When we are setting up a training session, we should be paying close attention to the following details:
Antecedent: how are we going to arrange the conditions so that the desired behavior is most likely to occur?
Behavior: what behavior are we looking for from the learner?
Consequence: what reward will be delivered and how will that delivery set the dog up to start the next repetition? And, how will we transport the dog back to the starting point, without delivering the reward, if the desired behavior doesn’t happen?
This type of training is usually easy to support when we are teaching the dog a specific skill, like in these videos:
However, it does take more effort when we are trying to apply loopy training to handling skills. We have two learners, and often when we are running sequences and courses, it is more about the humans than the dogs.
In my previous blog, I talked about the benefits of cleaning up the ways we reward in agility, and I wanted to focus on those four pieces now:
Have clear start & end points: When I have a clear start point, I know exactly where & how I am going to start my dog. When I have a clear end point, I know exactly where & how I am going to reinforce my dog, like in this video:
The station is how I start Gletta each time. The dish is how I reinforce Gletta each time. It is clear and predictable and gives me the ability to focus on my handling skills and providing Gletta with the clear cues she needs to be successful as she is just learning to sequence.
In this video, I’m working more difficult handling sequences, but the loops are clean: clear start and end points, clear reinforcement strategies, easy transports back to the next starting point.
It doesn’t always go perfectly, humans make mistakes, and our dogs *do* need to be able to hang in there with us as they happen, but I argue that it should just be a part of agility handling, and a way to continue instead of a disjointed reward situation.
In the video above, Shrek misses some obstacles – it doesn’t matter in this moment if it was my mistake or his. What matters in that moment, in that I finish the sequence or course and get my dog to the reinforcement that I have planned for him. “fixing” the mistakes is just a part of agility. After I finish that loop, I can tell my dog that he’s on a break and decide if I should change anything about my handling so that those mistakes don’t happen again in the next repetition.
When I have a clear plan for when to reinforce, the dog is not left in limbo while I am thinking about what just happened. If a reinforcement strategy is planned for ahead of time, I know that my dog is being paid for his efforts, even if I am currently processing what is happening & what I should do next.
However, none of this can happen if the handler doesn’t already possess enough skill/knowledge to make that happen! So, what do we do about it? Find out in my next blog where I talk about training our human learners in loops, too!