Hello Everyone. Meet my special dog, Fred.
Fred is not an ordinary dog. Fred is a truly fantastic guy. He is highly driven to work, motivated by just about everything (including imaginary food), never quits, never falls to temptation or distraction, and will work at all hours of the day or night, regardless of the environment. The best part of Fred is that you can have him too – he works for all handlers, regardless of your abilities or inclinations.
You see, Fred is not a real dog. He is the imaginary dog who has a very real presence in the life of my dogs and my student dogs.
Your dog is distracted by another person? No problem – work Fred. He’s begging to work.
Your dog is lagging in heeling? NO problem – feed Fred instead. He’s in perfect position.
Your dog wants the cookie held by your friend? That’s ok too – train Fred until your dog figures out he’s not going to get your friend’s cookie, and indeed, he’s been missing out on YOUR cookies.
Got a sniffing problem? Fred never sniffs. Give all of your cookies to Fred, every time your real dog stops for a good sniff.
And it should go without mention – praise Fred! He appreciates that. And your real dog will notice.
Now, there are a lot of caveats in the use of Fred. First, understand that if you overuse Fred then your dog will simply give up trying. If Fred gets all of the cookies, then your real dog will finally decide he might as well head back to his crate.
If your dog leaves training because he’s stressed, scared, or finds you a misery, then Fred won’t help much. Your dog will be happy to watch Fred work if it means he doesn’t have to.
Fred is not appropriate if your dog is not trained to succeed – if your dog has no idea how to earn the cookie, then increasing motivation through Fred will not work – your dog must know how to win.
So when is the best time to use Fred? Fred works beautifully when your dog has decided that he has something better to do. When he has made a choice to leave work – which he understands fully – to multitask. To sniff the ground and then run back to heel position when he thinks he can have a cookie.
Fred really works best when your dog falls to a temptation – which you have set up for him.
Fred works beautifully when your dog thinks the reward schedule has fallen too low to make an effort – Fred will suddenly be eating those cookies.
Here’s a video of an excellent use of Fred. Note the single incident learning. This young collie is set up to succeed several times and then he is set up to fail. On purpose. And then he’s tested – on purpose. He passes the test – the pressure comes off – and he is allowed a few easy repetitions to keep his confidence intact.
Single incidence learning in proofing – that’s cool. And useful. Because if you’re a positive trainer, you must take a moment to think about how you have communicated to your dog what is WRONG. And Fred… he’s amazing for that.
Writing this post is a conflict for me, because lots of people will read this and will approach it completely wrong. Dogs that are not properly trained will be subjected to Fred. Dogs that are scared and stressed will be subjected to Fred. Dogs that cannot win – they will meet Fred too. That makes me sad.
I decided to go forward with this subject anyway, simply because I am seeing too many lovely dogs, trained positively, who multitask about work – with no consequences. Consequences must be part of all dog training, but a good dog training program is so well structured and systematic in its approach that it’s less than 10% of training time, if that.
I will warn you now; if Fred does not work, then you do have a problem but it is probably not a distraction problem. Most likely it is a motivation, stress or general understanding problem – each huge topics individually.
I cannot answer your questions about your dog, because your dog might as well be an imaginary dog for me.
On an unrelated note, if you’re interested in Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, sign up here to receive the class schedule every other month. New classes start June 1st with registration opening next week! Some classes will be popular, so you’ll want to sign up when they open.
Update: Aug, 2018 – I use Fred quite rarely now. In my experience, people got a little carried away with it, and stopped taking responsibility for their training. It looks good for a few days, and then the lack of basic training comes to the fore and it falls apart. Take this blog mostly for historical interest. Which doesn’t mean I would never use it, but be aware that there are severe ramifications to overusing it.