Friday, October 2, 2009
REWARDS-they are not all the same ;-)
WOW, I was reminded last night of a really powerful training tool that I picked up from some training tips Susan Garrett gave out last summer to her email list. The tip was that Susan said she uses a REALLY special treat, one that she never gives any other time for when there is an awesome performance that is well above the average, like say a dog working on contacts hits their contact really nicely, with a very quick performance of the obstacle, with a above average performance she will whip out a special treat and she suggested sardines-packed in water with reduced salt-that was the treat she suggested.
My first experience with trying that was with the Lizard. She was origionally trained contacts with the modified running contacts but I did not figure in the Lizard factor....and she quickly learned to perform the Aframe with a leap up past the up contact, hitting just above the yellow, leaping over the apex and landing just above the down contact and then leaping down to a gorgeous down with her butt touching the end of the Aframe. Yep, Liz figured out how to just hit the Aframe twice, miss all up and down contacts and still hit a gorgeous four on the floor position, yep she is talented. SO, I was back to the tried and true 2020 because I knew Liz did not have enough self control and needed more connection points then a running contact would give us. ANYWAY, Liz was VERY confident and LOVED her four on the floor and so she knew when I was teaching her that I was just trying to trick her and she was not going to be tricked and I could not get a 2020 on the obstacles. Anyway, so we worked it and eventually the way we got some great contacts was using sardines-when she would get into a 2020 and it was nice, she got sardines. It was a very concrete way for her to figure out what I really wanted, and it became the most fun, exciting behavior and we made our contact break through. I realized what a powerful tool that can be. My instructors realized how crazy I could be and had to suffer through when I needed them to treat with the sardines when I was not right there, LOL, and had to suffer through the smell that leaves on your hands-I have some really good sports for instructors and training buddies.
SOOOOO LAST NIGHT, this whole concept came into play again and I did not realize it was happening until the night was going way hay wire with Breeze and I could not figure out why. Breeze has always been a ball NUT. Lately I have taken away the tennis balls because her teeth are all being filed down so badly, you would think I had clipped her teeth as the canines are about half gone. I use a tennis ball material squeeky dumbbell toy for her when we train and I use rubber balls around the house. I have had to make sure the tennis balls are GONE, because otherwise she kept finding them so I was not even keeping a couple out for training. So last night Karen had suggested using a clip to hold the tennis ball to reward Breeze to help my timing. So I wanted to try that, which meant using a tennis ball-and I was able to find a squeeky tennis ball, and that was the reward for the night.
OOOH MY GOSH, I had a wild dog, she was so excited to see tennis balls, and at first I could not figure out why I had this wild, excited dog. Well, we were working out an issue with the weave entries.....I threw the ball for her when she got the weaves and we had a little party. YIPPIE, I still was not putting 2 and 2 together. Next we were working on some sequences, Breeze was supposed to go through the tunnel and come out of the tunnel turn away from the weaves...and toward me and continue through a jump box, blah, blah, blah. Well, she just kept ignoring my body position, my voice and just driving to the weaves, thinking she could make up a good course that included the weaves, LOL, she was really being a little turkey butt. Of course it hit me that the tennis ball was such an unusual, special, high value reward that she was willing to do just about anything to get it and quite a bit of the tennie ball's value had been transferred to the weavies, they were the big ticket obstacle at that point. Whooo hoooo, I guess I got a good lesson last night in the value of continually reassessing the heirachy of value of rewards and thinking carefully about how things are rewarded. So we worked through that and I used the ball for some of the sequencing too, and I am thinking of keeping that ball as a little more special reward.
The power of the tennis ball came into play again with the contacts. I have just not been able to get the 2020 with Breeze on the dog walk when we add in speed, she is doing terrific if we just go up or if we are just driving from a small distance, if it is from a further distance away, then she goes back to four on the floor. So I have been working the last week on setting a ball straight out in front of her and when she hits the position then I treat her on the obstacle in the 2020 position and then release her to get her ball. I used that to get her to go straighter and not turn sideways trying to look at me, but having the magical tennis ball sitting out in front of her let us get the 2020 with 100% accuracy last night in 4 sequences-WOW, that is HUGE! Breeze also got her four on the floor on the aframe really nice last night. All in all a good training session with lessons learned by the handler and the dog, what more could I ask for?
Liz was the awesome star, a new class, some dogs that were running off, she has not worked around other dogs for awhile and 2 hours in the crate before we got to class, could have been a recipe for disaster but Liz was a little distracted before it was our turn but never once left or was distracted while she was working. I even threw her toy bag at the end of the dog walk to get her going out straight, and held my breath because she had the prize and that was a real danger time for her running a victory lap and forgetting all about me. She grabbed the toy, shook and killed it, and ran back to me with it, YIPPIE, Little Lizards can make great choices!!! She was awesome and has never looked as good doing agility as she did last night, and she was with some dogs that were worrying her, a class she did not know, boy was a proud of that little monkey.