Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trained Retrieve: Progress With Non Force Fetch

I wanted to post an update about how the non force fetch trained retrieve is going for my dog.

fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Progress has been happening in leaps and bounds lately.  Every day I delay in publishing this means I need to revise what the dog has accomplished.  I can toss the training object anywhere in the house and he will pick it up and bring it to hand.  This includes throwing it down the stairs into the basement.  In the back yard, he will run to get the object and bring it to hand.

I've also started "pile" work in the back yard.  Pile is a misnomer.  Several bumpers are placed on the ground a distance away from the dog.  The dog is sent repeatedly to fetch from the pile.

Since moving the show into the backyard, his enthusiasm for the trained retrieve has increased.  He was bored in the house, but will retrieve with enthusiasm in the backyard.

A point that I have tried to make before is the necessity of truly understanding what motivates your dog.  I have a certain "play" routine with the dog that is reserved for outside.  No play is available until after trained retrieve work is finished.  I think this playtime is what is really motivating the dog to participate.  Right now, this specific kind of play is more important that food rewards.

Between each successful fetch instance, I am still rewarding with a treat.  But the *big* reward is the play time at the end of fetch work.  This is an application of Premack principle.  The idea behind Premack is that enjoyable or "highly likely" behaviors can be used to reward less enjoyable or "less likely" rewards.  In other words, rewards are actions and behaviors just as much as they are things to eat.  Google "Premack Principle" or take a look at this piece I wrote some time ago.

The plan for future work is to increase the distance for a pile of 3 objects.  Once he gets that, we'll shorten the distance and increase the number of bumpers.  Finally we'll increase the distance to the increased number of bumpers.  My intermediate goal is 9 bumpers each at a distance of 50 yards.  Only after all that drilling is done, we'll start over and switch to birds.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Dog License For An Intact Dog

I have recently moved to Western Michigan from the greater Chicago area.  One thing I've noticed is that dog licenses are much more expensive if you keep an intact dog.  This is true if you regardless of whether you are a breeder or just have legitimate reasons for keeping your dog intact.

Here is how I have heard it explained:  Intact dogs are the reasons our shelters are being overrun.  Therefore, owners of intact dogs should have to pay more for the problem they are causing.

Sounds good, doesn't it.  You should have to pay for a service you are using.  I fly in a plane, I pay for a ticket.  There are toll roads in Chicago...so if you use the toll road, you should have to pay for its upkeep.  And if you keep an intact dog, you should have to pay for the burden that all of those puppies are placing on the system.

Fainomenon [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Too Many In Shelters?
All of those puppies...I wanted to see how bad things are in my county.  So I just did a search for puppies in my county.  There was 1.  As in "the loneliest number".  Then I did a search for all dogs.  Including the puppy from the earlier search, there were 44 dogs.

At this instance in time, in my county, puppies account for 2% of all the dogs in the shelter.  Where is the "overrun" that owners of intact dogs are responsible for?  If intact dogs and unplanned litters were overrunning shelters, would not puppies account for at least 25% of all the dogs in the shelter?

The truth is, shelters are not being overrun with puppies.  Unplanned litters are not the cause of overcrowded shelters.  Now, to be fair, I have not visited every shelters...there could be a glut of puppies in shelters in other parts of the country.  Just not here in Western Michigan.

Nor is there a glut of shelter puppies in the greater Chicago area.  Several years ago Crain's Business published this article which states what I am saying here: there is a shortage of puppies.

Why is it that shelters have too many dogs?  The overabundance of dogs in shelters is due to people getting dogs on a whim, and when they get too hard to care for, dumping them in a shelter.

Instead of charging extra for a dog license for an intact dog, I propose the following, which would really cover the costs of unwanted dogs:
  1. License fees are higher for dogs not micro-chipped.  
  2. When a dog shows up at a shelter, scan for the chip to find the owner.
  3. When a dog is surrendered or unwanted at a shelter: send the owner a bill.  You can get the owner info from the chip.  If no chip, you have already billed the owner with an increased license fee.

With such a plan, you are actually charging those who are contributing to the problem: those who see dogs as disposable.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

How Do You Train A Dog: Distilling The Basics

How do you train a dog when techniques seem to be changing all the time.  Do you need to understand positive only training.  What is R+ and P-?  Do I need to be the alpha dog with calm assertive energy?

People have been training animals for a very long time.  Dogs, horses, and hawks have been trained for millennia.  In reality, for all time, the essence of  training has not  changed.

How do you train a dog?  It boils down to a very simple concept:
There are things our dogs like and things our dogs do not like.  Dogs will work to get what they like and dogs will work to avoid what they do not like.

That's it.  But the art and devil are in the details.

You can look at Cesar Milan.  You can look at Victoria Stilwell.  You can look at any trainer and break everything down to one of two categories:  Things a dog likes and things a dog does not like. 


Here is one I hear all the time, from the world of training bird dogs: "Don't train with treats because you won't have treats in the field.  Train with praise."

Praise Depends On The Dog
What if your dog is not motivated by praise?  From the dog's point of view, praise is certainly a good thing, but there are other things that are even better, like that chicken on the counter, or that deer he wants to chase.

I don't train my dog with praise alone.  You know what I use?  Raw beef.  Cheese.  A chance to chase a bird.  I can get a much bigger effort using rewards the dog likes more than he likes praise.


Consider the dog that jumps up on people.  Owners scream and holler and express displeasure.  But the dog keeps jumping on people.  Why?  Again, from the dog's point of view: he dislikes getting yelled at, but the reward of jumping and greeting new people outweighs getting yelled at.

By OakleyOriginals (Dog Day Afternoon) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Not All Dogs Hate Water In The Face
I don't yell at my dog, because all it does it makes me hoarse.  Instead, I spray a stream of water in the dog's face.  He really does not like that and will adjust his behavior accordingly...much faster than yelling would ever accomplish.

How do you train a dog?  It does not matter what *you think* the dog likes.  What matters is what the dog actually likes.  It does not matter what *you think* the dog dislikes.  What matters is what the dog actually dislikes.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Can A Dog Learn From Failure? It's The Only Way.

Should our training plans set up a dog for failure? Can a dog learn from failure?

Many trainers, both positive only and traditional will emphasize the need for success. Both kinds of trainers emphasize the need for creating training situations where a dog CANNOT fail. But there comes a time where failure must happen and it must be dealt with.

When you first start training a behavior, every effort is rewarded. Treats fall from heaven like manna.  But in order to get the behavior that you really want, you need to raise the standard. Every time you raise the standard, the dog is failing more.

I experienced this when I first started doing dishes. At first, my wife was quick with the complements:

Thanks for your help! You are so strong and handsome. Yes you can go fishing this weekend.  

Eventually, though, the standard needed to be raised:

Dear, I've found the dishes get cleaner when you use soap.

Real Life

I am training my dog to retrieve without the use of force. The goal I was trying to accomplish is to get a behavior where the dog puts the bumper into my hand. To get this going, when the dog had hold of the bumper, I was shooting my hand under the bumper in order to catch it before he dropped it. In my hand gets a treat, anything else does not get a treat.

Here is the art of training: the dog has learned that dropping the bumper is what gets him the treat. Dropping it when I move my hand. I can shoot my hand under him usually in time before he drops it, but it is a race. If I don't show my hand, he'll hold the bumper. As soon as I move my hand, it gets dropped.

I'm working with a pro trainer on this approach, and his suggestion is to make it so the dog cannot fail. If I were to follow this advice, all I would be doing is reinforcing him dropping the bumper when my hand moves.

Better Advice

The dog needs opportunity to fail. However, in setting up the dog for failure, he still needs to succeed, a lot more than failure. If the pup is succeeding all of the time, then it suddenly drops to a 20 percent success rate, the dog is going to give up. I need to engineer the situation such that failure occurs, but success is still the most likely outcome.

Not sure exactly what will work, but here is what I am going to try:
  • Since my hand movement is triggering the drop, I will always have my hand out.
  • I'll keep my hand just out of reach, either to the side or in front, so that a small move will put the bumper in my hand.
Can a dog learn from failure? It is the only way he can learn. But what is critical is not rewarding the wrong behavior. Rather, the trainer needs to engineer a situation where success is easily attainable most of the time.
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