Handling a Distracted Dog
Rust is pretty distracted here. There is something in the air, for sure. In the background the community garden is in full effect, something that Rust hasn’t seen in about a year — lots of people and kids playing. Rust is not so hip on kids and people gawking at him from a distance.
This kind of situation makes it hard to work on complex behavior chains, as the dog is apt to get distracted between each link in the chain. Rust demonstrates this in spades throughout the first few reps in this video.
The key to handling this is to make sure that you keep the dog engaged, which is often easier said than done. Fortunately it’s only a bit more easy to say than to do in this case.
What is a Cookie?
After the first few reps where Ern was trying to reinforce Rust with actual cookies between each move, you can see that the distraction is still getting to Rust. This is really counterintuitive, but extremely common. A discreet edible cookie often makes staying engaged a difficult task for distracted or nervous dogs. “I got my stuff, now what?” And then the environment crashes down on the dog.
Cookies (food and toys) are good, they are quite motivating, but these discreet cookies pale in comparison to Next is an important feature in a fast paced game. Everything hinges upon Next. If you like the game, then Next is important to you. When a dog loves to play disc Next, the next trick, opportunity, or movement, is a great motivator. Next can be a Cookie. Next can be offered consequently, as positive reinforcement for good behavior, and... More. A food cookie, just a piece of kibble in this case, is a concrete and known variable. “Yea, I earned it, but it’s just a piece of kibble…”
Next is an unknown variable, and in Rust’s experience cookies run the gamut from a pat on the head with a kind word to filet mignon or an opportunity to chase a critter. Next becomes something of great value because it is unpredictable and has great potential — much more potential than some crappy old piece of kibble.
Food and discs are great cookies, Next is the greatest cookie. Teach your dog to work for Next and you have an apt pupil who becomes addicted to learning.
Wait as Cookie
This might be confusing to some trainers, but Waiting on cue and situationally is extremely important for disc dog freestyle training. The competition field might not see too much waiting going on as everything is supposed to be happening in flow, but on the training field there probably is not a more important skill than a Wait. A Wait is critical for flipping and vaulting.... More can totally be used as a cookie. In our training methodology, and in most methodologies, a cued Wait becomes a secondary reinforcer because it always leads to Next and/or something epic.
Offering the cued Wait as a cookie (or using Wait as a marker) helps Ern & Rust stay on task and links each trick together using a combination of the recognition of success and opportunity of Next. It is super powerful stuff. Notice how the Wait offered as cookie seems to glue this sequence together in the last 2 attempts at the sequence.
Syncopation, Drama, and the Pregnant Pause
The last piece of the puzzle for Ern & Rust is to try to syncopate the performance of the sequence to create some drama. The opportunity of Next, the action of each move, and the promise of opportunity of the cued Wait combine to create an interesting rhythm — a rhythm that gets the dog’s head nodding.
Each action is exciting. The pregnant pauses created by the Wait cue makes each action that much more exciting. This creates drama and a tension that the dog wants to resolve. It is interesting and engaging. By the end, Rusty really wants to see what’s Next, so he pays attention to the handler and the task at hand.