Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fun vs "Important" Training

A person asked me over the weekend "do police officers talk baby talk to their dogs"? My reply was a question (the goal being to make people think about their training, not just to tell them what I think!) - "why would they not?" "Because that it is important training and we are just training for fun" I was told. This is not an uncommon viewpoint - I recently followed a facebook discussion on training a forced retrieve vs shaping one. A service dog trainer explained that the forced retrieve was necessary for the behavior to be solid and reliable. This arguement is a bit baffling to me - solid training is solid training regardless of the method. The arguement is flawed in that it is only true if we accept that making the behavior fun for the dog and teaching them in a logical and motivational way results in a lower standard of performance. This is not true and often the reverse is actually true - by shaping the behavior we keep the dog's drive intact - allowing us to get more out of the dog and also giving the dog the comfort and confidence to "think outside of the box". This is essential in a working dog who needs the stamina to work long hours and where the environment is constantly changing. So the long answer is that although not every police dog handler talks baby talk to their dog - regardless of what we are training the dog for, we should give the dog the "paycheck" it desires for the work. By rewarding the dog properly AFTER it performs the exercise we help instill a "reward transfer" in that the dog learns to enjoy the activity as well as it liked the reward.

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