Come When Called Foundations

Lesson 1: Pavlov, What's in a Name?

Dogs are nonverbal creatures, meaning they communicate primarily through body language. Our verbal language means very little to dogs so it is our responsibility to give our dogs a reason to care about the words we say.

Ivan Pavlov is a Russian Physiologist, famous for his work in classical conditioning with dogs. Classical conditioning is a process of learning wherein specific stimuli are paired together to create meaning to the dog. For example, in his famous experiments, Pavlov was able to condition dogs to salivate (drool) at the sound of a bell. He did this by pairing the sound of the bell with food. Every time the bell rang, food would appear immediately afterward. Soon, in the mind of the dogs, the bell came to be synonymous with food and the dogs would salivate in anticipation at the sound. Classical conditioning works to create a reflex, a behavior that happens automatically.

🔔 →🍗 Becomes:🔔 =🍗

Dogs are nonverbal creatures, meaning they communicate primarily through body language. Our verbal language means very little to dogs so it is our responsibility to give our dogs a reason to care about the words we say. We can’t expect a dog to know the meaning of “sit” or “come” if they have never been exposed to the word before, or were never formally trained to respond to the cue.

Imagine that you are your dog’s cultural liaison, and your dog is a foreign exchange student from mars. Everything is foreign and new and it is your job to teach your pup the rules of society. Your dog will make mistakes, that is part of the learning process. Be patient and do your best to set up your pup for success. You wouldn't punish an exchange student for making a mistake, try to maintain the same level of patience and understanding with your dog. Remember learning takes time and practice, if your dog isn’t doing it right, he probably needs more practice.

We are going to use classical conditioning, just like Pavlov, to assign that meaning. Over time this will turn into a reflexive response in which your pup offers you his attention in response to his name.

To begin, get some treats that your dog LOVES. The more valuable the reinforcement, the stronger the reflex will be. This has a lot to do with the stimulation of the reward center in the brain. We are creating a habit both internally and externally. When we stimulate the reward center in response to the name, the brain also learns to react in certain ways to the sound of the name. Just like drooling at the sound of the bell. Over time we can fade out the food, and the brain will take over with a strong reflexive behavior.

Remember training rewards should be small, 1⁄2 to 1⁄4 the size of your smallest fingernail are an appropriate size.

Teaching this process is very simple, say your pup's name, and immediately follow with a treat.

Over time, ”Name" → 🍗 becomes "Name" = 🍗

Just like pavlov's bell, the dogs will begin to listen intently for their name because it is now loaded with an important association. This is the first step to teaching name recognition. Have everyone in your household repeat these steps equally. Everyone will say the name slightly differently, therefore it is important to practice with all of the variations. Otherwise, you may find that the pup pays more attention to one family member over another. 

 

Lesson 2: Name Reorientation

Using a name is essentially a cue for the dog to reorient their attention to you. For training this can be useful as a cheerful interrupter of undesired behavior, and as a way to gain your dog’s attention prior to cuing desired behavior.

Now that your pup is interested in his name through the classical conditioning process described in the lesson “Pavlov 🔔 , What’s in a Name?” we can introduce the next step of name recognition & reorientation.

Using a name is essentially a cue for the pup to reorient their attention to you. For training this can be useful as a cheerful interrupter of undesired behavior, and as a way to gain your dog’s attention prior to cuing desired behavior such as a recall. The purpose of this exercise is to make it rewarding for your pup to re- orient to you when they hear their name so that they are more likely to do so again in the future.

Because the dog is still learning, it is very important that we only say their name once for each repetition. If we repeat the name, we risk the pup thinking that their name is "fido fido FIDO" rather than "fido". Remember dog's are nonverbal creatures, so understanding our language does not come naturally to them. We need to be consistent to have the best chances of teaching the dog to understand us effectively. As with any relationship, communication is key, keep it simple and you'll have a much better chance of success!

Step 1: Begin this exercise in a quiet area with as few distractions as possible.

Step 2: Say your pup’s name once.

Step 3: Click for any acknowledgement that (s)he heard you say their name, this could be as small as a flick of the ear, or as noticeable as a turn of the head. This will take some practice to get your timing just right so be patient.

Step 4: Reward! 

Step 5: Repeat.

Over time you will notice that the dog has figured out the game, you say his name, and he re-orients to you to receive his reward. This is a great start for a basic recall. As you and your pup become more skilled, practice in different locations, add some distance by rewarding between your feet so that your dog must travel to you for reinforcement, and slowly increase your distractions in the environment to help your pup succeed wherever you go. 

Lesson 3: Targeting

argeting, or teaching the dog to touch a specific object with his nose, is an excellent basic behavior to start clicker training. It is a foundation behavior, meaning that we can use targeting to teach many other behaviors that are more complex.

Targeting, or teaching the dog to touch a specific object with his nose, is an excellent basic behavior to start clicker training. It is a foundation behavior, meaning that we can use targeting to teach many other behaviors that are more complex and difficult. Touch can be a great way to communicate your expectations to your dog.

Your hand target can be an open hand or fist that your will be dog expected to touch with his nose. Try it both ways, to see which position your dog is more responsive too. By using your hand, the target is always with you when you need it.

We can use hand targets in obedience to practice recalls, heeling, positioning, and more. We can use it in handling, to move the dog without having to restrain or force him, resulting in a more cooperative experience. We can use it as a lure so that we can fade our use of food in training. It is also a great tool for teaching tricks such as spin! Most importantly it is a wonderful behavior for combatting rude greeting behaviors like jumping. By giving the dog an alternative body part to focus in on, we can ask guests to offer hands low, to encourage the dog to stay low while greeting politely through targeting!

When working with touch it is your dog's job to bring his nose to the target, don't bring the target to him or he won't learn to put in the effort necessary to complete the behavior.

For this behavior, the presentation of your hand is going to be the cue, so don't worry too much about saying anything, it is not necessary to say "touch".

Step 1: To begin, place your "target" within half of an inch for your pup's nose. Step 2: The dog will likely sniff it curiously, wondering why you put your hand there. Click the moment you feel your pup's nose touch your hand and reward right away.

If your dog does not show any interest in your hand within 3-5 seconds take it away and re-present it.

Step 3: Practice 10 times very close to your pup's nose then take a break.

When your dog starts reliably bopping your hand with his nose when you present it, you can begin to add some distance by repeating the steps above at 6 inches from your pup, then a foot, then 3 feet, etc. Start small at first and work your way up with lots of practice. If your dog's "touch" behavior begins to decline you may have jumped too far too fast, slow it down and build up some more practice before increasing the distance further. 

Lesson 4: Creating a Recall

Now it's time to put all of the skills we just learned together, to create a solid recall!

Lesson 5: Advancing Your Recall

There are many factors that affect the difficulty level of a task. One of these factors is Distance. Today we are going to focus on increasing the distance of learned behaviors such as recall, touch, and reorientation. 

There are many factors that affect the difficulty level of a task. One of these factors is Distance. Today we are going to focus on increasing the distance of learned behaviors such as recall, touch, and reorientation. To help your pup to succeed we want to focus on increasing one level of difficulty at a time. If your dog gets frustrated they may give up trying altogether, so it is important to keep training fun, and engaging. Here are some tips for working at home:

  1. Use Shaping: If you see your pup giving you part of the response that you want, mark that part with a Click to let them know they are on the right track. After a couple of repetitions, withhold your click and wait for slightly more effort, click for any increased effort and start rewarding at that level, and repeat. We can mold behaviors by gradually building off of responses in this way.

  2. Break down behaviors into smaller steps, and reward each step of the way. Rather than expecting your dog to perform a “touch” behavior at 10 feet after practicing at 2 feet, build up to 10 feet. For example:

    • Touch at 2 ft • Touch at 3 ft • Touch at 4 ft • Touch at 6 ft • Touch at 8 ft • Touch at 10 ft

3. Use the 80% rule before increasing the difficulty further. Before raising the bar on your pet, ask yourself if they are successful 80% or more of the time. If not, stay where you are, If they are, move up!

4. Don’t stay at one level of difficulty to long, raise the bar! (As long as your pup is succeeding). If your dog seems to be getting the hang of it, raise the bar, increase the challenge, to keep your pet mentally active and make training fun as the games evolve. Stagnant learning can cause boredom and diminish the great work you have been doing.

5. Don’t reward for lower level performances. If you know your dog can perform a touch at a 4 ft distance, don’t give treats for 2 ft touches anymore. Feel free to praise your dog of course, they should know they are doing a great job! But, do hold your valuable treats for valuable behaviors.

6. Don’t be afraid to take a step backwards. If your pup is struggling, take a step back until they are successful once again before raising the bar once more.

7. Three fails, Go Back! If your dog fails 3 times at a task, break it down and ask for something slightly simpler before trying again. Too much failure builds frustration.

Practice, Practice Practice! And most importantly, Have Fun! 

Lesson 6: Fading Reinforcement

reats are a great way to provide motivation and reinforcement for new behaviors while they are being learned. However, we don’t want your dogs to become dependent on treats for their entire lives, and we want to translate these behaviors into A Routine.

Treats are a great way to provide motivation and reinforcement for new behaviors while they are being learned. However, we don’t want your dogs to become dependent on treats for their entire lives, and we want to translate these behaviors into routine habits in time. To effectively remove food treats from your dog’s routine, we must use a process called fading reinforcement. Before fading reinforcement, make sure that your behaviors are well-learned and fluent to a variety of situations. For example, for the sit behavior:

  • Does your dog sit immediately following the verbal or hand cue?

  • Can your dog sit around distractions?

  • Can your dog sit on and off leash?

  • Can your sit outdoors and indoors?

  • Can your dog sit for other people?

    If you answered yes to all of the above, you are ready to begin fading reinforcement! If you answered no to any of these scenarios, keep practicing! There are a lot of options for fading reinforcement, but which are the most effective? and why?

    Right now you are using a Continuous Schedule of Reinforcement (CRF) for the behaviors that you have taught your dog. This means that EVERY correctly performed behavior is constantly reinforced.

    Now if we suddenly stop reinforcing the behaviors altogether, we could develop extinction. Extinction can be great when we are removing reinforcement for undesired behaviors, but it can be a problem when we want the dog to keep performing a particular behavior. Extinction occurs when a behavior is never reinforced and therefore disappears because no reason or motivation for the behavior currently exists. To avoid extinction, we can utilize a schedule of reinforcement to assist us in fading out reinforcement effectively.

    Fixed Schedule of Reinforcement: The correct response is reinforced consistently after a fixed duration or number of performances.

e.g. sit - sit - sit - treat - sit - sit - sit- treat - sit - sit - sit- treat - etc. e.g. 10 seconds - treat - 10 seconds - treat - 10 seconds - treat - etc.

The problem with fixed schedules is that dog quickly learns when the reinforcement will be delivered and will therefore put in their best effort immediately before reinforcement. A dog asked to sit 3 times will perform his best sit on the 3rd cue.

 

Variable Schedule of Reinforcement: The correct response is reinforced after a random number of repetitions or duration that is constantly changing.

e.g. sit - treat - sit - sit - sit - treat - sit - treat - sit - sit - treat - sit - sit - sit - sit - treat - etc. e.g. 10 seconds - treat - 15 seconds - treat - 5 seconds - treat - 15 seconds - treat - etc.

Variable schedules are the most resistant to extinction and performance drop-offs because the reinforcement is unpredictable, the dog performs at the same level consistently “just in case” reinforcement is right around the corner.

 

The trick to fading reinforcement effectively is to build on the process gradually, randomize starting in small intervals 2 behaviors, 4 behavoirs, 3 behaviors between rewards and build your way up to more at a time gradually. The most effective way to fade food reinforcers from your dog’s routine, is to employ a Variable Schedule of Reinforcement with Reinforcement Variety (VRRV) by using other things that your pup likes as additional non- food reinforcers that bridge the gap between food reinforcement.

e.g. Sit - Praise - Down - Play Tug - Touch (Targeting) - Treat - Sit - Down - Throw Ball - Touch (Targeting) - Sit - Treat - etc.

 

Secondary (Non-Food) Reinforcers Include:

  • -  Attention/Praise

  • -  Play (Fetch - Tug - Chase - etc.)

  • -  Toys

  • -  Access to Other Activities (e.g. opening the door to go outside, going for a walk, riding in the car, playing with other dogs, etc.)

     

    Tips for Fading Reinforcement:

  • Acknowledge your dog’s successes. If your dog performs a behavior in a particularly difficult scenario, don’t be afraid to reinforce it!

  • Stop rewarding for “trying” and raise your expectations. Only reward performances that meet those expectations.

  • Ask more of fluent behaviors; more difficulty, more distraction, more duration, more repetitions.

  • As your pup succeeds, continue to raise the bar.

  • If your dog’s performance falters, go back in with a clicker and treats and refine it.

  • Remember reinforcers are EARNED , they are not bribes. If you find yourself stuck luring a behavior, talk to a trainer about proofing your cues. Most importantly, remember to keep training and working with your dog FUN! 

Have Fun Training!

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