Foodbowl Exercises and Drive
Here are a couple of scenarios:
- Handler makes dog sit at door and wait until released (or until handler has gone through) to exit the door.
- Handler makes dog sit and wait as food is put down. Dog is then released to eat food.
These are two very common tactics for dog trainers and they have benefits but they are like half open Christmas Presents – full of promise, but quite short of the awesomeness that is a fully opened present.
We call these ‘food bowl exercises’ here at Pawsitive Vybe as a short hand term for any ‘self control’ exercise that is managed by the handler and reinforced directly by the object of the dog’s drive.
A food bowl exercise is pretty good at obtaining the target behavior, sitting in front of the food bowl or sitting at the door, but does very little to alter the classically conditioned state of the dog in that situation. In the case of the dog in front of the food bowl, odds are the dog will be drooling. In the case of the door, odds are that the dog’s heart rate and blood flow will be higher than normal. These are classically conditioned responses to the target of the dog’s drive – food and outside.
Skinner Rocks but Pavlov Rules
When Skinner and Pavlov bump heads, Pavlov always wins. What we have set up in the above training scenarios is an operant behavior, usually at the behest of the handler, competing with stimuli that send our dog’s bodies into a classically conditioned tizzy. This is a Skinner vs Pavlov battle and it’s not a winner.
Even if we get the behavior we’re looking for, a good sit at the door, or a good sit in front of the food bowl, we are going to wind up with the classically conditioned state. We win the battle but lose the war. We don’t get the calm we’re looking for because all the dog can think about is what happens after this silly sit behavior is over.
What we need to do in these situations is to reframe them and change what the situation means to the dog.
Doorways Are Staging Areas
If you are currently working your door in similar fashion to the scenario above, a doorway is about going outside, or going inside, or going somewhere. Doorways are staging areas to someplace else. Absent an active handler, you might as well stick a set of drag strip lights outside and let the races begin.
When we do have an active handler, we wind up having a hard time reorienting our dogs because the only thing a door is good for is staging for the next cool place.
So when doorways are Staging Areas, the handler must be active and has to work on both sides of the door to attract the dog’s attention. That sounds like a lot of work to me.
Doorways as Destinations
What we prefer to do is to reframe the door, to change the meaning, from Staging Area to Destination. Once the doorway is a destination, then the dog is happy to hang out there. There is no driving to get outside, no classically conditioned charge to the door because going outside is not the point. The point is hanging out on either side of the door with the handler.
Once the dog believes that a doorway is a destination in and of itself, our job as handlers handling the dog at doorways becomes extremely easy. The dog will act just as they do anywhere else. Does that sound like some kind of magical dream? Welcome to Pawsitive Vybe!
Keys to Reframing the Door
Don’t make the dog sit. Don’t make the dog do anything. Capture Unsolicited eye contact or Attention is a great way to hook up with a dog. If you have something the dog wants he should give eye contact in order to get access to it. This quickly becomes akin to asking permission for things that the dog wants. If your dog offers Attention when they see something they want, most dog... and the Sit will happen. Capture the Release of the Outdoors. Place lots of value on the inside of the door with cookies. Once the dog stops focusing outside and starts focusing on the handler instead, then we consider releasing the dog through the door.
As we release the dog through the door we mark the moment the dog crosses the threshold and the dog will reorient to the handler in the expectation of getting a cookie (Reward for Position). We give them a cookie and then begin to add value to the other side of the door with Attention, There It Is (similar to Look at That) and the Release of the Environment.
That’s it. If you are interested in hearing and seeing more, please leave a comment below. If you understand the lingo and situation, give it a shot.Hat tip: to Julie Jenkins for Skinner Rocks but Pavlov Rules language… to Nate for “Some kind of Magical Dream…” $.10 royalty check is in the mail