You mean to be consistent, right? You know exactly what you want, no problem. Why do you find yourself rewarding what you don’t want then? Why did you get that head drop on the figure 8, or the dog that comes off the nose work hide, instead of staying there? Welcome to the wonderful world of criteria, one of the most important, but certainly not the easiest concept for all dog trainers, in all sports.
So, in case you have not heard, I am doing a class on Criteria, a whole class! Why? Because it is not that easy, but so important for a good dog trainer to understand, identify and maintain. Why? Here you go: It is kinder to your dog. I am going to say kinder there, I almost said clearer, could have said less discouraging, right? I honestly believe it is kinder to your dog to have clear criteria and keep it. It is hard on a dog to be rewarded one time for a missed contact in agility (it was hard, I don’t want my dog to get discouraged!), and then not gain reward when you decide that this time it was easier for them and they could have kept your ever changing criteria. Why? Because dogs are non-verbal learners, which is why behavior analysis works so well for them, we can only communicate what we like and what we don’t by what we do and don’t do (reward/don’t reward).
When I did the chicken workshops, Criteria was the most difficult workshop for me. The task was simple, well, at least the first task. All you had to do was have your chicken go around a cone, one bird was an “outside loop” bird, in other words, never crossing the area between the two cones, and one was an “ inside loop” bird, or figure 8, always crossing the center line. That can’t be hard, right? Here is why it was, it was all based on your criteria, when to ask for more distance between the two cones, when to reward, when to back down on what you were asking and make it a little easier for the bird. Here was the main take away for me: YOU CANNOT REWARD EVERYTHING. Remember the non-verbal learner part? Yeah, the dogs, and birds, believe what you reward is exactly what you want! How does this apply to dog training?
Your obedience dog does a recall but goes right to finish because he is excited, you reward the enthusiasm. Your agility dog pops out of the weave poles in agility class, and you go back to the start of weave and start over, rewarding at the end of the run. Your nose work dog finds a hide runs to you, and you put the food on the hide to reward, your obedience dog is doing a figure 8 and sniffs the steward and quickly recovers and you keep going, you want to get all the way around the figure 8, and reward. Hmm, see any problem with the above scenarios? If you think like a dog you will!
The amazing thing about the criteria workshops was that once you passed your “outside” loop bird or your “inside loop” bird, you then could do a reversal. You had two different colored cones and if they were one color your bird was to do an outside loop and then when your partner changed the cone color, they were to change their behavior to the figure 8. Here is my reversal:
Can you see what is going on in this video? Can you see how the bird changes it’s behavior according to what criteria I had previously reinforced? Do you see the little catches? When the bird almost does or does not cross the center?
All this brought to you courtesy of Criteria! To say I learned a lot working with Bob and Parvene would be an understatement, and those white ladies never lied to me, never tried to cheer me up or feel good, it was pure criteria, or as Bob would say “ You get what you reinforce, not what you want”.
I am excited about this class because I have seen what is possible with chickens, and know what is possible with our dogs, and to make it even better, the dogs get happier the clearer we are! Clarity is kindness in dog training.
Hope you will join me in class! This year I will be offering 4 daily feedback classes, and this is the first of 2017, I started with what I considered the most difficult and the most misunderstood of Bob’s “Timing/Rate of Reinforcement/Criteria” . Class registration opens on Jan. 1st and class begins on Jan. 15th. For trainers that are looking for weekly support, available all year long, I also offer a Performance Mentoring Program, and things like criteria are discussed all the time J
Happy training to you!