Thursday, February 12, 2009

Training Tips Thursdays with Terry Cuyler - Aquisition

Welcome to another edition of Training Tips Thursday! Last time I talked about the 4 levels of learning for dogs – and everyone really. The four levels are acquisition, automatic, applied and always. Most of us only train the acquisition level, but expect the always level and then get disappointed. So we need to understand the differences and how to achieve each level.

Acquisition is the first level where we humans try to help the canine understand what the heck it is we want. We forget that they are foreign language students and don't speak English as their first language. So we can't say "sit" and expect that to mean that they put their bottoms on the ground – we might as well say "rutabaga"…….it has as much meaning to the dogs. We can save our pups and ourselves a lot of frustration if we just figure out a way to convey what we want by demonstration instead of verbalization.

So often we lure a dog into the position we want with a treat because that's how we explain what we want without using words. Message to dog: Follow the treat till you put your bottom on the ground and voila! You get a treat. So during the acquisition phase, the dog gets treated constantly for the correct behavior. This how we teach the dog WHAT it is we expect in order to earn the reward (which doesn't always have to be food, but we'll discuss that another time).

So we teach the dog what sit means by holding a food reward over the head and gradually pulling it back over the shoulders till the dog puts his bottom down. Then we click! Or say Yes! And treat. Dog learns that putting his bottom down works for him. This step shouldn't last very long at all. It is a preliminary step. Ian Dunbar says this luring phase should only be needed 10 to 12 times for the dog in a session. (hint – you may need more sessions when you move to a new location)

I remind folks that we tend to linger in this phase way too long. We should move to rewarding the dog for the behavior without luring/bribing them with an apparent treat right under their noses. Move the treat to another hand or in a treat pouch or on a table out of sight. If the dog performs the desired behavior, reward handsomely with multiple treats. Message to the dog is perform for an empty hand and you get triple rewards – how cool!!!!.

Next Thursday I will get into how to move to the second step, the automatic phase.

Today's Guest Post was written by Terry Cuyler. For more information on Terry and all the cool things she is doing, check out her website here.

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