Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How do I love thee???

Let me count the ways...

Raising a pup to work as a team-whether for real work or sport, involves shaping many layers of interactive behaviors that are both innate and taught. Temperament is there in every pup, they are born with who they will be, on a basic level. While we can shape behavior, we can not change temperament. Basic drives and instincts in a dog, dictate who they will be. 

The pup in front of us, is complicated. Finding what makes them tick, is the key. Some pups don't offer us the keys as easily, we have to count ways to picking the lock! 

So as trainers, how do we find and build reinforcers, for a pup? How do we become important? I think that whether you have one dog, or ten-they all teach us to evaluate and re-evaluate in regards to how we do things, and our relationship with a dog. Our relationship with one pup, may be very different than with another-we remain the constant in the relationship. We might change a bit, but after raising a few dogs, we likely follow the same mode of foundation and early socialization, with each pup. 

In order to train, we build on a pup's pack or social drive first-in other words "bonding". Becoming important to a pup, having them learn their name, follow us around, learn a recall-as something good. Early bonding makes us the reinforcer at first-with affection, praise, eye contact, etc. At 8-12 weeks-this window is unlocked and wide open!!
So, what do we do if we get an older pup, one who may have been used to keeping their own counsel? Or, one who may be a more independent thinker? Or, you have a pup that has hit a stage of seeking reinforcement from environment, has forgotten their name, or sees you and the formally heavily positively-reinforced recall of coming back to you, as a huge bummer? What do you do? 

I have three young dogs, all training in various things. They are all different. The one thing that remains the constant is I look for a real working dog brain, one that seeks out and knows how to make decisions-but that also means I usually have to work harder at building myself as part of their universe. And, they are often not the type that will repeat and repeat-they don't find that reinforcing. I rarely get the easy puppy these days, I guess I am looking for challenges?? :)

An independent worker can make things that would seem simple, very difficult-like asking a pup to do a tunnel, which for many pups would be easy. But, for that pup it probably isn't for them. It blocks their view of what's going on around them for a nanosecond, and for the control freaks, that can be disconcerting. 

Or, working on baby retrieves-pups that readily see the game as interactive, tells you about their basic nature. The one that takes off with the toy, stays at at a distance with the toy, or basically thumbs their paw at you-tells you a lot about a pup. This is one behavior we modify, by making it rewarding to return with a toy, to continue the game. For some pups, the chase part is most reinforcing-I have one of those pups right now. Some softer pups have a harder time coming into our space, they are not being "stubborn", they feel pressure from our physical being. While others, like my pup just don't see the point of mindless cooperation. So, what am I doing to work on this?

Like any skill, starting in a low level distraction environment, controlling the game and breaking it down into successful bits, is how I start. For some pups it can take a few times and they have it! For others, it can take months-like my pup. Some would think I never train this pup, when seen out and about. They would be making assumptions, based on how another pup may be, not this pup...this pup is quite confident that their way, is the way. I am not that reinforcing, to this pup no matter all the "relationship" stuff. 

I have older dogs that will happily work with me, repeating over and over until they drop-not that I train that way. Either they find repetition rewarding? or, they just find doing anything with me, reinforcing? I find that pattern training is "easier" with this type of brain, they are an open door. What is harder is a pup who not only doesn't seem too interested, but rather than finding the patterns you offer and reward interesting-creates their own patterns and self-rewards. Some of the things I know one of my pups finds very reinforcing, I can't bring into a class. 

We all have heard have a bag of tricks-various levels of reinforcers, to try to match high level environment, with a higher level reward. So, when it all goes to hell in trying to move forward in training with a pup, I go back to the beginning. My goal over the next week, month with one pup is to start building not only a happy recall again (as I know the recall off of stock is in part why this has become a bummer) but also to re-start some little skills work that requires repetition, like a down on a mat and quick release to repeat for another reward. 

I saw early on with this one pup that things like wrapping a cone endlessly, were boring to them. We did not get to know each other, until this pup was past the window of opportunity age-that is hard to go back and fix, at least in this pup. Not sure I can change the perception of a task or game in a pup, but I can try to make it part of a fun game, if the reinforcer becomes meaningful to them. 

Learning can be stressful for them and us. At a certain point in sports, which is not training in instinct generally-if I see a strong working pup  who excels on stock, is not having fun...we will re-evaluate. I am never one to force a pup to do anything in training, they don't show they enjoy. There is a difference of pushing outside your comfort level or through to the next level, and both you and your pup losing enthusiasm along the way, when it becomes not fun. Comparisons made to other pups who may want to wrap a cone a million times when your pup doesn't, is not helpful... I look for solutions, will not label or judge my pup, for having their own mind. One of my pups is very very keen, and although sensitive, loves repetition. The other is very strong-minded and really I think just doesn't see the point of it. I don't compare them, I work with what I have in each.

Meanwhile, preventing access to self-rewarding will help us move along. What doesn't help, is overfacing a pup with asking too much, when they are showing they can't handle it. What really helps the human side of the team when you hit the wall in training, is someone offering solutions and acknowledging that you are trying. 

Sometimes, coming up with our own list, helps count the ways to move forward. Like a "To do" list, if we have a pup that takes off on us in a certain setting/distraction, where on the list of basic behaviors do we go back to? I think it is a good combination to teach impulse control, while not squelching a thinking dog. I don't like a dog mugging my hand for treats or a toy, but I also want to build their desire-so sometimes if a pup is less into you, letting them be a bit naughty can be a useful thing on the "list" too. If we don't have a recall, we are missing the biggest piece in our relationship, with a pup. 

With my one pup, she got many, many rewards-but seems to now see recalls as not fun. It is an age of "forgetting", that many pups hit too. So, back to the beginning.....starting with rebuilding our recall.

.Name recognition with happy ears and eyes (no flat or submissive ears/squinting or sad eyes), as they are already looking at you, say a name and Reward!!

.With treats in both hands, arms at your sides, can pup not look at your hands and seek your eyes? If this is hard for them, wait until a flicker of eye contact and mark with Yes & reward. Build it!

.Pup sitting or standing within arms' length, looking at my eyes and start saying what will be their eye contact cue-"look" "ready" etc, as they are looking at you & reward! Naming the behavior as it is occurring.

.Pup in previous position, as you turn away to your right or left, do they shift and follow you, to find your face again??? If they do, big reward and party! If not-this is one of your basic things to work on. Lure at first, if you need to. Or, if the pup disconnects, have them on a long line and your foot on it, to manage them "leaving". Wait for them to re-connect and big party! This step is especially useful outdoors and in increasing environments-will be going back to this with all my pups. Winter babies have fewer outdoor training opportunities in the Northeast...showing up now. (another thing on the list to remind myself of).

.With pup now following you in circles in both directions, introduce your Recall word-before this, you were saying nothing.

.As the pup is learning new words, that will mean the difference in your foundation working relationship-as you are building, or re-building the bond. 

.After a few sessions of this and As the pup is eagerly learning and seems into the "game" with you, as you ask for name or recall/when they give eye contact and approach-reward with touching the side of their collar and "yes", and "Ok" or I use "Get it" as I toss a treat away-to reset for another repetition. Turn slightly, but stay in same location.

.At first, you want to make this game super easy, very close tosses. But, in order to build your recall, adding motion and distance is important. Toss further and walk, then build to run the opposite way, as you call your pup to you. This ignites prey drive, as well as reinforcing pack drive, with rewards close to you. You can also toss treat and reward at your side with tug, if the pup finds that reinforcing.

You can always go back to these (which I will be with one teenager) or if you skipped some of this, or pup came to you as an older pup-blank slate is faster than "re-train".

Cheese may not be as exciting as working sheep, or swimming for a water-loving pup, but access to that can be an ultimate reward, as you work together. Try to make a list, to help in figuring out training and rewards, especially if you are hitting a wall, like I am with one pup. These are in no order, but are what I see in one pup.

The list of reinforcers needs to be reinforcing to your pup! Not because you think it might be rewarding.

For one pup, sadly I am not on this list for training purposes, in life yes, but training no-but am working on it....

.saying Hi to people she loves
.sheep, goats, ducks
.dry catfood
.tug toys-furry? soft fabric? fluttery? hard bite like firehose?
.chasing, catching things that move
.flirt pole
.water-swimming, splashing, biting water
.playing with other dogs
.sitting on my lap when sleepy
.Frisbees-soft ones, hard ones
.competing with another dog-getting "there" first
.me.....some day! :)

And...the work continues....

FOOTNOTE: Asked this right after I posted this, nope will not and do not used social isolation/Crating endlessly/etc to get a pup to bond to me.  This is used by some positive trainers as a recommended way to work on relationship stuff, yet to me this "method" is as aversive as popping a shock collar on them, for blowing you off on a recall. 

I may balance attention paid to a pup, with ignoring them at times-but I also don't want a clingy, insecure dog who can't operate in the real world, without getting cues from me for every move. I'm so not a micro-manager, and want my pups to naturally evolve into loving what we work on...Force free. 

Social shunning in solitary and spending too much time alone or locked up, is applied mental punishment in my book, for a naturally social creature such as a dog. My pups all spend some time alone (builds self-reliance and confidence, prevents separation anxiety) and being crated-I work...but not when I am home. 

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