Saturday, December 5, 2015

Operant Conditioning and Dog Training

So far I've gotten in 2 training sessions for NoseWork 2.0.

Not NoseWork! Just problem solving with treat puzzles

It's been interesting so far. One of the dogs is VERY quick to catch on with shaping and due to this it is easier to build the skill and duration. The other 2 dogs do not shape well, there was much luring done with their initial training and not much free thinking or problem solving.

Which leads me to think more on operant conditioning and free thinking, such as they are.

You've heard the phrase "Give a man a fish and he can feed himself for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can feed a village for years." (or other variants along those lines.)

Teaching your puppy to think and problem solve is, in my mind, one of the greatest things you can teach them. (Aside from confidence with new and novel situations.)

I think the single greatest thing I've learned from dog training is how to teach the dog how to think and problem solve. It's a skill to be able to break things down so that the dog can understand what I want.

I understand the lure of luring, pun intended. It gets you the behavior now. It also prevents the flailing about and frantic behavior often seen in dogs who are shaped poorly. The dog doesn't understand what the trainer wants and will run through their whole repertoire of "tricks" to try to find what you want. If you're not really careful in how you reward and mark, you build that frantic flinging of behaviors into anything shaped. 

But I digress. That isn't the soap box for today's post. Today is about an operant dog in the most general sense - a dog who cares about what their human thinks and is willing to try something for them for a reward that the human is controlling.

You can have either end of the spectrum.

Baxter is an operant dog who does not think well or problem solve for himself. He will however try what I ask him to do, and if confused by it still "stays in the game" so to speak. He doesn't leave. He just lays down, whines, paws at me because he wants the reward and does not understand how to earn it. He was never taught to "think" - just to try. So the thinking is my job. When he gets something wrong, I need to modify so he can get it right, because he is not going to change what he offers me. He lures very nicely and patterns well, so still very trainable. Just not a thinker.

Spencer is the opposite end of the spectrum from Baxter. He is a thinker. Still an operant dog, however, one who is fearful with some new situations and does not do well with any sort of pressure. He will try, think and problem solve until you apply pressure and then he is gone from the game. He is brilliant at picking up new tricks and behaviors, provided his human has thought this through and has broken the pieces down (splitting) during shaping sessions.

As long as a dog is operant, you can work with that. 

If your dog does not care about the human and the rewards the human controls, now you have a problem. That is my largest challenge. How do you teach that human to create an operant dog? Especially in this culture and age of pet parents and fur babies? 

He/she was abused/had a rough start. We're not home very much. 

Someone could look at Spencer, who I brought home at 8 wks of age and say that he must have been abused. I'm fairly confident he wasn't. He certainly wasn't neglected at 8 wks old. Don't make excuses. Regardless of their background, your dog can still be trained!

Your puppy who has no value in you, their human, does not need to go to the dog park daily. They do not need to run wild and practice ignoring you as an object of absolutely no value in their environment. It's not neglect not to go and it is certainly not mean to prevent access to situations in which you are teaching your puppy to ignore you.

Your dog/puppy should not be overweight or obese. Often that makes using food as a reward hard. 

Control access to fun things. To gain access to the thing they want, the dog needs to cooperate with you. 

Dog wants to go hang out in the yard? Then dog needs to sit and the door and remain sitting while I open it until say they can go. No bolting! Initially, sit for a few seconds, then make it harder.

Good things come from you! Maybe don't have very fun "free toys" in the house. Fun toys only come out when you play with the human. Puppy likes tug on things, like your pant legs? Perfect, teach them to play tug with toys. Tug is an incredibly powerful interactive game to play.

Build value in the human! Put aside 5 minutes every day to PLAY with your puppy/dog. Run around the backyard like a nut. Do puppy push-ups (sit/down/stand) with a handful of their dinner before you feed them. Practice recalls around the house with a handful of their dinner. Teach them self control (not to mob your hand for the food.) 

Start to build a positive relationship with your puppy/dog in which they do something for you and then they get something awesome that they want! Your relationship with your dog, and the ease at which you can teach them new things (even if it is "just" pet manners) will improve so much.

No comments:

Post a Comment