Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More about luring....

Someone asked an excellent question about luring and reinforcement and rather than answer privately I thought I would post it to the blog.

The question was if my observation was that people were incorrectly teaching the lure without teaching the command and they were then unable to fade the lure because the dog does not know the command. Good question because the big problem IS failing to fade the lure (if you use it) soon enough.  Luring itself is not automatically bad and can be used successfully.  In my response to the question though I have to admit that I am not too big on teaching voice commands. Not on purpose but I always end up teaching commands WAY after I teach actions. Take Amber for example - she is currently doing 4 weave pole sequences from a variety of positions and I have yet to teach her to officially follow a command to "weave". Something to remember tomorrow when I am training her as it is certainly something she needs to know. I don't think I have, as of yet, said to Steel "track" and I know that he recognizes no official command to find drugs. He does however know exactly what I want when I show him his tennis ball and clip him to his wide buckle collar (find narcotics). He also knows exactly when it means when I put his harness on and show him his frisbee (track). Obviously for certain exercises such as obedience the commands are necessary but I tend to let my body language give the dog information about what I want. Even for heeling if I stand up straight and place my left hand on my side Jill gives me pretty snappy heeling!

Getting back to the question though - luring is not bad. And of course commands are necessary and useful. Sometimes luring it is an excellent way to teach a behavior. However it can easily be a crutch to create the behavior long term. Again, the basic question is whether the food/toy/etc is creating the behavior (luring) or if it is being used to reinforce the behavior after it happens.  It is that later bit of clarification that is often missed. I often see people use luring to create the behavior and then think that the dog has been "taught". When in reality he may have just been following the lure and some body language cues. They then get tough on the dog for failing to comply. Or they give up, determine that the dog just doesn't like to work or isn't good at it. However an important step has been missed or neglected. Following fading the lure we need to reinforce the dog for getting it on his own.  The reinforcement rate is high at first and decreases with the dog's gain in proficiency. If the task is something complicated we need to reinforce approximations of the final behavior.

I hope this clarifies things a bit - or at least does not make them more confusing!

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