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It Depends on the Dog

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I recently asked my Facebook friends for some blog topics and I got a wide variety of possibilities in response.  Some were foundation training specific, others related to problem solving and yet others were more general in terms of training philosophy.

As a rule, I can only write about training philosophy if that topic is bouncing around in my head when I sit down to write, so I eliminated those.  Then I went through and looked at each of the training oriented suggestions one at a time, and I found myself dismissing most of  the problem solving ones with the mental note, “it depends on the dog”.

But, what does that mean?

What about the dog does it depend on?  Temperament?  Sports specific?  Exercise specific?  Is it fixed for life?  Why is it that when someone asks me how to solve a specific challenge the most common thoughts that comes to my mind are not a series of solutions but a series of questions?

Today I want to consider some of the questions – the things I will want to know about a dog that I do not know personally and cannot see- the invisible problem dog. Not because the problem is necessarily challenging but  because coming up with a solution without understanding the dog is quite challenging indeed.

To illustrate this, let’s consider a dog that is missing 25% of his scent articles in training.

What is the dog’s foundation?  The first step to solving a problem is finding the hole in the dog’s base behaviors.  If I know how you trained the base behaviors and which ones the dog has mastered, I am more able to offer you a solution that will make sense within your training system and which the dog can understand quickly.  If I learn that you used the tie down method with a retrieve instead of a shaping method with an indication, then I will go back to your foundation for some possible solutions.  It would make no sense to apply shaping based answers to a dog that doesn’t understand shaping unless the trainer had decided to retrain the entire exercise from scratch.  The opposite is also true – I would not suggest tying down articles for a dog that has a shaping foundation and who is comfortable indicating articles as a base behavior instead of always retrieving them.

What is the dog’s age, stage of training and rate of progression?  Some dogs do not have a problem at all; they simply haven’t had enough time or experience to cement their learning, so it “appears” that they have a problem.  A dog who misses 25% of their scent articles won’t cause me to bat an eye if they are in their first month of training, but if the dog hasn’t progressed at all over the past two months then we need to take a closer look.  And if it’s been a year then we probably need to consider changing methods altogether.

What is the dog’s source of motivation and how does it affect his behavior?  A dog working for toys vs. food is often in a very different mental state.  Knowing why the dog cares about work and how much the dog cares can give me clues to both the source of the issue and some possible solutions to explore.  Sometimes switching the source of motivation (either increasing or lowering the value of what you have to offer) will solve the current challenge.

What is the dog’s emotional state?  This is a big one because dog behavior is often misunderstood in the world of dogs sports.  For example, dogs that are grabbing articles are often seen as “driven”when in reality their speed is hectic (nervous) movement, and dogs that are excessively slow are labeled as “unmotivated” when they may simply be afraid of making an error.  If you can accurately recognize the cause of a dog’s behavior, you can select solutions that will place that individual in their best place for learning.  It is possible that changing the dog’s stress level around the exercise will allow for success, while separately you work through the issues causing the dog’s discomfort in the first place.

What is the dog’s base temperament?  Dogs are individuals, much as people are individuals.  The more closely aligned a dog’s interest is to the handlers and the more the dog wants to play our games, the more freedom you have with your problem solving options.  For example, a “sturdy” dog who is missing the correct scent article can cheerfully accept a no-reward marker (NRM) when returning with the wrong article whereas a “softer” dog prone to worry might shut down and leave training altogether for months after if you tried an NRM.  Understanding temperament is critical to allow for maximum success with minimal fallout

What is the handler’s basic temperament and skill level?  This matters more than some individuals may realize.  An excellent application of a mediocre technique will often work even if it is not elegant from the perspective of training excellence.  Less skilled handlers need to be given techniques that are easier to understand and to apply.  Personally, the tie down method of article training is not one of my preferred choices, but I might recommend that method to a handler who has no interest in the alternatives, and with a dog that has the temperament to accept it.

What makes training both an art and a science is often the interplay between a variety of factors including base temperament, motivation, and the dog and handler’s background, and each of these should be considered when working through a problem.

If this topic interests you, consider buying the book I wrote with Deb Jones titled “Dog Sports Skills; Book 2:  Motivation“.  We tackle this topic in depth, with two full chapters on case studies to make this concept as clear as possible.  Hopefully this blog has given you enough information to start thinking about the topic for your own training challenges.

Fronts, tuck sits, and “rabbit feet”

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At some time or another, most obedience competitors will struggle with straight fronts, back feet that stick out to the sides ( rabbit feet), dogs that are not able to “find front” from an angle, and rock back sits.

As a general rule, I try to work young dogs on small, tight platforms to help them develop muscle memory to prevent these issues.  While this does not teach a dog to think about being straight, it does create muscle memory, which can make the process faster and easier for the dog.

But eventually, I want to get rid of the platform for routine training, and a nice middle step is to teach a dog to stay between your legs.  If you are using this position to help the dog learn to keep their body straight and their head upright, then a sit is not required when you stop.  If you are using this position to teach a tuck sit with all four feet pulled in tightly, then expect (or ask for) a sit before reinforcing and possibly rotate between sit and stand.  If you are using this position to teach your dog to keep a straight body no matter how you pivot, then rotate as much as 360 degrees in both directions.  If you are using this position to teach backing in a straight line, then start with one step at a time and slide your feet straight backwards.

This exercise can also be done while holding a dumbbell or a glove, since some dogs only sit crooked when they are retrieving.  And since rocking back between your legs is pretty much impossible while holding a dumbbell, your dog will tuck sit.  Do enough repetitions and a tuck sit while “in front” will become a habit, giving you a chance to reinforce the ones you like.

As your dog becomes more competent, you can stand up straighter and reinforce only occasionally.

The following video is of Raika – we’re working on tuck sits/kick back stands, and pivots/keeping her body straight.  Raika is “trained” so she’ll stay in this position comfortably no matter what I do.  If you think about it, if she tried to rock back on a sit she would ‘disappear’ from between my legs – and away from the cookie.  She doesn’t want that so she tucks nicely.  Same with the stand position – she knows where the cookie is going to show up, so it’s easiest for her to hold her front feet still and move her rear.

And this video is of Brito – we’re using this position for his “rabbit feet”, to straighten his fronts, and soon I’ll use this position to practice his dumbbell hold.  He is not experienced with this position so I have to work a little harder to keep him there.

Notice that even though both dogs are very different in size, their back feet still come up between my feet and meet with their front feet.  If your dog can sit this way, then you can use this exercise effectively for all of these exercises.

Drop on recall using “what’s more ___ than ___”

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In my last blog, I talked about the training technique of using “what’s more___than____” to resolve problem behaviors.  In this blog I’ll talk about using this technique to create a better quality behavior in the first place.

Let’s consider the “stop” portion of the drop on recall.  I want to teach my dog to stop promptly on cue when he is coming towards me.

First ask yourself the base question, “What is more stop than stop” when a dog is coming towards you?

How about “back up?” or “turn around and go away?”  While Brito will eventually learn both of these, this blog will look at “back up” in preparation for the drop cue.

This is how Brito is learning the “stop” portion of the drop on recall:

1) First I throw a cookie straight ahead to get Brito to run out and away from me.

2) As he returns, I give him a signal (verbal, hand signal or both) to back up as he is returning.  It’s ok if it takes a second or two to process – he won’t  get a cookie until he reverses, and time will improve his processing.

3) The second he reverses, I reward immediately on the first or second step backwards.

4) On occasion, I also throw in the drop cue after he backs a short distance so that “back up” and “drop” become linked.

5) When Brito can reverse immediately upon receiving the back up cue, I’ll request a drop without asking for a reverse.   We’re definitely not there yet and there is no hurry.  Backing up on cue and being rewarded at a distance are both foundation skills, so it’s worth getting it right.I also throw in plenty of straight recall signals  to keep him paying attention to what I’m asking for.

To succeed with this method, you’ll need a recall, a back up cue, and a solid drop cue.  Teach each of these separately before trying to form a chain.  Make sure you can get each behavior quickly and with one distinct cue before combining them (I use a continuous cue for back up so that is an exception for me).

Eventually, I’ll use backing up as a maintenance behavior for a speedy drop.

 

What is more____than____?

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There are a few basic principles in training which most good trainers follow.  Examples include rewarding a dog in the position that you wish to reinforce, marking behaviors at the exact moment they occur (timing), and training behaviors in small and manageable pieces.

Today I’d like to talk about a problem solving technique along the same lines.  I call it, “What’s more___than____?”

Here are a few examples.

Your dog has a tendency to go down with her elbows slightly elevated on the signal exercise.  Since the behaviors that follow the down are in the upwards direction this is logical; your dog is simply consciously or unconsciously anticipating what will come next.  So what can you do to change this?

Ask yourself, “What is more down than down?”

How about “drop head or chin on ground?”

Since it’s impossible to have your head down and your elbows up, your dog is quite likely to drop their elbows fully if the next requested behavior might be “more down than down”.   With dogs that are inclined to hover their elbows above the ground, I frequently include a signal to “put your head down” as often as I might request a recall, sit, etc.  It becomes one of the options in the signal exercise.

Eventually, I use “chin on ground” as a correction since my dogs don’t much want to put their chin down when their toy might be thrown soon.  In that case, the only time I insist on chin down is when I notice hovering elbows.  Your dog quickly figures out that keeping elbows down on the down cue is more desirable than being asked to put your chin on the ground (especially if I then make them stay in that position for several seconds), so the problem of elbows down tends to resolve without any additional effort on my part.

This worked beautifully when I was training Raika in Mondioring – she’d break her down cue into a sit when the “bad guy” would rattle the stick.  My correction was  1) bad guy stopped agitating, 2) block Raika’s vision of the person by standing in front of her, 3) re-cue the down signal 4) cue head down 5) re-introduce the bad guy into the equation.  She didn’t particularly like the expectation to keep her elbows down on the down cue, but she truly hated being asked to hold her chin on the ground.  Voila – she learned to keep her elbows down, even under extreme agitation.

How about a dog that hovers their butt a few inches above the ground when they sit?  For example, each time you halt in heeling, your dog “almost” puts their rear end down, but not quite, in anticipation of either a toy reward or moving again?

Ask yourself, “What is more sit than sit?”

How about sit up and beg?

If the dog hovers their rear, then I’d cue them to sit up and beg on every halt.  When I notice that they begin to sit properly in anticipation of being asked to sit up, then I no longer require that secondary behavior unless they fail to sit properly.  Since most dogs hover because they want to continue moving, the “sit up” eventually becomes a correction and I only cue it when I see a hovering sit.

Here’s a short video with Raika showing the head drop for both the signal exercise and the drop on recall.  In this video I only ask her to duck her head; if she had failed to do that I would have asked her to put her chin on the ground.  Since she doesn’t particularly mind ducking her head but she does object to chin down, I can use whatever degree of “reminder” makes the most sense based on the dog’s behavior:

Dog Sports Skills Book 2: Motivation

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I am delighted to announce that as of one week ago, the second book in the “Dog Sports Skills” series has been released and is now available!  Initial reviews are very enthusiastic:).

The book is currently only available at The Dog Athlete (my sales website).  If you purchase both book 1 and 2 at the same time in a series pack, you’ll get a bit of a discount, so take a look at that option.  There are also discounts for group orders of five or more books, so it might make sense to get together with a few friends.

Here is the write-up and the Table of Contents from the website.  Let us know what you think of the book!

 

This is the second book in the award winning “Dog Sports Skills” series by Denise Fenzi and Deborah Jones; this time the topic is Motivation!

Title: Dog Sports Skills, Book 2: Motivation

Authors:  Denise Fenzi and Deborah Jones

Foreword by: Ken Ramirez

Subject Matter:

In this second book in the “Dog Sports Skills” series, Authors Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones take an in-depth look at the topic of motivation.   They talk about what motivation is, and what it is not, along with an illuminating discussion of how a dog is unique in the animal world, and how educated trainers can use that to maximum advantage. They consider a range of options for motivating our dogs, and how a trainer can raise or lower the value of specific motivators to get the exact training effect that may be desired at a given time. Temperament is discussed as it relates to issues of motivation to help the reader understand the strong interplay between temperament, motivation and training decisions.

In addition to explaining how to use motivators in training, this book provides specific information on how to reduce their use so that you can eventually get into the competition ring!

Finally, they provide case studies – lots of them!  The purpose of the case studies is both to cement what the reader has learned in the first chapters and also to help the reader understand how to analyze specific situations and make a plan to apply the concepts.

A student who reads both this book and the first book in the series will begin to develop a deeper understanding of the author’s underlying philosophy and approach.  Each book is more than a stand-alone resource; they are pieces of a puzzle that will eventually weave into a tapestry of concepts, thoughts and applications that create both excellence in training and a very deep respect and understanding for another living being.

Dog Sport Skills, Book 2: Motivation

by Denise Fenzi & Deborah Jones, Ph.D. Copyright 2014

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface…………………………………………………………….. 9

About Denise Fenzi & Deb Jones …………………….. 12

Foreword ………………………………………………………… 13

 

 

Chapter 1: Motivation and Learning …………………………………….. 15

What is Motivation………………………………………….. 15

Operant Conditioning …………………………………….. 17

 

 

Chapter 2: The Dog, But Not the Chicken……………………………… 23

The Problem Is ………………………………………………… 25

Beyond Clean Training……………………………………. 26

Everything in Moderation ………………………………. 28

The Solution: Social Interaction……………………….. 31

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 32

 

 

Chapter 3: Types of Motivators……………………………………………… 35

Classic Rewards………………………………………………. 35

Food ……………………………………………………………….. 35

Tug Toys………………………………………………………….. 36

Life Rewards …………………………………………………… 37

Alternative or traditional Rewards……………… 38

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 41

 

 

Chapter 4: Creating Motivators …………………………………………….. 43

Training Motivators – Operant Conditioning…… 43

Creating Motivators – Classical Associations …… 45

Classical Conditioning Affects Everything ……… 47

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 51

 

 

Chapter 5: Factors Affecting Motivation ……………………………….. 53

The Relative Nature of Motivation ………………….. 53

The Power of Choice ……………………………………….. 57

Stress and Motivation ……………………………………… 59

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 61

 

 

Chapter 6: Changing the Value of a Motivator ………………………. 63

Methods for Changing Value ………………………….. 63

Additional Considerations ………………………………. 65

Environmental Considerations ……………………….. 66

The Subtle Art of Redirection………………………….. 67

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 69

 

Chapter 7: Changing Criteria without Losing Motivation……… 71

Improve the Quality of the Behavior……………….. 72

Work Under Adversity ……………………………………. 72

Ask for More Repetitions ………………………………… 73

Raising Criteria for Continuous Behaviors………. 75

Thinking Beyond Exercises …………………………….. 76

Moving Beyond Reinforcements ……………………… 77

Silence: Stressful or Golden …………………………….. 78

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 79

 

 

Chapter 8: Maintaining Motivation When Your Dog is Wrong 81

Non-Reward Markers: Neutral or Not?……………. 81

Using NRM’s Correctly …………………………………… 83

Teaching the NRM ………………………………………….. 85

The Cheerful Interrupter…………………………………. 86

Using the Cheerful Interrupter with Heeling ….. 88

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 90

 

 

Chapter 9: Temperament and Motivation ……………………………… 91

What is Temperament? ……………………………………. 91

Temperament Tests …………………………………………. 92

Developing Motivators in a Puppy ………………….. 94

Less Than Ideal Temperament…………………………. 96

The Impossible Training Problem ……………………. 98

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 99

 

 

Chapter 10: Case Studies on Motivating Different Temperament Types ……… 101

Sadie: Asking the Right Questions ………………….. 101

Jack: The High Drive Bro…………………………………. 104

Sydney: The Cool Cucumber …………………………… 106

Lacy: The Fragile Nerd ……………………………………. 107

Jem: The Fearful Friend …………………………………… 109

Fred: The Enthusiastic Explorer ………………………. 110

Tony: The Chow Hound ………………………………….. 113

Cracker: The Big Bully …………………………………….. 115

Pickles: The Small and Nervous………………………. 118

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 119

 

 

Chapter 11: Case Studies on Motivation and Problem Solving 121

Problem One: Retrieve…………………………………….. 122

Dog #1: Zen …………………………………………………….. 122

Dog #2: Morgan………………………………………………. 123

Dog #3: Star …………………………………………………….. 123

Problem Two: Sit Stay Exercise ………………………… 124

Dog #1: Hannah ……………………………………………… 124

Dog #2: Katie…………………………………………………… 125

Dog #3: Harvey……………………………………………….. 126

Problem Three: Forging in Heel ………………………. 127

Dog #1: Race……………………………………………………. 127

Dog #2: Dash…………………………………………………… 128

Dog #3: Dare …………………………………………………… 129

Problem Four: Directed Retrieve……………………… 130

Dog #1: Copper ……………………………………………….. 130

Dog #2: Max ……………………………………………………. 131

Dog #3: Quackers ……………………………………………. 132

Problem Five: Teeter ………………………………………… 133

Dog #1: Smudge………………………………………………. 133

Dog #2: Bruiser ……………………………………………….. 134

Dog #3: Bay …………………………………………………….. 135

Problem Six: Hold and Bark in IPO …………………. 136

Dog #1: Lox …………………………………………………….. 136

Dog #2: Soja…………………………………………………….. 137

Dog #3: Lewis …………………………………………………. 138

Conclusion………………………………………………………. 139

The signal Exercise

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Today I stood in front of the mirror and took a good look at my signals for the Utility signal Exercise.  They’ve evolved quite far from where I started with my first Utility dog!  Let’s look

1) You can see my original signals here:

Fifteen years ago I was working with a very speedy dog, and I realized that she was consistently anticipating the recall when I was giving the down signal, so I decided to switch to a “moving” hand and a “non moving” hand.  Now, if the left hand moves my dogs know that they will be doing a stationary activity, and if the right arm moves they can come running in immediately.  I have liked the results so I still use this approach.

The new series looked like this:

My next evolution was my recall signal.  I realized that I could not send my dogs out and then recall them back with a signal  because they could not distinguish between the signal to take the right hand jump from my recall.

Here is my old recall signal followed by a cue to take the right hand jump.  Pretty similar to a speedy dog!:

So, I changed it.  Here is the recall signal that I am using with Lyra:

Then Brito came along and by a fluke of training I taught him to offer a fold back down when I did something completely different with my left hand.  So now his “down” signal looks like this:

All of these signals are fine.  Just take a moment to stand in front of a mirror and go through your signals in random orders.  Can you tell instantly and clearly what the signal is going to be?  Make sure your signals are distinct from start to finish.  For example, does your sit signal look like your down signal when you return your hand to a neutral position?  I have seen signals that look like these, and the dogs are often confused.  Understandably!:

While dogs seem willing to adapt to almost everything we throw at them, I’m pretty motivated to use signals that are as clear and crisp as possible, so that they can respond instantly and with confidence.

To recap, Here are Lyra’s current signals:

and here are Brito’s:

Take a look at your signals; pick whatever is both comfortable and clear, especially from 50 feet away!

 

 

Brito – Developing Sustained Focus

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Have you ever thought about how you use your energy in training?  Do you use it to reward good attention or do you increase your energy and interactiveness when you lose your dog?

In an ideal world, your dog has a spectacular Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) to training; your dog loves to work and learn.  In an ideal world, you have a dog that understands the idea of “offered focus” (see Fenzi Academy if you need help), and who chooses to interact with you and your training games.  In an ideal world, you are selecting training environments that allow your dog to succeed, but at the same time provide distractions that your dog can master.  In an ideal world, your dog is set up to make good choices all the time.

But most of us do not live in an ideal world, so we need plans for those times when we run into less than ideal circumstances.  I do not believe in begging dogs to work, nor do I believe in correcting them to try and force attention, so…what’s left?

My training yard is surrounded by trees with squirrels.  It just so happens that Brito’s favorite thing to do is to watch them out the windows while he chatters and vibrates from head to tail. There are so many windows and so many squirrels that management isn’t going to work; I’m stuck training in Squirrel Hollow.

I rarely teach in my yard because he can’t concentrate that hard when he’s working on new behaviors, but I do practice and proof there.  Most of the time I spend on engagement – making time spent with me worth his while.

For a long time, I trained when the squirrels were less likely to be outside.  I kept him on leash or on a long line.  I trained with the highest value motivators I could find and at Brito’s best times of day.  But now I take more risks.  He is off leash and we do more complicated behaviors that take him further away from me. That means that sometimes he loses his focus.  Indeed, in most sessions he loses attention, and about one out of every five sessions he runs off and I have to get him back.  We’re progressing, but I’m far from relaxed.

When I train in the yard, Brito has 110% of my attention at all times.  I give all of my energy, and I work hard to train short sessions that will keep him engaged.  And if I see the slightest loss of attention, I deal with it immediately.  How I respond depends on how hard I think he’s locking in on an alternative.  Ideally, I give only enough help to allow him to succeed.

Let’s look at this video I took today: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oah7cIQRBHg

1 sec – right off the bat I lose him to a smell near his ball.  I move in quickly while I playfully threaten to steal his ball. He does have the temperament trait of “possession” so that catches his attention and causes him to engage with me.

17 seconds – he locks in on something in the distance – I move in and take his ball;  he hears my playful voice (a soft lure), and he knows from my tone that I’m taking his toy.  A soft lure is using anything that is relationship based (voice, body movements, praise, etc.) to get the dog back.  Offered focus is better but I’ll use a soft lure if needed, and you’ll want to ensure that your best interactions and praise are when he is already paying attention, not when you are re-engaging him.  On this occasion a soft lure works and he re-engages.

24 seconds – he looks towards a squirrel tree – I stop asking for behavior and move towards his tail.  This often re-engages dogs because you disappear from view and they notice your movement. It works this time; I get him back.

47 seconds – I lose him to the same tree and move around to his tail.  This works but I lose him again rather quickly.

51 seconds – I lose him and this time I get to his tail before he notices me.  I could have either backed up or called to him if I really thought he was going to run off, but he turns and stays in the game.

1:40 I lose him again and I use the squeak of the ball to get him back.  This was an error on my part – squeaking the ball is a hard lure.   A hard lure is basically begging with the motivator, and while this is a good choice if you really think you are going to lose the dog, it is not a good choice if you don’t truly need it.  I wanted to get back to work so I took the easy way out when I should have prioritized our distraction work. 

2:06 I lost him briefly but simply moving slightly towards his tail brought him back

On balance I am pleased with this session. He is able to perform three second behaviors (front, bounce, sit and down hand signals, and back up) and in most instances I asked for two or three of these behaviors before rewarding.  He was also able to chase his ball up to fifteen feet way from me and still return directly.  Finally, we had several opportunities for Brito to choose me over work – and with the exception of the one hard lure, he did so with little help from me.

It’s worth noticing how much engagement and attention I give to him when he is doing well.  That is the time to give both my best energy and also my classic motivators. 

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