“My dog won’t work without food…”

Every time I hear someone say this-as I did again just the other day-a couple of things jump out at me: The handler doesn’t understand how to use food properly, and foundation in training is lacking.

Building reliable behaviors takes time and a solid working relationship. And before you can expect reliability without food, a strong reinforcement history with food is essential. Maintenance is also essential and is often overlooked until behaviors begin to fall apart. Realizing a performance without food is all part of training and preparation-a process over time. Lots of time. So if your dog “won’t work without food”, here are questions to consider:

1. Are the behaviors  fluent? And by that I mean are the behaviors perfected with strong reinforcement history, generalized to a variety of locations under appropriately varied conditions?

2. Have you gone through a process of  randomizing reinforcement for individual behaviors?

3. Have you conditioned secondary reinforcers , i.e. paired food with  praise, petting and/or play? Have you invested yourself in the reward?

4. Have you taught your dog that food is not always on your body but might otherwise still be available? Examples here would be food targets or jackpot rewards placed elsewhere, working with them in sight and then out of sight.

5. Have you systematically built longer chains of behaviors?

6. If you have you done all of the above, was it carried out at the appropriate stages of learning?

7. Are you  continuing to maintain finished behaviors with periodic food reinforcement?

8. Are your expectations realistic and fair to both you and your dog? Have you put the time into training, been clear and consistent with your criteria, timing and reinforcement?

So give it some thought if you have to ask why your dog won’t work without food-you just might be missing some the basic essentials here which are often overlooked.

Meanwhile, train happy and keep smiling-your dogs will love you for it!
Char

Beginning training for treibball with “Flash” the whippet-it’s all about distance and direction!

My youngest dog, Flash, is a 2 yr old race bred whippet. Among other things, I am just beginning his treibball training. Since he is so very prey driven and easily distracted by all moving things, my plan is to lay a solid foundation of distance control before he ever pushes a ball. Here is some video of a beginning training session after introducing him to one barrel, then 2, then 3. I also added in the hoops after familiarizing him with those separately. Introducing various targets (obstacles) with direction and distance builds confidence and the variety adds more fun! He is starting to get the hang of it and I can start adding in more distance any time now.

Treibball Hide and Seek, a fun training game!

This is a great game to add variety to your training and build drive for the ball!

It is simple: Hide the ball out of sight, send your dog to find it and drive it back to you. (If you are familiar with a “blind retrieve”, this is similar.) To play, you first must teach your dog how the game works:

Step 1) Train the “find” first: Put the ball out of sight but let your dog see where you are putting it. (Behind a bush, or around the corner in a doorway in your house, etc.)
From close range, send your dog to find the ball. As soon as they get to the ball have a big party for finding it, run in and +R at the ball. Then ask for a short drive to you, and +R again.
NOTE: For the entire chain of “go find the ball and push it back to me”, you will probably need a different cue or a combined cue. (Mine is “Go, PUSH!” This is same cue I use for any difficult ball retrieve and push back to me, in sight or not. See the “Runaway Ball” post.)

Step 2) Once your dog understands “go find the ball”, increase the distance. Distance is up to you, but raise criteria appropriately so that your dog can be challenged but still be sucesssful.

Step 3) Once your dog understands “finding the ball from a distance”, start using using different “blinds” to hide it in. Use your imagination! Play at short range with each new blind the first time, then increase the distance. A few times with different blinds and your dog will begin to generalize the “hide and seek” behavior.

This is a great game for in the house too-put the ball in different rooms and send your dog to find it, pushing through halls and doorways! Outside you might use trees, shrubs, or set up your own blinds with trash cans, agility equipment, your car, garden shed, or anything else you might have. The whole idea is that the ball becomes the focus amidst other distractions and the reinforcement should be great for finding and returning it to you! This game helps build drive, as some dogs need more reinforcement for finding the ball than others. Lots of +R for just finding the ball helps to build that drive for all dogs.

“Clicker”, what it means to me

As I prepare to head to the Clicker Expo in Norfolk VA this weekend for some the best training education on the planet, I think about the term that has always sort of bothered me-“CLICKER TRAINING”. So what does it really mean?

I guess what has always bothered me about the term “clicker training” is the over simplification of it. Appreciating the science behind it and the decades of evolution that have followed, it just hardly seems descriptive or adequate for such an elegant, sophisticated methodology of teaching and communication with another species. And unfortunately there are many traditional trainers out there that still believe “clicker training” is simply using a marker and reward in training. Case in point: Just the other day I had a very experienced competition trainer declare to me that “shaping isn’t clicker training”. Little does she know that shaping is one of the corner stones of clicker training! This trainer sometimes uses a clicker as a marker, and that is what she believes to be “clicker training”.

As the song goes, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”. This is my mantra for training. I try to tell people that “clicker training” is not just a methodology but a philosophy, a mindset, an overall approach and attitude based on prioritizing a cooperative and positive learning experience throughout the entire process. Efforts are marked, rewarded, and appropriately challenged to incrementally improve at a pace that ensures success of the animal. The teacher/trainer is focused on acknowledging only the desired action and rewarding the animal at every opportunity. The animal gains confidence and becomes an active participant in the process by learning to offer desired behaviors for a reward. There is never any discouraging word or action for an error, errors are simply ignored and not rewarded. No fear of making a mistake, no harm in trying, keep going until sooner or later there is a “click” and bingo, you get your reward for getting it right! Confidence and trust is built and a learning partnership is born…

So it does sound relatively simple and it is…to a point. The beauty of it is that simplicity and the fact that mistakes cause no harm. But the art is in the correct application, and that is not always easy. It takes time, patience, consistency and clarity along with education and practice. There are many methods and techniques within the “clicker” process-where you can combine art and science for loads of learning fun! But the true reward is that the learning partnership with another species is nothing short of a magical and miraculous experience. I count myself as one of the many fortunate humans to have had this in my life. Events like the Clicker Expo help educate and raise awareness that truly humane teaching and learning is the most effective across species. Maybe most important of all is that it teaches us that none of this is about an egotistical human display of  control or personal accomplishment, but rather a miraculous demonstration of communication, learning and cooperative relationship between species. It never ceases to amaze me!

Happy training!

Char

New class starting April 26

 Dogs on the Ball, Level 1

 Foundations for Creative Training and Sports with Treibball, Tricks and More!

  Learn an innovative new sport, have fun discovering your “inner circus dog” and sharpen your training skills in the process!  This class is for you…

  • If you want to build skills and relationship with your dog in a relaxed, non-competitive setting. Appropriate for dogs of all ages, including retired dogs-modify old skills and learn some new! All activities are low impact.
  • If you want to build a foundation for training any dog sport for fun or competition. All of these activities can be applied to any dog activity in your future.
  • If you want to learn the fun and versatile sport of Treibball, which combines elements of obedience, distance work, directionals, and the unique skill of ball pushing to a goal.
  • If you want to train Tricks for fun, skill building, body awareness and versatility.
  • If you are committed to spending some time on a regular basis to work with your dog.
  • If you are committed to using correction-free, positive reinforcement training. This is essential for participation in this course, without exception. You will learn how to use shaping, targeting and efficient use of luring in a variety of applications.

Prerequisites-must have one of the following to be eligible for this class:

  • Love on a Leash classes: Completion of 2 x 7 week Basic Obedience sessions OR Puppy Preschool followed up with one 7 week Basic Obedience. (Some participation in the Advanced Obedience class is beneficial, but not required)  OR
  • CGC, Canine Good Citizen training and/or certification, or equivalent  OR
  • Basic training for other sports or activities such as therapy dog, etc., with instructor permission.

PLEASE NOTE:  All dogs must be able to work under control around other dogs in a normal class environment. Only plain buckle collars or properly fitted martingales are allowed, no exceptions.

Schedule and Fees:

  • Location and time: Love on a Leash in Harrisonburg VA. Saturdays, scheduled dates are usually twice a month and/or alternating Saturdays. Level 1 class meets 11:30-12:30.
  • The next 6 week session dates are: 4/26, 5/3, 5/17, 5/31, 6/14, 6/28.
  • Fee for 6 classes is $90.00. Discount for LOAL members, 15%.
  • Make up policy for absences: Make up is by attendance at the level 2 class and is limited to one absence only.

To register or for more info, contact Char:  dogsontheball@gmail.com