Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You can make a cue for anything!

Yeah, it's been a while. New job. New puppy. In the last few months, Arya has transformed from this.....

to this...

We love her a lot. And we've learned a lot. And I'm wanting to chat more about our old friend....behaviorism.

Sometimes, I'll go for weeks wondering how to fix a smelly washer.  Or how to unclog my shower drain.  Until I remember...oh yeah...I can google this.

I had the same feeling when I went for weeks being frustrated with a puppy behavior and then remembered--oh yeah, I can train a more desirable behavior!  When you run into a frustrating behavior, saying "No!" will probably leave you blue in the face.  But if you reward and build a cue for an alternate behavior that you actually WANT, you and your puppy will be happy campers.

Basic early examples of this for me were "gentle" or "good playing!" When Arya was playing nicely with her toys rather than chewing on the couch or carpet, we'd randomly say "good playing!" and throw her a treat. When she'd nip during play, I get her attention with a quick "Ouch!" and then reward her for softer mouthing while saying "gentle." My husband played with her like a rough and tumble puppy (fun!)  Now, she'll still gently nip at him occasionally, but I get super soft nuzzles and cuddles.

I struggled a lot with rewarding her for stopping a naughty behavior.  Like giving treats for "off!" when she's jump off a couch or table she wasn't supposed to be on.  I didn't want her to learn that she could get a treat simply by trying something naughty, and then stopping when we commanded her to stop.  I'd praise verbally when she'd get off the table, or whatever.  But an especially useful early command that we rewarded with tons of treats was "something else!" A great example of building the desired behavior rather than cessation of a naughty behavior. If she started chewing on the couch, or a shoe, or a blanket, or whatever, we'd say "something else!" and then reward with a treat when she switched to an appropriate chew toy.

Some recent examples of building behaviors we want to see...Arya is half beagle.  She is very sniffy while she walks.  This can make it hard to move along down the sidewalk.  Almost unintentionally (getting out of the car, moving away from a smelly trash can), my husband and I have shaped "let's go!" as a cue for "get moving, because in 5 seconds this leash is moving ahead whether you like it or not." When we realized this, we started working on making "let's go" a more purposeful cue, and it's saved us a lot of time and energy.

Puppy barks while you're getting her dinner? Don't give her dinner til she's hanging quietly in her crate. Puppy jumps on people? Don't let them pet her until she's sitting quietly.  Frustrating behaviors will dissipate as you reinforce more adaptive behaviors. (Oddly, this is pretty much what I get paid to do everyday in people-therapy).

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