Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Command You!

Tomato/tomahto? Modern dog trainers use the word “cue” rather than “command” when teaching behaviors.

A command carries with it an implied threat-do this or else

A cue, on the other hand is an opportunity to perform

But, Chris, my dog should do what I tell him to do, when I tell him to do it, because I told him to do it!


Seriously, have you ever asked yourself why this is so?
Television, books, movies have all contributed to the myth of the dog who lives to please (in many cases sacrificing his own happiness for yours!)

The fact is; dogs (like humans) repeat what is reinforced!
The myth of the dog that lives to please is just that-a myth. Dogs do work for us and have for thousands of years, but why? What makes him work so willingly? The common denominator...enjoyment.

The Border collie herds because he enjoys chasing stock, the Siberian husky pulls the sled because he enjoys running and the retriever retrieves because…well you get the picture.

Method 1~Traditional training

Repeat the "command" over and over until your dog catches on, whether he likes it or not. You are the one doing the majority of the work (physically manipulating the dog into position and “correcting” the dog when he gets it wrong). You tell him “no this is not what I want you to do" when he does not perform the behavior. His motivation~ you stop correcting him and give verbal praise when he gets it right.

State of mind for the dog: confusion, stress, fear, and frustration, relief when he is not being “corrected”
State of mind for the trainer: stress, anger, frustration, relief when dog finally “gets” it

Method 2~Clicker training

Your dog is working to figure out what you want. For his efforts, he is rewarded with information in the form of a marker (click) that tells him “yes-you are on the right track” along with a payment to reinforce the behavior (a tiny bit of food or a short game of tug/fetch/play-whatever your dog likes).

When he gets off track you back up and begin from the point where you were last successful. There are never any reprimands. Once your dog is performing exactly what you had in mind, then and only then do you name the behavior (the "cue"). His motivation-an investment in the outcome in the form of a reward for each successful step.

State of mind for the dog: motivated, excited, and joyful
State of mind for trainer: motivated, excited, and joyful

Method 1-when I get it right bad things stop
Method 2-when I get it right good things continue

But how will my dog know he is not getting it right if I don’t correct him? Won’t he become frustrated?

Karen Pryor says this, in Reaching The Animal Mind:

“It’s not the information that’s the problem; it’s the reprimand. The message ‘That’s not it’ is embedded in the use of clickers, conveyed not by the addition of something but by the absence of the click”.

Personally, I want my dog to be an active participant in training session. This will not only increase the likelihood of successful training, but makes the training process enjoyable for us both.

The Thinking Dog: Crossover To Clicker Training by Gail Fisher explains why a thinking dog is her preference:

“A trained dog will ‘obey,’ but a thinking dog goes far beyond obeying commands. It goes beyond training your dog to sit, lie down, and come when called. While teaching responsiveness to commands is a component of any training, achieving voluntary good behavior—what most of us want from our dogs—is about so much more.”

For me, if training is enjoyable I will want to do it.

Guess what? So will my dog!

My dogs in a training session (Dante top, Stoli below) Note complete focus on me, yet relaxed, happy expression

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How To Train Your Dog To Not Come When Called- A Play In Three Acts

Location: an enclosed, an off-leash Dog Park in Anytown, USA
The players: a dog and his owner, regular visitors to the park
The time: time to go home

Act 1: Owner decides it is time to go and calls the dog. Dog begins sniffing the ground, a few feet away from the man.

Owner calls the dog again-this time a bit more forcefully-he is getting a bit impatient-he has things to do! Dog continues sniffing ground and moves even farther away.

Owner calls dog, but now all pretense of friendliness is gone (darned stubborn dog, he is thinking). “Get over here NOW!”

Dog continues to sniff the ground, stopping to lift a paw as he glances sideways at the owner, not looking him in the eye. Man walks toward dog- dog moves farther away, always staying just out of reach.


Act 2: Man angrily throws his hands up in the air. He stalks around a bit, pulling his hair.

Bing! A light bulb appears.

The man crouches down and calls, sweetly, through gritted teeth, “Here puppy…come here …yes…good boy”.

The dog slowly approaches, on his belly, curling sideways, tail wagging frantically while licking his lips…as soon as he is within reach…

The man grabs his collar, gives it a good shake and scolds, “BAD dog. You COME to me when I call you!!!”

This man has just successfully taught his dog to never come to him again.

Of course, that was not his intent. The man thinks, "I have just corrected my dog for not coming to me. I have taught him a lesson. Next time he will come to me when called".

 Not likely.

When this happens again, the man will then assume,  “This dog is very stupid. And stubborn. He will not listen”.

Wrong! Here is what the man is missing-the dog is incapable of matching his own action of “not coming” to the collar shake and scolding.

Why not?

Too much time has passed between the action and the consequence! Let’s break the sequence of events down into tiny pieces using a simple behavioral formula that is easy to remember:

ABC Formula

A=Antecedent (what happens before)
B=Behavior (what the dog does)
C=Consequence (what happens as a result)

Antecedent: Dog hears man calling sweetly, “come here, baby”
Behavior: Dog approaches
Consequence: GRAB/YANK/SCOLD

The dog has just learned: Approach = GRAB/YANK/SCOLD

All that went on before is not in the least tied into the Consequence; a dog’s brain is not capable of putting that complex pattern together.

Dogs are very simple creatures and a human brain is very different than a dogs brain. A huge portion of our brain is devoted to solving complex problems such as remembering consequences in a big- picture format.

Dogs do not have this brainpower and if they did we would be in BIG trouble! In fact, most of their brain is devoted to scenting.  They are very good at reacting-a dog smells a rabbit and POW! he reacts by chasing.

This is the saddest part of all;  sometimes, when the dog is called, bad things happen- and he has no idea why.

But here is the main problem- we think dogs learn a lesson from a scolding or punishment. They don’t. But they look to us  like they do. By cringing and creeping towards you, you naturally assume that the dog “feels guilty because he knows he was bad”.

Not so.

This is a miscommunication between species. This cringing behavior in Dog Speak means, “I am no harm to you-I do not wish conflict”. The dog does sense the anger despite the man using baby talk to trick the dog into coming to him-perhaps he can even smell it-I would not be surprised. BUT he cannot apply that knowledge to his own actions- the context is lost on him.

So he reacts to this anger by using dog language indicating “no fight, please". When he does this,  we see “guilt” because it appears identical to our body language for guilt.

Go back to the paragraph where the dog continued to sniff the ground-this is called a Displacement Behavior. Just as we sometimes fidget when nervous, so do dogs. We rub our arms, smooth our hair, perhaps even pace.

But this looks to us like the dog is purposely ignoring us in favor of sniffing-he is "blowing me off".

If you see your dog sniffing, yawning, blinking, scratching, all out of the blue and out of context (of course dogs do all of these things when they are not stressed, too!), he may be experiencing some stress. Paw lifts are another means to signal, “I do not wish conflict”.

Act 3:  If you want your dog to come to you when called you must begin to establish a strong history of reinforcement for this (remember ABC?). Make sure only good things happen when he is called. Never ever scold your dog for coming to you.

If “bad things” such as leaving fun behind must occur (we do live in the real world, after all and disappointment is part of life!) then make leaving unpredictable-if your dog hates to leave the dog park, practice calling him to you and when he comes give him a pat or play a quick game of fetch and then release him to play.

Mix it up, in other words. Giving him a cookie when you get into the car can also build a strong association of Good Things happening when we leave the park.

Finale: Remember the ABC's! Before applying a human explanation to a dog behavior, stop and ask yourself, what consequence is at work here? If it is reinforcing for the dog, it will be repeated-for better or worse.

Happy Traning!