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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Four Ideas...

I've got a busy brain. Like, really busy. I am constantly seeking the most effective ways to help my clients train their pups and develop a great relationship and sense of teamwork. I read. I talk to other trainers. I try stuff out in my classes. I take webinars, online courses and attend seminars and workshops. I love that dog training is in a constant state of evolution. Dogs are even on the radar in the scientific community right now and it's freaking awesome. 

I have ideas that pop up continually yet I never quite put them out there. I don't name them. Claim them. Promote them as my own. So, here goes nothin'! These are four ideas of mine that I think are pretty awesome and I'm claiming them as work product. I hope trainers and students will use the heck out of them, and maybe remember that they're "Amanda Boyd" terms. One can dream...

#1: The marker word (to be used as an alternative to the clicker) should not be "yes." It should be "click!" I mean, duh! I don't know about other trainers, but I find it darn near impossible to get people to consistently use "yes" and understand the equivalence to the clicker. I've been beating my head against the wall for years on this one. I now hereby declare my verbal marker word for students to be "click!" It's consistent, easy and makes sense in a very obvious way. BOOM!

#2: The word for coming when called should not be "come." Or "here." Or whatever. It should be "treat." I mean, what the heck is a recall word? Well, it's a word that you say that causes your dog to stop in his tracks, turn and run to you as quickly as s/he can (hopefully in exchange for something good from the human). Guess what, people already have that word and it's "TREAT!" So, why not build on that? It's been conditioned. It's most likely 80% or more reliable. In my experience, very few students actually practice and effectively condition and protect "come" or "here" as recall words. How about "treat" for recall (and ya better give 'em that treat!) and "touch" (nose to hand target) for an emergency recall? Done, and hereby declared and stamped with a big ol' "AB was here." 

#3: The word for dropping something should not be "drop" or "give." It should be "out." Why? Because I tend to say "ow!" when my dogs grab on to me and it hurts. Not the high pitch puppy yelp that gets them all wound up, but just a short, low pitch and offended "ow!" So, they learn to let go when they hear that noise. Then it's easy peasy to transfer it to dropping an object without having to teach a new word that means something they already know. 

#4) Okay, we're moving away from words now and into other territory: mat training! This might not be unique to me, but I swear I haven't borrowed it from anyone intentionally. I've never seen it done and I just thought it up about a week ago. Most classes include some sort of mat training. Many of us introduce shaping to help with this. Trainers love shaping, but we all know how hard it is for students. They almost always revert to a lure. Which is fine: give them the option to shape, but don't be surprised if luring takes over. Often we suggest the students lure and cue a down on the mat quicklyl a few times, then step back and see if shaping works. But if we want the dog to quickly go to the mat without luring we can use...wait for it...opposition reflex! Bait the darn mat (yes, it's a prompt), hold the dog's collar (or put your palm on their chest), then release to race to the mat and eat. Basically a restrained recall using a mat as the target instead of the handler. Repeat 3 to 5 times, then go back to shaping and see what happens. 

I gave it a try with this pup for her first mat session. 

Okay, so not perfect but it has potential! I didn't notice that pesky little crumb of freeze dried liver working against me. Video is such a valuable tool! But I at least got a couple of reps and, lo and behold, I even snuck in my new "click!" verbal marker.

What say y'all? Are you pickin' up what I'm throwin' down? Anyone else already doing this stuff? I'd love to hear your comments!

Sidekick. Train happy!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Why Punishment is Easier than Positive Reinforcement

 I was an awesome dog mom yesterday. We started the day with an off-leash romp in an open field. Then we headed to training class where most dogs got some working time with me. When we got home, it was food puzzle (and calming tablet) time and we all had a nice nap before waking in the late afternoon. 

That's when all hell broke loose.

Did I mention that I'm currently living with six dogs? Yup, six in a very modest dwelling. (Five of my own and a board-and-train puppy.) It's quite the menagerie!

Upon waking from my nap, and still trying to kick a migraine that started over 24 hours ago, I had the silly notion that I would lie comfortably on my couch and catch up on my shows, namely "How to Get Away with Murder" and "Goliath." 

The dogs had another plan. Their plan was to drive me batsh*t crazy by refusing to settle. Like any typical homo sapien, I started scolding. "Stop it!" "Give me that!" "Quiet!!" "Knock it Off!" “ARGGGGGG!!” (And so on...)

In terms of efficacy, this strategy sucked. However, in terms of ease for me and satisfaction in "doing something" about the problem, it was highly reinforcing. 

You see, I always have my voice. I can always scold. I can always grab and push and restrain. Perhaps most importantly, I can do these things from the comfort of my couch. On a scale of easy peasy to damn near impossible, this is about a two on the effort scale. 

As Melissa Holbrook Pierson writes in her beautiful exploratory memoir, "The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn,"

"Punishing a dog - which frequently comes from being emotionally out of control*, as any dog owner necessarily is before** learning those scientific rules of teaching that insert a cool intellectual distance between behavior and cause - is a burdensome secret. First, it feels good, with its release of frustration and fear. Just as quickly it feels terrible. Someone was hurt or confused at the expense of an outburst that served no purpose. I have known that shame." 

* Such as suffering from a debilitating headache. 
**Or,  in my case, after. 

As the dogs continued to spiral like toddlers on Red Bull, my rational brain kicked in and I asked myself (as I often do), “What would I tell a client in this situation?" Well, duh - what DO you want the dog(s) to do?!

Oh, sweet redemption...

...victory is mine! 
But guess what: this is not easy. Not nearly as easy as using a louder than usual voice from the sanctity of my couch. This requires preparation. Observation. Participation. It's more like an eight on that pesky effort scale.

Hence, treat jars stashed throughout my house, at the ready when any desired canine behavior occurs.
Treat stash, hallway.
Treat stash, bedroom. 

Need another example? How about jumping up on counters and/or tables in search of food and other treasures, often referrred to as "counter surfing."

Here I am doing what I'm supposed to do about counter surfing: reinforcing four on the floor during my food prep. 

As the video shows, here’s the thing (or shall I say a thing) about positive reinforcement: one must encourage, notice and reward the often passive and less obvious presence of desired behaviors. 
(Punishment, on the other hand, involves punishing the active presence of unwanted behaviors, which is entirely more satisfying and tangible.)

Let’s face it, it doesn’t always feel like training when we’re reinforcing “non-behaviors” like being quiet, not jumping, not pulling on leash, chewing a dog bone, etc. 

And then we have this fact working against us: our all-too-human brains are pre-programmed to notice and remember "bad" before "good." 
(Want proof? Google it.) 

Yet these non-aggravating behaviors are the very essence of “being good” and if we want to see more of them, we’ve got to learn to catch our dogs in the act of doing it right! 

So yup, you read it correctly: the "positive" trainer is telling you it's often more intuitive to resort to punishment. It’s also usually more convenient. And even more satisfying at times. 
But you won’t hear me say it’s more effective or kind or that it builds trust and a strong bond between you and your dog. And don’t those things matter most of all?!

With a moderate bit of effort, you can become a more effective trainer and a kinder, more predictable dog guardian with a dog who knows what is expected and is happy to put his best paw forward.

You got this! If I can do it with six dogs, think what you could accomplish with one (or another reasonable number)! 
Sidekick. Train happy. 

P.S. For the flip side, negative punishment (preventing the reinforcement of unwanted behavior), see Denise Fenzi’s recent blog, "No You Cannot Simply Ignore Bad Behavior."

P.P.S. I was able to complete one episode of “HTGAWM” in under two hours. #Winning