Friday, April 22, 2011

Bird Dog

IMG_0379 As I’ve written about before, Cadence’s biggest training challenge is overcoming his desire to chase motion.  Impulse control and focus have been major areas that we have been working on together.  Recently, I think we’ve had a bit of a breakthrough using a classic psychological principle – the Premack Principle.

Many dog owners learn about Premack in their first household obedience classes, though they may not always know the term.  The principle states that more probable behaviors can reinforce less probable behaviors.  So, you can train your dog to sit politely at the back door while it is being opened (a low-probability behavior) by reinforcing it with the reward of running and playing outside afterwards (a highly-probable behavior).  It is a wonderful tool in the trainer’s toolkit, yet one that I, at least, often forget to use as much as I could.

I have been working on heeling more with Cadence, and have been starting to add increased distraction by working in new locations.  A couple weeks ago, we went to the park at the end of our block to work some heeling patterns, but it started out as an exercise in frustration as he could heel for about three steps, then would charge forward to stare at some robins on the ground many, many yards away.

I tried upping my rate of reinforcement, clicking and treating every step, being more exciting – all the things they tell us to do.  Finally, I reconsidered my strategy:

IMG_0375 “You really want those robins?” (Cadence stares into the distance blankly, as he has been doing.)

“Heel.” (Cadence looks up and heels four steps.)

“OK – LET’S GET THOSE ROBINS!!!!” (He and I charge off like maniacs across the park toward the totally oblivious and unbothered robins.)


“Heel.” (Cadence heels several more steps).

“GET THE ROBINS!!”  (More crazed running.)

We repeat this maybe three times, and by the last repitition of running, he is turning his head back to me, getting that we are playing some sort of cool game now, and more interested in what I’m doing than he is in the robins.  We then resumed our heeling session, now able to do bigger heeling patterns and no longer gazing off in the distance at the birds every few steps.

IMG_0380 I began using this along with Leslie McDevitt’s “Give Me a Break” Game to start our park training sessions.  Rather than immediately asking for attention, we play a bit, then I tell him to “Go Sniff” or “Get the robins” and stand about while he does his own thing.  He very quickly starts turning back to me to see what is up.  I reward him, then send him back to sniff.  It only take a couple reps now before he is standing at my feet, wanting to work.  We are both much less frustrated and having a lot more fun.

Plus, now on walks if he sees a bird, he turns to me as if to say “Do the thing, Mom!!”  I usually call him to me, ask for some behavior (hand touch, sit), then we take up the chase for a few feet.

We probably look a bit odd, but the robins don’t seem to mind.

1 comment:

dog-ma said...

So timely... could you maybe send me this message every spring? Or maybe every other week, so I actually remember? ;)