Madeline Clark Gabriel of Dogs and Babies has a brilliant idea. She proposes to set aside 1,000 treats and train one behavior with planning and intent. I love this because I tend to be a little unfocused in training and pass out treats for good behaviors, cute behaviors, behaviors I vaguely like, etc. Madeline points out that a great thing about this Challenge is that it will be helpful to people (like me) who are profligate with their treats, and also to folks who are dubious about the whole food thing and tend to be stingy. What if every trainer took 1,000 treats, really concentrated, and spent them wisely on one behavior? I think the results would be wonderful!
Before anybody panics, 1,000 treats is not really a lot. (And nobody is making you do this challenge. I’m a nerd and I think it sounds fun, so I’m doing it!) If you treat your dog for 50 reps of something every day (which you could do in three minutes if you chose the right behavior), you’ll get to 1,000 before two weeks are up. Depending on the size of your dog and the size of the treats, it might even be less than the amount of food they eat in one day.
Here are the steps, directly quoted from Madeline:
- Choose a behavior or skill you want your dog to perform better/differently
- Set aside 1,000 treats
- Over the course of two weeks, spend your 1,000 treats to practice and reinforce progress
Be sure and look at her picture of the bag of 1,000 treats. It is not as many as you think.
Three things synchronized for me and I knew immediately how I would use my 1,000 treats. Clara is going to learn to relax.
OK, quit laughing. Maybe not completely. Relax, um, better-than-she-does-now.
As it happens, that behavior is coming right up in the Training Levels, Level 2. As it also happens, I had a lesson with my teacher just last weekend where she showed me how she would teach it to Clara. So it was the perfect storm. It was needed, I already got some instruction, and now I have some additional motivation.
This video shows what I would like to be able to do eventually, although I think it’s a little beyond this batch of treats. Watch how Reyna the young German Shepherd can go from tugging to collapsing into a puddle of dog on the floor on cue. Wow.
My goals at the end of the 1,000 treats are:
- Clara can lie down on a mat and immediately be still without trying a bunch of behaviors first.
- She will be moderately relaxed (not expecting a puddle of floppy dog yet). But no more quivering on the knife edge of expectancy. Things to look for: relaxation of facial muscles, especially in forehead. Slower respiration. Quiet tail. A shifted hip, if it is maintained that way and not just quickly offered.
- Clara can maintain this moderately relaxed state on her mat for one minute.
- Optional but hopefully: she can do this without staring at me.
These are modest. Notice I am not going for total relaxation. I don’t know if we can get there in this amount of time. Also, she can already lie on her mat for a minute, or 10 minutes, so it’s not about mat duration. But I want the quiet part to be much more automatic than it is now, and for her to begin to understand that that’s what we are going for, not just a stay. And I want to be able to sit right in front of her and not have her turn into a whirling dervish of offering behaviors.
My teacher did a session with us over the weekend. Because I have tried halfheartedly to teach this previously and reinforced different relaxed positions, I ended up with a dog who flops around throwing her head down, spinning around, lying on her back waving her legs in the air, etc. Really. It’s on the video. So my teacher, after working with Clara, suggested the following guidelines for us:
- mark and reinforce her for stillness; the relaxation will follow
- do not mark immediately after she moves, even if it is to a more “relaxed” position (because of what I have done before)
- don’t worry if she is offering lots of eye contact for now
- OK to mark as her tail slows
I would urge folks, though, to read Sue’s section on relaxation, because my plan is tailor made for my dog, and designed with the booboos I have already made in mind. Sue talks about capturing the moment when the “puppet string breaks” and the dog sinks just a little bit more into relaxation. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that after I have let Clara know that flopping into different “relaxed looking positions” is not what I want.
Here is our “before” video, which shows the beginning and end of her third relaxation session, and includes some puppy footage including an excellent start when she was a baby, then one of my ill fated attempts from about six months ago.
I am pleased that at the end of the recent session, while not relaxed, her body is quiet. She is in a “sphinx down” with her head erect and she is staring at me, but she is still and I think her facial muscles are more relaxed than at the beginning. (This is actually what is featured above in the video preview.) And I got her tail to stop wagging! This is huge!
During parts of the session she lay on her side, but since I deliberately didn’t reinforce right away she didn’t stick with it and so returned to the sphinx down.
I hope to have a very different video to show in two weeks or so. I am not sure whether I will finish the 1,000 treats in two weeks, since with a duration behavior my rate of reinforcement will be dropping as I go along. But I’ll try to show what things look like after two weeks, and also at the end of the 1,000 treats if they don’t coincide.
Who else is in? Be sure and look at Madeline’s suggestions for behaviors. My choice of a behavior is slightly oddball, but what else is new for me?
Thanks for reading, and I hope some of the rest of you give this a try. I think it will be highly rewarding, both for the dogs and the humans!
See Week Two Update of our relaxation for 1,000 treats
See Halfway Through our relaxation for 1,000 treats
Coming up soon:
- Clara at the vet: The face of stress (photos but NOT a contest)
- Level 1 Breakfast (quick behavior drills)
- Est-ce que votre chien veut VRAIMENT être caressé ? (Does your dog REALLY want to be petted?–the French version!)
Eileenanddogs on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/eileenanddogs