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Reducing reinforcers/Ring Readiness

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Today I had an opportunity to do a semi-formal run through.  I had a few interests:

I wanted to test Brito’s heeling in a distracting environment and when being directed by a pretend judge.  Because I am not ‘training’ heeling and because I need to begin reducing reinforcers, I do not reward him in position at the end of the pattern.  Instead, I now give a high percentage of my cookies BETWEEN exercises.  Separately, I will continue to work the fine points of heeling,  in my house and with low value reinforcers,  for the rest of his career. But here on this day I’m rewarding the game that we’re playing together – not the heeling.

I simply expect the finished exercises to be correct or I would not be testing them.  The classic reinforcers cannot continue to mark correct work or you’ll struggle horribly in the ring where you cannot reward, regardless of how amazing your dog is.

If Brito had struggled with heeling there is a chance that I would have continued anyway because I need the information.  Then, for the next several weeks, I would focus on cleaning up those weak areas and then I would test them again.

If he struggles and I believe that it’s stress related then I stop instantly.  I never work a stressed dog. (same in trial – I’d leave if he was struggling with stress in the ring).

1:28 – I chose to reward the “waiting” for the figure eight posts.  It occurred to me as I stood there that this expectation was new, and I wanted him to know that I appreciated his good choice.  I did not reward that exercise at all; I moved on to the stand for exam.

Brito did well on the stand for exam.  This was actually a risky move to include in this trial readiness chain, because he is still learning to remain in a stand when I return.

I did not reward this exercise, though with hindsight I probably should have.

I did reward his set-up for the recall at 2:40.

I rewarded generously after the recall but not in the finish position.

Retrieve on the flat.  Brito anticipated the finish – now I know and I can work on it!  I did not reward that exercise but not because of the anticipation – I simply moved to the next exercise.

Retrieve over high jump.  He anticipates the send over the jump.  This is a long standing issue (either going before being sent or not going at all on the first cue) so…back to the drawing board on that one.  But again, this ring time was to test where we are at – the last thing I want to do is call him back and erode his confidence.   Heck, I know I have an issue with anticipation/not going on cue.  No reason to address it here when it’s not even correct at home.

Broad jump is nice.  I end this run through on that exercise.

On balance, I’m happy.  We’ll continue to work on various aspects of reducing reinforcers and ring readiness.

Starting February 1st I’ll be teaching a class called Bridging the Gap; Reducing Reinforcers, Proofing and Generalization.  It’s a ton of materials so this course runs for two terms (and is priced accordingly).  For twelve weeks, we’ll consider the wide variety of issues that need to be addressed before sending in your trial entry. Ideally, you take this class when you have several finished behaviors, and you think you’re about trial ready.  This class is also excellent for dogs that are currently trialing but are starting to run into trouble.  Registration opens January 22nd.


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. Reducing reinforcers comment–Denise, do you follow a systematic plan for thinning a reinforcement schedule?

    • No. I hit it from several angles; one is simply changing when I give the reinforcer from the exact end of the exercise to somewhere within our working time together.

  2. I know obedience trainers generally try to prepare their dogs with “interval’ training or reduced reinforcement, but free style trainers generally don’t do this and believe that you should increase the rate of RF in the time before a trial and hope that the dog keeps believing that RF is coming during your routine (up to about 3 minutes). We also use back chaining.

    What fierce arguments we have back and forth on this topic. I was wondering if it makes sense to mix it and use both. 2/weekly interval trainings and otherwise high RF??? What do you think?

    • that’s a complicated question. Consider the drive/temperament of the dog, the frequency with which you compete, the importance of classic reinforcers to your dog, the familiarity of the place where you will compete. etc.

      As always, it depends on the dog what makes sense. As I’m closer to competition I’ll decide what is the best route for Brito but it’s not important yet. We have a long way to go. Regardless, if you can’t at least occasionally work for the duration of time of your routine, then you’re asking for trouble if you compete.

  3. Speaking of ring readiness, I’m curious as to how Lyra’s competition obedience career is going, since she was the first pup I think that you trained personally using your system? Love to have an update please.

    • I’m doing totally different stuff with Lyra – play based training with no classic reinforcers. She’s an experiment.

      Not sure what you mean by my system :). I change every month that goes by. I don’t think Lyra was trained particularly differently than anyone else.

      Somewhere I have a video of what i”m doing with Lyra – I’ll try to get that up at some point.


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