Birds, Sheep, Rats and other Out of Control Rewards

Posted on 04/07/10 12 Comments

Last week during our discussion of training methodology several of you wrote in with the same concern (and I’m certain there where several more of you that sat in silent wonder in front of your computer screen).  The question is, can you control your dog’s highest reinforcement if this reinforcement is out of your control and there appears to be nothing more valuable to the dog? I am talking about the value of sheep to a Border Collie or birds to a field dog or rats to a Terrier.  The answer is yes and no.

Can Susan Garrett control her dog’s responses around their favorite reinforcement without physical punishment? Yes. Can the rest of you? Possibly not. Why the difference? It has nothing to do with me being better at this than any of you, that is just a limiting belief you may be currently harbouring and until you deal with that nothing will be possible. I am no different than anyone. I am not holding a store of magic pixie dust, I hold no secret power nor was born with any magical sense of dogs that the rest of you lack.

The reason I may have success where you don’t comes down to my knowledge of a dog trainer. So the first thing you do is get you butt to one of my Advances in Dog Training Workshops. That alone will give you the tools to know how to control those seemingly out of control rewards.  Why am I so confident it can be done? First of all there is Bob Bailey.

When Bob trained dolphins what do  you think he used as a primary reinforcement? Well, he likely used a number of things, but mostly he used fish. The thing the dolphins where fed everyday. Now you may cry, you can’t compare dolphin training to dog training because dolphins are worked in an aquarium environment with no distractions, not even another dolphin near by. Yes for the most part this is true, but Bob Bailey was a pioneer in open ocean training of dolphins. He trained them to do bomb searches for the US Navy. Here the dolphins had to swim ahead a mile away from the trainer in open ocean to scout for bombs that may have been planted by the American armed force’s enemy.


Bob working at one of our Say Yes Chicken Camps many years ago.
Bob works at one of his Say Yes Chicken Camps from many years ago.


Here the dolphins would have their freedom, the chance to leave captivity, here the dolphins would swim by a few trillion fish but return when recalled (they wore a collar that emitted sounds they were trained to recognize) and when they returned to Bob guess what their reward was? Fish. Why would they do it?  They just swam by all the possible reinforcement they could ever want. They could have the ultimate reinforcement of their freedom? The reason is that when you train this way the work takes on the value of the reinforcement and often times it becomes MORE reinforcement than the reward itself (this isn’t necessarily a good thing and you must have a plan if this happens).

I said that is one of the reasons I know you can control your dog in the face of ducks, sheep and rats, tomorrow I will go into another reason for my strong belief.

Today I am grateful for the curiosity what driving the change of what is and is not acceptable methodology in dog training.

12 Comments

  1. Amy says:
    Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 6:38pm

    I believe you, because I have seen how a tennis ball can transform the weave poles into the most valuable thing in the world, even with serious distractions. I am just confused at how to translate this kind of training into getting my dog to stop flying into a frenzy and flinging himself at the fence while roaring at the top of his lungs when the neighbors dog comes outside. Or how to get him to stay quite in the crate when the other dogs are “playing agility” while he waits his turn. I really need to attend one our your workshops soon.

    Reply

  2. Glenda says:
    Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 4:07pm

    Ever since my little Aussie was a puppy she was obsessed with birds. I was really concerned about how this could play out in an agility trial. Then one morning when she was about a year old we were outside walking and she practically tripped over a little sparrow that was on a low branch of a bush. Faster than you can say “fly away little bird” she had that bird in her mouth with a wing sticking out each side of her muzzle. I quickly told her to drop it, but it was like telling a chocoholic that she could lick but not eat a godiva chocolate. She quickly tried to swallow it. I walked towards her and told her to drop it, and she nearly choked doing it, but that darned thing went down in one gulp.

    I’m thinking it might have flapped a little going down and really didn’t feel very good to her, because she has not chased another bird since. However, I wouldn’t recommend this for BCs and sheep. Gulp.

    Reply

  3. Kari says:
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 10:15pm

    I believe you, because I have seen how a tennis ball can transform the weave poles into the most valuable thing in the world, even with serious distractions. I am just confused at how to translate this kind of training into getting my dog to stop flying into a frenzy and flinging himself at the fence while roaring at the top of his lungs when the neighbors dog comes outside. Or how to get him to stay quite in the crate when the other dogs are “playing agility” while he waits his turn. I really need to attend one our your workshops soon.

    Reply

  4. denise says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 6:29pm

    Noooo, don’t taper off in winter…..that’s when I’ll be in Canada! 🙂

    Reply

  5. Christine says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 4:25pm

    Well I’m pretty excited to get to the AIDT training coming up and get some tips to help with our training.

    Reply

  6. Sara Reusche says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 3:13pm

    Thank you for this post! I am sick of hearing that the only way a predatory dog can be dealt with is by using a shock collar. My now-four-year-old mixed breed is quite intense: she snapped two collars at the age of 16-20 weeks going after prey, and once got stuck in a tree that she climbed chasing a cat. She was catching, killing,and eating small critters even as a tiny puppy. Food meant nothing to her in the presense of prey: I once put some easy cheese on her tongue when she was fixated on something, and it melted off.

    Through controlling her access to reinforcement (stronger collars!) and the use of Premack, I now have a dog who can be trusted off-leash. I have a video of her practicing stays off leash in a local park while I feed a flock of canada geese about 20 feet away from her. I’ll admit that she does still get stuck in a predatory FAP in the presense of really large distractions (a group of bunnies playing, for example), but usually if I give her a minute or two she’s able to come back to earth and offer a default behavior.

    Reply

  7. Karissa says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 2:32pm

    My young female BC is the queen of self reinforcement…. And typically, her highest form of reinforcement is engaging one of my other dogs in play — so much so, that she doesn’t seem to care to play with me. I ordered Ruff Love yesterday. Can’t wait to read it to tap more into this.

    Reply

  8. Kathy says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 11:52am

    We got gophers in the field where I was training. My instructor said I was going to have to consider stopping training there or use some heavy duty adversives, which I was not going to do, or go elsewhere because of the distraction level of my dog and because I was not going to be able to control the gophers….I thought what would my dog training heros say? I asked for the keys to the yard to practice…and brought my weave poles and premacked, you do weaves, you get a click and you get to obsess over the gophers. Over a few days the gophers became less attractice and agility became more interesting and my doggie could do more agility to earn her gophers. It was just a week or two and the rotten little gophers were poppping their heads out of their holes right next to my dog running a course and she was FINE. I too would be very interested in reading more about the amygdala and why something like this works

    Reply

  9. Linda Ryan says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 11:47am

    Are these workshops going to be offered at other times during the year?

    Reply

    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 11:51am

      Yes we offer workshops throughout the year (tapering off during the dead of winter:))

      Reply

  10. Susan Mann says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 9:54am

    I consider using “distractions” as reinforcers is a must-have skill for people seriously into training, and especially so if you want to avoid using aversives/punishment. In addition to Bob (although I though he also used female dolphins, not just fish, for the open water work?) Bailey’s dolphin example, some of the things that have stuck in my mind over the years have been Victoria Farrington’s use of squirrels to teach LLW to terriers (!!!), and Patricia McConnell’s allowing a dog to return to dead animal carcass after sucessfully recalling the dog off it.

    Another thing I’m interested in reading more about is the seeker circuit, and it’s relationship to drive, and the amygdala. From the little I understand, I think when we clicker train and teach the dogs to be fully operant, we engage, perhaps even build up, their seeker circuit, making the learning process ever more valuable to the animal, which may be why the the same thing that is incredibly reinforcing to the dog when used as a reinforcer, becomes negligable as a distraction. I’ve certainly had my dogs be not terribly interested in a toy or treat- until I give it as a reinforcer, in which case it is killed if a toy, or gobbled up if a treat (and my dogs are willing to eat “air cookies” and pocket lint fairly often, though I love to buy my dogs treats so doesn’t happen too often!)

    Reply

  11. Barb Deg says:
    Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 9:27am

    I use pheasant wings as a reinforcer for my Irish Setter (along with tug games, and food rewards, etc)-using his instints to my advantage-he knows he can get a bird out of mom if he works-so why chase outside birds that he won’t be able to get.

    Reply

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