Posts filed under ‘Training’

A very simple and awesome explanation of Clicker Training

A while ago, I came across this article: Why Clicker Training on TV would be a ratings disaster.The reasoning is that the process of clicker training  can appear repetitive and boring (click treat click treat click treat… no resistance from dog) compared to the technique of “dominating” a dog to make it do what you want, like on the Dog Whisperer Show. The theory is that a “battle of wills” makes for more interesting TV.

Well, I actually disagree that clicker training on TV would be a ratings disaster. If the trainer is a charismatic presenter, it could totally work. Zak George is a great example.

While I agree that an explanation of Clicker Training (Operant Conditioning) that uses lots of scientific/technical jargon (and presented like a science-lab process) could make audiences glaze over,  I believe it is possible to teach the SCIENCE in a clear, fun way that makes it easier for people to TALK about Clicker Training with normal everyday kid-level conversational language instead of having to use words like “quadrants”. Just my two cents. I am working on it.

Edit to add: Reward-based training without using treats

June 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm 13 comments

Boogie, the demo dog

I have posted about Cyberdog Online before. To recap, Cyberdog Online is an online “doggie manners” (clicker training) course run by three instructors, one of whom is Sarah Owings, Boogie’s trainer.

Cyberdog Online has just rolled out a new “Polite Greetings” 4-week mini course  and Boogie and I are in two of the course demo videos! I can’t link you to these videos because they are part of the course – you’d have to pay the $100 enrollment fee in order to see all the course videos.

I had the opportunity to watch these two videos today and I took some photos of Sarah’s computer screen. I know I am biased, but the Boogs is extremely cute in these videos. It’s kinda cool to see him jumping up in slow motion.

There was also a final very adorable photo of Boogie seated calmly and licking Sarah’s hand but for some reason my phone camera did not take/save that photo… so bummed.   *see below!

Boogie kisses!

P.S. I haven’t trained Boogie not to jump up on people. This was a demo of what IS POSSIBLE if I consistently reinforce him for polite behavior 🙂

UPDATE: Video!!!

June 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm 2 comments

Pattern Games DVD

Leslie McDevitt’s PATTERN GAMES DVD was my birthday present from our trainer Sarah. I finally got chance to watch it last night, taking notes as I went along.

I broke down each game into “Click Points” and “Tag Points” on my notepad..

I already had a copy of Leslie McDevitt’s book Control Unleashed®: Creating a Focused and Confident Dog but I hadn’t read past Chapter 2. The only CU game that I was already familiar with is Look At That (LAT), similar to BAT Stage 1. In LAT, the dog is rewarded for looking at a trigger + reorienting to the handler over many repetitions.

On the Pattern Games DVD, there are 6 games – explained with live demo footage – and they look unbelievably simple. According to Leslie McDevitt, any dog who is comfortable on leash can play these games. No other prerequisite training required. From what I can see, the Pattern Games are about maintaining a fast and consistent rhythm in clicker training, and it is this rhythm that gives the dog a sense of safety (and something to focus on!), and keeps both human and dog strongly connected even when there are distractions present.

A few days ago, Sarah, Boogie and I went for a big long walk around our neighborhood and Sarah demonstrated Pattern Game #2 – Take three steps forward, click and drop a treat behind your feet. 1,2,3, Treat…. 1,2,3, Treat… 1,2,3, Treat… repeat. This particular game has nothing to do with what the dog is doing, and is primarily for the dog handler to practice getting into a rhythm which is harder than it sounds if your eyes, hands and feet are not totally coordinated. I found myself way too consciously counting my steps (1-2-3) then fumbling for the treat, forgetting to click, etc.

On the DVD, there are two live demos per game, and in the second demo,  another person shows up in the training scenario and Leslie McDevitt demonstrates how to incorporate the other person into the game (Look At That) so that what is potentially a trigger or distraction becomes part of an already familiar and fun rule structure for the dog. And this is particularly useful if the dog is likely to freak out around new dogs/people or sudden environmental changes.

Sharing here a short video clip of Boogie at his favorite window. That’s one of his beds right next to it. Remember when I covered all my windows with film? I had to leave one window uncovered because I need to breathe, and this is the window that Boogie continues to stare and bark out of. It’s not a big deal, because I have sort of managed to teach him to look outside and turn back to me. Almost like LAT. Cue: “Boogie, who’s there?”

The world outside is always a very fascinating place….

May 30, 2012 at 7:38 am 4 comments

The Power of Premack: A Recall Repaired – by Sarah Owings

This is PART 3 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at CyberDogOnline.com, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. This continues from PART 1: Premack Pearls and PART 2:Station Training.  Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post. 

THE POWER OF PREMACK: A RECALL REPAIRED
by Sarah Owings, KPA CTP

True confessions of a professional dog trainer…If there are big distractions like birds, cats,  squirrels, or the next door neighbor making noise in his yard, our twelve year old poodle-mix, Maya, still isn’t always all that great at coming when called. However, thanks to the power of the Premack Principle, I can safely say that she is at least worlds better than she used to be.

Maya is a dog who has only recently learned to appreciate food rewards. Once free-fed with a bowl of boring kibble left out all day long, Maya used to not only be an extremely picky eater,  she also made it abundantly clear that (unlike our other dog whose whole universe seems to revolve around whatever delectable morsel I might happen to have stashed away in my pocket at any given time), she would much rather chase a cat or a squirrel than eat even high value stuff like salmon, chicken, hamburger or cheese.

To make matters worse, not only was Maya difficult to motivate, my mom had also inadvertently poisoned her recall because back before she knew better, she used to yell at Maya for barking in the yard and, when Maya ignored her, my mom would stomp outside, snatch her by the collar, haul her back inside, and lock her in the house.

Not surprisingly, by the time I took over Maya’s training, she appeared to go “deaf” the instant I said her name, and would run off and even actively evade my hands if I reached for her. She would also deliberately ignore any food I offered her at such times too, clearly suspicious that I was attempting to entrap her.

So, how do you teach a non food-motivated dog to LOVE to come when you call–even away from an exciting activity like barking at the fence? Well, you Premack-it! That’s what you do! By establishing a new pattern where I released Maya back to her preferred activity each time AFTER she offered even the tiniest bit of focus, eventually she began to trust that I wasn’t there to grab her and end the fun, and she began to look at me more often. Additionally, as you can see in the video, an interesting side benefit to this work was that Maya also began to eat the food I offered her too! That means that not only did I end up Premacking her recalls, I ended up Premacking her acceptance of food rewards as well!

More than curbing the barking, my main goal with Maya was to rebuild trust. Because she had no real problems with aggression towards people or other dogs, and because our yard was a safe place to allow her to practice the barking behavior, I made the choice to begin our Premack sessions off-leash right next to the fence. (Side note: I do not recommend allowing dogs with serious dog-dog aggression or dog-human aggression to fence-fight). I also took video so I could measure Maya’s progress more objectively. If the desired behavior of looking at me all on her own without nagging or prompting increased in frequency and duration over time, then I knew I had hit upon the correct reinforcer.

One Year Later… Maya is still a dedicated barker. That’s just the kind of dog she is. However, she is now much more likely to only bark a few times and then come find me. If I have a treat handy, I typically reward her for this good choice. But even if I don’t have a treat, she gets praise and/or a favorite butt or belly scratch, followed by the now ritualized release cue “OKAY! Go bark!” What is interesting is that sometimes Maya does go right back outside to bark for a minute or two, but more often than not these day she seems content to stay with me instead.  When she’s obsessing about something in the yard such as the neighbor or an evil squirrel taunting her up on the telephone wires, I can walk over, stand 5-10′ from her and get offered eye-contact and then a pretty decent recall in just a few minutes. But best of all now, approximately eight times out of ten, I can stand all the way at the back door, 50-90′ away from the distraction, call out a cheerful “Maya HERE!”, and within 20 seconds she comes trotting right inside with eyes bright and happy, and her tail wagging. Now that’s progress!

May 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm 1 comment

Classical Conditioning, summer games

It was my birthday last week and Sarah, our trainer gave me this PATTERN GAMES DVD by Leslie McDevitt. Thank you, Sarah! Sarah understands how complicated Boogie is and how much he needs to “feel in control”.

Here’s a YouTube video explaining what the DVD is about, with doggie footage. I look forward to watching this DVD, doing the games with Boogie and of course, I will blog about our experiences!

I think Boogie’s main problem is that not only is he triggered by certain types of people,  he doesn’t do well with Sudden Environmental Changes. I have read that S.E.C is actually quite common. Due to lack of socialization as puppies, dogs can grow up to be easily spooked or startled.

Boogie can be in a room full of unfamiliar people and he will be perfectly fine. But put him on an empty street, and he will go nuts when ONE unfamiliar person appears. Or when we are walking on a busy street, if one person turns around to look at him, that person will get his hackles up. I think having some sort of “rule structure” or “pattern game” to deal with surprises would be good for the Boogs. In some ways, I have already been working on this issue…

I have been doing major classical counter-conditioning with Boogie for the past 3 weeks following an ‘upsetting incident’ on which I would rather not elaborate.  Every time we see a person on the street, no matter how near or far, how big or small, old or young, carrying bags or not carrying bags, walking slow or walking fast, I have been giving Boogie treats. As soon as Boogie registers the presence of the person, I ask for eye-contact, we move to the side and he gets a treat. The closer or larger/scarier the person, the more treats he gets. Sometimes, if Boogie remains under-threshold, we continue walking and I give Boogie a treat right after the person has just passed us. Instinct tells me this is important because Boogie used to lunge at people from behind.

Results:
On the morning of Mother’s Day, Boogs and I were walking along on an empty street. About 20 feet in front of us, an old man appeared. Boogie saw the old man, stopped, did a whiplash turn around and looked up at me with a face full of hope. “Where’s my treat?”

This morning, an old man on a bicycle was moving towards us. Usually when I see a bike coming, I get us out of the way fast or Boogie would lunge and bark. Likewise with joggers. Today, I did not see the cyclist coming until he was almost running into us.  The guy said “Sorry! My fault! know I shouldn’t be on the sidewalk”. At my feet, a bright-eyed Boogie face was looking up at me: “Where’s my treat?”

Boogie has not lunged at a single cyclist or jogger in the past 3 weeks. I am still amazed that he either:
1. completely ignores them and continues walking <– treat for being calm
2. moves to the side and sniffs the ground (self-soothing behavior) <– treat for good choice
3. turns around and looks at me for a treat <– treat for connecting with me

Jean Donaldson writes about Classical Counter-Conditioning (re: Austin, who has a problem with of men)

It is behavior “blind”-we  don’t care what Austin [dog] does, all we care about is that once men are on the  scene, good things happen to Austin. It is a powerful conditioning technique  but difficult for people to get their heads around. The behavior-blind part  flies in the face of what is an extremely operant conditioning-oriented training  culture. It’s a piece of cake to fulfill the men=cheese contract when Austin  just looks at the guy, but much harder psychologically to provide the cheese  if Austin goes off at the guy. It feels to the trainer like she is “rewarding” the  behavior. When Pavlovian counter-conditioning is used in conjunction with  desensitization, this issue is mostly avoided because the desensitization part  (by definition) prevents the dog misbehaving (unless you screw up). But in a straight-up counter-conditioning procedure (i.e., one performed without  desensitization), you will often find yourself supplying the fabulous thing  right after the dog is naughty. To do otherwise would be to weaken the connection  between men and goat cheese. There are no effective “schedules” in  classical conditioning, just extinction trials, which are bad for the cause. The  closer you can approximate a 1:1 ratio of men to goat cheese, the stronger the  conditioning.

In a sense, we are going back to BAT Stage 1 (or Look At That) with human triggers but sometimes I deliver the treat even before we walk away because I want to strongly associate the sudden appearance of people with good things. In life, surprises happen all the time… I want to help Boogie not be so easily spooked. Sometimes, there is also no room or time to move away.

Here’s another activity for the Summer. I recently got a copy of Secret Stairs: Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. Yep, Boogie and I will be staircase-hunting on long hikes around the neighborhood!

Boogie has a thing about climbing stairs and is definitely way more fit than I am .

Here’s a very old video clip of Boogie on Radio Walk in Franklin Hills. (I know I am biased but how cute is that butt!)

May 23, 2012 at 7:40 am 4 comments

Station Training. It’s not just for sea lions! – by Helix Fairweather

This is PART 2 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at CyberDogOnline.com, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. This continues from PART 1: Premack Pearls. Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post. 

STATION TRAINING. IT’S NOT JUST FOR SEA LIONS! – by Helix Fairweather

Look closely at the two dogs in the photo! While they appear to be two cute dogs (which they are!) sitting on little chairs (which they are!), they are also two dogs who have been trained to wait “on station” while the other dog is being trained.

BJ (now at the Bridge) is the dog on the right; Marcus is the dog on the left. Both boys are Havanese and both boys *LOVE* training!

Have you had the experience of trying to clicker train one dog while the other one fusses, vocalizes and carries on in his crate because he wants to be part of the action?  Many people have written to me with that exact problem.

The Premack Principle to the rescue!  The Premack Principle (thank you, Dr. Premack) tells us that we can use a behavior that is very likely to happen to reinforce (i.e. make stronger) a behavior that is not intially very likely to happen. When I started the station training with BJ and Marcus, it was clearly not likely either one would remain on his chair if the other were getting clicks and treats. However, it was very likely that either dog would zoom in upon hearing his name and eagerly participate in training.

Clearly, I had a great Premack setup. The dogs want very much to be the working dog. Any time your dog wants something Very Much (and that something is allowable), you have a Premack situation in the making.

To put the Premack Principle to work, I needed the dogs to be able to jump up on their chairs on cue and to be able to leave their chairs on a release cue – so a little foundation training is necessary first. Marcus was the first “working” dog. The “working” dog is the one who will be on his feet in a training session. I chose a very simple behavior – not something new, not something complicated, but rather something simple that he knew very well – a nose touch to the hand is a good choice!

Even though Marcus was the “working” dog, the dog who is really being trained is the dog on station! To start with, I cued BJ onto the chair and immediately started offering my hand and cueing Marcus to “touch”, click/treat. At first, I cued Marcus for only one “touch”/click/treat. If BJ was lying down on the chair, I would cue “OK” to release him from the chair, followed by a cue to Marcus to get onto the chair.

Round and round we went – “on the chair”, do a rep of hand touch with the “working” dog, “OK” to release the dog-on-station, “on the chair” for the other dog and so on.

The reinforcer for being the dog-on-station was the opportunity to become the working dog.

The reinforcer for being the dog-on-station was the opportunity to become the working dog. It’s a bit of a coordination challenge at first – perhaps a good idea is to practice without the dogs so you can get the order worked out!

After a few rounds, I started extending the “working” dog’s training time. What I watched for now was any sign from the dog-on-station that indicated he was settling into being on the chair. The *instant* I saw a sign of settling in = “OK” to release him from the chair and wham! he was now the “working” dog.

It took only a handful of sessions for these two dogs to get it – that being on station meant you would soon become the working dog. And that, dear readers, is the utter power of Premack.

May 18, 2012 at 5:58 pm 1 comment

The smallest behaviors, Boogie & Squirrels.

Following on from the previous “Premack” guest post, and thinking about this illustration that I did ages ago…

There’s just one problem with the way I visualized Premack in this Boogie-Squirrel scenario…. The truth is, when your dog doesn’t even know that you exist, he is not going to suddenly turn around and check in with you or respond to the sound of his name.

Example: Squirrel Fixation video.

That video was taken a couple of years ago – I used to CARRY him away from the tree because there was no other way to get him to move. I don’t believe that Boogie was consciously “blowing me off”.  When extremely magnetized by a squirrel, I don’t think he even hears me or registers that any other sights, sounds or smells exists. He is in another zone.

Suzanne Clothier writes:

In a laboratory experiment, a cat was wired with electrodes that helped researchers see when an audible signal was received by the brain. When a tone was played, the cat’s brain responded with a blip. Tone, blip; tone, blip. Then researchers put a mouse just outside the cat’s cage where the cat could see it but not reach it. They were curious to see how the brain processed the competing stimuli of mouse and tone. Their theory was that the brain would register the tone but that the cat would consciously disregard this stimulus in favor of the mouse. To their surprise, when the cat was completely focused on the mouse, the brain did not register the tone at all—it was as if the tone had ceased to exist within the cat’s perception of his world.

Furthermore:

…we routinely ignore our dogs when they tell us that they are busy. I am not saying that you should stand there helplessly waiting until your dog decides he is finished watching squirrels or whatever. I am saying that you need to respect the reality that your direction or command or request may not even have been perceived. Our response to being ignored should not be the same as our response to not being heard. In order to communicate to the dog what you would have him understand, you have to find a way past his focus on something else and turn it back to you. And at a very fundamental level, the dog’s disengagement from you speaks to a quality of connection that may need some work. But using force to ask for a dog’s attention (unless it is a matter of life and death) is just as insane as slapping someone upside the head because he did not respond to you while his focus was elsewhere.

One day by accident, I found a very successful way to call Boogie’s attention away from squirrels and back to me. I have used this method every single time since and it has worked like a charm.

When Boogie stares at a squirrel, I say nothing and pay very close attention to his face.

The trick is to wait for the teeny tiniest natural movement or break in concentration: an eye-blink, an ear-flicker or a tiny shift of his head. It’s a bit like in BAT: wait for a polite signal or loosening up of body language. When I see any tiny sign of movement on his face, I seize the moment and I call his name. “Boogie!” This is the moment that Boogie can actually hear so he turns his head to look at me.

As soon as I get eye contact, I mark “YES!” or “Thank you!”

He moves away from the tree, I give him a treat, and then we return to the tree to look at the squirrel.  Boogie takes a look at the tree (squirrel has disappeared by now) then moves away, sniffs the ground, and we continue walking. I suppose it’s not strictly Premack because I am using food, but I have found that when Boogie’s concentration breaks, he is no longer magnetized by the squirrel and I am able to reinforce his attention to me and still use “looking at the squirrel” as a functional reward.

These days, when Boogie sees a squirrel, he is more easily able to “let go”, redirect to me sooner, and move along. 

Now if I could only apply these principles to my own fixations and bad habits. 🙂

May 15, 2012 at 6:05 pm 7 comments

Premack Pearls – by Lynn Martin

** Here is PART 1 of a new series of guests posts by the trainers at CyberDogOnline.com, an online (clicker) dog training workshop that Boogie and I were enrolled in last year. Read my personal review of the Cyber Dog Online course in this earlier blog post.

PREMACK PEARLS – by Lynn Martin

Yes, most dog savvy people are familiar with the Premack Principle.   It asserts that more probable behaviors can be used to reinforce less probable behaviors.

High-probability behaviors are activities which are performed voluntarily and which are enjoyed for itself without human intervention. Sniffing, chasing squirrels, and all kinds of fun stuff are in this category.

Low-probability behaviors, are behaviors which are often the learned or trained.  Think recall here.

The opportunity to engage in those fun high probability behaviors is a reinforcer for those not so fun low probability, learned behaviors.
We all know this.  But, are we using the Premack Principle to it’s full potential?

It’s easy to “Premack” reinforcers as routine part of your training, whether your dog is a companion dog or a performance dog.  Premack in your training arsenal will allow you to turn distractions into prized reinforcers.  What a perfect system!  What was a distraction and determent to training is now your dog’s high value reinforcer.

So when to use Premack?

Many handlers use Premack routinely when their dog wants to go out a door-dog must “wait” while human goes first.  Perhaps a nice sit/stay while food bowls are being placed.  These are great starts to routinely using the Premack Principle in training.  But, that is just the beginning.

We as trainers sometimes become frustrated when our dogs lose interest during a training session.  I am of course talking about those times your dog makes it clear that he would rather chase squirrels or a ball than train.  You have cued your dog but your dog is not even hearing you because there is that DISTRACTION over there!

If you find yourself wondering what to do about a certain distractions -that’s the time to “Premack”.

Let’s try recall.  My Jake doesn’t know that he is a companion cocker spaniel and thinks he is a working ranch dog.  Life begins outside.  It is the jackpot of all rewards to Jake. Recall is a highly reinforced behavior in our house. But, it is still hard to train a dog that wants to stay outside, to come in readily and happily.

So, sometimes, his reinforcement for coming inside is just to be able go outside again. He loves this. It’s a perfect example of the Premack Principle:  using a high probability behavior to reinforce a low probability one.  I can count on Jake wanting to go outside (high probability). So I can use that to reinforce him for coming in. That means that sometimes when Jake comes in when asked, the reward is: “Good job Jake, you get 5 more minutes outside.”

Do you have one of those crazy “ball” dogs?   Does your dog stare at a ball drooling when you want to work on targeting? Yes, that is the time to use the ball as a reward.  Sometimes just offering eye contact will make me throw that ball.  Other times it is a beautiful high jump that will make me throw the ball.  Now that much-loved ball lives in your arsenal of reinforcers.

In this Premack Pearls series, we will walk you thru various ways to use the principle.  Stationary behaviors will get a training boost with its use.  We will even talk about using the Premack Principle in Behavior Modification.  We will show you how to deal with fence fighting using this principle. We will show you many different scenarios, so that using the Premack Principle in your dog training will become routine and rewarding.

Look how great these dogs are at watching other dogs being trained!

May 11, 2012 at 6:45 pm 7 comments

Dog-friendly people

Last week I was whining to friends that dealing with  “people triggers” is such a challenge compared to dealing with “dog triggers”. There are fewer unfamiliar dogs on the street than unfamiliar human beings. Humans are everywhere.  We have a comfortable routine of moving away from unfamiliar dogs (after Boogie offers a calming signal or a head turn towards me), but this isn’t so easy to do with people that I see on the street that I want to stop and talk to… 

If it is a person that Boogie knows, his ears go back, he jumps up, offers kisses, gets pets, moves away.

If it is a person that Boogie doesn’t know, he stops moving. Goes really still by my side, and stares. This nervousness is often complicated further by what the person does next, which is to stare back at him (“Hi Boogie!”) or reach out their hand or take a step forward to pet him before I say “NO, he is nervous and might bite you”. Not all human beings listen and understand. Perhaps we need a Space Etiquette type poster for human beings, too.

We had such a good walk this morning, that I have to share!

When Boogie and I stepped out the door this morning, one of the building managers – John – was standing outside on the sidewalk, with a cup of coffee and slice of bacon in his hand. It’s not everyday that the first person you run into has bacon, right? 🙂

This time, when Boogie saw the unfamiliar human being in his territory, he stiffened, then turned back to look at me, it was more of a “That dude has bacon, I want to move forward” vs. the usual “OK, lead me away back towards the apartment and give me my treat”. I gave Boogie a treat anyway, for turning back to check with me.

John asked me if it was OK to give Boogie some bacon.  We moved forward,  Boogie got a piece of bacon and then he politely plonked his toosh down on the pavement in front of John. No seconds, but hey, what a good start to the morning walk.

Later on the street, Boogie stiffened slightly when a guy in uniform came walking towards us.  “What a good-looking dog! He doesn’t like guys in uniform?”

Me: “Not really. He usually barks at guys in uniform”. Mr. Uniform did not come forward. He stood where he was and next to me, Boogie sat down. Mr. Uniform chatted away throwing more compliments at Boogie then said “OK, OK, I am leaving now. Go with your mom”.  I thanked him and said goodbye, and Boogie and I moved on  home.

It is so nice to meet strangers who want to meet your dog but who are truly dog-friendly and polite!

On a separate note, I have a silly burning question. Click on this picture below and tell me what you think! 🙂

April 5, 2012 at 5:53 pm 11 comments

Boogie Says PLEASE…

[Look, it comes with a BAT book bookmark!]

A couple of nights ago, I read Kathy Sdao’s new book : Plenty In Life Is Free (I saw Kathy Sdao speak at last year’s Clicker Expo and she was an amazing, feisty and inspiring speaker.) It is partly a memoir, but mostly a critical look at the  NILIF “Nothing In Life Is Free” sacred cow of dog training, also known as “Learn To Earn” or  “Say Please”.

NILIF is something that almost all dog owners already know about. It is sort of a “relationship philosophy” for humans and dogs that is often said to prevent and/or fix behavioral issues. With NILIF, the dog has to earn his food, attention, permission to get on the couch, anything… by first performing a specified polite behavior, usually sitting. Coincidentally, I recently finished doing some illustrations for Sophia Yin’s “Learn To Earn” program so the NILIF regimen is still fresh in my mind even though, thankfully Boogie is already mostly a calm, polite and patient dog so I don’t feel any need to micromanage his behaviors.

According to Kathy Sdao,  NILIF puts a lot of emphasis on withholding attention/love/food (aka Negative Punishment) and making the dog earn these things. Even though she herself has advocated this philosophy for years,  she now questions if NILIF is in fact a not so benign, “passive-aggressive” way of communicating that doesn’t foster trust and intimacy in any relationship. In some extreme (and unethical) examples  of NILIF  in action,  trainers even starve their animals in order to get more compliance out of them during training.

NILIF also often contradicts some behavior modification protocols. One problem that I can really relate to is when Boogie sees a trigger on the street that he might lunge or growl at. I have learned through many experiences that the WORST thing I can do is to ask him to “Sit” (regardless of whether I give him a treat or not). The sitting only makes Boogie more intensely magnetized to the trigger and there is a higher chance of reactivity or aggression. As I have learned through BAT, the best thing I can do for Boogie is to reinforce voluntary polite signals with MOVEMENT.

There is one page in the book that I found really fascinating and interesting… it’s about Chained behaviors , and also related to asking a dog to SIT for what he wants. I think Sarah has mentioned this before. When Boogie jumps up and I ask him to SIT, then reward him for sitting, I am accidentally reinforcing both behaviors –  “JUMP UP +  SIT”.

My brain went off on a tangent and I started thinking about how Boogie often  sits and stares at me whenever he wants something.  He never barks at me, he never pounces on me. He just sits quietly and waits, and he can do this for a very long time. To most people this might be the sign of a well-behaved dog, but I’ll admit that it sometimes drives me nuts. Yes, Boogie, you are very polite by sitting and saying Please, but WHAT THE HECK DO YOU WANT???

I also don’t always notice him sitting there because he is so quiet.

And then there have been times when I wake up in the middle of the night to see Boogie sitting at the foot of my bed, staring at me, hypnotizing me to wake up because he needs to go outside and eat grass, do a poo, or whatever. I feel so bad because I don’t know how long he has been sitting there quietly and desperately waiting. Any other  dog would probably bark and paw me awake. What if I had taken a benadryl and slept like a log?

Afer four years, even though I have learned to read most of Boogie’s sits (eg, when he needs to go outside, he sits with front legs  held really close together and his ears go back) a lot of the time I am still presented with a multiple choice quiz.  I have to look at the clock or get up from my chair to find out if Boogie will lead me to the kitchen, couch, front door, or bedroom.

Disclaimer:  These drawings are exaggerations.

In the book, Kathy Sdao advocates a protocol of “fifty rewards a day” and also SMART, acronym for SEE, MARK and REWARD TRAINING. In place of  NILIF, we could be devloping better training skills, the main ones being:

1. Seeing/Noticing when our dog voluntarily does good behaviors
2. Marking/Pointing out to the dog when he does these good behaviors (click or “yes”)
3. Rewarding the dog so that we increase the strength and frequency of these good behaviors.

“Seeing, Marking and Rewarding voluntary behaviors violates versions of NILIF that require trainers to ask their dog to respond to a command (or to a trainer-produced cue) before the dog recieves any rewards. SMART frees us to reward dogs anytime they aren’t worrying or annoying us. The more we do this, the more our dogs will behave in ways that please us and the less risk we’ll have of accidentally reinforcing them for pushiness.”

March 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm 10 comments

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