Reply To: Week 4 Instructor’s Assignment


The following is my analysis of Anthony and Zucca’s video, post 5480. I am continuing with my preferred MO to post my analysis before reading Alana’s/Kristin’s comments. I like to give it a whirl on my own, and I like to see how I fared (and what I missed!) once I read their comments.

This is fabulous improvement over the previous videos (posts 5304/5305)! Way to go Anthony and Zucca. In the previous sessions, it was VERY windy, where here in post 5480, there is almost no wind at all. By practicing in much less wind, Zucca has an advantage that will increase success and build confidence in her searches–and this shows!

One of the first things to work on is some basic clicker fundamentals. Each click is a promise of a reward, and in Zucca’s case, the reward should be delivered very quickly after the click. Timing of the clicker is important as well, so some practice with timing would be helpful too. This can be done by practicing with a behavior Zucca already knows well, like “sit” (or “down”) by practicing clicking at the very second her bottom touches the ground (or belly, as in the case of down). This may help prevent late clicks, and it will also give Zucca a chance to build a stronger understanding and positive association with the click.

I recommend creating a situation where Zucca cannot approach the cones/enter the search area while Anthony is re-hiding the odor. It may be as simple as having a helper hold the leash. Other ideas may be to tether her or put her in an ex-pen while doing the quick change-up. There are a couple reasons for this:

First, when Zucca sniffs the cone right after Anthony hides the odor, he gives a verbal correction to make her leave the odor. We always want to reward interest in and approach to odor, even if we didn’t mean for the dog to do it. Pairing a correction with going to the odor will not only add confusion, it will stifle drive and will eventually result in her “backing off” from the game.

Second, I think Zucca would benefit from building up some drive before releasing her to the search area. By preventing her from accessing the area, Anthony can “pump her up” with verbal encouragement to build anticipation and excitement. This is also where a harness would be really helpful. With Zucca in a harness, he can take advantage of the natural resistance reflex the harness creates to build up her forward momentum and desire to “launch” into the search area with the kind of enthusiasm that says “game on!”

Another recommendation would be to focus more on rewarding directly at the source—I mean right ON the source. I would also draw out this reward so that the reward continues for several seconds. This can be easily done by breaking off bits from a treat and feeding them to Zucca (or feeding several small treats one at a time), all the while giving happy verbal praise. Delivering this kind of 10-15 second reward can really increase the positive association with the odor and make it very clear to Zucca that THIS is what we are after! This will serve to increase understanding, therefore build confidence, and there again, build drive.

I would like to provide my answer to the bonus assignment about Anthony and Zucca here since I was going to comment on her reluctance to accept his petting rewards as part of my commentary anyway…

Many dogs are not fans of being pet and handled on their head and neck–at least not when they are “working”. She consistently retreats from his hands when he reaches/pets her on the head and neck, which is a clear indication that this type of petting is not rewarding to Zucca. (It may be true that Zucca loves petting on the head/neck when they are having calm cuddly time, but not in this work/training mode.) Frankly, I would forego petting as part of the reward for now, and would stick to treats and play (see bit about play below). Outside of these training sessions, Anthony can experiment with what I call “petting for drive and confidence boosting”. Some techniques are:
–try not to pet Zucca anywhere from her shoulders forward toward her head.
–scratch the “butt-scratch zone” on the top of the back, near the base of the tail. (This also helps elevate the dog’s posture by kicking in some resistance reflex, which results in elevated confidence) Other places to pat that can elevate posture are the thighs and chest (although I would not do the chest for now, as she may think he’s reaching for her head.)
–Use pats and scratches instead of cuddly rubs. The analogy I use is to act more like a high-school coach who pats and pumps up the teen athlete, rather than the preschool teacher who gives more gooey baby-type rubs. Same can be said for verbal praise: try “Atta girl! Nice job!” instead of “Goooooooood giiiiiiiirrrrrlllll, so goooooooooood….” You get the picture.

Since I am suggesting leaving touch out of the reward sequence for now, I strongly recommend sticking with the higher value treats and using play as a reward.

I am a HUGE fan of play, and I find that it is really helpful for building drive and creating a strong positive association with training. Play breaks should be a regular part of training, and should take place between reps–even if not between every rep. Tug is a great play game because most dogs already enjoy it, or can be easily taught to play it. Tug also requires the owner to be involved, so it strengthens the bond and includes the human in the positive association/reward. It can really pump dogs up! So I would work on teaching Zucca to tug with enthusiasm, so that it builds drive physically and mentally. (A quick tip for teaching tug–in case Zucca doesn’t know this game: Teach Zucca to tug by encouraging her to chase a toy that Anthony is snaking around on the ground in front of her. Many owners try to teach tug by dangling the toy in the dogs face (or even gently bopping the dog in the face with it), but this can be a turn off for many dogs. Dogs find fun in chasing and catching the “prey”, not by having the “prey” forced in their face. Given Zucca’s discomfort with being handled at her head/neck, I am pretty certain that she would retreat from a toy that is being pushed upon her.

Oh dear, this is has become such a long post so I will stop here! Building drive and pumping up dogs is one of my MOST favorite activities, and as you can see, I can go on and on about it!