Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How can positive reinforcement be so bad?

As clicker trainers, we practice and preach positive reinforcement. Positively reinforce every behavior you wish to see again and you shall receive. This sounds pretty fool proof, right? isn't that easy. Every once in a while, I come across a client who wants to reinforce a behavior that "kinda" resembled the correct one. "well, Puppy kinda sat" or "Fido kinda came back to me". Sometimes, people think giving their dog reinforcement that wasn't exactly deserved is doing them a favor because "they look so sad" or "I don't want them to get discouraged." Inconsistencies like this can be confusing to any trainee. I can use myself as an example.

Tag Teach is a wonderful way to positively train people! I'm part of a trainer's forum that positively reinforces posts every week. For example, one week the moderator will post "This week's TAG point [the action that will get you positive reinforcement known as a TAG] is 'trim your posts when replying to the forum'". At the end of the week, every one who posted to the forum and remembered to trim their posts will be recognized by the forum moderator. Personally, I love being recognized. I like knowing I've done something right and someone noticed. Lately, however, I've received TAGs for things I've never done. I haven't posted to the forum in two weeks but somehow I've managed to make it on to the weekly listing of people that did something right. Sure, I feel good that my name is on the list. But I've literally spent the last couple days perplexed. Did the moderator make a mistake by posting my name...twice?? Did my posts not go through properly/on time?? Is there someone else by the same name? If that's the case, have we both been improperly recognized this whole time?

The point is this: when you think you are doing something good by giving away "freebies" you could very well be confusing your dog just as my "freebies" confused me. I still don't know what posts were correct. I can't repeat the behavior - even though I know what the moderator asked for, I have no idea what I actuallydid. When training your dog, remember to be consistent. Even if you think they're sad because you think they deserved that treat/toy/praise. If they didn't perform the behavior you're looking for, then they don't get reinforcement. This isn't cruel - it's helpful for the learning process!

Happy Clicking Everyone!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Smooth Transitions

These past few days, there have been significant changes to my household. My sister and her daughter have come to live with us for a while. There are several things I did in preparation: baby gates, cabinet locks, etc. But I didn't pay as much attention to helping my dogs transition as I should have.

B is a dog that has trouble adapting - this I know and have come to love and appreciate. However, I didn't help her much in preparation. I should have had my sister send some of my neice's worn clothes so my dog could smell them. I should have been more committed to watching the toddler shows on TLC so that my dog could get an ear for a screaming/crying/whining toddler on the cusp of her terrible twos. But I didn't. I got complacent. I took for granted the wonderful training my dog has already been through and I just figured I had done the basics and that was enough.

When they arrived, it was a little stressful. I introduced them outside because B is more neutral outside. She did well - letting out a few fearful, unsure barks. I encouraged her socialization by clicking and treating her everytime she touched the shoes of my sister and neice. This calmed her a bit. She gets nervous when I leave the room...B's never had separation anxiety but I feel like it's developing in to that. So I'm trying to combat that very carefully.

Today marks day three of managing the new living environment. B has calmed down significantly...going from barking everytime my neice moved to resting quietly while she walks over to pet her. This has all been a lot of work. A lot of attention, a lot of clicking and treating, and a lot of management. I have to know when B has had enough...when it's time for her to escape to her crate. I have to know when she's reaching aggravated vs. curious vs. frightened. It's my job to make sure her life is as stress-free as possible. Sigh. So far, it's taking a lot of kongs, frozen fruits and rawhides. Stay tuned!