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

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