Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Training Methodologies

By Erica Pytlovany

Positive reinforcement training, at its core, takes the following strategy:

  1. Look for, or create, behaviors that we like, and then
  2. Reinforce those behaviors, while we
  3. Passively ignore or actively prevent the behaviors that we don't like

Clicker training is positive reinforcement plus use of some kind of consistent, neutral mark that highlights the exact behavior that we want to repeat.  The mark could be a click, a tongue cluck, a whistle, the word "yes!", a flash of light, or any other neutral signal that the learner can perceive.  Clicker training is really about the mark, not the the actual clicker device; we could just as easily call it "marker training".

Within this framework, there are many ways to catch or to create behaviors.  I will refer to dogs for all descriptions, although we would use the same approach to teach catshyenas, llamasgibbonsdolphins, parrots, or even goldfish (yes, this is real).


Description:  Mark and reward a behavior that the dog offers spontaneously during a training session, or even just while wandering around the house.  See something that you think is really cute?  Click it!  Examples could include:  cocking head to the side, sneezing, shaking off, holding ears a certain way.  Also an easy way to teach sit.
Upside:  Perfect when there's some behavior your dog offers and you'd like to put it on cue.
Downside:  Your dog has to offer the behavior all on its own.  You can't capture something that he never offers on his own.


Description:  Get your dog to follow a toy or food (primary reinforcer) to put him into a particular position (i.e. sit, down, heel position) or get him to follow a certain path (i.e. walk with me, go over a jump).
Upside:  A quick way to jump start a new behavior, especially if you lure the behavior one to three times and then switch to one of the other strategies.
Downside:  It can be hard to "fade out" or get rid of the lure.  If the dog is only following the food or the toy, he is not thinking about what he is doing and so probably won't connect the treat with the final behavior.  It might look like the dog "knows" how to do the behavior, but he can actually just do it when he's given assistance or when the treat is present.


Description:  Shaping is a lot like the "Hotter, Colder" game we play as children except that you only get to use the word "hot", aka the click.  We start by capturing one small piece of the behavior and then gradually clicking for more and more pronounced movements toward our goal.  An example:  to shape a wave goodbye, we could click when the dog shifts his weight off his front paw, then click when the paw comes off the ground a tiny bit, then click when the paw is a few inches from the ground, and continue to only click the highest lifts until the paw is raised high.  Another: to teach a dog to touch a target, we might first click when the dog looks at the target, then click any movement toward the target, and finally click for contact with the target.
Upside:  We can lead the dog through complicated behaviors and behaviors that he would not naturally do on his own.  Shaping also teaches the dog a lot about problem solving, which is not so important for simple behaviors like sit, but which is very important if you want to do more advanced training later on.  Shaping is also great mental exercise.
Downside:  While shaping is easy to learn, it is hard to master.  At it's highest level, shaping can seem a little like the proverbial story about what Michelangelo said at the unveiling of his immortal David.  He was asked "How could you have achieved a masterpiece like this from a crude slab of marble?"  "It was easy," he replied.  "All I did was chip away everything that didn't look like David."  Anyone can shape, just as anyone can sculpt, but it does take some experience and finesse to shape more complex behaviors.



Environmental Manipulation




Social Facilitation




It might have happened, just like the story of Michelangelo being congratulated at the unveiling of his immortal David.
“How in God’s name could you have achieved a masterpiece like this from a crude slab of marble?” a fan is supposed to have asked him.
“It was easy,” Mike is said to have said. “All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like David.”

We can teach dogs to do all sorts of things from dog sports to polite house manners to low-stress veterinary exams.  We can stop problem behavior by installing new and better behaviors, for example sit and stay can replace jumping on guests.  We can even teach catshyenasgibbonsdolphins, and even goldfish (yes, this is real).

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Why Teach Tricks?

By Laura Sharkey & Erica Pytlovany

Bentley hugs his toy
Teaching tricks is great for dogs. It provides them with both mental and physical stimulation and helps create a stronger working relationship between the dog and the handler.

To start: want better basic obedience skills? Teach some tricks. The more things you teach your dog, the better he gets at learning. The more often you ask for behaviors, the better she gets at offering them.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Earn Stunt Dog Titles from Do More With Your Dog!

By Erica Pytlovany

Do you like to teaching your dog some tricks?  Want ideas for what to do next?  Starting in March 2018, you and your dog can earn Stunt Dog titles!

What is the Stunt Dog title program?
Stunt Dog is a new titling program brought to us by Do More With Your Dog. Titles are awarded through performances in live ring trials that showcase tricks as well as the skills needed for your dog to stay and to focus under pressure. The first four levels are highly structured -- makes it easy to started!  Creativity and artful performance are expected at the Champion level.

What I like about the Stunt Dog program:

Monday, January 15, 2018

Fenzi TEAM Titles for Advanced Obedience Training

By Erica Pytlovany

Ready for advanced obedience training and want ideas for what to do next?  Let's look at one option:  Fenzi TEAM Titles (http://fenziteamtitles.com).

Fenzi TEAM TitlesTEAM stands for Training Excellence Assessment Modules, and is made up of 6 levels of video "tests" for foundation through advanced obedience training skills.  Levels 1 - 3 are Sport Foundation, and build valuable sport skills from formal obedience to rally, freestyle, or even agility.  Levels 4 - 6 are Obedience Master and practice complex behavior chains, reduced reinforcement, and a high degree of fluency and discrimination.

What I like about the TEAM program: