Tuesday, October 23, 2012


How do rewards change the way your dog processes new information?

Reyna used to be "unshapable". Shaping stressed her out to no end. Even just two or three clicks into it she would whine, pace, and shut down...you can read posts from much earlier for more on that, but suffice to say we had to throw out shaping in it's purest form.

Then we started the levels and I started to look first at the training pattern I was using, the criteria I was setting and the number of reps I could do without her shutting down. It was pretty low...like 2. That meant slow progress on shaped behavior but at least we were back to some shaping and Reyna's endurance started going up.

Flash forward to now...

I haven't shaped anything in a while since we've been working more on her reactivity, strengthening known behaviors, and Nosework which is not a shaping exercise of course. We are now on NL3 Retrieve Step 2 - You and the dog together hold an object for 5 seconds. Now Reyna is very good at holding things and not crushing them...she can deliver everything from towels and socks to business cards and twisty ties unharmed. She started this after I taught her the trick of putting something into something else

But it is not on any level of stimulus control. She randomly brings me stuff all day long, or doesn't bring me things I do ask for....and she doesn't hold onto it...the second I reach for it she spits it at me, sometimes I can catch it most times it falls to the floor...very helpful :P

So we are starting from scratch and shaping. But because of all the relationship building we have been doing over the past several months "off" from the levels it never occurred to me to switch back to the old way of sitting silently with a monotone "yes" and delivering a tiny treat whenever she made an attempt to grab the pen. This time I looked at her, smiled, talked to her, rejoiced when she got it right, was very generous with the treats even to the point of throwing a handful on the floor for her to spend a minute or so cleaning up. We took breaks in mid session, but not for a structured "go to mat" so she could calm down...they were little mini breaks like the treat tossing or just prolonged chest scratches.

The result was that little miss 2 reps shaped for 7 minutes with absolutely no stress, genuinely enjoyed the experience, kept re-initiating the game on her own, and made real progress. I was able to actually up criteria in mid session!

Now we have also worked a lot on relaxing etc. so her baseline nerviness is way lower now. If I went back to stoic tiny treat shaping would she go back to whining and pacing? It doesn't really matter because I'm not going to. I have learned that for Reyna interaction with me during a training session turns it more into play and less into a lesson and relieves virtually all stress she was experiencing in shaping. All by changing what I consider a reward and I how I view the session.

In other news....we passed NL3 Sit, Down, Focus, and we are two steps away from passing Zen and just starting Retrieve and Lazy Leash. Her distraction for the down stay was a hamburger piece just out of reach while I left the room for 30 seconds. She stared at it for a few seconds, sighed, and dropped into a Relax (I watched from a  window reflection)...very cool!

Nosework is still going well

We start therapy dog classes in a couple weeks I am super excited about that!!!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff, that sounds like my dog! I might have to experiment with that. And I need to get back to my blog... and to the Levels... Lots to do.