Monthly Archives: August 2010

Is training easy?

I’ve logged back on to some key clicker lists to reacquaint myself with clicker techniques and theory before River comes home. (One week!) I quickly found myself in a situation that reminded me why I took a break from the lists in the first place. A trainer — a good one, I might add — had a dog who had a problem with his recall in the field and mentioned instinctive drift. I said the problem wasn’t instinctive drift, and explained why. This trainer locked on to the idea that I was saying training a highly reliable recall in the field is easy. I never said nor implied that.

Getting behavior is relatively easy. Depends on the behavior and the animal and the skill of the trainer, of course. But in general, getting behavior is relatively easy. Let me be specific: Getting a dog to recall, on cue, between me and my husband in my house is easy. Getting a dog to recall, reliably, from a distance of 400 yards, in a field with all sorts of distractions, while carrying a freshly shot bird that the dog REALLY wants to keep is HARD. Incredibly hard.

(But the difficulty level still has nothing to do with instinctive drift. Just sayin’.)

Training is based on the principle that reinforcing operant behavior makes it more likely to be repeated. Simple example:

Getting a dog to sit for his food bowl is easy. Every time you feed the dog a meal, you’ll be reinforcing that behavior. That means that every successful rep will make it more likely that the dog will sit next time you put down the food bowl.

Does that mean that you could take the dog into Disneyland and expect him to plop his butt down for his food bowl? Nope. When you go to Disneyland, you’ve added a whole new element: competing reinforcers (and punishers).

In a lab (or a home!), it’s pretty easy for a trainer to control the reinforcers and punishers because they control the environment. In the “real world,” trainers have a LOT less control over what’s happening, which means there are other factors influencing the dog’s behavior.

If you took that dog to Disneyland, he would be influenced by the adrenaline coursing through his system, by the strange scents, by children running and yelling, and by the unusual sights — like someone dressed up as a giant mouse! Unless the dog is starving, he won’t give a flip about his food bowl, nor about your sit cue. Frankly, he probably won’t even HEAR your sit cue.

So does that mean you can’t get a dog to sit for his food bowl in Disneyland? Of course not. It means you have to break down the problem, and address the factors systematically and gradually. It is HARD WORK to do this, particularly when you can’t control all of the factors during training and can’t predict all of the factors.

Training isn’t easy. Getting competition-quality behaviors, consistently and reliably, in a competition venue is VERY hard. Getting those same behaviors at great distance is harder still. I am impressed to no end by trainers who do accomplish this — but there are trainers out there proving every day that it CAN be done. I’m even more impressed when they do it without relying on aversives.

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Toys, Toys, TOYS!

My dogs have a lot of toys, most of which are shredded, de-stuffed, de-squeaked versions of their former selves. Dead stuffies. Old bones. Frayed tug ropes. All of it filthy from being buried, dug up, and buried again.

Since the new baby is coming, I decided to do something radical and replace all their old toys. Jay and I went on an enthusuastic (and expensive) shopping spree at PetSmart and bought way too many cool things. The dogs watched with wide eyes as I stood at the kitchen table and removed allll the associated tags and packaging.

Next came the painful part. I took a giant, contractor-size garbage bag to the dog room and went through their toy box. The wide eyes grew very worried! Undamaged toys were tossed back in the toy box. Everything else went in the trash. (I could barely lift the bag when I was done!)

Then, finally, the fun part. I loaded myself up with all the new toys, brought them downstairs, and dropped them in a pile in the middle of the dog room. Dog heaven! Pax and Pflouff didn’t know what to do with themselves. This one! No — I meant this one! Oh, oh, this one too! Pax is especially attracted to a cow that moos when he bites it. (He was less impressed by the frog’s ribbits.)

I’m not going to leave all those toys available all the time. A few puppy-sized toys will be set aside for special play with River. I’ll leave a few of the favorite types in the dog room, and then the rest are going in a drawer. Each morning, I’ll let each dog choose one toy to have for the day. I’ve done this in the past, and it has worked beautifully. It’s amazing how carefully they choose, and how valuable a trip to the toy-drawer becomes.

Here are a few pictures from this morning’s joy. No good pics of Pflouff, I’m afraid. Just as well — she desperately needs grooming.

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Whoops — Working out the bugs

I apologize to subscribers for the multiple posts.

I’m learning to use WordPress, I completely forgot about subscribers when I was playing with code and updating that post over and over. I won’t do that again!

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First puppy update

I got a whole slew of pictures from Dawn, River’s breeder. In the pictures with more than one pup, River is the small black one with not-so-curly hair. My favorite picture is this one:

Isn’t that the quintessential puppy pic? Little shark teeth. I’m sure I’ll be calling him “Demon Seed” before he has been here a week. Rest of the pictures are at the bottom of this post.

(I’m madly in love with this beautiful boy, and I haven’t even met him yet!)

Work has been CRAZY as the launch approaches, and I’ve been working long hours. Still, I’ve managed to do a few things to get ready for my little prince.

I signed him up for a puppy obedience class at The Dog Works in Monroe. I don’t know anything about the place, but it looks like they use positive methods. The class isn’t a true puppy kindergarten, unfortunately, but young puppies do have an opportunity to interact in play group. The class starts September 10, which gives me plenty of time to get him started myself before class.

I signed back on to a couple of mailing lists and printed out a fresh list of Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels spreadsheet. I LOVE Training Levels and highly recommend it!

I’ve bought a bunch of new DVDs. I don’t have a list in front of me, but off the top of my head…

  • The Pre-Sports Puppy
  • Focused Puppy
  • Training a Retriever Puppy with Bill Hillman
  • Training Retrievers Alone
  • The Art and Science of Handling Retrievers
  • Retriever Training Problems and Solutions

I’m probably going to get the Games DVD for the Control Unleashed book, but I haven’t ordered that yet. No idea when I’m going to have time to watch all these!

I haven’t worked on the novel. That isn’t because of the puppy though. I’m working long hours, and I’m EXHAUSTED when I’m done each day. I just don’t have it in me to write or do anything particularly creative at that time. I’ve worked on this site a little, but it’s an entirely different kind of brain work — and it’s done a few minutes here, a few minutes there.

Speaking of the blog, I’m happy with the main page. I haven’t worked at all on the pages that the links at the top of the page open though. Too tired! I’ll get it done eventually.

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Site update

I’m making some updates to my Web site.

First, I’ve decided to use WordPress as the back end for the blog. All of the old blog posts in each area — general news, current projects, and menagerie — have been uploaded into the WordPress blog. You can access the posts by category, or by tag if you want to read posts on certain subjects. I’ll update the sub-pages of the site to give overviews of the topics, rather than blog posts. The Menagerie page, for example, will have updated pages and pictures for each of the animals.

A nice addition that WordPress makes possible is RSS subscription. You can subscribe to the feed, and the posts will come to you automatically. (I, personally, can’t live without my Google Reader!)

The look of the site will be changing a bit too. I would love to keep the look of the site exactly as it is, but I may have to compromise a bit to work the WordPress code into it.

My goal is to have all the changes made before the puppy comes home at the end of August!

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