So far in this series I’ve used a metaphor to explain the complex and interrelated nature of behaviors and behavior chains – behavioral problems are knots made out of little strings of behavior. This metaphor fits the confusion and frustration that we experience when trying to solve problems with our dogs. It also brings into focus the give and take nature of working through trouble behavior and of learning in general.
Yea, the knot thing is an apt metaphor, as are the strings, but we’ve already said that, haven’t we?
There are a couple of phrases I use a quite a bit, and think about quite a bit more, that also fit within this metaphor, and they are Pulling the String and the Common Thread.
I am going to continue to stretch this metaphor and cover some less tangible behavioral strings that are precursors and requirements for engagement, interaction, and drive management. Oh, and I’ll talk about the Give too…
Needless to say when working on untying a behavioral knot like failure to drop, running away with the object, or mauling or something like that, your Rate of Reinforcement will suffer. Tug on that string, and this one loosens or tightens, that’s how knots work
Yesterday’s piece was about how solving behavioral problems is kind of like untangling knots. Today I’m going to talk about the strings that make up the behaviors and how they can be used as well as what happens to other strings when you tug on them with bitework.
We try to maintain a Rate of Reinforcement of about 15-30 CPM (cookies per minute) in early learning and significant distractions. The proper Rate of Reinforcement is whatever is required to maintain the behavior. You can always back off once the behavior is happening and has enough value.
I ran across this great article on Clickertraining.com. This is how it’s done. It’s a long article written by Clint Matthews about overcoming an early adolescent fear that was having an impact on their hunting/gun dog performance in 15 short clicker training sessions:
Gus, a three-year-old German shorthaired pointer (GSP), is fearful of our truck. Gus shows undesirable body language (tucked tail, head lowered, and slinking movement) in the general vicinity of the truck and in the garage. He knows when it is time to go to the truck—when I go out into the backyard on Saturday mornings to take him to the truck, he shows the same body language. Gus especially dislikes the long hallway that leads from the kitchen to the garage because he knows the truck is right behind the door!
Metaphors and analogies in general often distort our thinking in hidden ways, by drawing attention disproportionately to what fits and obscuring what doesn’t get highlighted in the analogy. As Einstein noted, “we should make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The question is whether some of your favorite metaphors for thinking about complex subjects, such as the economy, leadership, joint ventures, team work, or competition actually offer you flawed or simplistic analogies.
While the article is about politics and economics for the most part, the underlying premise that our metaphors shape our understanding and behavior in profound ways is totally applicable to dog training. Check it out, it’s quite interesting.
Metaphors are Powerful Tools
In our business, teaching people to do cool things with their dogs, we rely on metaphor all the time to communicate complex ideas.
Disc Dog sequences and routines are just long behavior chains. Dog Frisbee is just dog training with a slightly different focus. It’s easy to forget that. When you’re talking about how shapes and patterns develop, the Xs and Os, it can be helpful to fall back on what you know about dog training.
Xs and Os are large part Reward Placement. How and where you place rewards affects the patterns your dog runs and how he runs them.
Disc dogger’s have a problem. We all want to play this game so darned much that it’s hard to remain consequent and focused on the component skills that build our game.
Once your dogs start to approach the realm of performance potential, it becomes hard to balance the success of your dog with your expectations and the performance requirements of the game. Performance requirements overwhelm you. This is classic putting the cart before the horse behavior and can be very detrimental to a team’s long term potential.
This problem really shows itself with Type A people – goal setters, achievers, overachievers, highly competitive folk… Process or, “How is it happening? What do I need to do to make it better?” often gets overwhelmed by performance, “It’s Happening! It’s Happening! More! What’s next?”
A vault is nothing more than isolation of and manipulation of collection. Handlers who have dogs that vault BIG but leap small from the ground have a training problem, not a dog problem.
Odds are that this training problem is the result of pattern training. Many teams start playing with pattern trained behavior chains that are bad for leaping on the run from the ground. Go around and run like heck chasing the target. They do this for a couple of months or years and then the handler says,”My Dog just doesn’t jump, :-( ” and then move on to other, more fun and productive areas of the game, like set up moves, flipping, and vaulting.
The dog then winds up being good at all of the rest of the skills in the game, but not that leaping part, after all, ”He’s just not a leaper…”
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a bit of a word nerd.
Framing is a concept that is active in our daily communication and it is a powerful tool for effective and meaningful communication. A Frame sets up the confines of understanding. Simply switching frames can lead to an entirely different understanding even though the situation or the topic at hand remains unchanged.
When it comes to positive dog training, the dominant understanding, the frame that we all tend to use is “Payment” or “Reward”.
Now this might not seem important to you or it might seem perfectly fine – it’s cut and dried. “So, why should I care?”
So far we have been thinking of Bitework in the context of a game.
Sometimes when we take that zoomed out view we mistake the forest for the trees. Our Bitework game, at the base level, is reinforcement, the game itself. Sure we isolate things and focus in on them, but the power is in the game, right?
Most of the behaviors that we create with our dogs are really chains of small concepts and chains are only as strong as their weakest link. Dog trainers and dog sport handlers need to be able to break down complex behaviors, isolate the weak concepts and mark and reinforce them to make them stronger. We also need to be able to tear behaviors apart if we are going to create an efficient plan for teaching them.
Bitework for behavior requires quite a bit more than simply fighting your dog for control of an object. That kind of bitework will give you nothing but problems. What we want to do is set up clear and consistent rules for this game.
There are only 3 rules, and as long as the rules are followed the game continues. Breaking the rules is cheating, and the game will slow down or stop for as long as the situation requires
Apryl and I have had the pleasure to work with Sue Sternberg both as a student and as instructors. She’s an amazing lady and her tireless and well documented work with rescue dogs is something to be admired.
Here’s a great site for some much needed information on canine behaviors.
It is hosted by the University of Iowa and was written by: Brittan Barker, Joy Kreider, Jessie Peissig, Greta Sokoloff, Maura Stansfield.
I’ve used this glossary for about 5 years now when I need a definition. It’s easy to navigate and simple to understand using language that seems just a little bit less mumbo-jumbo-ish than many of the other resources that I’ve ran across on the net.
Feel free to add your favorite resource in comments below.
When working with Multiple Dogs, how we mark is important. One of the things we like to do at Pawsitive Vybe is to use a finger point to mark behaviors.
The above video is a demonstration of the Finger Point Mark. It’s real nice for keeping the dog’s focus on the handler and for silently marking behaviors.
Conditioning the Finger Point Mark
This is no different from conditioning the Positive Marker or the Clicker. If we want to be boring we can point then feed the dog, establishing a consequent relationship – the Point happens then comes the cookie. All you do is substitute pointing with your index finger for the click or verbal,”Yes!”
We can also mark Attention (unsolicited eye contact) and reinforce with a cookie. This is the preferred method of charging the marker at Pawsitive Vybe.
Of course we can just start freeshape it by simply using it in a multiple dog freeshaping session.