Showing posts from 2009

Teach a Dog to Come When Called

Probably the hardest cue for dog owners to train is the recall, or to come when called. Even a prolonged 'stay' isn't as hard to achieve as this holy grail of dog training behaviors. So, why is it so hard for us to teach our dogs to come to us?

Think in terms of reinforcement. What things are you, the dog owner, doing to reinforce your dog's behavior? Keep in mind reinforcement can work many ways, so the subtraction of something fun can reinforce, as well as the addition of something not so fun. Remember: it's not about what you, the dog trainer, thinks is reinforcing; it's what your dog actually perceives HOW she's being reinforced for WHAT she did that matters – especially when training the recall.

We're Actually Teaching Our Dogs NOT to Come
That's right, the majority of the time dog owners are most likely teaching their dogs NOT to come when called.

Take this scenario: dog owner takes dog to dog park. Upon entering dog park, the restricting leash…

Dog Training: Tracking Objects

Dogs with high chase drive (also known as "prey drive" or "ball drive") can actually be very easy to train. K-9 police dogs are trained not with treats for reinforcement, but with special toys or games because they're so motivated to chase.

My American-bred, European-line German shepherd is no K-9, but she does have an excellent nose, a proclivity for tracking and a high chase drive. For exercise, mental stimulation and to work on her "tracking" skills, I often play fetch while making her hunt for her stick after I throw it.

While I merely use this as a simple exercise or training regimen, this aptitude can be used to train dogs to hone their tracking skills in order to sniff out various objects.

To use this method for training purposes, it's imperative to have a dog who's extremely motivated by chasing/tracking. As you can see, although Zada's tongue is hanging out, she's very intent upon her search for the stick. There have only been a…

Free Shaping in Training Dogs

What is Shaping?
'Shaping' is creating a behavior by reinforcing an animal for incremental steps which eventually 'shape' into the end goal. While it doesn't sound so hard, the catch is this: the entire premise of the method is based on the initiative of the animal; not the trainer. In other words, it's a patience game since you're waiting for the spontaneous actions of the dog.

Timing and consistency are critical in any type of training, but when using free shaping, the trainer's timing needs to be impeccable, since the full extent of the desired behavior probably won't happen right away. More than likely it needs to be built upon in small increments. In fact, you might have to start at a very basic level.

For example, let's say you want to teach your dog to bow. You might be waiting a LONG time before the dog offers that exact behavior, so instead you might have to start by reinforcing the dog when she merely looks at the ground. *click* Once …

Reinforcement & Punishment in Operant Conditioning

In this article I'm discussing reinforcement and punishment as it relates to the training method of operant conditioning. To achieve a dog which willingly wants to work with the trainer, we tend to think only 'positive' methods work the best, but keep in mind when dealing with this type of training positive means the addition of a stimulus; negative stands for the subtraction of a stimulus.
In regards to the tools available in operant conditioning, there can be a total of four contexts:Positive Reinforcement is the addition of a favorable stimulus after a desired behavior has occurred. E.g., a treat or toy is presented for good behavior.
Negative Reinforcement is the subtraction of an undesirable stimulus after desired behavior has occurred. E.g., a dog on leash acts calmly - or displays some other form of obedience - and the owner takes the leash off. A leash itself is a negative reinforcer since it keeps the dog from moving freely where he wants to go.
Positive Punishment i…

Motivation & Positive Reinforcement while Training

An example of using positive reinforcement when training my German shepherd. Since she's obsessed with fetching sticks, I use the act of retrieving the stick as reinforcement for performing cues. Of course, she already knows the 'down' cue, in order to teach her something I'd obviously work in small increments.

Premack’s Principle

What is the Premack Principle, Anyway?
If you’re at all interested in behavior modification, you’ve heard of David Premack. He is a psychologist who came up with the relationship between desirable and undesirable behaviors.

Desirable – or high probability – behaviors are those behaviors which the animal wishes to do when given the choice. Undesirable – or low probability – behaviors are those behaviors which, given the choice, the animal seldom, if ever, does.

Premack’s Principle states an animal will perform an undesired behavior in order to engage in a desirable behavior. When a high probability behavior is contingent upon the performance of a low probability behavior, the outcome is the increased frequency of the low probability behavior.

While this might sound hard to enforce, consider the mother who tells her child, “you aren’t allowed to go outside and play until you clean your room.” Cleaning her room is not a preferred behavior for the child, yet since she is extremely motivated t…

Arguments Against “Clicker Training”

Unfortunately, most clicker trainers teach their students to treat their dog each and every time a behavior occurs, or they don’t properly outline how to reinforce intermittently, thus moving away from reinforcing each occurrence. This is the biggest argument against clicker training: people don’t want a dog dependent on receiving treats in order to be obedient. Tied in with that argument is a trainer who doesn’t want to "carry treats around" all the time. They’ll argue, “why does the dog needs a treat every time?”

When trainers use operant conditioning – in which clicker training is based – they not only wean their dogs off of “treats” by using intermittent reinforcement, they also substitute other forms of reinforcers. This means you don’t have to – and actually shouldn’t – carry treats or toys with you wherever you and your dog go.

Another argument against clicker training: the dog’s behavior is dependent on the presence – or absence – of treats. While it’s hard to use much…

Intermittent Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement (a common slang term for operant conditioning) is the basis of clicker training. Unfortunately, not all clicker trainers understand the use of reinforcers, namely, when to give them to the dog and when NOT to give them.

Reinforcement Examples
First of all, the trainer needs to evaluate the dog to find out what most motivates him. While dog treats are the most commonly used reinforcer, not all dogs respond the same way to treats. Often dogs won’t respond as well to commercial dog treats as actual meat, so be sure to try various types of food: roast beef, cooked hamburger, hot dogs, salmon, etc.

Of course, the dog might not be as interested in food as she is in playing – fetch or tug-of-war, for example. Anything the dog will work hard for is a reinforcer, and can be used in training to modify behavior. There are many motivators in a dog's life, and all dogs are different, so it's best to evaluate each dog for a list of reinforcers.

Once you’ve conditioned the…

Positive Reinforcement

Choosing a Positive Reinforcer
When using operant conditioning or clicker training with dogs, the trainer first needs to evaluate the dog to find out what he wants most. Anything a dog will work to achieve can be considered a reinforcer. Two things to keep in mind: reinforcers are different for each dog; what WE as trainers think of as 'rewards' for the dog might not be reinforcers*. What motivates one dog might not be important to another. Some dogs are extremely motivated by food, while others prefer play and toys; some dogs merely want attention from their trainer. There are many different types of reinforcement; you must choose the one which is best for your dog.

Main Types of Reinforcement for Dogs
Food: When you’re working with a food-motivated dog, it’s best to ensure you’re using food which the dog cannot resist. While you can certainly train the dog at feeding time – thus using the dog’s actual meal for reinforcement – this won’t have as strong an effect at any other tim…

Clicker Training Dogs

The past 10 years or so has seen a dramatic increase in a method of dog training called clicker training. "Clicker training" is actually jargon for the lesser-known scientific terminology, operant conditioning. While the concept certainly isn't new - it was developed under B.F. Skinner's tutelage as early as World War II - it seems to have swept the dog training world as a highly effective training method to achieve long-term effects.

Operant Conditioning
In operant conditioning, consequences are used to modify the frequency of behaviors. Generally speaking, animals will continue performing a behavior which results in a “positive” outcome, and discontinue behaviors which result in either no consequence or a “negative” outcome. In this article, "positive" and "negative" refer to the emotional connotation. In clicker training, trainers use positive reinforcement (the addition of a reinforcer) to get the dog to repeat desired behaviors as well as decre…