More on Training

Another in our randomly ongoing self-and-reader directed series on thoughts about training -- as well as a plumpie update later...

There are different ways to train a dog -- many are mindless and involve force. Further, I believe many trainers never stop to think about the (in)effectiveness of their methods, or the way their own personal insecurities and sense of ineffectiveness in the world are wrapped up in the way they train a dog.

Until one has studied behavioral theory I suppose ignorance is understandable -- it is just always too bad when people (including me!) are unaware of what they do not know. Behavioral theorists have spent decades studying how animals and people learn -- and it is actually pretty straightforward: reinforce behaviors you want more of, ignore behavior you want less - and train alternative behaviors for undesired behaviors. Remember -- a dog cannot engage in undesired behavior if she is busy engaging in desired behavior.

You will hear people say, "I can't let my dog get away with that!" Why not? Will the world end if a puppy jumps up, or the dog runs around the jump, or pulls on a leash? Dog training is a process -- not an event. And this is exactly why I do not participate in group obedience training -- it makes my head hurt to see such stupidity and meanness all wrapped up in one giant jerk -- on the dog's collar, of course...

Harper jumps on me -- so what? I know how to handle it effectively -- after all -- I *teach* behavioral theory at the graduate level. I ignore her and instead I notice all the times when she is not jumping up and I give her a cookie for that. Gee -- pretty soon she is sitting in front of me all the time -- imagine that! My dog runs around a jump -- well obviously I did not train that well enough so I need to go back a few steps. Dog pulls on a leash? Clearly that is more reinforcing than a loose leash -- stupid me for not making loose leash walking more reinforcing!

An undesired behavior is *not* the dog getting away with something or pulling a fast one on us -- that kind of thinking reflects subjective personal processes and feelings that get in the way of being effective with dogs -- and with people. An undesired behavior is simply that -- an undesired behavior -- and not anything more.

Behavioral theory provides tools we need to effectively train a dog -- how we apply it is both art and a reflection of our own internal processes. For many, the need to feel in control trumps implementing effective training techniques. In other words, for some it is more important to prove a personal sense of efficacy at that moment than to build a relationship, and train in proven ways that create desired behavior over time.

In addition to knowledge, I think one has to train with a "clean soul" -- for example, the other night I was working with Zoey and felt a sense of frustration creep up on me because her front wasn't exactly perfect -- so I ended the session (with some happy play) right at that moment. And it wasn't because I wanted perfect and that is wrong -- I do want and expect perfect -- but it was because frustration meant the session had become about me, and that is wrong.

In my opinion, good training implements established techniques, and maintains a collaborative attitude at all times. It does not involve "proving" anything to anyone else -- including the dog. Dog training, in fact, is a way to prove to ourselves who and what we are -- when nobody is watching.

As I mentioned, I am shaping a down with Harper. What this means is that I basically sit there until I get the desired behavior, and then I click and treat. Of course, it is a process of steps but that is the basic idea -- you reinforce the desired behavior and ignore anything else.

This is a picture I just took of Harper quickly offering the down -- I click/treat for the down and then continue to click/treat at variable (but short) intervals to reinforce holding the down. She is released with the release word: "all right". If she gets up before the release word, I do/say nothing -- the only consequence is not earning reinforcement. And I increase the reinforcement rate the next time because if she gets up, it is *my* fault for not appropriately reinforcing the down -- no big deal because it is part of the learning process, but good information for me about how quickly I can -- or cannot -- move along towards the goal.

And yes, we are all getting the puppy fuzzheads going -- I know some like it but Harper will be getting a trim before it gets too bad :)

And that reminds me -- my dogs NEVER EVER go to a groomer. Leave them alone for someone else to do potentially scary things to them?! Not a chance in hell. It is not hard to groom a berner -- we will cover that at Camp Kaibab this summer. Is Camp on your calendar???!!!!!! August 1 - 3 followed by the excellent local agility trial... Kaibab dogs/owners and special friends/relatives are welcome at our annual summer training/fun/float camp!

Auggie Austin Update!!!!

Thank you, Lois and Paul!!!!!

"Auggie continues to be a joy in our hearts.  It is clear how much he likes people and loves to be with us.  He has been going on longer walks which really helps with his energy level since he does not have another dog around all the time to play with.  When people don’t stop to meet him on a walk he just stops and looks at them quite upset that they did not pet him!  He is gentle and sweet when he meets new people – he saves the landshark for those who knows best!  He went to his first dinner party last night and was a little gentleman with everyone.  He too, is showing his grey as is evident in the picture of him in his ‘chair cave’ in the office


He is quite the little character and we are finally beginning to see some of the landshark settle down into a longer periods when we don’t have to be armed with a bully stick for protection!  He has funny imitations.  This is his Lord of the Rings Elven Look.  His ears love to flop back like that and he hasn’t quite learned to shake them back into place yet – if he even notices! 

Till next week………"

These plumpies are getting so big -- and are so darn cute!!!!!





by Ruth on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 07:42

Ok, this time i am not going to delete what i type....I have been going to tell you how I use so many of the training techniques you talk about in my work as a Developmental Specialist. I am continually asking the para-professionals I supervise to ignore the unwanted behaviors..."just ignore it"...."but"..."just ignore it"....then I say...."when s/he does __________ then praise/click!
It is amazing how many times I have read something and thought how i can use this with the kids/techs. So, thanks for
"re-enforcing" what I do. YOU are using Positive Behavioral Supports, and I wish I could take my classes from you. I enjoy your
class/blog on sooo many levels. Thanks M-A!

by Lisa K on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 07:45

Great stuff, M-A! And thank you for the paragraph on 'frustration'. I have learned that if any 'negativity' comes in while training, or if I am having a bad day, and cannot be 100% present/in the moment while training, I just don't do it, or end it. (end it w/play!) For whatever reason I beat myself up for that happening, but when other very successful trainers (you!) mention that it happens to them, it makes me feel better. Not that I wish that on anyone, but when I see Susan G giving us examples of when things don't go so well, or when she feels she has made an error, or whatever, I learn so much from that and don't feel so bad. I am not articulating this very well, but hope you get what I mean? I am my worst critic, for sure. Just my personality, I suppose. Anyway, when you are shaping, and I am working on some shaping stuff right now w/Abby, while you are sitting there waiting, what are you doing while waiting? Where are you looking? Are you still? Are you smiling, hanging out, what? I find that I am not sure what to do while waiting. Sometimes it takes what feels like forever to get the desired behaviour and I am not sure what I am to do while I wait for it?

by Elizabethanne on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 23:01


What behavior/movement are you trying to shape? If you feel like you are waiting for the behavior to happen, it may be that you haven't broken the behavior down into enough small achievable increments. I like to keep the rate of reinforcement very high. Sometimes, the first clickable moment in a shaping session (usually for dogs who are not accustomed to a lot of shaping), is simply looking away from the trainer. As far as where to look, I focus on the pertinent body part. In shaping a tail wag, I look at the tail. In shaping a paw movement, I watch the foot and click even the slightest unweighting of the foot as my first criterion. I taught Charley via shaping back in 1997 after reading Don't Shoot the Dog. At that time, it was pretty common to put the responsibility on the dog to guess what we wanted. Charley could tolerate that style, but not all dogs can. And,even though he could, I see calmer and more thoughtful shaping from him when I use newer "microshapng" techniques. (That's a Kay Laurence term and her methods have truly taken my shaping skills to a whole new level.)

Hope that helps! And I hope you don't mind I responded to your question to M-A. It's just that I live shaping so much that I couldn't help myself! :-)

by Elzabethanne on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 23:03

Meant to write LOVE shaping, but live isn't too far from the truth either. :-)

by Lisa K on Fri, 01/27/2012 - 05:55

Of course I don't mind, I really like your thoughts and M-A speaks very highly of you, so please, respond away! I am currently teaching her to put her paws on these little balance pods. I just got a set of four in and the goal is to get her to stand on all of them at once, and/or on two of the little ones and have the other two paws on a bigger balance pod. She offers me a TON of stuff. I just always go back to thinking I must be doing something wrong, as it 'seems' to take her a long time. But I still consider myself pretty new to a lot of this. I did c/t as soon as she looked at the pod, then when she even moved towards it, then when a toe was on it, etc. I find that if I look at her face, it is too much? But I like your suggestion to look at the body part I am working on. Abby is the most intune dog I have had. I want this to be successful for her and we are kind of going back to basic stuff as of late. I will look up the person you mentioned as well. Thanks so much for the reply!!

by cindy heintzberger on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 09:27

Such a great blog today - so many important things to remember and ponder :)
I love the part about dogs getting away with something - this has always bothered me when people say that! Like their dogs are just sitting around thinking of ways to irritate them - sigh!

by Carol Kracht on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 10:14

Hey! If you bring your Berner to me you can stay and watch or help out! I started grooming so people like us who do not wish to leave their dogs in scary places could come to me and hang out while their dog is being groomed! We have coffee and chat and it is a good thing. I agree- but I also don't let vet techs take my dogs either and I stay with them at the vets too. The vets kind of love/hate me as I know just a bit too much but not enough to do surgery! (Grin) and of course I keep telling them not to send me shot reminders as I am well aware of my limited vaccine status - Thank you very much! No arguing from me on the training- its all good info and we can all learn from one another. Many years and many horse trainers ago, I decided I would watch and learn and then do what I felt comfortable with. I tell all my students that- they should only do what they are comfortable doing -even with me!- I really believe there are many positive ways to raise kids and dogs and some may actually include ask a dog or a kid to do something I want them to do that they may not because it is necessary. I hate training stays for example- just so boring, but I have to do it, so we do it a little at a time and both me and the dog get treats- or wine for me! So I say take all you read and hear in consideration and keep on studying and learning and all will be well.

by Ellen in Missoula on Thu, 01/26/2012 - 15:41

Great description! I've found myself not very motivated to do much obedience (or even agility, my first love) training recently -- love getting together with my friends and socialing afterwards, and while Beckham comes with me, we just hang out and schmooze. I am just not "in" to it, and thus haven't felt right in subjecting Beck to my half-hearted attention. Now I feel better about my choice! I'll get back "in" to it, I always do, and I have a fantastic partner in Beckham.

Post new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.
Contact © 2011 Website built and maintained by G.Sontag.