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.

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Keep those experiences positive

We all get told to do it, but just how do we do it correctly?

What am I talking about? Socialising your puppy of course.

24826216_1747354428670420_1879317993_oWith having a new puppy myself, I’m back to going through this process with my puppy. So let’s take a look at what socialisation is all about. Basically, it means exposing your puppy to everything that it is likely to meet as an adult, so that your puppy isn’t frightened by those things in later life. Sounds all fine so far, and we’ve all seen those checklists where we tick off that our puppy has met x number of people this week and x number of dogs and heard x number of sounds and so on.

 

Checklists are great as a basic, but they do tend to shift your focus onto completing the checklist rather than the actual process of socialisation and what it means to the puppy. Socialisation is the process of allowing a puppy to become familiar with something, whether that is a person, and object, a sound or another animal. It is a process of habituation (becoming familiar with) and it should be a positive experience (nice things happen) or neutral (nothing pleasant or scary happens).  Given a choice, I prefer to make every experience that a pup has, a pleasant one. It sets the pup up for being a well rounded, confident dog that can take a few emotional knock-backs because it has a host of positive experiences to fall back onto.

If we become focused on just ticking the boxes on a checklist, we can forget to make these experiences pleasant or neutral for the pup. What can happen is that a pup is put into a situation and then feels overwhelmed. This is not a positive association for the pup, nor is it neutral; it is a negative (scary) situation for the pup and continual experiences like this will create a pup that doesn’t like certain people, dogs or situations or could even become a nervous dog altogether.

If someone wants to say hello to your puppy, ask them to ask the puppy if it wants to say hello. If the puppy puts its tail done, turns its head away or moves away from that person, then the puppy is quite clearly saying that it doesn’t want to say hello. Respect the puppy’s decision and just ask the person to stand there and leave the pup alone. What you don’t want to do is pick the puppy up and thrust it into that person’s arms as now you have just taught your puppy that you won’t protect it when it is frightened (you are no longer a safe place) and you have just made that person and that experience (other people approaching) a very scary thing. You also don’t want to drag the puppy by the lead to ‘say hello’ or allow the person to keep approaching until the puppy can’t escape and has to submit to being touched. These situations will end up being very scary for the puppy and they can learn quite quickly, to be scared of people (or even a specific type of person, such as men, women, children, babies, etc.) and try to run away or to drive the scary person away by barking and lunging. What we have just done is the direct opposite of socialisation! We actually made people scary!

The same can happen when your puppy meets another dog or puppy. Allow them the chance to decide whether they want to interact or not. There is little point is pushing your pup into interacting  with another dog or puppy that is going to be aggressive or bullying with them. A poorly run puppy play session, whether it is at a training class or a dog creche, can do untold damage to your pup and make them worried by other dogs approaching, so that they react by barking and lunging or these play sessions can teach your puppy to be a bully. Neither of these scenarios are good or appropriate socialisation.

DSC_1656Pups do not need to play with every dog they meet or every person they meet in order to become sociable around them. All they need to do is be able to see them and have wonderful things happen whilst dogs, people, vehicles etc. are present. If the puppy wants to approach closer, then fine, but do be guided by your pup’s body language, not by an arbitrary check list that says your puppy MUST meet 10 people this week. Yes to the meet, and be prepared to say no to the interact.

Of course, depending on your pup’s innate personality, it is entirely possible to over-socialise your pup. What do I mean by this? Well, your pup can have so much fun saying hello to other people and dogs that it has little interest in you and all that it wants to do is drag you over to say hello to other dogs and people or it clears off to see them as soon as the lead comes off and has little interest in being with you. You’ve basically become your pup’s social manager and little else. Your puppy needs controlled exposure so that it learns that responding to you is still important and you should most certainly work on teaching your puppy to come away from another dog (not all dogs are friendly) and from people (not everyone likes dogs)

DSC_2108Being able to take your dog anywhere and have your dog continue to do as it is told, is just fabulous and opens up so many opportunities for you and your pup to go on social walks with your dog. Socialisation is something that every pups needs to experience in a positive way. Note that I say it is something that the pup needs to experience; their choice. It is not something that we just expose a pup to, as that it when it is likely to go wrong and we end up turning what was a confident pup into a shrinking violet that finds the World a very scary place.

If you are not too sure that you are reading your pup’s body langauge correctly, then please seek help and advice from a reward based dogs training (avoid anyone that tells you that your pup needs to ‘face up to its fears’). You could also take an online course in Canine Communication.

Have aread of our other article on socialising dogs. Sociable or Socialised?

 

Lara’s Progress

Lara is now 15 weeks of age and has been here almost 3 weeks. Time flies when you have a puppy! She’s getting huge now and is almost as tall as tallest Springer Beau and bigger than Rush (cockerpoo).

She’s not just got bigger, her character has change, she’s no longer than quiet shy puppy; she is a thug! She’s bitier, noisier and more active, but on the up side, she does settle down whilst I’m working (she’s currently asleep at my feet) and she’s still go a great appetite.

Her appetite has led to some frustration when trying to feed her using a slow feeding bowl as she just couldn’t get the food out as fast as she needed to. I have changed her diet from one that had over 50% rice and only 16% meat in it (expensive food as well!) to one that contains 30% meat and 30% rice and that appears to be filling her up better (she doesn’t bolt her food as fast now, always a concern with a breed that is prone to bloat). She can now also cope with a slow feeding bowl, but in the early days, she had half her meal in an ordinary bowl to take the edge of her hunger and then the rest in the slow feeding bowl. When I saw that she was happy to tackle the slow feeding bowl first, rather than the open bowl, I knew she was ready for a full meal from the slow feeding bowl. No more frustration now when she has her food in a slow feeding bowl.

She’s continuing her education with regards on self control around food, which is much easier now that she isn’t so hungry and with recall games (luckily I’m a member of Susan Garrett’s Recallers programme, so lots of games to play). I do need to go back and revisit the collar grab game as we’re going through a bit of a blip with regards to that.

We’re having loads of fun playing tug games with various tug toys, but work is needed on getting her to bring items back. Normal enough stage for a puppy.

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She is bitey, and will be started to change her teeth soon. When she gets bitey, she is given an appropriate object to chew one. As with most puppies, squealing like  a puppy just makes her bite harder, so re-direction onto an appropriate chew toy is important. I need to find some old towels to moisten and freeze, so that she has a cooling chew toy for when those gums are sore.

We’ve had a couple of days where Lara has had a bit of an upset tum; not bad enough for a vet visit, but enough that she’s had to wake me up several times overnight to go out. She is good as she does let me know when she needs to go out and her house training is coming on fabulously, but I could have done with a bit more sleep. I have definitely had ‘puppy brain’ for the last couple of days and have gone through the ‘why did I get this puppy/’ ‘This was a mistake’ stage. Funny how things improve when you get a good night’s sleep as I did last night.

We’ve also started playing with teaching her to put her front feet on objects (only low ones) and she’s learning to search the living room for hidden treats (easy searches to start with). She still has little meanders on lead whilst the big dogs runabout, and she’s finally started to play with the other dogs, but that is supervised.

We are now having an issue with her coming in from outside. She’s getting a bit big to pick up and fetch in (she really is a big puppy for her age!) and  have fallen into the bad habit of luring her in through the back door (bad trainer) and so she has started holding out to see what is offered,k before she decides whether to come in or not. It’s cold and  I really don’t want to stand there with the door open for several minute whilst she decides to come in, so a new strategy was needed.

She now gets about 30 seconds to decide whether she is coming in or not. There is no food in view and I’m not luring her. If she decides to come in the door, that behaviour is marked and then a food reward is produced and given. If she decides that she isn’t going to come in, the door is closed and I’ll open it a minute or two later and try again. I think it took six attempts the first time I tried this, we are now down to just two attempts on the last go. Something I need to keep working on until it is cracked.

Apart from these minor problems and a bit of redesigning of the leather suite, Lara’s ast 3 weeks have been progressing in the right direction.

Her microchip is registered in my name, but I do need to change her KC registration over to my name.

I do need to get some more photos of her though!

Living with Lara

Meet Lara, a 12 week old German Shepherd pup that joined the household late last Tuesday. It’s hard to believe that She has only been here a week, it feels like she has been here ages.

She arrived late on Tuesday evening, so it wasn’t the ideal time to introduce her to my guys, so she spent the evening in a crate in the kitchen, with her familiar bed to help her settle She was so good. She woke me a 4am as she needed a pee.

Wednesday morning, she started to meet the gang one by one, and because the big dogs were still at kennels (cos I’d been at a workshop), I could just leave the kitchen door open and let her decide when she was ready to come through to the living room. My guys were fabulous, popping through to see her and then going away again, putting no pressure on Lara at all. A couple of hours later and all of them were happy together, so Lara’s bed moved to a crate in the living room.

The next couple of days were spent letting Lara settle in and building a bond with her, as well as teaching her the household routine. She quickly worked out the kitchen steps and to go out and in when she was asked. She also had to get used to that annoying thing called a collar (she had arrived with a check chain).

She is such a greedy guts when it comes to eating, she really does wolf her food down. I tried her with a slow feeding bowl one day, but that just lead to one very frustrated puppy who couldn’t get her food down quick enough. I’ll try again when she is a bit older. She was such a bitey pup in the those first few days. Don’t get me wrong, she still has her moments, but it is easier to direct her onto a toy now, and she will calm down with some gentle cuddles. All tied in with her being a bit stressed due to the change of home and with her being tired.

The crate door is only closed on a night, and when she is tired, she either takes herself off to her crate for a nap or settles down at my feet (which is where she is now). She has discovered the delight of buffalo horns and the leather suite! She’s also learned to have a harness put on and off.

Saturday was spent rearranging the van crates so that she has one that is easy to get in and out of and bless her, she has worked out how to use the van step to get in and out without jumping.

Sunday, she spent at an indoor flyball tournament meeting and greeting people. I did take her indoors, but only when she was happy to go inside on her own. Such a noisy p[lace for her, but bless her, she   rocked it. Calmly saying hello to folks and then patiently siting and  watching me whilst I had a chat, despite the fact that dogs were racing just a few feet away. I must admit, I was so impressed with her offering so much eye contact and on being so calm in such a noisy, busy environment. She was a very tired puppy when we got home.

Monday, we took it easy as Sunday was such a tiring day and just worked on the collar grab game and It’s Yer Choice, as well as working on gentle tug games. Tug is being kept fairly gentle as she’ll be teething soon. She has a good nose as she soon found out which pocket had the treats in! She was a bit of a bitey monster on Monday (she was tired) and the suite suffered from her teeth again (bad owner, I should have been watching the pup better).

Yesterday, she learned to walk on a lead with the other dogs and to load into and out of the van with the other dogs. This makes my life so much easier as it means less trips to and from the van to put the dogs in or out. She had a walk with Leon, Ash and Teal They were off lead, but Lara stayed on as I didn’t want her running about like a loony and I’m not 100% sure that she will recall to me in such an interesting environment. So we just walked along at her pace, stopping and sniffing when and here she wanted. The other dogs ran about like loonies, whilst we just toddled along. A short walk to them in terms of distance, but not time. We had a blast. Madam then had to go back in her crate whilst the rest of my dogs had their walks.

Worming day today. The benefit of a greedy pup is that the tablet was easy to give! More short training sessions today and more sleep. Her training sessions are only 2 minutes long maximum as she is a baby and can’t concentrate for long. All of them have taken place  with the other dogs present, so I need to do some sessions with her on her own. Think we might try her with the snuffle mat today.

One of the things I am really having to work on her with, is to not rush over to the Other Half and jump up him. So whenever he comes into the room, she sits near me and is rewarded for being calm. This is definitely work in progress as she does love people and does love launching herself at them.

She has a busy day tomorrow as it’s my monthly meet up with my training buddies, so more new people, dogs to watch as they are working and a new environment to explore (a social club). She’s a puppy, and at the moment, we are enjoying her just being  a puppy and educating her how to fit into the human world. There are no real training goals and expectations at the moment; we’ll just see where this journey takes us.

Oh, she can get on the suite now!

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Sociable or Socialised?

It is great when your dog is happy to be in the company of people and dogs from outside of the family and it means that you can go on walks with friends with no worries. This, to me, is a well socialised dog, but what does that really mean? Well it means different things to different people and there seems to be a real misunderstanding developing.

Everyone knows that we need to socialise our dogs (and yes you can socialise an adult dog just as you can a puppy).  It’s great that the message is getting out there. However, socialisation is the process of getting the dog used to (habituated to) everything that it is likely to see during its life; so vehicles, people, children, other animals, household objects and noises, aeroplanes, etc. This process should mean that the dog develops a neutral or slightly positive association to these everyday things and will prevent them developing negative (scary) associations which could lead to problems later on.

However, it appears that socialising your dog/puppy has also developed to have another meaning; that of allowing your dog/puppy run over and play with everyone else’s dog, much to the annoyance of those dogs’ owners. This isn’t socialising, this is allowing your puppy/dog to run amok and potentially learn to bully other dogs. There is a school of thought that a puppy needs to be told off by another dog so that it ‘teaches him a lesson’ but that lesson could be very harsh and end up with the puppy becoming fear aggressive or the dog that they are harassing (and yes, it is harassment in many cases) could be scared and become fear aggressive to protect itself from rude dogs and your dog is likely going to learn how to be the play ground bully and that is no fun for anyone.

Yes, dogs do need to become familiar with other dogs, but in order to achieve this, it is not necessary for them to play with every dog they see, they just need to see other dogs. It is much more important that they learn to respond to cues around other dogs i.e. that they come back when they are called, that they can walk nicely passed other dogs without screaming and barking and leaping about. In fact, letting them play with every dog they see, is much more likely to result in a dog that pulls and screams/barks to get to them and is likely to result in a dog that completely ignores the owner and won’t come back when called (or be caught) until the dog has had enough. That’s no fun at all, and who really wants a dog which wants nothing to do with you? Mind, I suppose for some, it means that they can just stand there and watch their dog play/annoy/frighten dogs for a couple of hours and then they take a tired dog home….easy way to exercise your dog without putting in any effort yourself, I guess.

That doesn’t mean that you can go for walks with your friends and their dogs; that is what having a sociable dog is all about and it can be great fun. If you feel your dog would benefit from having more doggy pals, then why not take them along to a doggy day creche so that they can play with other well socialised dogs that are happy to be around other dogs? Of course, you need to ensure that it is a well run creche where the dogs are well matched for their play styles, where bullying is not tolerated and that the dogs do get some downtime during the day (s roughly one hour play time and then one hour rest time).

The the type of socialising that makes me cringe is when the owner of an aggressive dog rings up wanting to bring their dog to classes to socialise it. No, no no! This is not socialising, this is flooding! Remember that socialising should be a neutral or positive experience. Putting an aggressive dog into a room full of other dogs that it is scared off is not going to make it like other dogs. If you don’t like spiders and I put you in a room full of spiders for an hour, will you like them more? No, you’ll probably be even more frightened of spiders (and also not trust me either for playing such a dirty trick on you). Aggressive dogs will find group classes very stressful, which may make them more reactive or they maybe be so scared that they actually shut down and just stop doing anything. sadly, some owners (and some dog trainers), think the dog is then ‘fixed’ because it is no longer reacting….The dog isn’t fixed, its just been scared into not reacting…bit like you back in that room full of spiders, you don’t know which one to scream and run away from because as soon as you move away from one, there is another near you…so you just become immobile…not cured, just terrified.

Aggressive dogs that are well on with their rehabilitation training can be introduced to dogs in a controlled fashion, where there is one dog introduced at a time and at a distance that the dogs can cope with and then that positive association to other dogs can be built, allowing the dog to become sociable.

Let’s get the foundations right, habituate your puppy/dog to the presence of other dogs, work on them being able to respond to your cues around other dogs and people and allow them controlled access to other dogs rather then just letting them have a free for all. There should then be a whole host of sociable dogs out there that can be allowed to play (provided the other owner agrees and if the other dog is happy) rather than the scores of out of control dogs that totally ignore their owners and do their own thing.