Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Luring and Reinforcing in dog training....

I have been slacking lately blogging because I have been spending everyday teaching dog training to students attending our Professional Dog Trainer's School. They are dog savvy people with either knowledge or experience or both. However we are teaching them a lot and they say they are learning a lot!

One of the things I noticed while training, and I see this quite often when working with others, is how many people have difficulty transitioning from luring the dog for behavior vs reinforcing a correct behavior. The basic definition of luring is using some sort of enticement to prompt a behavior. For example - we hold a cookie over the dog's nose and guide the nose/body into sit position. Is luring bad or evil - some will tell you it is and call it bribery. I prefer to think of it as a way to shape or teach the behavior that I want. Getting the dog's body into a place that I want to be. That said, I don't always use luring to train, it depends on what behavior I am trying to get.

The problem with luring is that it is easy to continue to use it, creating a dog that only responds to the prompt in front of his nose. This makes sense, while some dogs will anticipate the action or think you have the lure when you don't, we can't always expect this to be the case.  The problem that I often see is that people lure for too long. They then stop it altogether and wonder why they don't continue to get a correct behavior. They then discount rewarding the dog and start correcting the incorrect behavior.  The goal from the beginning should be to phase the luring out as soon as necessary (this will vary depending on your goals). An important transition, which is often shortcutted, is to phase out the luring and start reinforcing the behavior when it occurs. If you start reinforcing correct behavior or position at a high rate then you can decrease the rate and continue to see the behavior that you want.  Correctly done this can often be done quickly and the dog will stay engaged for a long period of time. However people often, because they have the prompt (food for example) still in their hands, continue to use it as a lure even though there intention is to use it for reinforcement. Been there and done that....

A simple distinction to ask yourself (at least it works for me) is:

am I using the food/toy/treat to create a behavior I want (luring)
or am I using it to reward a behavior I am seeing (reinforcement)

Both have their uses, we just need to clear which one we are doing and why.

Tomorrow I will introduce "TruckStop" the wanna be sitcom dog!!

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