The Premack Principle (Boogie’s leash-pulling)

June 30, 2010 at 1:34 am 2 comments

The Premack Principle: It states that for any two behaviors, the one that’s more likely (or that your dog prefers) can reinforce, or strengthen, the one that’s less likely (and that you might prefer). Instead of trying to get our dogs to ignore whatever excites and distracts them, we can use those excitements and distractions as rewards.

I have read about The Premack Principle and watched several YouTube videos but on Tuesday for the first time I had some hands-on experience with Sarah showing me how to use it when Boogie becomes fixated on something and pulls on the leash.The high distraction environment that we were in – Cheviot Park – was perfect for this exercise because Boogie was pulling me all over the place. The smell of squirrel was everywhere.

And so it goes that the more often that I let Boogie ignore me, the more that I am enabling his “bad behavior” and he’ll just continue to blow me off whenever he feels like it. Scolding or dragging Boogie away on the leash does not solve the problem.

So here’s the new protocol:

  • When Boogie pulls, note where he wants to go.
  • STOP. Stand still. Do not let myself be pulled forwards.
  • WAIT. As soon as he turns around and checks in with me, I mark with a YES! (I then say “OK!” as the release cue)
  • …And I let him go where he wants to go.

My questions:

Q: What if Boogie doesn’t turn around to check with me? What if he remains frozen or locked in that pulling forward position and won’t respond at all?
A: Initially we wait to mark the smallest behaviors, like an ear flick, or even if he turns his body slightly. We don’t expect a full head turn or eye contact straight away. This “splitting of behaviors into small steps” is a key feature of the Clicker Training process.

Q: What if, 5 minutes later, Boogie still remains locked and offers no signals?

A: Tap him lightly on the butt to get his attention and to break the spell. (YES, butt-tapping works!)

Q: What if I really really don’t want to go where he wants to go?
A: Let him go forwards first, then redirect him back where you want to go. Or… when he disengages from his point of fixation, just turn and walk calmly in the opposite direction with consistent leash pressure, no pulling/jerking/tugging. Hold the leash in front of the body at bellybutton level and walk. (Dogs are sensitive to different kinds of leash pressure)



On Tuesday, we also did more BAT, this time with Irith’s very friendly sweet English Shepherd, Franklin, as decoy. We got to the point where the Boogs curiously moved forward to sniff Franklin’s butt then bounced back in a play bow. (“This dog is OK! I want to play with him!”)

A more impressive moment was when Franklin moved quickly towards Boogie with direct eye contact, and Boogie instantly offered a lip lick (calming signal) and turned away. YAY!

A big thank you to Irith and Franklin for being there on Tuesday! I hope that we can organize a Boogie & Franklin playdate some day… Who wants to lend us a fenced yard?

Videos and links:

Ahimsa Dog Training: Premack Principle (youtube)

Sarah’s The Power of Premack: Fence Fighting (vimeo)

Dog Star Daily: On Shoddy Clicker Training & The Importance of Premack

Irith’s The Sophisticated Dog facebook page has some great articles on dog training.

Entry filed under: Articles, links, BAT sessions, Outdoors, Training.

Squirrel Focus Boogie’s Photo Shoot with Jesse Freidin

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. In search of a private fenced yard… « Boogie’s blog  |  December 1, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    […] Franklin is a very sweet and calm English Shepherd so he was the perfect “big dog” for Boogie to hang out and do parallel walking with. The funny thing is that as soon as Boogie and Franklin saw each other from a fair distance, both dogs started whining. Boogie whimpered and looked at me and pulled towards Franklin. The dogs recognized each other from their BAT session five months ago! […]

  • […] walks nicely on leash until he decides that he wants to go in a different direction. I used to do Premack with him. So much so that he now turns to look at me while pulling away at the same time.  I call […]


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