Posted Date: December 1, 2015
In the second part of our series on focus, trainer Lisa Lyle Waggoner discusses dog body language and the importance of reinforcers.
by Lisa Lyle Waggoner, CPDT-KA
the nuances of dog body language. Take
the time to learn and understand the frequent body language signals dogs
display. Its important to learn the nuances of that language, especially as it
relates to stress signals, so that you can accurately read the dogs body
language and then draw a conclusion as to what your dog is feeling. Stress
develops from an inability to cope with the current situation. By understanding
and observing these signals, youll know when to intervene or how to change the
environment to set your dog up to lessen that stress. All living beings need to
feel comfortable and confident to be able to learn.
how dogs learn so you can make more informed training decisions. Dogs learn by association and by consequence. Learning
by association means that dogs are always making decisions about whats safe
and whats not in their world. Making training fun helps your dog develop a
positive emotional response to the exercise. Dogs are also constantly making
decisions based on consequence. Is this good for me or is this bad for me? Reinforcing
your dog when she focuses on you will increase the likelihood that she will give
you her attention again. The consequence of looking at you equals something
awesome (a high-value reinforcer such as a yummy treat or a game of tug, or
something else you know your dog loves). Reinforcement is key. Behaviors that
are reinforced will be repeated.
the value and timing of reinforcers.
Reinforcement for the behavior of looking at you should be immediate and must
be something the dog loves. The reinforcer should be of high value to your dog,
and your dog gets to decide. Ive met dogs who would spit out a hot dog in a
nanosecond and preferred romaine lettuce (I kid you not!). Food is a primary
reinforcer, so food is a good choice, though for some dogs a game of tug or the
opportunity to chase a toy is very reinforcing. Timing of the reinforcement is
also very important: It must be immediate. If you ask for your dogs attention
from the back porch and she immediately looks at you, then you go back inside
the house and open the refrigerator to pull out a piece of cheese and pop it in
her mouth as she sits in the kitchen, youre reinforcing her for sitting in the
kitchen, not for immediately looking at you when you cued her.
schedules of reinforcement: No need to
delve into each and every schedule of reinforcement. If you focus on continuous
reinforcement and random reinforcement, it will help you train effectively.
With continuous reinforcement, your dog gets reinforced every time the behavior
occurs. Continuous reinforcement is a must when first teaching a new behavior.
Once your dog is reliably performing the desired behavior, you can move to
random reinforcement, which means every once in while you skip a click and a
treat (though you continue to verbally praise the dog). Dogs are great at
picking up on patterns and we humans are great at creating them, so dont
decide that youll skip every third click/treat keep it random. If you get
too random too soon, you may begin to see your dog struggle with the behavior.
No problem. Just move back to reinforcing
the dog more consistently and slowly work back to a more random schedule. Continuous
reinforcement and random reinforcement both create equally reliable behaviors,
though random reinforcement makes a behavior more durable more resistant to
pairing of reinforcers and distractions. Think
of reinforcement as your dogs paycheck. I like to pay well for succeeding with
challenging work. Because each dog values a specific reinforcer differently,
experiment to find out which foods or other reinforcers your dog really likes.
Be creative! Build a written reinforcement hierarchy. Identify 10 to 20
reinforcers (food, toys and other things your dog loves) and rank those as low,
medium or high value. Then identify 10 to 20 distractions (another dog, a
squirrel, a leaf blowing in the wind) and rank those as low, medium or high
value. This helps you understand how your dog views their world and whats
important to her. Your next step is to look at each list and pair the
distractions and reinforcers wisely. Use high-value reinforcers for high-value
distractions. If paired inappropriately, your dogs focus and your training will
suffer, but if paired wisely, everyone succeeds. For example, I use steak,
which Willow will do backflips over, when training in a new, outdoor environment
where there may be squirrels running about. Choose wisely!
Read part one in the series
Read part three of the series
Read part four of the series
A passionate advocate for humane, science-based dog training, Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, and a dog*tec Dog Walking Academy Instructor. She is the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina, with additional locations in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Space Coast of Florida. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com