thorne: (2006) Biological Psychology

Virtually all of us have experienced habituation to something that was initially novel. Let’s say you move to a new house. It’s barely within earshot of an elevated train or metro track. When you first move in, you notice the sound of the train regularly: maybe a whistle, or just the rumble.

Elevated trainAt first it gets your attention. However, it gradually sinks in that there are no relevant consequences to that sound for you. The train schedule doesn’t affect vehicle or pedestrian traffic in any way. You don’t have to arrange your day around it. None of your loved ones ride it or work for the railroad. The noise is faint and there aren’t any noxious fumes. It doesn’t predict danger. In fact the train noise doesn’t predict anything for you, good or bad.

So what happens to the stimulus of train noise?  Habituation. You stop noticing it. It fades into the background. Our minds sift through stuff all the time to determine predictors of good and bad consequences. Things to seek and things to avoid. Low-intensity stimuli with no consequences fall to the bottom of the priority stack.*

Animals, including dogs, do this sifting too. Some dogs are noticeably good at it, like my Clara, who often knows my behavior patterns better than I do. And when you think about it, loads of the stuff we humans do has some kind of predictive value to our dogs. Turning on the TV. Getting dressed. Opening the refrigerator. Sighing. Even pulling down a book from the bookshelf.

I had a hard time thinking of a regularly occurring non-predictive stimulus in my life with my dogs, but here’s one. For my own dogs, the automatic switching on and off the the central heating and air means nothing. They hear it intermittently all day long, but it is just background noise to them. If the temperature weren’t well controlled, or if one of them was extremely hot- or cold-natured, she might start to notice and take the opportunity to go lie next to the air vent. Then the sound of the heat and air clicking on would become predictive, and start rising up in the stack of “things to notice.”

So the upshot is that if we want our dogs to keep responding to a stimulus, it generally has to be quite strong in itself, or have a consequence. Good or bad, your choice. But not neutral.

What Really Happens?

So how might our thrown coaster stimulus work? We have determined that if it were non-predictive, it probably wouldn’t continue to get the dog’s attention. So if it works consistently to get the dog’s attention, what’s going on?

There are four relevant possibilities:

  1. Yay!
    Yay!

    Having a coaster suddenly land nearby could be intrinsically desirable to the dog. Maybe you have a loopy goofy retriever and he loves having something thrown near him, even if it’s just a coaster. He probably grabs it and plays with it. However, it may have failed as an attention-getting device. He’s playing with the toy, not looking up at you. And if you threw it when he was doing something you didn’t like, you would have accidentally reinforced the bad behavior. “Yay! I got a toy when I barked at Grandma!” (This can happen when people try to interrupt or punish with squirt bottles. Some dogs think being squirted is wonderful.)

  2. Startled boxer
    Yipes!

    It could be intrinsically aversive to the dog. I would wager that this is the case for many dogs, especially at first. Something flying through the air, appearing suddenly close and making a noise could startle them. Some dogs would habituate to it, and some might never do so. If they didn’t habituate, this could work as a way of getting your dog to pay attention to you. There’s a big drawback though:  that startled, fearful response would likely become associated with you. You become the scary person who throws stuff.

  3. It could predict something desirable for the dog.
    Good stuff coming!
    Good stuff coming!

    Maybe your dog is not turned on by coasters. But what if, every time you tossed the coaster, you then threw a treat or a toy? The dog would quickly learn that the coaster toss predicted great stuff (in the same way that clickers are typically used). If you were to toss the coaster a number of times, pairing it with good stuff, after the dog learned to the association you could use it to interrupt undesirable behavior. This is the principle of the “positive interrupter.” But you don’t have to throw anything. If you are close enough to toss a coaster, a simple noise or word would do. And it’s pretty clear that the promoters of the Magical Attention Signal are not using it this way.

  4. Oh oh!
    Oh oh!

    It could predict something aversive for the dog. Like Cesar Millan’s “Tsst!,” it could predict a kick or a jab in the neck. Or something less dramatic, like being yelled at or handled roughly. This might not have been the trainer’s or owner’s intent from the start. But if the startling effect of the thrown coaster wears off (version #2), a stronger consequence will need to be added. Then the thrown coaster would become either a punishment marker (“Fido, you are about to get it”) or a threat (“Fido–hop to it or you are going to get it”). This is also how most shock collar training works. When a trainer brags that he uses only an extremely low, non-aversive level, that is because the dog has already been taught that the shock can easily be escalated if he doesn’t comply. Otherwise we are left only with the Magical Attention Signal.**

By the way, #4 illustrates the concept of the “punishment callus.” One of the paradoxical problems with using an aversive is that most people want to start out light. But if you try that on strongly entrenched dog behaviors like barking, digging, or jumping up, the behavior may well prove to be too strong. Then you will be in the position of having to escalate. And often the dog’s ability to tolerate the aversive will escalate right alongside.

No Magical Attention Signal

Many promoters of aversive tools to use in dog training don’t want to say that they ever hurt or scare or startle or nag or bully dogs. And our mythology about dogs is so strong that most of us want to believe them. Hence, the lure of the magic signal that works all by itself, with no other consequences. I hope this post will bolster your “nonsense detector.” Behavior is driven by consequences. If no change in consequences occurs, there is no reason for a behavior to change.

If someone says that Tool A, B, or C is designed to “get the dog’s attention,” ask them what happens next. Once they get the dog’s attention, how do they actually get the dog to do something or stop doing something? Also ask them what happens if the “painless” tool fails to get the dog’s attention.

The Magical Attention Signal is not going give any lasting help on its own. Learning theory and common sense (if only we could apply it when we think about dogs!) tell us that behavior has consequences. We take actions for a reason. We act to get stuff we want. To avoid stuff we don’t like. All creatures with a brain stem, and more primitive creatures as well, from what I hear, do this.

A woman with her back partially to the camera is sitting on a lawn. There is a wooden fence in the background. Three dogs are lying down nearby, all looking into her eyes.
Rapt attention in the back yard

But the good news: if you keep conscious control of the reinforcers in your life with your dogs, use those reinforcers to strengthen behaviors you like, teach alternatives to behaviors that you don’t, you will have a head start on getting great attention from your dog.

All photos except the one of my dog Zani and the one with my three dogs are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The boxer photo was cropped.

* This is a simplification of habituation. The extent of habituation depends on several characteristics of the stimulus and organism. Here is a review article: Rankin, et al. [2009.] Habituation Revisited: An Updated and Revised Description of the Behavioral Characteristics of Habituation. Neurobiol Learn Mem. Sep 2009; 92(2): 135–138.

**We could also add, looking at the four quadrants, that the thrown coaster could predict the cessation of something aversive, or the removal of something good.  But I think these are pretty unlikely usages.

Related Post

Copyright 2014 Eileen Anderson

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble

There is Hope: One Trainer’s Journey from Liverwurst to Kibble

Recently on a dog training Yahoo group, a trainer wrote about needing to use hot dogs and lunch meat to train her dog. She was dismayed that her dog wouldn’t work for kibble. She asked the group if she was going to have to be cutting up hot dogs forever.

There were about 20 responses, all with suggestions for other high value treats that might be less messy or less expensive.

But, but, but…..that wasn’t the question! It was a great question! Not the old, “Am I going to have to carry treats forever?” question. (To which the answer is “yes” for most of us.) And not, “What are some good treats I can try?” Rather, it was, “Am I going to have to carry high value treats forever?”

I have an answer to this from personal experience.

I don’t have to anymore!

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 8.56.53 PM
Summer practicing “Lazy Leash” on the front porch for kibble

Not all the time, anyway. And that’s a huge improvement.

I have written about the value of treats before on this blog. In “Ant-Sized Treats” I described the experience I had when I learned that my treats were too small and hence not high enough value. I want to reiterate that the point of that post is not to prescribe a certain size or value of treat, but to urge everyone to pay attention to their dog, observe what works and doesn’t, and ignore prescriptions such as “eraser sized” or “the size of your little fingernail.” Your dog might need them bigger, or could be fine with them even smaller. You just need to observe to find out. I don’t want you to waste as much time as I did because I followed somebody else’s prescription and stuck with it for a long, long time, thinking my dog was just a little hopeless.

That experience built in some habits for me of using high value treats. This did wonders for both Summer’s and Zani’s agility performance, and made both of them, and Clara when she arrived, really enjoy our training sessions at home.

I have read many times, and even passed on to others, the recommendation to let dogs work for part of their kibble. But ever since I upgraded my dogs’ performance from lackluster, I had unconsciously written off that option for us. Rewarded behavior continues, right? I mean my own behavior! I was reinforced by great performances from my dogs when I gave lots of high value stuff. Why would I change? So instead of using part of their kibble, I habitually used higher value stuff. I decreased their meals when necessary to avoid over feeding.

Then one day on the Training Levels list I read a post by Sue Ailsby about how she was using part of her puppy Syn’s meals every day to teach a certain behavior and how fast it was going. I don’t know what was different for me that day; why I finally considered it. But for some reason I found myself wondering if there was a behavior for which kibble would get a good performance from my dogs. I was rehabbing Summer’s sit stay at the time, and I decided trying kibble couldn’t hurt. I mean, it’s a STAY, right? I loved the idea of not having to cut up treats Every. Single. Time. we trained.

I tried it and Summer stayed interested and motivated. I tried it on Zani. I tried it on Clara (who I had always figured, correctly, would work for about anything). Before I knew it  I was having daily training sessions with all three of them for part of one or both of their meals. Man, my treat life got easier!

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 8.57.11 PM
Zani staying away from food on the ground and keeping the leash lazy on the front porch for kibble

Hey folks, my dogs now work for kibble! With drive, motivation, and pizzazz! And I can prove it!

The following video shows Summer and Zani performing several of the Steps from Level 2 Lazy Leash from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. We had already practiced these in every room of my house, on my back porch, and in the back yard, and in the front room with the door open. But the front porch was still a big leap. And it was quite exciting out there, with joggers, neighbor dogs in their front yards, and next door neighbors out and about.

(Link to embedded video for email subscribers)

You really need to read the other post to get what a big deal this is. Summer is (was!) a hard dog to motivate, and has some behavioral issues that make lots of things extra hard for her. She is hypervigilant and anxious about quite a few things. Zani has a very steady temperament, but is a mix of breeds that are infamous for their independence and, er, hobbies. (She’s probably beagle, dachshund, JRT.) She’s also extremely friendly, so human distractions are very potent for her as well, just for a different reason.

Summer and Zani both now work with me in almost any environment with great attention for much lower value treats. Classical conditioning, transfer of value: whatever you want to call it, it happened to us. (Susan Garrett calls it “Being the Cookie.”) Working and partnering with me is a major focus of both of their lives and a major source of fun.

I no longer have to carry around the liverwurst, baby food, and tuna omelette that it took to get us to this point. Kibble, Natural Balance roll, and the occasional goldfish cracker will do. They still get high value stuff too though; I want their lives and training to be fun and interesting.

The last thing I want to do is let training get humdrum and for their performance to slide down into disinterest. I am not taking this new state of affairs for granted! I usually use the high value treats for brand new behaviors, high distraction environments, and behaviors that take a lot of energy expenditure. (For instance, when Summer and I went to the Rally Obedience trial last week I had not a kibble on me. Performing there was devilishly hard for her. I had salmon dog food in a squeeze bottle, baby food, and Natural Balance roll.) But sometimes they get the special stuff just as a nice surprise.

Clara works happily for kibble as well. (Clara would probably work well for cardboard.) But I also made a video of her doing something very challenging, incredible, actually, for kibble.

(Link to embedded video for email subscribers)

I know there are plenty of others out there with dogs that are a challenge to motivate. Here is a ray of hope. If you are currently having to use salmon or gorgonzola cheese or some other exotic, expensive, or messy treat: Keep with it. Do whatever it takes to build value for the activity for your dog. I think it’s safe to say that the more you do, the more likely you may not have to  forever.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for:

 

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Letting the Treat Fit the Feat: Real World Application

Letting the Treat Fit the Feat: Real World Application

One upon a time there was an adolescent dog in an open admission shelter who had one day left.

And a woman who knew nothing about dog training, already had a smaller dog, and made an impulsive decision to go get the shelter dog. Some problems ensued.

That’s how a lot of people discover dog training, I think. And I suspect that I’m not the only one for whom that dog who started it all has a special place in the heart.

As a positive reinforcement trainer, I know that just about whatever a dog is physically capable of, you can train and put on cue. If you can figure out what is reinforcing to the dog, you can get reliable behavior. And you can even create new reinforcers by pairing them with ones the dog already has.

On the other hand.

In 1961 Keller and Marian Breland published a paper called The Misbehavior of Organisms. It was in part a response  to B. F. Skinner’s work The Behavior of Organisms. The Brelands outlined examples of training difficulties having to do with countering the natural, instinctive tendencies of animals.

I think of this when I look over my motley crew of dogs, noticing not only their individual quirks but how their personalities and interests might be related to their breeds (mixed in most cases). There are certain breeds of dogs that have been selectively bred for generations to thrive on work with humans. Herding dogs and retrievers come to mind. My dog Clara exhibits the tendencies I’m talking about. A strong valuing of almost any kind of activity with a human and a strong focus and attention span to work.

My dog Summer is different. She has an abundance of independent varmint dog genes. Her are some shots of her in her element.

I hadn’t put any of this together when I decided to go into competitive dog sports with her. Summer is a non-traditional obedience breed mix, putting it lightly. I’ve related part of my painful learning curve in the post, “Ant Sized Treats.” I talk about how I finally learned how to really motivate her with food. But I didn’t mention in that post the work I have put in on trying to use tug as a reinforcer.

Summer does like to tug. She will tug very heartily with me for a little while. And I have had a tiny bit of success using tug as a reinforcer. But only when there is no food in the picture. If we are already playing tug, I can ask for behaviors and reward them with tug. But if it is a “training session,” food trumps tug. (And playing in the hose trumps some food, even.) Problems like this with food and tug are perfectly solvable. Here is a nice video my friend Marge made teaching  Maple, a boxer puppy, how to enjoy multiple reinforcers in a session. So please let me be clear that this is my choice as a trainer not to pursue food and tug issues with Summer until they are solved. I’m sure it could be done. But I have four dogs and plenty of essentials to train. With Summer it would be uphill. Zani and Clara will both tug in the presence of food and vice versa, and I’ve done much less work with them on it.

What Summer loves to do is to carry off and dismember toys. Perform squeakerectomies, fuzz-ectomies and anything-that-sticks-out-ectomies. That is by far her favored part of the predatory sequence. Allowing this type of self-reinforcement (with the human out of the picture) is somewhat Frowned Upon by many of the sports dogs trainers. We are supposed to make sure that the dog plays with toys with us, not on her own, or certainly not extensively by herself.

But Summer is a beloved pet and I am fine with her tearing up toys on her own. So: how then should I handle the challenge in our upcoming AKC Rally Advanced trial where a dog must heel past distractions on the floor including food and toys? We have practiced a lot with food and have a protocol for that. So I wanted also to figure out a way to reward Summer with a toy in such a way that would 1) maintain the Zen behavior she has and build on it, 2) be fair to her, and 3) be truly reinforcing. Letting the Treat Fit the Feat, as I’ve written about previously.

For this dog, grabbing up a toy and whooping it up expecting her to tug with me would not be reinforcing, especially if I took the toy away before she could rip it up.

With help from the Training Levels list and my teacher I came up with the following plan:  In Rally context (recognizable to her), Summer never gets the treat off the floor or the toy off the floor, even after the run is over. She has to exercise Zen self control and for her, I can better accomplish it with giving her a treat that is separate from the one on the floor. She gets a great reward at the end of the run and it fits the challenge: big bite of some great food, or yes, a toy to shred, or both. Both come out of my pocket or outside of the Rally setup premises (mimicking what we will do in a trial). Summer already knows that routine: long behavior chain, then run to the crating area for something great.

I bought a bunch of very cheap stuffed toys so shredding could be part of the routine each time we practiced.

My plan was to finish the run, make a big deal about the food and toy, then leave her to her shredding. But the first day I implemented my new plan I found out something amazing. It turns out I AM part of Summer’s play with the toy. I gave her the toy, she was surprised, but immediately made it clear that she wanted me to sit with her while she pulled it apart. She simply didn’t want it unless I was there, too. I was touched almost to tears. This is my independent dog. This is after years of on and off work on my part to make playing with me fun, but then watching her continue to prefer to take the toy into a corner and shred it herself.  So she had her toy, I hung out with her and bragged on her for 5 or 10 minutes, and she was SO happy. The second day we had our routine down better and She. Started. Bringing. Me. The. Toy. Again, you’d have to know the history. But it turns out that all the other stuff I had done to get a toy fetch, rewarded with tugging, was too much pressure. When I gave her some time, she went back and forth between shredding it herself and bringing it to me to tug and handle together. I left my jaw on the floor somewhere that day. The whole experience also brought home to me that for her (in a household of four dogs), time alone with me is very special.

So we ended up having, rather than an instantaneous reinforcer (even a whole jar of baby food takes less than a minute for her to eat), but a reinforcement period. There are some tricks to that–some things the trainer chooses to offer are bound to be of lower value than others so there may be moments of disappointment–and perhaps I’ll write about that in another post. But I feel like spending several minutes with my attention entirely on my dog and what she would like to do was a Treat that Fit the Feat.

On the third day, I brought out the video recorder. What you will see in the video are excerpts from an 8 minute session that Summer and I had in the back yard. I set out the plates of distractions, we did rally practice for about four minutes, then we finished, I released her, and we ran to another part of the yard. I gave her two huge bites of pumpkin cake, then gave her a disposable toy. I hung out with her. She gutted the toy. We tugged a little. She never once turned around to check out the former distractions, but just hung out with me in a relaxed way. She was free to leave and choose a different reinforcing activity at any time. After a time we went together (not cued by me) and I picked up the plates (during this part you can see that she is still very interested in them), then went back and hung out some more and she solicited some petting.

This will probably look pretty low key to a lot of you.  Unless she is aroused about something, Summer is a pretty low energy dog. But check out the photos at the top again and compare them to her demeanor in the video. In the video Summer pays lovely attention to our work. After she is released, she doesn’t leave. We don’t see her patrolling the perimeter, digging, hunting turtles, or going up to the top of the porch to check out the neighbors, or any other favorite activity. She reacts not at all when a dog barks or the neighbors use their chain saw. She doesn’t take the toy off to a corner. She doesn’t prowl back to the plates. This is the most amazing thing. I mean, our Zen cue does not have anything like that duration. She is choosing to hang out with me over the chance to sniff and pilfer some stuff off the ground, which is always hugely enticing to her. (I would have picked up the plates if she had tried, as part of our rule structure. But the point is she didn’t even seem to think about them.)

So my hypervigilant dog chose, out of all the available reinforcers, to hang out with me in a relaxed way in a distraction filled area.

My miracle dog.

Addendum, 9/27/12

I realized after some discussion in the comments that I had not talked at all about the fact that in my video and in my practice lately, there is a delay between the behavior and the reinforcement period. As most of you probably know, in most cases a delay between behavior and reinforcement makes for ineffective training. The relationship between the two can break down, or never form in the first place. On the other hand, there is ample research about delayed reinforcement that shows that animals can learn to connect delayed reinforcers with the behavior. Sue Ailsby in the Training Levels and some other trainers have techniques to teach the dog about this connection.

With Summer I have followed Sue’s technique and am pretty sure that she does make the connection. I spent several weeks a year or two back going to Rally practice wherein I didn’t give any treats during the run, but afterwards we ran back to our crate area and she got a whole jar of baby food. Her performance and enthusiasm improved markedly during that period, evidence that she connected the great food treat with the rally sequence. We do the same thing for agility runs, and have a routine that even includes putting her leash back on before running for her goodies.

I don’t give training advice on this blog but I want to give a simple caution that if you have not taught your dog about delayed reinforcement, a period of food treats, play, and attention such as I show in the video would likely not be connected to a previous behavior chain. And frankly, I don’t think that by the end of my hanging out with Summer she was thinking, “This is all because I did my Rally moves so nicely!” But I think at the beginning she probably did experience the doggie equivalent of that. And if we are going to have fun and hang out together, it certainly doesn’t hurt to pair it with an activity that I want to have good associations for her.

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Eileen is seated on a short stool and Clara is lying on the floor. They are looking into each other's eyes. There are some training props on the floor.Up to this point, all of my Missed Cue videos have been set up. After I discover or suspect a hole in my dogs’ training I set them up in a situation in which I’m guessing they will fail, and record it as a teaching exercise. (I discuss why I don’t think this is a mean thing to do in the original post about missed cues: Dogs Notice Everything.)

But this one was not set up. It was during a normal training session. I thought I had the bases covered. And I had the camera running.

The behavior we were working on was Level 2 Go to Mat, Step 3 from the Training Levels books: Dog goes 5 feet to the mat and lies down. Clara has been getting on mats and being reinforced for that since the day she arrived. She can go to a mat on a verbal or hand signal from at least 20 feet away. She can stay on it for extended periods (20-30 minutes). She has a verbal cue, a hand signal, and two environmental cues to go to mat. She can do it when I run in circles around her, when the other dogs are excited, and in many other challenging situations.  So I really thought we had this covered. But when we are working on the Levels, we never skip steps. We train every step as if we’ve never done it before. You’d be amazed what we find out by doing that.

I was amazed today. We got to the Comeafter.  The Comeafter in this Step is to add a distraction. In the book, Sue talks about taking care in picking our distraction. And I thought I was being careful. I picked putting some food on the floor as our distraction. This is old hat for Clara. She has training sessions with plates of food on the floor, can do recalls past food, etc. She has very close to a default Zen during training. And this was only a 5 foot trip to the mat.

What could possibly go wrong?

(There is a synopsis of the following video at the bottom of this post.)

I managed to do exactly what Sue warns about in the book if you make a poor choice of distraction. I made Clara so crazy she wouldn’t go to the mat.

This problem is different from those shown in all the other Missed Cue videos. They involve generalization issues with behaviors for which the dog knows the cue in some environments/situations but not in others. This one is more like the conflict of two cues, one verbal, the other environmental. Clara certainly appears to understand what I am asking her to do and just can’t figure out how to reconcile it with other strong default instructions.

The more I think about it, the more understandable Clara’s behavior is as she shies away from the food and won’t/can’t go to the mat. We teach Zen by reinforcing the dog for moving away from the treat. That is a definable behavior, as opposed to “not eating the treat.”  And when we train it, most of us like to see the dog getting very distant from the treats, and we reinforce accordingly.

So how can I re-train this? Clara needs to know that she can pass close by the treats as long as she doesn’t eat them.

Also, why, in the second go round, does she not take the straight path I have made for her to go to the mat? She wouldn’t have to come within 2 feet of the treats. Anyone care to speculate about that? That part I don’t understand. I do note that in both cases she seemed to feel “safer” from the treats when I was standing near her.

I know we are not the only ones this has happened to. Sue has at least one photograph in the Levels book showing one a dog shrinking away from a treat on the floor. And Sharon Wachsler, a great service dog trainer, came up with a name for the thing that she modestly mentions lots of us have noticed: the Zen field. The Zen field is the invisible area around the treat that only the dog knows the boundaries of. Sharon is the only trainer I know though who deliberately manipulates the field during training: taking treats in and out of the field and extending the field by adding treats within it and changing its shape.

I am hereby asking for suggestions on how to retrain Clara to get closer to the treats, and not freak when she is asked to walk close by them.  In other words, we need to shrink the Zen field but retain its potency. Seriously, we need some suggestions. I have only one idea and it is very mundane. I bet some of you can come up with some clever ideas. I’ll choose whichever suggested method seems to fit Clara’s and my skill level the best and video the progress and results.

Discussions coming soon:

Synopsis of the embedded video 

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Scene 1: We see Clara having a training session with Eileen. Clara is practicing dropping a piece of knotted rope into a bowl, and there is a plate of treats close by on the floor.

Scent 2: We see Eileen calling Clara, who runs full speed past a plate of treats to Eileen.

Scene 3: We see Clara running to her mat with Eileen, but plopping down and staying without a verbal cue as Eileen continues running by and going out the back door.

Scene 4: We see Clara going to her mat and lying down on verbal cue from two different directions.

Scene 5: We see Eileen put some treats on the floor next to a mat, then verbally cue Clara to go to the mat. Clara looks at the treats and scoots a bit sideways away from the mat. She looks away, then looks back at the treats several times. Eileen changes her own position closer to the treats and cues mat again, and Clara slowly goes around and get on the mat, sniffing it as she does so.

Scene 6: A silly repeat of Clara shying away from the treats with animated flames coming from the treats and the music from the shower scene in Psycho.

Scene 7: Eileen again places treats on the floor near the mat, but this time on the other side, leaving Clara a clear path to the mat. When Eileen cues mat, Clara again slips off to the side and puffs with her mouth and circles around. Eileen encourages her to come to the other side (actually closer to the treats). Clara eagerly comes that way, then stops very short when she gets close to the treats. Finally Eileen puts her foot over the treats and Clara goes by and gets on the mat. Eileen is chatting reassuringly to Clara throughout this.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa