Dog training definitely fits in this category. Sometimes they “get it” right away; you can see the lights go on in their eyes. Then they’re delighted that things make sense. It must be frustrating to them to not understand what we are asking them to do and why we are unhappy with them. I think that’s why positive (reward-based) training works so well, because it provides a way for us to tell the dog that he did what we wanted. Anything besides the desired behavior -> no cookie, try again. Desired behavior -> cookie! Happy dog -> let’s do it again! We’ve paired something we want the dog to do with something wonderful. Complex behaviors can be broken down into component parts and chained, with lots repetition so they become one flowing behavior.
Behaviors that are naturally part of the dog’s repertoire are easier to train, especially if the dog offers them just by being a dog. This requires patience and precise timing of the reward. Since it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to offer a treat within a second of the desired behavior, we use a marker, like a clicker or “Yes!” that the dog has come to associate with the reward. Then we have to set up a training environment in which the dog has the choice to offer the behavior we want, or something close to it that can be then shaped. For example, if we are training “Down,” instead of luring the dog with a treat, we bring the dog into an enclosed space (so there are some limitations on what the dog can do) and wait. And wait. And wait. Until the dog lies down, which is then rewarded. Rinse and repeat. Usually, the dog will soon begin lying down many times in rapid succession. Then we add the cue word. It may take longer for the initial connection, but once that’s made, the dogs joyfully perform the behavior. It’s fun to watch dogs that have been trained this way. At the beginning of a new session, they run through all the behaviors they’ve ever been rewarded for, watching carefully for the trainer’s response. Often they’ve learned how to try new things, the doggie version of being creative.
If we lure or place the dog into position, we get the desired behavior right away, without having to stand there as neutrally as we can while the dog tries this and that. However, the connection between the behavior, say the Down, and the reward is not as clear for the dog. He thinks, Am I being rewarded for sniffing the treat? For extending my head? For having the trainer’s hand on my back? Or for lying down?
All this has to do with connections we want the dog to make: “Down” cue + Down behavior -> Yes! + cookie. What if we want to break a connection the dog has already made?
In the case of Tajji, our retired seeing eye dog, she had become traumatized during her work, especially to the presence of other dogs. ( Read more... )