Monday, September 3, 2012

Toys. Fading rewards and Building ring behaviours.

We had a great time today spending most of the day out at Wet Noses. Spencer and I are starting to click as a team in the face of distraction, which is good, because he's entered in his first trial in 2 weeks!

It will likely be the last outdoor trial of the season and may be a *little* bit early to begin to trial Spencer. However, I want him to have a good experience at his first couple of trials and outdoors is easier for him. Less weird echos, not so crowded. No dogs that attack the front of their crate when you walk by benched right by the entrance to the arena. Outdoors makes things easier when you're a soft, fragile little dog!

Spencer is also comfortable enough (at Wet Noses at least) to full out play tug with me. The kind of toy obsessive tug that I get at home when my little guy isn't worried about his environment.

What I'm working on right now is fading out the toy being on my person or at least visibly on my person. When we run courses or when we work drills, I usually am holding his toy. So he KNOWS it's there. He doesn't track(stare) the toy as he works, which was a nice side effect of training weaves by 2x2's, but he's anticipating earning it. When he can't see it, he's not as sure about working.

Baxter didn't do this, but then he was training for much longer and I primarily used treats with Baxter, only using his cherished ball to teach that burst of speed at the end through the finish line. Treats build value in a behavior, but toys build drive for it. With Baxter I've had to work on re-building his toy drive due to the focus on food rewards. With Spencer I am working on keeping both toy drive and motivation for food intact during training. Not focusing on the "easy" one to the exclusion of the other.

We've done a lot of small handling drills and double box work so he's used to frequent rewards to create enthusiasm and drive for the behaviors. So I'm lengthening the sequences we run before he earns his toy. We're not up to running a full course without a reward yet. If we're not there by the trial, that's fine, I'll just do partial courses and then have a party with him.

I'm also juicing up nose touches as a rewarding behavior. They're already pretty rewarding, but now I randomly jackpot them as well. Why? So in the event my soft little dog shuts down on a agility course, I can ask for a hugely reinforcing, easy behavior that he loves to do.

Yes, it will get us (me) faults for touching the dog, but it can be my "toy" on the course until we can get off of it to get his reward. It will also enable me to positively influence his frame of mind to get one more obstacle done with focus and enthusiasm so we can get outta there and not reward shut down or other stress behaviors by just leaving. As the truism reads, plan for the worst and hope for the best! It's also just plain fun =D

Just passing by

Where'd it go?

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