Thursday, May 23, 2013

Still more on the importance of Reward Placement

Since I teach so much tracking I get a lot of questions about teaching articles. In fact I will be teaching an entire on line class on that topic later this year. However my actual answer about how I teach articles is pretty simple - I reward on the article. Initially the article has food on it but that is faded as quickly as necessary for a given dog (the ability to avoid fireants also plays a factor). The dog will usually hesitate for a second on the article (a clicker helps with this sometimes) and that's all I need. I race up to the article, stand in front of the dog to impede further progress and feed. From my hand but on top of the article. Not two inches above the article but right on top of it. I feed treats in sequence, pulling my hand away in between and watching for the dog to nose touch or sniff the article (they usually will, looking for crumbs) and I give the next piece of food. I do not cue the dog. I don't even wait to see if it will happen (at least not for quite a while). If I do wait and see if it will happen once and it doesn't then I go back to the above process for a while - I have not built the value of the articles high enough.

The point of the post is not really to teach articles but to remind all of us to take into consideration reward placement. If I only pay the dog in the place where I want him to be, and if he really wants the reward, why would he go anywhere else. I am creating an expectation that he will be rewarded for the articles or position.

Below is a video clip of an 8 month old malinois pup I am working with. He has never been cued or prompted to down on the articles, I just rewarded him in the manner I described above.

Friday, May 10, 2013

shameless end zone dance.....

I am in the process of working on a long post about successive approximation and shaping behavior. However it is taking longer than I had planned. So here is some entertainment in the meantime. 

I have posted clips of superstar tracker Steel tracking. However below is a clip about what happens AFTER the track is over. Honestly Steel....  I have actually said to him when all of that shameless showboating is going on"you weren't THAT great!". He however clearly thinks he is.

This was taken with a chest mounted go pro camera. I am still working on finding the best mounting location for videotaping dogs racking but in the meantime I apologize for the view but you get the idea.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Everything I know about humans I learned from dog training.....

In previous blog posts I have explained the connections (at least in my head) to dog training and Dr Phil and Oprah. Does dog training reflect human behavior or does human behavior reflect dog training? Most of the time, in my head it is hard to say where one starts and the other stops? The other day I found myself referring to a person's "default response to stress" (mine is to eat chocolate). I am strongly opposed to automatically assigning human traits and characteristics to dogs. Anthropomorphizing them; to use a fancy word. Unfortunately dogs coexist so well with us that people often do this. If I had a dollar for every time someone insists that their dog "knew what he did" or "had their number".... However the longer I spend working with the beloved four legged animals the more similarities I see between them and humans. So much of what people do is reactive rather than proactive. However I am pretty sure most (normal) people are more prone to drawing parallels from humans to dogs in order to understand certain behaviors. I however usually seem to go in the opposite direction. Perhaps I need to spend a little less time with my dogs...

Anyway I came across this recently posted on Facebook. Excellent point and it totally applies to dog training. A common lecture I give people when they come to me with (dog) problems of all types is to either accept the behavior (allow it), manage it (stop it) or fix it (reinforce a new behavior). Options two and three actually usually work hand in hand.

Unfortunately is is so much more straightforward and easier to APPLY to dog training..... In both cases people have a tendency to continue to bemoan the existence of the behavior without applying any of the three options above. I like this quote because it places the burden for dealing with the behavior in the place where it belongs. Upon the person that objects to the behavior. Just like in dogs, oftentimes the behavior is working just fine for the dog. In fact the behavior even makes sense. It is just not something compatible with living with other humans. I was recently discussing dog training with someone and they asked "well how do you train people". My response was - you don't, or at least not adults. People are who they are, the only person I want to be responsible for training is myself..... I am a big enough training challenge for me!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Teaching Assistants

One of the fun things about having my dogs with me while traveling and teaching is getting to see them in their role of teaching assistants. People often assume that they are "demo dogs" but they are more than that and often teach skills that I cannot teach. Calix is particular takes his role of teaching very seriously and is only too willing to take advantage of a handler's weaknesses. He does not do this is a malicious sort of way; just because he can. If the handler is correct then he is perfect, otherwise look out. I swear he comes out of the car rubbing his paws together sometimes....

Here is a clip of Calix working a series of increasingly complex puzzles at a recent detection trainers course with one of the students/trainers:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dog Update #1 - Amber

I have been so slacking on blogging lately. Lots going on but I will attempt to get back to more timely updates.


The Amber update is long overdue. Those of you who actual follow this blog will remember my posts on the “Accidental Agility Dog”. Due to her lack of early socialization and timid nature it was clear that Amber was not cut out to be a detection dog like her parents. I made one attempt to place her in a pet home and that didn’t work out. She clearly needed a dog savvy person who understood her needs. The problem was that most people who had the dog knowledge that she needed already had plenty of dogs. They were also heavily involved in dog sports and I could not make any guarantees regarding her suitability. So I decided to keep her. She got along great with my dogs, fit into my household and was fun and sweet. Plus the more I worked with her and she traveled with me, the more her comfort in the world developed.
In addition, as her comfort in the world developed her natural drive kicked in (both parents are loaded with it) and she showed an obvious aptitude for agility. With my friend Mary’s advice I began slowly laying an agility foundation for her. I am a relative novice to agility but with Mary’s guidance I just applied the principles of other, more familiar venues of dog training. I also used whatever information I could glean from books, magazine and the internet.
Fast forward to December. I was going to be in South Carolina and Mary asked if I wanted to do some agility training when I was in town. Following that lesson Mary casually suggested that maybe Amber could go home with her than night and “see how she did”. Of course what really sealed the deal was that Amber and Mary’s Aussie Reddy LOVED each other. Instantly becoming best buddies. So Amber went home with Mary and a few weeks later became a permanent part of Mary’s family.

People have asked me how I could “get rid of her” but upon seeing how well she has fit in with Mary’s life, how could I not. Although I was no longer actively trying to place her, and indeed had become quite attached to the little munchkin, I could not deny her such a wonderful home. Although I loved her dearly she needed to be someplace where she would be "special". Which she clearly is in Mary’s house. She also naturally scary good at agility – her level of natural talent would probably be wasted with me. With my traveling schedule our training was likely to be hit and miss and she deserved the opportunity to do the sport she clearly loved.
So the Accidental Agility Dog is not so accidental anymore. After just four short months with Mary she competed in April at her very first agility trial. I will have to double check with Mary on the actual number of Q’s (qualifying runs) she had but suffice it to say she managed a 2nd and a 4th place. Anyone who could have seen what a total basket case she was just a year ago can understand how immensely happy this makes me. Like in tears happy. My brave little munchkin who was once afraid of the tv, and fire hydrants, and flagpoles, and people, and loud noises is not only able to do agility but she is LOVING it.
The best part is that, like any proud mom, I can now brag about her without actually having to do anymore of the work!!
I am having problems getting this vdeo to embed into the blog but here is the link to one of her first agility runs:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

More of Drive States

Once again blogging has fallen by the wayside to way too much actual teaching. We just spent the last two months teaching Detection Trainer's Schools to two groups of DC area police K9 trainers. What an awesome experience, the dogs did great and the students worked hard and were a lot of fun. Not much more we could have asked for except maybe some warmer weather. Then I made a brief stop in Roanoke Virginia to teach some tracking and am now back in Mississippi for a brief stay before hitting the road yet again.

In spite of the lack of blogging I have been very busy teaching and thinking about training. Once again I am juggling teaching, training and talking about a variety of dog training venues.  As I commented in my last blog post however, the common theme seems to be maintaining the dog's drive state. This topic is hard to teach because it is more of an art than a science and requires the trainer to develop the skill of being able to read the dog.

If we think of drive in terms of percentages we want the dog at about 90-95% drive state. Any higher than that and the dog is too crazy to think through their drive. As it drops lower than that level then the dog becomes distracted and starts to notice the environment and other distractions. As people have heard me repeat over and over again - you don't have a distraction problem, you have a drive problem. One of the arts of dog training is learning how to tweak the dog's drive in order to keep him at the correct level. For the high drive, over the top dog we need to let him go close to that too high drive place and then let him diminish to just the point where he can think through his drive. We keep the task challenging but something he can handle and then be patient while he works through that level of drive to get what he wants. We neither correct him through it nor help him (i.e. in the form of solving the puzzle for him). Too often people try to physically bring this type of dog down, through training tools and techniques. Whether these tools and techniques are positive or negative, they often just attempt to suppress the dogs natural drive and the opposite occurs. It is like pushing on a spring - the harder you push the stronger the resistant pressure.

On the other hand, an even bigger challenge is getting handlers to see when drive state is too low. In this case we want to step in and not correct or direct the dog (which will have the opposite effect) but we need to do something to push up the drive. We can't insert drive into a dog that doesnt have it. However we can manipulate him so that he develops a habit of bringing the most of whatever drive he  does have to the work. Like with the over the top driven dog, we manipulate his environment and handling to develop a habit in him of working at a certain state of drive. Obviously there are some inherent problems with working from the low end and trying to push it up. This is why when the work is critical my preference is to start with a too high dog - it is much much easier to dial that dog down just a bit. Usually all that is necessary is to be very clear to the dog what he must do to satisfy his drive.

I think this concept is a difficult thing for handlers of all dog types (high drive or low drive) to understand. I once heard a quote that "dogs are efficiency experts". They are geniuses at taking the shortest path to what they want. Not because they a clever or manipulative but because they don't have the complication of all the thoughts in their head of doing something in any other way. Yet another life lesson that we can probably take from them.....

Monday, March 11, 2013

Attitude vs Mechanics

In the course of teaching a lot of different types of dog training course; whether for sport or work, I find myself making the same observations. A big one is that trainers of all types get way to hung up on the mechanics of a task. Take police k9 detection tasks; something that I am teaching at the moment. I could take a clicker and a handful of treats and teach a great many dogs to nose touch an odor and then sit. However I need a dog that will do all of the above in the presence of a massive amount of distraction, when he is tired, when his handler is distracted, when it is in a place where it has never been in training. For that I need a dog that not only understands the correct exercise but also has the right attitude. In the course of my travels lately I have seen a lot of examples of where the trainer or handler was "winning the battle" and getting a certain behavior but "losing the war" by detracting from the dogs enthusiasm or understanding.

Two more weeks of detection training in the Washington DC area. We have worked with a large group of really fun, highly motivated police k9 trainers. Dogs have been excellent too.