2-minute dog trainer – consistent reinforcement

If someone were to quote “Marsha-isms” I hope one they would choose is my favorite —

“Most dog training problems, and most dog behavior issues, are the result of ill-timed or inconsistent reinforcement.”

Dogs learn through reinforcement.

The more often they’re right, the more frequent the reinforcement for the right behavior, the faster they learn.

The smart dog trainer makes sure her dog is right 95% or more of the time.

Some unwanted behaviors are self-rewarding so the clever trainer must install the replacement behavior before the puppy discovers the unwanted behavior.

Regardless of whether it’s an agility performance or house manners, responsibility for the dog’s behavior sits firmly on the shoulders of the trainer.

My puppy cannot behave in a manner I’ve not taken the time to train.

Phoenix has two behaviors in class that really annoy me. More because they point out my shortcomings as a trainer than any other reason.

Let me start by saying he has no natural impulse control. I’m teaching him, incident by incident, how to control his puppy impulses.

At class last night he had a couple of out-of-control moments which embarrassed me slightly, and put some things on the top of my “to do list.”

1) Phoenix barks in his ex-pen when other dogs run, and when our students are excited and are encouraging their dogs. It’s just a matter of over-stimulation on his part, but I’ve not spent the time encouraging quiet.

2) When Phoenix wants to visit people and dogs he likes, my recall is worthless. I work on recall  occasionally, but need to put more emphasis on it because it is truly NOT reliable. He approaches people and dogs as if everyone wants to be his new best friend (sorry Crystal <g>).

So, in the first instance, I’ve not established enough reinforcement for the replacement behavior (quietly lying down in his ex-pen while other dogs are running).

In the second instance, I’ve not conditioned an immediate response to my recall.

Oh yeah, and he jumps up on people. And most people reinforce that. So my work at sitting-for-petting-and-attention must get more focus.

Topdog Agility Players agility club

Beginning June 1st our training center will be transitioning to a club where our agility friends can come and play, and work, and train, and even teach!

We’re not so much “closing the training center” as discontinuing classes, rosters, paperwork, and e-mail reminders.

When we become a social club we have a few expectations:
1. we’ll get assistance with responsibility and maintenance, OR
2. we’ll have less public appearance maintenance
3. we’ll grow a few new (and amazing) agility instructors, as
we’ll be allowing our members to run their own classes
4. our members will have incentive to invite members
5. we’ll spend time and effort commensurate with income

Members will have access to our instruction (Bud’s on Wednesdays, mine on Tuesdays) and we’ll still have occasional workshops. Members will have unlimited access to the training building and fields.  We’ll expect them to assume some responsibility over their training goals.

It’s all about consistent reinforcement, after all.

Bud’s been teaching agility classes for 20 years. I’ve been teaching obedience and agility for 18 years. In 2012 about 90% of our reinforcement (reward) comes from non-agility-class activities.

We’re hoping this transition allows all of us to train our dogs and have fun doing dog-related activities, gets us some assistance keeping up the public appearance of the agility building and surrounding zone, and spreads some of the responsibility associated with lesson plans, rosters, and e-mail updates.

Or maybe it will still be just Bud and I maintaining a 60×120 pole barn and parking lot, and playing with our dogs.

Some folks object to change of any sort, so it remains to be seen what the response will be to our plan.

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