When Pigs Fly – a seminar

I audited a Jane Killion seminar a couple of weeks ago at Love on a Leash in Harrisonburg VA. Just received the book yesterday from Amazon (should have read it before so I’d know what to ask, hate to ask questions that are covered in a book that I should have read).

Jane was wonderful. Maybe I’ll always be impressed by the experts. Maybe? Certainly. They are experts, of course. That’s why we pay them the big bucks for the privilege of learning from them.

In the Saturday morning session, she worked on free shaping. One important thing she did was different for me. In teaching a behavior that involved an obstacle, she used targeting, of course, and

delivered the reward by tossing it on the ground behind her, so the dog would have to pass behind her to retrieve the food reward and then turn back around toward her – and toward the target – after getting the reward. Click-treat again!

She also reinforced the going toward the target in very small increments.

The location of reward delivery was ground-breaking for me. It’ll take a while for me to make it habit, but wow. I used it yesterday with Genie, and what I got after interrupting her forward motion toward a target several times by reinforcing behind me was more speed to the target – something I’ve had a hard time getting without this. It gets so that the dog almost doesn’t want to go back to get the food (she always did, of course – but she gave a startle response to the click and almost looked disgusted at my interruption)!

In the afternoon Jane worked on issues the dogs were having with agility. Most of the dogs were at a novice level, and most of their problems involved the start line. Some had weave pole, teeter or table issues. Actually, I’m not sure what the handlers thought the problems were. We couldn’t hear all that was said, since the session was held outdoors with very noisy traffic on the road, and some of the work was done one-on-one out on the course and out of earshot. However, since much of it was done right there at the start line, and much of it was the same for all of the dogs, we got a lot of start line work. So maybe that’s why I felt start line behavior was the issue. Well, it was definitely an issue!

One thing she did say was that most of the issues our dogs have are caused by us thinking the behavior has been trained/learned, when in fact it has not. She explained more about our tendency to lump behaviors and more about the need for free shaping ALL slices of a behavior, including the approach to the obstacle. It goes without saying that this training should take place in many different locations and circumstances with all kinds of distractions – or the behavior is incompletely learned!

I made inferences from her instruction as follows. Actually, she did say some of this, but not all (or maybe she did and I wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t there at the moment):

  1. We don’t reinforce sufficiently for appropriate behavior at the start line. We probably don’t have a complete picture of our dog’s start line behavior. Need to have a picture and train it!
  2. No start line attention, no dog on course.
  3. I can see how having 100% dog attention and comfort at the start line makes a huge difference in the way the dog runs the course.
  4. No dog at start, always fighting an uphill battle.

Some (of my) conclusions:

  1. A cyclical problem: We don’t train sufficiently, dog is uncertain, we “help” the dog – so no independent performance by dog, meaning dog’s performance is dependent on us – our perfect timing, our perfect position. Dog has no confidence because we have no confidence – and we cannot do the dog’s job for him! So training the dog to know and love – and drive to – each piece of equipment is critical.
  2. “Pigs fly” dogs (substitute ‘all dogs’) learn “better” (faster, more solidly) if they figure it out themselves.
  3. “Pigs fly” dogs (substitute ‘all dogs’) learn “better” (faster, more solidly) if they are rewarded every step on their way to figuring it out themselves.
  4. Most dogs are “pigs fly” dogs on some level. I don’t think Jane said that. I just did – and I believe it.
  5. In rewarding the dog frequently for all of the slices that lead to the final behavior, esp with targeting, once the dog realizes the target is, well, the target, every click interrupts the forward behavior – and the dog gets slightly frustrated because she cannot get to the goal. After all, she has to go eat the dratted food. This increases her desire to reach the goal and thus speeds up her performance. Causing the dog to go farther away from the target (to get the reward) adds distance – increases the distance to the target – and makes dog go faster toward the target. Sorta mixing negative punishment with positive reinforcement. Love it!

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