With Thanksgiving in the middle of this last fortnight, our training schedule was significantly disrupted. Our travel plans also offered new opportunities for training that I don’t usually have. As a result, this update is not about relaxation, but rather about chickens.
Here’s a video of what we did:
This is why I both love and hate taking video of my training. On one hand, it’s fun to see where things are going well. On the other, it really exposes the flaws in my training. But then again, I do appreciate being able to pick apart those flaws so I can do it better next time.
I did three things well in this video. First, I put Maisy on a long line for (most of) the training. This helped prevent her from engaging in the behavior I was trying to eliminate. Second, I used very high value treats: tortilla chips. Maisy is a sucker for the crispy, carby goodness of chips, and I used that to my full advantage. Finally, I think my timing was pretty good. Although it’s hard to hear the clicker in the video, it seems like most of my clicks were well-timed.
I think the biggest thing I did wrong was not planning my training. I usually plan my sessions in some way, either on paper or in my head, but this one was completely unplanned. And it shows. There are lots of errors in this video, and I think they all resulted from a lack of planning.
I didn’t think about how I was going to approach the chickens with Maisy. I would have been better off doing some parallel walking instead of using a head-on approach which mimicked chasing. At the same time, walking parallel would have allowed me to keep a better distance away from them. It’s very clear that we started out too close to those exciting chickens, which made the task much harder for Maisy than it needed to be.
I also didn’t do a very good job of providing her with feedback. My rate of reinforcement could have been much higher if I’d spent a few minutes thinking about which behaviors were desirable. I was clicking Maisy only for turning away from the chickens to look at me when I should have also clicked for sustained focus, heeling, and offering behaviors such as sits and downs. Maisy really deserved to be paid better for her hard work.
Finally, I did a horrible job of adjusting the criteria, especially in the off-leash segment. Which, let’s be honest, I shouldn’t have even attempted. She was not ready to be off-leash, but she had done so well, and it was my last chance to work with Maisy on the chickens before we left. If I’d done some planning, I would have known she wasn’t ready. But even if she had been ready for it, I failed to adjust the rest of the criteria. When you make one part of the task harder, you should temporarily make the rest of your criteria easier. When I took her off-leash, I should have started further away, worked for shorter periods of time, and used a higher rate of reinforcement.
Despite my not-so-great training, Maisy really did a great job. Sometimes it amazes me that she learns anything at all with me as her trainer. Honestly, if I were to rename this blog, I think I’d call it “Shame About the Handler.” Maisy has a lot of potential, and I don’t have the skills needed to help her live up to it yet. Thankfully, Maisy doesn’t care about wasted potential. As long as I keep her in tennis balls and bully sticks, she’s thrilled to be my dog.