Well, this could be a blog about my as-yet-to-be-successful attempts to lose 10 pounds, but more on point, it’s a discussion about the value of a dog’s dinner in training and behavior modification. I am inspired to write this after seeing Kathy Sdao’s seminar last January in Orlando, and reading her new book, Plenty in Life is Free. It’s a really good book, in which her primary point is that the so-often-recommended “NILIF” (Nothing in Life is Free) programs recommended are based on a flawed assumption, and should be replaced with using Operant Conditioning to teach the behavior we want.
I say “Here Here!” to that. It’s just another version of dominance theory, and as Kathy argues, it can have a negative effect on the relationship between a dog and its owner. What I especially like about the book (besides perhaps the most endearing cover to a book imaginable) is its focus on teaching a dog what you DO want him or her to do, and how to use what she calls “Get SMART” to do so. SMART = See, Mark and Reward Training. In other words, first you focus your attention on your dog, paying attention to when he does something that you like. You Mark it with a clicker or a verbal marker, and then Reinforce it with food, play or touch. No “commands,” just watch, look and listen… and use your increased awareness to reinforce your dog for behavior that you like.
Here’s a short list of some of the many things we can notice and reinforce (she recommends 50 times a day!): looking at your face, walking by your side, relaxing quietly while you work, staying in the crate. Besides being attentive, the key here is to use the dog’s dinner to reinforce the behavior you want. The example from Redstart Farm is Tootsie heeling when we walk to the barn. There’s no fence around the front yard and the driveway leads to a county highway. But I want Tootsie to be safe off leash in the yard, so without using any cue at all, I’ve taken part of her breakfast and dinner with me every time we walk past the driveway to the barn. She gets a treat every time she is in heel position on my right side. (Willie is trained to the left, so I thought I switch sides so that someday we can all walk together.)
She now walks with me from the house to the barn like an obedience trial champion, about 65 yards or so, in a kick-butt, eyes glued to my face, head and tail up, with a big grin on her face. Would it work in other contexts? Not yet, but on our walks anywhere I wait for her to choose that position and reinforce her for it. It makes her dinner bowl pretty sparse indeed, because she’s gotten so many treats during the day for training, but it works, it works and she still gets some good food every morning and night in a bowl, so we’re all happy.
What about you? How much do you use your dog’s dinner throughout the day? What behaviors have you found best to watch for, mark and reward? And have you seen Kathy’s book yet? It would be a great addition to anyone’s library. As always, I look forward to your thoughts….
Now, would someone please monitor the food in my bowl every meal? It would help if I hadn’t learned to make crusty-on-the-outside and creamy-on-the-inside French bread and if I do say so myself, the best berry pie you’ve ever had. Sigh.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Whew, I am sure that some of my friends will roll their eyes, but it’s cool and rainy and I’m so relieved. Now all the beautiful flowers will stay around awhile rather than burning up in a day or two, you can work sheep without overheating them or your dog, and the grass is so green it almost hurts your eyes. The storm last night brought cool temperatures and needed moisture, but poor Tootsie is seriously thunder phobic, so we’re all running on very little sleep right now. But the rain was good for many reasons, and the sheep held off from having their lambs in a downpour before I got them into the barn. (I told them to wait until the weekend to lamb, so far they’ve been very obedient.) Even though it rained so hard last night you couldn’t have slept through it even if there hadn’t been thunder, the flowers seemed to have come through it without too much damage. Now we just have to cross our paws and hope for no killing frosts.
Here’s that green I was talking about. Yup, honest, it really is that green out here. The green strip you see if alfalfa, which has the most intense green of just about anything that grows in spring.
And here are the blossoms of our wild plum trees. More probably I should call them “feral,” not sure where they really came from, but I’m trying to help them spread because their fruits are fantastic. I combine them with wild apples and make Apple Plum Butter Sauce. Uh oh, there I go talking about food again. Bad Trisha, bad Trisha.