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Acclimation vs. Satiation

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For my purposes, “acclimation” means to settle in – to be familiar (and comfortable) with a given environment and “satiation” means to exhaust one’s interest in the environment.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I’m a strong proponent of allowing dogs to acclimate before asking them to work or compete.  I think grabbing dogs from a crate and expecting instant work and attention is causing all sorts of issues with our competition dogs.  For more information on that topic, you can see a blog that I wrote here:  Acclimation

In my mind, allowing for acclimation is just good training.  The hard part is getting the humans to do it.  Humans tend to be in a hurry, and that extra ten minutes at dog training class is just not part of the schedule.

Satiation takes the concept of acclimation a good deal further, and does not make sense for all dogs – but it does for some.  Let’s consider these two types of dogs:

Dog A:  Possibly a bit nervous or curious about the world, but very motivated by either work, classic motivators like food and toys, and easily focused on the task at hand after a reasonable acclimation period.

This dog does not need to explore the environment to the point of satiation.  Indeed, if the dog is lower energy overall, then satiation may be a very poor idea, because the dog may run out of energy for work before you even get there.  Dog A is a good candidate for normal acclimation and then…get to work!  Walk the dog through the working space for about ten minutes, pick a spot, and then wait for the dog to engage with you at Stage 2 or greater in order to start work.  (search “Engagement” on this blog to better understand this concept or sign up for my online course on Engagement at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy that started Dec. 1st, 2015; registration is still open ).

Dog B:  Significant nervousness (or curiousity) about the world, or not very interested in work (or your classic motivators) as a reason to work with you.  Plenty of energy, but that energy is not directed towards your training interests, unless the dog is working at home or in her most comfortable training location.  Checks in and out of work.  Focuses when close to you and your reinforcers but either drifts, sniffs or multitasks at any distance outside of your “span of control”.

If you feel like you are working a lot harder than the dog, even though you’ve allowed your dog to thoroughly acclimate, then take that as a sign that Satiation might be an option worth exploring for you.

What does that mean?

Your are not going to stand still and wait for your dog to check in as we normally do with engagement training.  Instead, you are going to head to your working spot and allow your dog to explore – for a very long time.  On leash or off, depending on safety.  Until your dog is done.

How do you know when your dog is done?  Your dog lays down to take a nap.  Your dog starts looking at you or trying to interact with you while you are walking, questioning why you’re walking around.  If you’ve chosen to sit in a chair while your dog explores (perfectly reasonable), your dog returns to you for attention.

In short, your dog is satiated.  Bored.  Done with the environment.  Ready to move on.

Looking for something else to do.  And that is where you can step in.

NOW ask your dog to work.  Be prepared to head home several times before your dog even gets to that point of boredom.  And then – when your dog bored to tears, ask for work.  The stronger your dog’s interest in the world, the longer this will take. Not minutes or hours – think…days.  Returning to the same place over and over and doing not much of anything for thirty minutes or so.

At this point your dog can choose.  The environment has lost any attraction.  All that is left is either you and training, or a nap.

Dogs go both ways.  If your dog opts for a nap, it could be that your dog lacks enough physical energy to work through a program based on satiation.   It could be that you’ve worked so hard and so long to start training that it simply doesn’t cross your dog’s mind to ask for work.  It could also be that working with you is less interesting than taking a nap. In which case, take a pretty close look at your training.  

If you were the dog, would you find working or napping more interesting?  Really think about that for a moment, because in the satiation method, you have to be worth the dog’s while.  Your toys, food, personality and choice of work have to motivate your dog.

I am currently training Brito with a good deal of satiation, and as I look back there’s no question that it was an excellent option for him.  I open the door into the training yard and set him free – off leash. First he chases squirrels up the trees.  The he sniffs around the grass for a few more minutes.  And then he shows up – bored – and requesting work.  That is when I get out of my chair.  It used to be two or three sessions a day of Brito exploration time – no work at all.  Now it’s usually a few minutes of Brito exploration time, followed by as much as fifteen minutes of very well focused work.

Before I did this, we did a lot of on leash acclimation. It helped a lot, but not as much as just letting him go and allowing him to decide when he wants to come back.  And before the acclimation approach, I tried being more interesting than the world.  When you have to do that in your own training yard – you’re pretty much dead in the water.  Since his interest is usually curiosity (as opposed to fear) based, I figured it was safe to try the “being more interesting” approach.  Which it was; no harm done except that I was probably irritating and it go me nowhere fast.

Like I said it’s not for everyone.  But maybe it’s a good choice for your team.

This video shows basic satiation – I sit in a chair.  Brito comes and asks for work – and we can proceed from there.  If he opts out of work while training – I release him and head back to the chair.  It’s true he can go off and do what he wants, but it’s also true that he lost the opportunity to interact with me, my toys and my cookies.  And those motivators holds a good deal of value to him these days.

In the beginning I could sit for fifteen minutes or more until he remembered me.  Now it’s usually more like five minutes – not so bad!

In the following video, I show the very beginning of the session for the first 30 seconds, then edit out the next four minutesion of satiation, and then show the next minute.

Brito video




About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

6 responses »

  1. This is just exactly what I needed to read right now. I’ve been making myself crazy trying to be more interesting than the environment, as it appears it’s just not possible. I think this is exactly the approach I need to take when possible.

  2. Another terrific post! Thanks, Denise! I’ve had both kinds of dogs and know how hard one tries to work at being interesting, building value for motivators, etc. for Dog B, often to less avail than one would hope/expect, as you mentioned. A takeaway for me from those dogs is that allowing for LOTS of satiation in different types of environments (safely, of course) early on as puppies (or as early as they come to us), while building great value in little tiny pieces for engagement and “work”, pays big dividends in the long run.

    I’ll let you know if that theory continues to hold water as I raise my current pup VBG!

  3. Pingback: Acclimation vs. Satiation | Denise Fenzi | Our Life + Dogs

  4. Excellent article! Lots of things to think about.

  5. Excellent article as usual! I have a dog that fits the description of dog B perfectly and both my trainer and I (we train for agility) have been goign for the satiation route! I have a question though that pops in mind : How will the dog be able to get to the point to work without getting distracted? Won’t this system allow him to think that “ow I run free, ow I can do whatever I want and when I get bored she will be here?”

    • No, because eventually you would not be there – but that is a higher criteria. You might want to take my online class on engagement to understand the topic in more detail – it will run in June and there I have six weeks to communicate the process :).


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