Mon 1 Nov 2010
When I got Kara, I decided that I would train her differently than I’ve trained other dogs and not follow traditional training advice. The advice I’m referring to is to train each level of obedience in order and don’t move on until you have the title from the previous level. So you don’t train Open exercises until the dog has her CD title. I decided I would train the basics of all of the exercises through Utility before we show in Novice. Why?
The simple answer is because it creates a thinking dog. It also makes you a better trainer and besides it’s a whole lot more fun!
Some trainers will say: “But your dog will get confused!” And I answer, yup they do, but when you work through that confusion the result is much stronger behavior.
The main example is the recall. The Novice recall requires the dog to come directly to you. The Open drop on recall requires you to drop your dog half way to you when they come. Once the dog learns the drop on recall and you go back to a straight recall, they often anticipate the drop. You’ll see the dog hesitate half way to you or drop on her own without your cue to drop. Most clicker trainers love this anticipation! It means the dog is thinking. Once you work through the idea that sometimes you drop, sometimes you don’t it depends on if you get a cue, that drop cue becomes very strong and much more reliable.
In technical, scientific terms it’s referred to as Stimulus Control. Stimulus Control is a very powerful concept. It is defined by Mary Burch and Jon Bailey in their book How Dogs Learn this way:
“Behaviors are under stimulus control when the responses are controlled by the antecedent stimuli. The stimulus will control the behavior because the behavior has been reinforced when that stimulus was present.”
The antecedent stimulus is the cue, in this case to drop. This cue will control the behavior because every time it is used and the dog responds by dropping, a click happens and a treat is delivered (most effectively in the drop position.) What is assumed but not stated in that definition is if the stimulus is not present, the behavior will not happen. So if the dog anticipates and drops without the cue, then nothing happens — no click no treat. They learn that they have to wait for the cue and once they do, they no longer do the behavior when the cue is not given.
This way of training encourages the dog to really think and pay attention, not just go through boring practiced behaviors. And it makes you a better trainer because you have to be very aware of your cues and how your dog is responding.
I’ve posted a couple videos of Kara doing the beginnings of the Open and Utility exercises so you can see her in action. Leave a comment if you have any questions about this way of training. And soon I’ll have a video on how we work through the anticipation.
My training friend Sara (who trains the same way) and I joke that we’ll debut my Kara and her Rizzo in the Versatility Class before Novice!! That would raise a few eyebrows! What fun!