Saturday, December 17, 2011

Less Reps More Success

I have been trying to shape Reyna to pick something up and bring it to me for a long time but we could never get anywhere. She will "take" anything I hand to her, and no matter what it is she will automatically begin targeting anything I put on the floor. In my mind the criteria goes like this...
- Touch item with nose
- Mouth Item
- Pick item up
- Hold item for longer periods of time eventually bringing it to me

In her mind this is the criteria...
-Touch item with nose
-Mouth item
-Fling item across room with paw, run and pounce on it, pick it up, and tear triumphantly around the room until cued to "Out"

Once she started interacting with anything like this it became self rewarding and no amount of treat withholding would convince her to do anything else. After attempting to start fresh with multiple items over the last year and a half with no success we had a breakthrough last week.

I decided to revamp our training sessions, I would actually start writing down my criteria ahead of time and I would employ structured breaks between each behavior in a given session

Trial and error and Reyna's super low stress threshold help shape my training sessions. I started by writing down the criteria with the goal of getting 10 reps, take a break, then start a second behavior. To start us on the right foot I pulled out the mat and did a short session of Relaxation Protocol to get her in a calm receptive mindset. Then we got started with Behavior 1 on the list.

I soon discovered the reason behind Reyna's frustration. Even when consciously trying I had a hard time sticking with my set criteria and found myself thinking "was that rep 9 or 15? how many did she get right? what was my target criteria again?"

So I started counting out treats so I couldn't go over on repetitions. At the same time I was getting the hang of marking the right criteria, but she was still stressing, the behaviors would start spot on and fall apart around rep 8. We were back where we started, both frustrated. So I started cutting back on repetitions until I found the point where she was still successful and eager. Turns out 5 is her magic number.

Now we were getting somewhere. We were both getting more comfortable with the routine...I pulled out my spreadsheets for each behavior, put them in the order I wanted to work them and wrote out my predetermined criteria. We did some RP, then worked five reps of "eye contact" 100% perfect. Down on Mat for structured break, Then 5 reps of target perfect! back to the mat for break time. Then I put the fork on the ground (my latest item I'm trying to get her to pick up) 5 nose touches rapid fire, then I waited for one more just to see (bad trainer!!) she pawed at it *ugh* old habits die hard.My mantra is now...stop at 5, stop at 5, stop at 5.

After three or four days I was noticing marked improvement, I was getting better at being clear in my signals and she was responding wonderfully to the structure. I was working up to 6 different behaviors in one session, had cut our training time by 75% but increased progress by at least 100%!

Best of all Reyna wasn't getting "creative" with the fork, as long as I stuck to the 5 rep rule she was gradually making progress. So much so that today I wanted to try an experiment. Did it really matter if I changed the behavior for each short training blip? I had four behaviors lined up for the session and it went like this...

2 minutes or so Relaxation Protocol
5 Reps of Stand/Stay
Go To Mat
5 Reps of Target
Go To Mat
5 Reps of Loose Leash training
Go To Mat
5 Reps of Pick up Fork (We are all the way to "pick up fork, lift to head height" by the way)
*~This is where I broke the routine, I just had to try it~*
Go To Mat, very brief Relaxation Protocol
3 additional reps of Pick up the Fork PERFECT!!!! WAHOO!! JACKPOT!

Not only have we gotten farther with an object retrieval in a week than I have in the past 18 months, but we have developed a training structure that is comfortable for both of us, we're making solid progress on all her behaviors, and no more mid session whining!

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