What’s In Your Dog’s Wine Glass?
On Monday I published a post about Trigger Stacking and created a graphic using wine glasses to help get my point across. It occurred to me that it was actually quite similar to the way I explain increasing the “Three D’s” of a training–distance, duration, and distraction.
Most people really struggle with the delicate balancing act that is finding the right mix of D’s to both set the dog up for success but also push and further a dogs skills and proofing. More often than not I see dogs who are absolutely overloaded by the situation the handler is working in or the criteria they have set. They fall into the “if you give a mouse a cookie he’ll ask for a glass of milk” trap. Their dog has completes a task that was once very challenging (a 1minute stay) and so they, “ask for a glass of milk” by adding all sort of other things to the criteria (add 30 seconds, 6 ft distance, turned back, and people walking around) thinking the dog will be successful.
Here’s the deal, you have to use your imagination a bit but think about your dog having a wine glass in their possession, every time you ask your dog to do a behavior the glass will ‘fill up’ with wine based on the variables in the situation (distractions, distances, durations, stresses, etc). In order for your dog to be successful with a given behavior, their wine glass must NOT overflow. If the wine glass overflows, the behavior breaks down and fails. Only a little wine in the glass and it was not a very exciting or challenging set up, too much wine and there was a messy party foul (and a stained carpet). When you are proofing and challenging a dog’s skills you want to work with the glass more full than empty but not overflowing.
Not all things add in the same amount of wine into the glass. Each dog dictates the amount of wine added for each variable–so depending on what they find more or less challenging it would change.
Typically, cuing a well known behavior adds less wine than a newly learned behavior and shorter duration less wine than longer duration. The amount of wine added in for various distractions will really vary depending on the dog. For instance, if there is a squirrel in the environment it doesn’t add that much wine in Shayne’s glass but it adds quite a bit to Rio’s glass. Over time, and through practice, a variable that once added a large amount of wine will start adding less and less because the dog acclimates to that variable. All sorts of things add wine to the glass when we are training–the distance from the handler, the duration of the behavior, how well the behavior is known, things in the environment (urban environments with large crowds of people, loud truck noises, constant traffic, hustle and bustle, trash on the ground, food smells from cafes, squirrels and pigeons in the open, etc), the weather (precipitation, temperature, humidity), and etc.
Knowing how much wine our dog’s glass can hold is really important in setting our dogs up for success. We sometimes have to make hard choices in our training to make sure we are not overfilling the glass.
For those of you keeping track, I have been working with a young vizsla with day-training. One of the big behaviors we have been working on is loose leash walking. He lives in a very urban environment with typical distractions being many people, groups of people, bicycles, other dogs, loud truck noises, birds (huge distraction for this hunting dog), the restaurants down the street, trash on the sidewalk, and some VERY brazen squirrels. As we were gaining success with loose leash walking I started asking for longer of duration of walking nicely between treats and working on the main street. All was going well until an errant squirrel crossed our path and the pup completely melted down and his loose leash walking took like 12 steps backwards.
I was able to regroup and I had to make some choices… was I going to move to the less busy street, reduce the duration between treats, or walk away from the squirrel? Clearly at least one of those pieces (or the wrong combination of them) was causing some serious overflow of his wine glass. Once we regrouped, I decided that it was important to work around that annoying squirrel chattering in the low branches of a small tree for proofing purposes. If I wanted to work with the squirrel, I couldn’t change my location so the only thing I could change was my duration level. Instead of asking for half a block of LLWing before earning a reward, I pretty much took duration out of the picture by moving to a very high rate of reinforcement–about every step. Once I took duration out of the picture we had success in working around the squirrel.
Handlers need to know how much their dog’s wine glass holds and they also have to pick and choose what variables to add in while still setting the dog up for success. You want to push your dogs to further their skills but you also don’t want to spill the wine–it really is a balancing act but it’s so important for success!