There’s a great big world out there.

What is reinforcing for your dog?

Treats, toys, play?

What about barking, or any of the dog’s bad habits?

Think about it!  When a dog barks at someone from the front window, they walk away.  Now you may say: it was just the mailman walking by, he was going to the next house anyway.  But, could your dog perceive their barking made the mailman leave?  Yes, they can, they can think their action drove the situation and have motivation to do it again.

So what do we do?  Operant conditioning, “is a form of learning in which an individual’s behavior is modified by its consequences”, a term keyed by B.F. Skinner in 1937. Operant conditioning teaches us that the outcome drives the behavior.  So what can we do to manipulate the outcome?  Within Operant Conditioning, there are 4 components: Positive Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, Negative Punishment, and Positive Reinforcement.  Let’s explore these a little further, by using the same example: the barking dog, and the mailman.

In positive punishment you might arm the mailman with a squirt bottle or you might have your dog wear a shock collar.  The dog is squirted or shocked for barking, and eventually the dog may realize that the result of the bark is: the addition of this adverse stimulus.

Negative reinforcement might take the form of asking the mailman to stay in front of the window until the dog is quite, then once the dog is quite the mailman can leave.  The idea is to remove an adverse stimulus as a desired behavior is reached, eventually a dog may realize the quickest way to make the mailman leave is to never bark to begin with.

In negative punishment the dog makes a choice to bark, and as a consequence you draw the blinds or send the dog to a crate. The idea is taking away the stimulation after the incorrect choice has been made, so the dog will learn that he’s only allowed to look out the window when he doesn’t bark at the mailman.

In positive reinforcement you allow the dog to bark, but reward for the quiet, so that the dog learns the reinforced behavior is being quiet, and he/she can earn the right to rewards, by maintaining the quiet.  Another side benefit is that the big and scary mailman doesn’t seem as bad, if he’s associated with great treats.

So why do we promote positive reinforcement while learning at the Academy above the other training methods?

  1. We like dogs to think: The dog must decide its course of action, without coercion.
  2. Transfer of value: With a history of positive reinforcement the dog will take joy in their trained activity.
  3. Owner/Handler Bond: This is the best way to build trust, and joy in the relationship.

Ultimately, remember that training is a continual process.  Reinforce the behaviors that you want, and be patient, all training takes time.

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The Space Between: Dog and Handler’s Journey to Trialing

As students, when we begin training, Obedience and/or Agility, many of us envision the day that we start competing.  Our expectations are high; we picture perfect runs, complete understanding, and no mistakes. Well, as novice competitors, or even experienced competitors with novice dogs, this rarely happens.

We think about the skills of weave poles, or heeling sequences and try to perfect them in class. Yet, even with the understanding of these skills, there is still a large divide between our training classes and actually getting out and competing.

From the dog’s perspective everything is different at the trial: the location is different, there are different dogs, different people, commotion, rewards aren’t allowed in the ring, there’s a ring crew and a judge. “Oh, and that smell over in the corner, it’s just calling my name.”

From the person’s perspective there are a couple of big differences: 1. We start to worry about what can go wrong. 2. Expectation and yearning for the ribbon or qualifying creep in.  In class, we don’t have much pressure, we don’t get as wrapped up in ourselves, in a word, in our first few trials, we can get nervous.

So, how do we start to get the reality to look more like our dream state? What can take the pressure off us, and our dogs?

Trialing, like in all things, the way to reduce the number of possible outcomes, is to reduce the number of variables.  So, for my first trial I’ll make an announcement “Okay spectators, it’s my dog’s turn; please proceed to your nearest exit”?  Unfortunately, that is not an option, but being dog trainers, we can help our dogs to generalize behaviors.

“How do I know if my dog can complete a see saw, while another dog is barking?” To have comfort in how your dog will react, and work in a different environment, you have to give your dog a level of exposure, and help them to understand: it is your (the handler’s) expectation that I (the dog) maintain my trained behaviors.  Mistakes don’t mean failing or punishment, they just mean that the dog may need to be reminded of their job, the dog may need more reinforcement value for the behavior, or they need more training because they don’t truly understand what’s expected.

So where do you go to fill this gap?  The Academy and other dog training facilities offer Show and Goes or Fun Matches, which help with the steps between classes and trialing.  These events offer more of a trial atmosphere, but the comfort of knowing you can still train and reward if that’s what is more beneficial for you/your dog.   And rehearsals of success are what we want, as a team team, before our first or next trial.

The Show and Go is also good for the handlers, because there may be more expectation than in class, but not as much pressure as a formal trial.

Why would you go to a show and go where you train?  Environmental changes aren’t all physical location.  Show and Goes at the Academy aren’t limited to its members/students; they are open to the training community at large.  This opens you and your dog up to those same changes in environment discussed earlier, and the same potential to have positive rehearsals and to halt behaviors which could represent negative rehearsals if un-remedied.  And you can do this all before the day you step into your first competition ring.

When should a dog/handler team start to attend show and goes/fun matches?  The best time to start is dependent on the dog and the handler.  The basics that should be present before the team enters an event are: 1. The dog should understand at least some of the obstacles/behaviors. (This is not the best environment to train a completely new behavior to your dog.  If your dog doesn’t know it, skip it.) 2. You can generally maintain control of your dog in your normal training environment. (An uncontrolled dog running around a ring is a rehearsal of unwanted behavior.  The more times the dog rehearses this behavior, the harder it will be to train the correct behavior.  This is not to say that you cannot have connection session with you dog, and foster that relationship /increase focus through play, tug, or treats. )

Now you think you’re just about ready to compete: talk to instructors or people who compete at the Show and Goes or at the Academy in general.  They can give you advice, and stories that let you know, none of us are perfect.  Once your done having a laugh with them, they can let you know where and when they compete in trials, so you can check it out with your dog.  You should make any trip to a trial a positive experience for you/your dog.  Think, lots of treats/play, and basic cues over the course of a small amount of time.

Finally, you’ve done everything, it’s time to trial.  Trust your dogs and your training.  Don’t measure your success with your outcome.  At my first trial, the only expectation I set is: I will ensure my dog, Kody will not visit the judge or ring crew.  My first weekend was a success, not because my dog qualified in 3 of 4 events, or he received 3 ribbons for placing in his classes, but because we as a team reached the goal I had set going in.  Also, don’t be afraid of or beat yourself/your dog up for the failures either, they are only learning experiences.  In those same qualifying runs, I gave late and muddled cues which confused my dog, and he missed behaviors he knows in his sleep, because of his over-arousal, but we continually re-grouped, got through, and made a few more points for our future training list.

While your first trial may not be the thing of beauty you dream of in those early days of training, you can set yourself up for success through generalizing behaviors, and environmental exposure.

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Sharing the First Newsletter

Hi Everyone,

Just wanted to share the Academy’s New Newsletter. If you did not receive it via email, and want to be added to the distribution, send an email to me directly

Hope you ENJOY!!!

Academy times July 2012 Issue 1

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Welcome to The Academy of Dog Training’s New Blog

Hi Everyone, 

In an effort to keep everyone informed about what’s going on at the Academy, relaying  information and discussion topics, the Academy will now be branching out and utilizing a blog.  

Please feel free to let us know any topics you would like discuss via this forum, as well as any feedback you may have.

Thank you from,

The Academy 

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