Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off-leash paradigm shifts, reinforcers, attention, and all that jazz

I've decided I want an off-leash recall by the 4th of July. I've no idea whether that is a reasonable goal or not, but it is helping me focus on actually working with Kumi and not letting it stagnate, so I guess it's a good thing.

Going into this, I thought about the problems we've had working with her outside (which is where off-leash matters, no?). The biggest problem is that she will *not* take treats outside. Things she will work fairly hard for indoors, she will completely ignore while outside. It's like opening her mouth and chewing is too distracting from looking around to be worth her while. I don't know, but treats don't work, and that makes things difficult.

Doing nothing also has no effect. She gets really into standing and watching, so she really doesn't care if we ignore her, or don't move, or what have you.

So, we've already crossed off the 'positive' and 'neutral' training types, and are down to the dreaded negative things. But...going back inside when she does something wrong has been somewhat effective. So is that 'removing the reward' of being outside, or 'introducing an aversive' or...I get so confused when I start to think about it, but it seems to work? I do stay happy when we do it, just 'nope' then 'okay, time to go in' or something like that.

One of the best successes we had was when she was ignoring my directions when trying to get her in the car (she LOVES car trips). We got out to the car, and she wouldn't sit while I opened the door and was generally being a jerk, so I took her back in and did some dishes for a few minutes and tried again. She was SO enthusiastic and SO good - her butt was hitting the ground like, well, I can't really think of a good simile, but normally even her being-good-and-paying-attention-because-I-want-dinner obedience is to yawn and think about it, and slowly lower herself down once the committee has gotten back with a resolution on this 'sit' thing. This time, however, it was more like some crazy border collie who actually *wanted* to do what you said.

So, I'm thinking that maybe I'm not letting her fail often enough? Apparently she does get it, and just knows she can get away with things. Previously I would repeat the commands a few times thinking she might be so focused on the outside she literally didn't hear me. I'd only go in when it was really clear she wasn't paying any attention. Part of this is due to the whole 'negative' thing. I admit I felt bad going in with a plan of setting my dog up to fail so I could bring her back inside as a reinforcer. But...this is changing my perspective.

Anyway, armed with that inspiration, I put her on a long line, and went into the unfenced front yard, expecting to ask her to touch once, have her ignore me and head for the neighbor's yard, and bring her back in.

But, she didn't. She wouldn't walk more than, oh, 8 feet away from me, even with all sorts of coaxing. This is farther than our normal leash allows, but still absolutely in the realm of 'your off-leash dog appears under control'. She was looking away from me, but...she does that, and she didn't seem 'zoned out'.

And she listened to my 'touch'.

She did eventually get distracted by the dog across the street barking, but I felt that was a little unfair. My paradigm shifted again.

Kumi's appallingly bad leash manners always seemed at odds with her impeccably polite house manners. Maybe she would have been good, and just wanted to do it at a farther distance? when relaxing around the house, she normally sits some distance away from people and looks 'out' - maybe that's her mode outside too. Were we being unreasonable asking for a more strict heel?

On the other hand, maybe it's just that the attention work on the shorter leash has paid off more than I realized. Or she's bonded with us more now, and she would have stayed closer now regardless of what training we did.

I don't know anything, but it has made me think.