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Denise Fenzi
29 Aug

Motivation - Part 1

Posted by dfenzi in Musings

Some days there is so much information to be shared about a topic that when I start to write, I end up with a great big mess. A  jumble of ideas lead to other ideas, and to other ideas and next thing you know, I want to write a book.  And having just finished a book with Deb Jones, I'm not ready - not even close - to taking up a new book topic.

Today's head jumble has been caused by the topic of Motivation.  I can't find a way to start since there is so much to say, so I'm not even going to try.  Instead, I'll break the topic up into tiny pieces over time and try to post over the next few months.

For now, I've decided to start at the end and work back towards the beginning.

Here is a video of Lyra working on her positions over two days - there are four options for cues - sit and down (verbal) ; sit and down (hand signal).

Criteria varied over the three lessons, but included a combination of verbal commands, hand signals, and increased distance/position from the gate.

Consequences also varied.  A minor consequence was a delay of a few seconds before repeating the cue.  A major consequence  was not allowing her into the pool area for about ten seconds - you can see how she reacts to being left out on the first video.

I have included a random assortment of successes and failures on the videos.  I can tell you that she went from about a 10% success rate to about 70% over the three sessions.  We also increased distance from about three feet to ten or fifteen feet.  In a twenty minute session, she probably spent 80% of that in the pool area and 20% working with me.

For Lyra, "pool" training is about much more than impulse control; it's about motivation.  Lyra cannot open that pool gate.  If she wants to enter, she has to go through me - whatever I ask her to do.  I will increase my expectations and range of cues slowly and over time.  I will also vary where she performs the behavior.  I hope that I will have her working in the training yard - for a chance to swim- by the time this swim season is over.  That gives me about six weeks.  If we don't make it then that's fine too.  She's a young dog and her responses to training will set the pace.

Until last week, I had nothing; nothing that mattered so much to Lyra that she would keep trying.  Withholding classic toy and food rewards didn't matter to her, which makes training a very delicate thing indeed.  Now I have something that she cares about, and I can control access to that thing.  That is the definition of a motivator - something your dog wants and that they will work to get.

This is an example of using a 'life' reward rather than a "classic' reward.  I won't call it pre-mack, because ALL R+ dog training is pre-mack, so it adds nothing to the conversation.  The pre-mack principle simply says that if an organism has to do a behavior to get something they want, it makes the behavior more likely to happen.  So...if you have to eat your veggies to get ice cream, it makes the act of eating veggies more likely.  If you have to sit to get a piece of liver, it makes sitting more likely.  If you have to play tug to get a cookie, it makes tugging more likely.  Pre-mack is also called grandmother's law:  If you eat your veggies you get a cookie.  It is worth noting, however, that there is nothing in the pre-mack principle that says the dog (or child) will be more likely to ENJOY the behavior that they must perform to earn the preferred motivator.  Indeed the opposite seems to be more likely in studies of children who are bribed to to eat.  (there is a message in there but I wont' get into it right now)

Now I have something that matters so much that withholding the reward drives frustration to the point that I'm able to insist on effort.  Lyra is trying hard, probably for the first time in her life.  Most people get that easily by withholding a cookie or a toy, but Lyra doesn't care enough about cookies or toys to tolerate any frustration over their loss.

I can teach most behaviors even with a low value motivator, which is how Lyra has learned most of her cues.  But driving precision - high level precision - requires a dog that will stay in the game even when they have to put out real effort, and I may have a way to get that now.

Will this get us in the ring?  No.  Getting behaviors and ring readiness are different concepts, though they are linked.   I'm not there yet;  first I need a seriously motivated dog that is driven to learn what I want to teach.  I'll deal with the ring readiness issues later.

I hope to do several posts on the topic of Motivation.  It is deeply intertwined with many other concepts that appear to be misunderstood, so be patient with me.  Let's see what I can come up with over the next several months.  And anyway, there's some 'on the job' learning going on here - Lyra's job is to force me to look in new directions, and she's proving to be quite good at that.

If you're past the stage of teaching behaviors and want to prepare your dog to compete, then check out my new online class starting in October.  It's called "Bridging the Gap; Reducing reinforcers, Proofing and Generalization".   And it's about....Reducing reinforcers, proofing and generalization:).   I have so much to say about this topic that it's a two part class - sign up and you'll take the class from October to February - with a two week break in the middle.  You get to pay twice as much as for the other classes at the academy because it will run for two sessions.   If that is something you need, then check it out here: http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/courses/203

26 Aug

Interview with Nick

Posted by dfenzi in Musings

Today I took Lyra out for some personal play time.  No toys.  No food.  Just me and a dog.

That, however, didn't last long, as I was joined by my sons.  One proceeded to take over my jumps for his personal fitness training and the other....became a magnet for the dog I was trying to train.

Some days it's hard to be a mom.

But wait, there's more!

I noticed that what I wanted from Lyra, specifically, that she would ask me for some personal attention, was exactly what she was doing for Nick, even though he was not really encouraging her.

Now, he wasn't discouraging her either.  When she came over, he'd absent mindedly pet her head, and then she flopped to the ground for a nice belly rub.  He gave her that.  I commented that he was getting better interaction out of her than I was, and I needed that for training.  I encouraged him to play with her or train her, so that I could watch.  And he did.

And you know what?  They showed moments of brilliance together.  So I went and got the video camera and then I decided to interview Nick to get a sense of how he approached his training/play time with Lyra.  While the video camera took something away from their interaction, there's enough left to be worth showing.  This blog is his response to my questions.  If you watch and read carefully, there is a good deal to be learned from this twelve year old.

Note who drives the interactions.

Note how he selects the motivator he uses.

Note where his  attention lies the entire time he works with her.

Note who takes responsibility for failures.

Note the genuine praise and approval for her successes.

Note his response to her failures.

Note her attitude.

How did you get Lyra to play with you?

I just pet her when she comes over.  And then I quickly called 'heel' and tried to walk her around a little bit.  She followed.  After a little while, when I felt that she deserved a reward, I petted her.  Gave her a belly rub.  Then worked with her a little more.

2)  What did you do when she walked away?

I clapped twice and called her name.  She reacts well to this.  I also have to use a high pitched voice.  My mom taught me this awhile ago and I've adapted it to my own needs (for example, getting the dogs out the door when mom wants them out.)

3)  How did you decide when she had worked long enough?

Two ways.  If I felt that she had done something hard (like I had done a weird twist or she had come back from a distraction), I felt she deserved a reward.  The second way was when she wasn't working quite as well.  If I pet her she'd come back back up again.

4)  So. you're saying you'd use the rewards to revitalize her so she could work more?

Yes. that is correct.

5) How long did you work with her?

About five or ten minutes.

6) DId you think that was about the right length of time?

I think she could have gone longer but....she was starting to be distracted more easily and she didn't seem so interested in being petted anymore; I think I had worn petting out a bit.

7) How did you pick the reward?

I didn't have any toy or food, so that was out.  And every time I'd pet her, I just pet her as I always do.  Rub her back, or I would rub the top of her head a bit.  Or I'd rub her neck but then she thinks that means belly rub.  She had to make a choice to flop over, so she must really want a belly rub.  So...I gave her one.

8)What did you do when she picked up the bone?

The fist time I used it as a replacement as a toy - I threw it.  The second time I let her carry it while she worked because it seemed to make her happy but this distracted her from her work so she started just lying down and eating it.  So I took it away and replaced in with a dumbbell that I could throw but she would have no reason to try and eat it.

9) Did you do anything else besides rub her head and body?

Yes.  I talked to her in a happy voice and I ran with her because she likes that too.
Thanks Nick.

20 Aug

Impulse Control

Posted by dfenzi in Musings

Unlike my prior dogs, Lyra has had almost no impulse control training.  That's because she rarely wants anything badly enough to experience the conflict between cooperating with me or taking what she wants directly.    The things that Lyra wants badly enough to create conflict are things I do not wish to build her interest in by allowing her to indulge - examples are chasing dogs and squirrels.

Lyra's cooperative nature is a problem.  Since she is naturally cooperative and compliant, I don't have opportunities to show her that it is in her best interest to cooperate with me.  Then when I do find myself in a training situation that creates a high level of arousal, such as herding (which I'm contemplating for her), I'm setting myself up to fail when I ask her for control.

For a trainer who wants to use positive reinforcement techiques (R+), developing internal self control in exchange for access to motivators is absolutely essential, especially when the sport you are interested in allows the dog to be self reinforced even when they are uncooperative.  Herding, field work and protection all come to mind - the dog works at a distance from the handler; normally off leash and close to the thing they want (decoy, birds or sheep).  They can easily ignore the handler and still be gratified by whatever it is that they wanted. Use of artificial aids such as leashes or compulsive devices such as e-collars work great - when the dog is wearing them.  I'm not interested in controlling her; I need her to control herself.

Contrast this with agility or obedience, where the handler can simply remove access to the food and toys.  It is much easier to control motivators in performance events than in working sports.

Now, those are extremes; all sports have elements that are easier or harder to control but you should be able to get the basic picture.

Last week I saw the beginnings of an opportunity.

Lyra's interest in playing in the pool area has been growing dramatically; so much so she is beginning to scream uncontrollably when she realizes that it's time to swim.  My opportunity has arrived; I can control access to the pool through the pool gate, and I don't mind if I'm building her love of swiming.  Bingo!

The rule are simple and cumulative.

1.  Lesson one.  Sit/stay and look where you wish,  and I'll open the gate.  Unfortunately this one is not on tape.  This was the most dramatic lesson of all since it took several minutes to get the first sit.  That's ok; I'm patient.

The following four lessons are on tape, in their entirety, including a major mistake on my part in the second lesson.  By the fourth lesson, the amount of thinking and self control that she is expressing is self evident.

Note that the total training time is only a few minutes here, plus a few additional minutes on the first day.

If I want to take this further (which I will), I will work this program with each dog separately, asking them to wait for their name to go through the gate.  When each dog can do this individually, I'd bring two dogs to the gate together, and release them one at a time.

You can apply this method - patiently waiting for the dog to make the right choice, anywhere you need it.  It beats hitting, yelling and shocking, and has much better long term results, since each time the dog performs correctly the training is reinforced.  Methods based in punishment erode over time because the dog isn't experiencing the punisher unless they are wrong - all animals learn much faster by being right than by making mistakes.  Methods based in reward (access to the pool) become stronger over time since each success reaffirms to the dog that their decision was rewarded.

Note:  In the first video, I take Lyra by her scruff to prevent her from going through the gate.  This is not a correction; it's simply management - I need to get one dog in and it's the easiest method for keeping her out.  If you can't tell if this is a correction or not, simply watch for her response.  She could care less.

And...strictly for entertainment...this is what Raika does when she gets into the pool.  This never ceases to amaze me:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CC__dVAj9eY

12 Aug

Lyra's second Fun Match

Posted by dfenzi in Musings

Today I was good!  I took Ms. Lyra to a fun match so she could practice her "Ring Confidence" and "Environmental Comfort" skills.

In case someone might find it educational to see the value of matches with a young dog,  I'm posting a link to our time in the ring.  I used her favorite toy, which she has not seen for a week.  I hope she associates that with the ring since she has not had it at home in awhile.

What I learned today:

1).  She was flatter in the ring than she is at home - I need to do more generalization. No surprise there.

2)  She's not comfortable heeling in the corners of rings.  I did not expect that.

3)  She hasn't got a clue about the Retrieve Over High Jump outside of my front yard.

4)  She needs a lot of work on her stand for exam (I want my dog to watch me during the exam).

On the plus side

1) she looks happy and secure most of the time.

2)  She stayed mostly engaged for seven minutes.  For Lyra that's a record.

3)  She did the broad jump - she's never seen one away from home.

4) She played reasonably good tug - that suggests that she was feeling comfortable in the environment.

All in all a good day.  I must do more!

If you wish to take a class on Ring Confidence (or any other class that I offer at Fenzi Academy), you have until Thursday the 15th to sign up:  http://www.fenzidogsportsacademy.com/index.php/schedule-and-syllabus

06 Aug

Happy 2nd Birthday Lyra!

Posted by dfenzi in Musings

Lyra turned two years old yesterday, so it seemed fitting to post a video of our training.  I took this video for a class I'll be teaching in October, but it can serve two purposes.

Here's a five minute clip, start to finish, of our morning training.  I'm specifically working on reducing her reinforcement schedule.  To do this I substitute a dumbbell retrieve (preferred exercise) about half the time I have the urge to reward with a toy (preferred motivator).

Finally, I end the session with her least favorite exercise; scent discrimination.  That exercise is rewarded with a classic toy, since I want to increase her enthusiasm for the task.

At home, the focus of Lyra's training has two overall goals - reducing or even eliminating classic reinforcers and teaching the few remaining basic behaviors that she'll need for competition.

Away from home, the goal of Lyra's training is developing her ability to work under environmental distraction.

Eventually, those two goals needs to merge - to compete she'll need to be able to work away from home with a reduced or non-existent classic reward schedule.

And before we compete, I'll need to add in those picky bits that allow for a high score in competition - polishing her accuracy and teaching Lyra the actual exercises and not just the pieces.  Once she knows them, I'll go back to the games that we are playing now and then we'll see about entering a few shows.  Optimistically, that will take place when she is three years of age.


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