Keep Going..or Stop

Just what does the clicker mean to your dog?

To my dogs; it (the clicker/marker word) means just three things:

  • Yes, that was the correct behaviour
  • Yes, there is a reward coming
  • Yes, you can stop doing that behaviour

This is the way I have used clicker training for the last 20+ years. I like the clarity it gives to my dogs; there is no guessing on their behalf, they know they have got the behaviour right and that a reward is coming. There is no doubt in their minds as to whether they should continue with that behaviour or whether they are free to move about and ‘re-set’ themselves or to even have a break.

I know a lot of people use the clicker as a ‘Keep going signal’ meaning that the dog keeps doing that particular behaviour that has been clicked for. Don’t get me wrong, I do use a keep going signal (KGS)at times, it just tends to be a verbal one and one that isn’t associated as a marker; it is more a verbal encourager than a marker, such as super dog, aren’t you clever?

Why don’t I use the clicker as a KGS? I want the dog to be crystal clear on what the clicker means rather than having meaning yes that behaviour is over one minute and the next minute it is meaning keep doing that behaviour. I don’t want the dog getting confused as confusion can lead to frustration and frustration can become an emotional part of the training process; really not something that we want.

Yes, I know lots of people successfully use the clicker as a KGS, precision marker and add in a separate release cue such as’Break’ or similar. However, my preference, is to keep my training ‘clean’ and to only use the clicker (marker word) as an event marker rather than a KGS.

As a side note, I also don’t use the clicker for Two-fers and Three-fers, I always reward after I have marked a behaviour, I don’t get the dog performing multiple repetitions of that behaviour for multiple clicks and only one reward. The click/marker is a promise of a reward being delivered and I have no intention of breaking that promise.

Of course, if the dog decides to hold that position after the click, then that is their choice and depending on what I am training, I may reward in that position or I may want them to move so that I can ‘re-set’ them. When I’m using 300 peck for teaching stays, I usually find, that after a few repetitions, the dogs naturally choose to stay in position after the click and that is fine. If they do move between the click and the reward or  the reward and the reset cue, then I’m not bothered, they have had ‘permission’ to break the position because I had marked the behaviour, and the click had ended it.

I am now experimenting with different markers that each tell the dog which reward is coming and how/where it will be delivered. So ‘Yes’ means the food is delivered to the dog and that they should stay put until the food arrives; ‘Get It’means the food is going to be thrown for them to chase; ‘Catch’ is fairly obvious and ‘Find It’ means search for food dropped on the floor. I’m also adding a marker that means drive to a dish/container of food (or the Memory trainer). ‘Go’ as a marker means yes you’ve done that correctly, now drive to that dead toy. We are working on ‘Fetch’ meaning chase a moving toy, ‘Take it’ meaning take the toy from my hands, and I need to clarify a tug marker.

We are having great fun and I’m loving the clarity that this approach is bringing to my training.

I will just add that, apart from using 300 peck to build duration, I don’t tend to switch to variable reinforcement schedules. My dogs are always rewarded for the correct behaviour; they are always on a continuous schedule of reinforcement. What I do move on to, is using variable reinforcers, so sometimes it is a piece of kibble that they get, sometimes, it could be roast beef. They maybe rewarded by being allowed to go and sniff or to go for a swim (or a wallow in the mud if your name is Asia). We might have a game with a toy, we might play chase games. They may get a scratch or verbal praise, their reward could be anything.  The correct performance of a behaviour will always be rewarded.

So just what does your click or marker word mean to your dog?

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Reward or Ignore – are they the only options?

The saying ‘Reward the good and ignore the bad’ has a lot to answer for in how people view reward based training (and trainers).  Some people seem to think that reward based trainers will ignore all sorts of bad behaviour (such as barking, aggression, chewing inappropriate things, jumping up at people etc.) and will just wait patiently, for the dog to stop doing that behaviour and do something that can be rewarded. This just isn’t the case and the saying is grossly over simplified (have a look also at my blogs Proactive not Passive and  Changing Challenging Behaviour).

All too often, trainers just focus on using the 4 quadrants of Operant conditioning and forget about all the other ways that organisms learn and that can be a real handicap for a trainer. Yes, we know that rewarding appropriate behaviour with something the dog want, will lead to an increase in that behaviour (R+) and that with holding something the dog wants will reduce undesired behaviour (P-). We also know that positively punishing the dog (P+) by applying something that the dog will actively work to avoid, will reduce behaviour. We also know that removing something that the dog will work to avoid, will increase a desired behaviour (R-). What else do we need to know?DSC_2521

All too often, Classical Conditioning gets forgotten about (this does tend to go hand in hand a bit with Operant conditioning; it is difficult to split them completely). Classical conditioning deals with reflexes and conditioned emotional responses. A dog that is fearful of something needs to be classically conditioned to learn that the scary thing isn’t that scary.  So the most fabulous rewards appear in the presence of the scary thing. I’m sure if someone offered me enough chocolate, I could eventually learn not to be frightened of Earwigs (shudder).

The opposite side of the coin is sensitisation, where a dog becomes more and more worried by something. This is a natural trait and helps keep animals safe from predators, but also occurs in pets where they can be overwhelmed in their socialisation experiences and become worried by something or it can be a by-product of using positive punishment or flooding.

Another understated method is Premack or Grandma’s Law (eat your greens and you’ll get dessert). Basically, Premack makes a less probable behaviour become more probable. Let’s use Beau as an example. She is a ball obsessed spaniel that really finds it difficult to ignore a tennis ball, even if she already has one in her mouth. The behaviour that I want to make more likely is her letting go/leaving the ball (She would much rather hang onto the ball, so this is a low probability behaviour). I reward her leaving the ball, by letting her go and get the ball (this is a highly desirable behaviour as far as she is concerned). By using a highly desirable activity to reward a much less desirable behaviour (as far as the dog is concerned), we are gradually building a more reliable leave.

Beau Leave

The same principle can be used to increase the reliability of the recall. If your dog chases critters, then you can use that to help the recall away from critters. The chasing of critters is a highly desirable (to the dog) behaviour (high probability) and the recalling away from the critter is less desirable to the dog (low probability), but by allowing the dog to return to chasing after it has recalled, will make that recall from critters much stronger. Just bear in the mind that by the time your dog has called away from chasing the critter, it will have long gone by the time you send the dog back for it..they still get the fun of sniffing where it was.

How many other examples of Premack can you think of?

DSC_5368Then there is good old Habitutation. Basically, this just means being exposed to something and getting used to it. It should be a none (neutral) event really, with no positive or negative emotional responses. I used to live in a house next to a church with a chiming clock. When we first moved in, I heard that darn clock chime very quarter of an hour. It didn’t take long for that sound to become just background noise and I had to really listen for that clock chiming if I wanted to check the time. The same happens with people that live next to busy roads or next to a railway line.  Allowing a dog to explore an environment before asking them to work is a form of habituation (or acclimatisation). The more environments they are used to being in, the faster they will habituate to new ones.

Lara habituating to a new area

Socialising a puppy is basically habituation as we want the puppy to be used to every day things. It should be a neutral process or mildly positive (see Keep those experiences positive)

We could also talk about Flooding (sink or swim approach), but I really hope that no one uses this approach with dogs any more as it it not the most humane approach and just results in a dog shutting down through excessive stress and learned helplessness (if you can’t escape something, you just give in to the inevitable).

Extinction is another way for an organism to learn. A previously reinforced behaviour is no longer reinforced (rewarded) and gradually disappears. This often happens by accident, when the pet owner forgets to reward a desired behaviour and over time, the dog stops doing that behaviour and does something else that does earn them reinforcement. This often happens with behaviours such as recall and loose lead walking. Extinction, can result in a large amount of frustration. Just try not feeding a dog titbits from the table when it has had a long history of being fed titbits that way….you will see the frustration build and if you persist (many owners will give up), you will see an extinction burst and then the behaviour goes away. Take note though, you only have to reinforce that behaviour again and it will be back to full strength very quickly and this time, it will be harder to extinguish.

A better way to extinguish behaviour is to couple extinction with Differential reinforcement, where a different behaviour is reinforced and the undesired one extinguished. There are several approaches to using differential reinforcement: DRI, DRO, DRA and DRL

DRI – differential reinforcement of an incompatible behaviour. Your dog can’t jump up on someone is he is taught to sit. Sitting being incompatible with jumping up. Training your dog to go to its bed or to a mat when the doorbell rings is another form of DRI. I’m using DRI to teach Lara to leave me be whilst I am training another dog. In the video clip, she is being rewarded for staying on a platform while the other dog is working.

Lara DRI

You could also use DRI to teach a puppy not to nip, by reinforcing for them carrying a toy, for example.

DRO – is the differential reinforcement of another behaviour provided that the undesirable one doesn’t occur with in a defined, fixed period of time. So if our puppy doesn’t mouth us within 5 seconds of being stroked or played with, then they are rewarded, no matter what behaviour they are exhibiting. You do need to know how frequently the mouthing occurs.

DRA – differential reinforcement of alternative behaviour. This is useful when it is difficult to find a behaviour that is incompatible with the undesired one, so another behaviour is chosen that can be reinforced.

DRL actually refers to differential reinforcement of lower frequency. The aim is to decrease the frequency of the undesired behaviour, but not necessarily to remove it all together. It doesn’t tend to get used a lot in dog training. Some trainers have defined DRL as differential reinforcement of lower intensity.

We also have Insight learning, Latent learning, Social learning, Counter conditioning, Systematic desensitsation and Observational learning to consider.

Learning theory and positive dog training is so much more than just rewarding the good and ignoring the bad.

Proactive not Passive

I love  clicker training. I love the way the dog (or other animal) is a willing participant in the learning process. I love how fast the learning process can be and how much fun can be had.

Unfortunately, some people dismiss clicker training because they think we are just a bunch of hippies that try to ignore bad behaviour and just passively wait for the dog to offer good behavior before we reward. Whilst I am sure that some trainers attempt to use this  ineffective approach, a good trainer (regardless of what tools they prefer to use), will adopt a proactive approach to solving unwanted behaviour (so-called bad behaviour).

So how do we clicker trainers and other positive trainers deal with unwanted behaviour? Well management is high on our agenda and ignoring behaviour should be fairly low down: depending of course, on what the unwanted behaviour is. If my dog ignores a sit cue, I’m probably going to be fairly chilled about it all and not stress. If it ignores a recall cue, I may get a bit worried if the dog is clearing off to chase rabbits, other dogs or just going over to bug other people and dogs…..that one would mean that I’d have to go and put some work in on proofing my recall around distractions and making sure that I pay the dog a decent wage for ignoring those distractions and heading back to me. Management would involve a long line clipped onto a harness.

So what if my dog is jumping up people. Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait until the dog decides it is going to do something else? Absolutely not! everytime the dog jumps up someone, it is getting rewarded, so the behaviour is going to increase and not go away by being ignored. What I need to do, is reward the dog for doing something else; something that it can’t do at the same time as jumping up. Sit is an excellent one to pick (as you can’t jump up whilst you are sat) as is keeping four paws on the floor. So again we’d manage the situation by keeping the dog on a lead and then rewarding the dog for either sitting or keeping its feet on the floor when people are about, and then as people approach and then when people come over and say hello to the dog.

What about a dog showing aggression? Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait for the dog to do something else? No! This needs addressing. Again management will come in to protect whatever the dog’s target is; so lead, muzzle (once the dog has been trained to accept one) and then work is needed on treating the emotional component of the aggression (if it is ear based), on treating the pain (if the aggression is medically related) and then desensitising the dog to its triggers. How to deal with this, would need several blog posts, but do look out for our TRUST programme. Also see our blog post on Muzzle types to ensure that you choose the correct type.

What about barking? Am I going to ignore that? Generally, no I won’t, although it does depend on where and when it occurs. I probably won’t try to stop my dogs barking when they first go on the beach for a run, but I will stop them barking in the house, when someone comes to the door and barking at me to get me to throw a toy. barking does tend to be a rewarding thing to do (makes the dog feel good inside), so ignoring it isn’t really going to make it go away. We need to be proactive and teach the dogs what quiet means.

Dogs can’t bark and sniff (bit like we can’t talk and sniff…try it!), so if your dog starts barking, pop a tasty treat on their nose, they will sniff (and go quiet), then say quiet, count to 5 and then reward. You have just rewarded your dog for 5 seconds of being quiet.  You can build on this and gradually increase the duration of the quiet behaviour.

For dogs that bark when people come to the door, then I really like Kikopup’s approach of using a positive interrupter to interrupt the barking so that you can then reward the quiet behaviour. Works even if you have multiple dogs.

For dogs that are getting over excited and barking because they want to play with that toy now! I’d be wanting to work on their self-control (impulse control). I play a series of games to help to teach the dog to stay calm and focused, no matter how exciting the game or the environment. These games now form part of my successful EPIC self control and focus course

We’ll have  a look at other so-called problem behaviours in another post in the future. Have a think about the behaviours that your dog does that are maybe not appropriate and see if you can think of a proactive approach to teaching your dog to do something else instead.

If you’d like to do more about why dogs bark and the other ways in which dogs communicate, then join us on our online Canine Communication course

 

 

 

Born to be Wild or Genetically Driven?

So you’ve got a springer or cocker and all you see is it running into the distance with its nose down. Or your retriever meets you at the door with your slippers in its mouth. Welcome to the World governed by genetics; your dog is just doing what it was bred to do.

Spaniels are bred to hunt and flush game by running about in cover and following the scent of the birds and flushing them out. It is hard-wired into spaniels, especially the working bred ones. Ideally, they shouldn’t work far from you, but many owners don’t know how to channel the dog’s desire to hunt and they can end up with spaniels that end up several fields away!

Retrievers are bred to fetch shot game back; they have an inbuilt desire (read need) to bring you a ‘pheasant’ when they see you. They don’t care whether that pheasant is actually your slippers or a pair of knickers; they are genetically programmed to do this.

Pointers and setters are bred to range long distances and to work with little direction from their handler. They have been bred to be independent breeds; which can make them difficult to recall (note I say difficult, not impossible). Again, this is down to their genetic make-up.

When owning a gundog breed, it is important to consider what job the breed was originally bred to do as they will have a strong desire, a need to carry out that behaviour to fulfil their inner child (their emotional needs) and if allowed to go ‘self-employed’ these breeds will respond to these needs and go off hunting or looking for a pheasant to bring you.

So how can we control these instincts? Note I say control rather than stop. It is almost impossible to stop pre-programmed behaviour, but we can channel it so that the dog works with us rather than against us.

Nosework games such as tossing treats or hiding a toy for the spaniel to hunt out will enrich their lives and teach them to stay close as well as helping with recall and check-ins. Teaching a stop to whistle (or verbal cue) can help when they are triggered to chase (flush) something. The more interaction between you and the dog on a walk, the more likely the dog is to stay close by and keep an eye on you. Building a desire to retrieve whilst they are young can help a lot as it gives you another tool to use to interact with/train your dog with (but exclusively using a ball chucker to exercise your dog in a walk is likely to cause other issues). So I will use a ball to reward a stop or a fast recall as my springer is ball mad…..if I don’t interact with her, she would be fields away busy hunting as that is what her brain is telling her to do.

Retrievers also like retrieve games and nosework games but are generally more likely to want to stay near you. To satisfy that need to bring you a pheasant, give them something to carry. If you don;t want them fetching you your slippers, TV remote or knickers; then teach them to fetch a specific toy that they can then greet you with. Fetching you something makes them feel good as well as satisfying that internal need, so we need to make sure that what they fetch is something that we don’t mind them bringing to us or our guests.

Recalls need to have meaningful rewards and this doesn’t just mean tasty treats, it means duration of reward and its relevance to the dog at that time. So when the dog comes back when called, don’t just give it one large treat as the chances are that will teach the dog to come back, snatch a treat and then run off again. You are better to divide that treat into 10 smaller one and deliver them one after the other whilst walking backwards. The movement increases the dog’s engagement with you and the duration of the reward reinforces ‘hanging about’ with you rather than the grab and run approach that one treat can encourage.

Other things that I will do out on walks are:

  • Rewarding check ins
  • Multiple recalls
  • Stops either going away from me or towards me
  • Recall and stay near me until released to run and hunt again
  • Directional work (sending the dog left right and back)
  • Loose lead walking
  • Short stays either next to me or whilst I walk away and recall
  • Various retrieve games
  • Various search games
  • Impulse control games

 

Join us for our Goody Goody Gundog workshops for ideas to challenge your gundog.
You may also find our E.P.I.C. Self Control and Focus workshops useful. You can study online here 

Other posts you may find helpful
Fabulous Focus

When the Wild Child Rears Its Ugly Head

Frustration in Dog Training

There have been numerous blogs and articles looking at the dog’s frustration during training and giving tips for how to deal with it, but something that occurs just as frequently is frustration in the human half of the equation and how do we deal with that?

We get frustrated when things don’t happen as quickly as we want them or they don’t happen the way we expect them to; we’re human after all. Even the best trainers will get frustrated, although some of them won’t admit it. If you are an instructor; you’ve probably got frustrated because one of your client’s just isn’t getting it and yet the dog does it perfectly when you handle the dog.

So why does this happen? First off we’re human; it’s part of our emotional repertoire. Some people are more impulsive than others; that is, they lack self-control (maybe something we should be teaching children so that they develop this skill), maybe they aren’t very patient and want instant results, maybe they haven’t thought out a logical training plan and have no idea what to do when things start to go wrong or maybe the behaviour that the dog is carrying out is so annoying and irritating, that they are struggling to find a way of coping with it rationally. Another one that is really frustrating is when you are trying to teach something and your dog can’t focus and your instructor is telling you to get his attention, but isn’t telling you how….this one is so frustrating when you are a handler.

So what do we do about these human traits? Stop what you are doing, take a deep breathe, walk away from your dog and have a break. That is your first step. Continuing to train when you are frustrated is going to end in disaster. You could end putting the dog off the behaviour that you want him to carry out (because your frustration is acting like an aversive to the dog and it won’t be earning as many rewards – a double whammy if you like; the behaviour that you find irritating is likely to increase (or escalate) as your increased attention to that behaviour could be reinforcing it or if it is a stress-related behaviour or an attention seeking behaviour, these will both increase as the dog becomes stressed and tries to appease you.

We may also over use a NMR (No Reward Marker) when we get frustrated which will have an aversive effect on the dog and they will start to shut down, which is likely to frustrate us even more if we aren’t careful, resulting in a vicious cycle.

I cannot emphasise enough that you need to stop and take a break. Go and do something other than train your dog. When you have calmed down and can think, then you can plan what you are going to do differently.

There are several options for you to consider:

  1. Consider breaking the behaviour down into smaller steps. That way it is easier for the dog (who will get reinforced more and will progress faster) and you will get reinforced more because the dog is doing what you want him to do.
  2. Video a training session so that you can see what you need to improve on and then find someone to teach you those skills
  3. Take a break from trying to teach that behaviour for a while. This break may be a couple of days or several weeks. You’d be amazed at how often the dog processes the information from your last session and how often you’ll see the dog progress faster when you resume training after a break. A bit of latent learning can be a very powerful thing.
  4. If it is an irritating behaviour, change your perspective; instead of thinking ‘How can I stop the dog doing that?’ considering what you would like your dog to do instead.
  5. If it is one of your clients that you are trying to coach through an exercise, consider changing how you are trying to teach it. Are you focussing too much on what they are doing wrong? If so, look for what they are doing correctly and reinforce them for that. So excellent timing, well done, great treat placement, well done. Consider getting them to mirror your action as you walk them through it step by step. If they confuse their left and right, look for some way of helping them out..do they wear a watch or a bracelet on their left arm or a ring on a finger..something that is different to their right arm. Demonstrating with their dog only shows that you can get their dog to do it but it doesn’t make the owner feel any better about themselves.
  6. Minimize or avoid the use of NRM.
  7. If your instructor isn’t able to give you the tools to get your dogs attention, then take a break and consider your options. Is the environment too much for your dog at its current level in focus and engagement training? Does the instructor lack the knowledge to help you work through this problem? Does the instructor lack experience of your breed of dog? May be a change of instructor is called for just whilst you learn how to build the focus and engagement that you need. May be a total change of instructor is needed.

I’m sure you can think of other situations where you may get frustrated.

A couple of real-life examples for you:
1. A recent rescue dog has no idea to play and the handler is trying to teach the dog to retrieve (only a play retrieve not a formal one) and the dog is struggling to grasp that they have to pick the item up off the floor, but will hold it if the handler holds it. The handler has tried different objects and is no further one. After a week or so of making very little progress, the handler takes a break and moves on to doing other things. After the break, the handler gets an article out and all of a sudden, progress is more rapid and the dog now has the basics of a play retrieve. Breaking the cycle of handler frustration and giving the dog a break, enabled the tension of the situation to dissipate and for the dog to be able to learn.  The handler being more relaxed enable them to be better with their timing and to be more enthusiastic with their praise.

2. A rather stressy working bred, high drive rescue has the habit of leaping up and nipping at times of high excitement. Really not very pleasant for the handler (the nips hurt) and very hard not to react by pushing the dog off and shouting at it. A very frustrating situation for the handler. So, as the dog is quite food orientated, the handler dropped food on the floor whenever they got the dog out the their vehicle to distract the dog from leaping and nipping and also used the food drop technique frequently as they walked the dog, to reinforce the paws on the floor. A hand touch was also trained and the dog encouraged to leap up to touch the hand (so that the dog had an activity that they enjoyed doing and it was another reward that could be used). Food was also tossed on walks to give the dog something to chase and to build that into a game that is played with the handler. As time progressed, the dog could then be rewarded from the hand for walking nicely and not jumping/nipping. This one is still work in progress but the nipping is now becoming a memory rather than a frequent occurrence and the handler is starting to enjoy the dog and is building a relationship with it.

Enjoy your dogs, enjoy your training and don’t be frightened to take a break, it will do you and your dog and your relationship, the World of good.

 

 

Welcome

Welcome to Canine Tutor’s blog. Here we will post about issues that have come to light in our own training, whilst we’ve been delivering workshops, topics in the news and topics that have been requested by our followers and course attendees.

Remember to check out the website http://www.caninetutor.org.uk for details of our workshops.