Dog Training Prompts – rewards or reprimands


Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni
Very easy to train dogs, learn back chaining quickly too. Photo J Renzoni

Both a friend and my daughter have had trouble with the use of cues when trying to stop wildness, goofiness, grabbing stuff and general misbehavior. They both are transition trainers having had a past in training traditionally. But some of the stuff we knew as traditional trainers doesn’t work the same way when we’ve turned the training model good-side-up.

So often dog trainers recommend using a known command to stop a dog from doing something that is not wanted. This recommendation was and still is appropriate if the dog was trained with punishment and negative reinforcement, because then the command is tied with a reprimand.

But in positive training most commands (cues) were tied with rewards, so many times the cue becomes a reward in itself. What is rewarded is repeated…meaning the ‘naughty’ behavior gets rewarded by following it with a command like sit or down or come or…

Ah, light bulb moment perhaps?

Know cues are rewards for these two...    Photo by Jeanine Renzoni
Know cues are rewards for these two… Photo by Jeanine Renzoni

Still there’s the behavior we don’t want to occur. Distract (in a low key manner) the dog or Manage the dog so he/she can’t do whatever it is the next time or Fix the problem by training.

How to distract – this depends on what is happening, of course.

But here are some ideas –

  • slow down
  • stop or hold completely still
  • replace with toy or other activity – smoothly and with no excitement
  • turn face away or look away removing attention
  • slowly turn away
  • leave
  • shuffle your feet
  • sigh or yawn
  • move your hand or body
  • relax your shoulders
  • cough
  • use your ‘non-reward marker’ phrase or word
  • let’s go cue
  • light touch to hip or back (like a little tap)
  • bang/noise (if your dog is sound sensitive keep it softer – and hide that you’re the source)
  • collar grab (if you’ve worked on desensitizing collar grabs, or if it’s an emergency)
  • pull dog away (this can trigger an outburst, which is not a desired response) but we’re getting down to the have to remove zone

Then, depending where you are in your training or re-training a low key reward is offered for the dog’s right choice. You have to decide how soon or how much of the wanted behavior has to be given. Initially, just stopping whatever they were doing and beginning the wanted action should be good enough to get the offer of a low-key reward. The hard thing for most people is their need to command the action when it’s best for the dog to make the choice to manage themselves. The other hard thing is holding back the joy when their dog chooses the right thing (I mean when there’s only one step between the naughty and the right thing. Why? because some dogs chain things together and will start doing the naughty, then the right thing to get the super joy). Just get a bit more space in there and you should be fine and can be a happy maniac…

I think the back chaining phenomenon is more likely in these instances because the dog is already doing it … reward, cue, ‘naughty behavior’, cue, reward and that’s why the handler’s are so frustrated.

I saw a recent post about always rewarding your dog when he comes to you no matter the amount of time or detours. Hmm. I aim to reward only average or better. On less than average I aim to be neutral, but certainly not punishing. If I reward less-than-average performance then I will get more less-than-average performance. This is true of all the behaviors we would like to see our dogs do for us. And dogs learn the back chain on recalls too – go out a little too far, get called, whoopee! Go out too far again… Be aware and you’ll spot the shaping strategy they may be using on you. Then you can turn it back around so you’re the shaper and they’re the shape-e.

Good luck training and lucky you if you’ve got a back chaining dog … think of the chains of behaviors you could get. Fun.

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