In previous posts we’ve looked in detail at some of the fluency issues that can scupper performances. Now let’s look at another area that can be fraught with pitfalls and mis-information.
Rewards and payments, or, more scientifically, reinforcement. Most of us train with frequent rewards. We tend to keep those rewards about our person for ease of access and swiftness of delivery – admirable things and perfectly OK unless you make the following cock-ups:
You suddenly change from a wage to a salary schedule – without informing the dog.
Wages are small, frequent, payments for work done. A salary is a larger sum paid after a longer duration of work done.
Be honest now, have you actually taught your dog how to go from wages to a salary schedule?
Does he understand that longer, harder work equals a much bigger payout?
If you haven’t, you can hardly blame him for going on strike when all of a sudden his wages don’t show up on the expected schedule.
You’ve been bribing, not rewarding, behaviour.
Maybe your dog believes in the ‘show me the money’ business model?
If he doesn’t see the dosh up front, he’s not doing the work. Again, if you’ve led him to believe that if he doesn’t see (or smell) the money he’s not going to get paid, then it shouldn’t be a surprise when he tells you to get lost.
‘Payment’ is a very common problem in ‘ringwise’ dogs.
It seems to me that you have about five ‘free’ performances before dogs cotton on to the fact that you aren’t carrying the goods any more. And, because we so rarely actually systematically teach them that the ‘no goodies on me’ picture is perfectly normal and payment WILL still be forthcoming, what they learn is:
‘no goodies’ + ‘competition situation’ = a looong drag of hard work (that is not connected to anything they may be lucky enough to get after the performance.)
This quickly leads to:
‘no goodies’ + ‘competition situation’ = “you must be joking!”
or variations thereof. This is a crappy problem to fix. Far better to never teach your dog the lesson in the first place.
How to avoid pay disputes.
- Use behaviour chains to teach your dog that more work = better pay.
Have him get more energised and keen because he knows that the longer he works, the bigger and better that payout will be. This avoids him running out of puff half way round or deciding that the sexy little border terrier girl over ring side really needs to be checked out NOW.
- Systematically teach your dog about remote reinforcement.
Get those cookies and toys off you and out of the way! If he trusts you to produce the promised goods then he won’t be worrying about where they are when his mind should be on the job in hand.
- Build chains.
Chains link your ring performance to the consequence of super payment outside the ring. And I do mean super! However, there is no point in paying anything at all if the dog can’t connect that consequence to his performance behaviour chain. For reference, Breezy used to get scrambled egg or black pudding – if you want top performance you need to pay top dollar!
These three posts cover the main types of common TRAINING problems that I see in competition dogs. In the last part I’ll be exploring other, less obvious, causes of the wheels falling off at trials. See you next time!
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