Sunday, April 3, 2011

Setting Criteria

          The three principles of training I follow. 1. rate of reinforcements, 2. timing and 3. criteria. These principles were pounded in my head from Bob and Marian Bailey when I attended their workshops. These principles have never failed me. Knowing them well has also made me a much better trainer. Call me narrow minded or stuck on a particular way of training, but it has been the best I've ever used. To deviate from this, my training skills do get sloppy.

          My rate of reinforcements and timing come with practice, but criteria takes a lot of energy of my brain. The thought process of training. What do I want my dog to do? What do I choose to shape and have my dog do to set them up for the next step to get where I want? You can't expect to have what you want and get there in one step. It may take 100 steps to get there. Building slowly. The talent comes in knowing what step to teach next to make a strong foundation. Like a good teacher in mathematics. You don't all of a sudden start doing complex equations in two days, it takes several classes to get to higher level of equations and problem solving.

         Each step I teach is a criteria. The rule of thumb is get 80% proficiency before moving to the next increment step or criteria. Always have your criteria plan ready as your subject may go fast and if you are not ready, training stops and you loose that fabulous momentum. Take the time to write out and plan your criteria. Or if you are better at doing it in your head, you can do it that way as well, but writing it out makes for good training records. Then in a year or two, you can see what you did and the written plan can jog your memory what path you took. I have had countless experiences where five or ten years later I think, how did I teach my previous dog how to do this behavior?

         Recently I have been doing fronts. This is when the dog comes straight in to you and must sit just in front of you, not touching, but be within reach of you. Their sit must be straight in front of you. No hip shifted on either side. So what would be the criteria when training this?

          At this point, the recall is set. The next step is back chaining. You go backwards. So the last thing the dog does in the behavior chain is what you reinforce, thus what you write your criteria. This is the dog sitting in front of you. There are many ways to achieve this and much easier with puppies. Since Mickey is 6 years old and has a lot of practice coming up to me, my approach is different than starting out a puppy.

            I find that making one criteria part of your day is the best way to get it solid. If I'm sitting on the couch and Mickey comes up to me, shape for him sitting straight in front of me. If I'm standing in the kitchen and I have a few pieces of chicken around, do some shaping there. He has learned to come straight in to me and if his rump is off to the side, no chicken. Then of course give the piece of chicken in the exact spot you want him sitting. Treat in position is extremely powerful. I had to learn how to give his treat. Which is straight down from my fact or front of my body. If I give the treat to the side, he will shift his body to be in position for the goodie. So after several days have past and doing about five reinforcements for a straight sit in the kitchen, I will do a few in the living room or outside in the yard. Sometimes I use the ball, sometimes I use a yummy treat. Variety, what's going to happen next and do not do routine. I can't have Mickey predicting a pattern other than you will get reinforced for a straight sit in front of me. That will be consistent, but everything else will not, like where we train, how often we train, what time frame we train etc.

       I get bored very easy with repetition and so will my Belgian Malinois, so I do vary what I do. To do the old traditional training that is so regime is important to some dogs, but other dogs will just tune out. Why I think so many people have gotten out of competition obedience. They are still doing that dry formality of training. Do three minutes in the kitchen, train while you are watching TV like during commercials and of course Debi Davis' famous "Training in the 'Loo!" Break it up. Lack of training is only a lack of planning. Also, we don't have to set an hour aside for training obedience. You need to build duration and training time slowly so you don't get that zoned out look from your dog. With proper shaping and conditioning skills you don't need more than 15 minutes in a full training session. If a shaping session is more than three minutes you are going to fry your dog's brain. This leads to burn out and stress. Yes, you can burn out and stress your dog out with clicker training. Especially if your shaping skills are really fine tuned and good.

        Observe your dog and know when to back off. Many people want to perfect their dogs and over train. They a re very well meaning people, not realizing they are creating behavioral stresses in their dogs. Having trained several assistance dogs, we want them to succeed. Our heart and soul goes into their training because if they do not succeed, they will be career changed to another job, perhaps a pet. This expectation of the dog can literally burn the dog out and you do see the behavioral issues. Sometimes trainers don't see the behavioral problems or brush it off as something else and can't look at themselves. There is a lot of stress with training an assistance dog and too many put a lot of stress on young dogs that are not even a year old. Expectations are high in a young pup. This is a set up for disaster. Back off, enjoy the day and condition in a fun way for the dog.

       Points to remember:

1. Plan your training session
2. Write out your criteria
3. Keep your training session short
4. Keep your shaping session timed and in the beginning, start out with 30 seconds. Eventually build up over a few weeks to a minute. Realize this is a shaping session where you have probably 20-30 reinforcements in a minute. When you get 80% success, incrementally move to the next criteria. Observe carefully if this criteria is working or not. If you are not achieving 80%, then you need to break down the criteria for success.
5. Have any training issues, look at your three principles for problem solving.
6. Try not to over train to burn out your dog. They are very willing creatures and will work past stress level. Watch for signs of stress.

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