Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Behavior shaping - it really works

After working in the afternoon on clicker training and rewarding for Tess offering behavior, Tess actually started to offer behavior in the evening session during one of our "regular" games (crate game).

Normally, when I wait to give the treat in the crate to see if she will offer an improvement, or "try harder" for the treat, she just stares at me.

Stares at me with such concentration with those green hazel eyes that I feel compelled to start giving her the answer to the question.

But I don't.

At least, most of the time I can practice enough self control not to.

So I just stare back.

Sometimes I raise an eyebrow.

Very slowly, she might try something from her obedience repertoire......like s-l-o-w-l-y laying down.  As if to say "you haven't given me permission to do anything differently than what I'm doing so I'm not sure whether I'm even allowed to try something new?"

But laying down isn't the answer either.

In fact, the answer is to sit further back in the crate.

So, up to this point, in games like the crate game, she has slow to offer new behavior or modifications to her behavior.

After working with W and a cardboard box, as well as some other behavior molding tasks, it's like a switch went on in Tess's brain.

"If i don't get a treat within a few seconds and I know I'm suppose to be doing something, try something DIFFERENT".

Now in the crate game, when I delay the treat because she's sitting too close to the door, she's quick to offer all sorts of things - a down, a bark, a paw..... - and more than likely a scoot backwards into a sit.


A common criticism of clicker training is that if you don't have a clicker and treats with you, the dog won't offer the same behaviors that are being trained for.   But, keep in mind the crate game doesn't include a clicker, or any voice commands at all, yet using the clicker for a complete different exercise improved it!

Depending on what behavior or purpose you are training for, you use more or less tools.  Your voice is a tool, your body language is a tool, your eyes are a tool.  Treats are a tool, a clicker is a tool.  A leash is a tool, a collar is a tool, a head collar is a tool.  Do you see my point?  Relying on any one tool is foolish - whether it's your voice, your hand gesture, the clicker, or the treat.  Each has their place.  From what I've observed over the last couple of days, the treat and clicker are especially helpful in motivating a dog to offer all sorts of behaviors (some good, some not so good) and capturing that behavior in attempt to eventually "train" that behavior.

What did treats and rewarding for offered behavior earlier in the day gain me?  A dog who isn't afraid to try new things.  For 4 months she's gotten in trouble for doing anything other than exactly what she was told, especially because she is SO bold and independent - Sit, down, stay, come, leave it.  However, when I get into "real" agility with obstacles, I can't suddenly expect her to offer behaviors in conjunction with them, nor can I necessarily train an obstacle the same way I taught her to sit - I need her active participation.  Part of the foundation training I am doing now is teaching her how to THINK like an agility dog.  I need her to offer behaviors, and I need a way of capturing and rewarding the behaviors - thus the clicker and the treats. 

Without treats, my 6 month old puppy would be distracted and completely unmotivated to switch her attention from butterflies to me.  So distracted in fact, that a minimum of training would be done and even less learning.  A learned behavior doesn't rely on treats, but training goes a lot faster with less frustration and it's more enjoyable if treats are used. 

I haven't always believed in using treats to train, but the older I get, the more I realize that life is too short for me to spend it being frustrated or stressed.  Tess's life is even shorter and for the ten or so years that we get to share, I'm going to try and make that as positive and fun as possible for both of us. 

No comments:

Post a Comment