Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Self Control and Choice: what really does that mean?

        My journey of learning continues. This is what I love about doing competitions as it pushes you forward and above what you have done. Very rarely does a person get pushed to learn more and improve their handling and training skills on their own. There usually has to be purpose and goals. That will either be competitions or a working environment. Competition people strive to compete at the next level. In work, you need to earn your pay check. You don't cut it, you lose your job.

        Yesterday I spent some time with Kyle Rayon who has worked 10 years with the San Diego Humane Society and had the common sense in watching and reading dogs. Just watching her made me realize I didn't know what I thought I knew. Many dog classes, training seminars and workshops teach you to train in such a way that you are always keeping the dog busy. That when there is quiet time, the dog doesn't know what to do. If they get fussy, subconsciously, some trainers, namely me, want to do something so they a re not fussy. We think we are trying them out of being fussy. We are not. We are teaching them, that when they get antsy, that we will entertain them or keep them busy.

         All these years, I really thought I was teaching my dogs self control. I wasn't. Self control comes from the dog's decision, not me actively training them. Instead of waiting for them to show a self control behavior, I was keeping them busy with heeling, nose touch, sitting, downing, and any other movement or active behavior. Keeping them busy. Smothering them where they are not taking in their environment to know how to handle it.

         I took Mickey to a park today ready to practice for our upcoming obedience trial. I thought that I would work on self control and attention. That actually has been my biggest set back while I was doing Rally and some of my Beginner Novice class in a trial. When I tried a "run through" at a dog training facility, attention was terrible. I just scaped on by in Beginner Novice. I knew it was time to get to business. But after watching another trainer on basic puppy and dog manners, I had seen some great exercises in trying to get attention and teaching a dog to calm. That's what I set out to do at the park this evening. My outlook on training changed drastically. It is almost like starting all over again, fresh and new.

          My goal was to have a semi-tight leash, make sure Mickey checked in with me first before sniffing the grass or going on his own to do what he wanted. I have been horrible and laxed in this where Mickey has learned he can do what he wanted and pull. Yes, this is a shameful thing I allowed my dog to do and yes, disclosing this or admitting this is difficult. I have been training dogs for 25 years, I should be better right?

        The other goal was to have him do what is called, a "none behavior" as Kyle calls it. A none behavior is when they are just looking, but not tense or fixated on something. A chilled out mode. We then reinforce this behavior, being in this relaxed state. This eventually teaches the dog to be calm. The method also requires a connection between dog and handler be made. So the dog learns to check in and connect to the handler. Food becomes more of a reinforcer, rather than a fixation.

          After working with this concept for awhile, and teaching others, I'm really getting the meaning of what is choice. Choosing to chill out and being reinforced for it, teaches self control. Wait for the dog to do the behavior. It isn't about sitting and waiting, it is about allowing the dog to make choices. No luring, no prompting, just handler chilling out and waiting for that behavior they want to reinforce.

         When you tell your dog something, they are told, not learning on their own choice. Being told is not the same as being conditioned. Dogs don't learn self control from being told. That means a handler is the cue for the dog to do the behavior. They learn to wait, and sometimes that is with high anticipation. If the handler wasn't there watching the dog, they probably would break with excitement. Instead, train for self control, but having them choose the self control. This is done over time and increments of reinforcement training sessions. This change in my training has brought me into a new idea of training. Another step in getting better at what I do. It is so simple and I've been told this before, I just didn't have the details right to get the right results I wanted. Now I do and I see myself moving forward.

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