My agility girl, Rue, has been working hard to get ready to compete in her first Agility Trial. In preparation, we practice in the living room, at the park, the kennel club, the basement, pretty much anywhere we can. As much as I'd love to trial with Chico, it will be years before that can happen (if ever.) He's much to motion reactive and we would be disqualified from our run before it even started. That doesn't mean we don't practice and train in agility. Agility is a great sport that teaches dogs attention, patience, and self control. When I work one dog the other dog must do a down stay. Again, this teaches the dog self control. While working with Rue last week in the living room on weaves, I said to her as she was at the starting line, "Ready!?" My tone was clear, friendly, loud, but not yelling. This word had more meaning to Chico than it did to Rue.
Hey, Who's Training Who Here?
After, asking Rue if she was "Ready", Chico jumped up in a fit of reactivity and started barking and lunging at the windows. With a bit of bad timing, a biker happened to be riding by and caused the reaction to move from one window in the back of the house to the front door and every window in between. It appears, over the span of Agility, Rally and Obedience classes that I have classically conditioned Chico that the word "ready" equates to "react". Just when I thought we were getting a leg up on reactivity!
Rue, anxious for the ball to be thrown
Who would of thought I managed to capture Chico's reactivity and put it on cue? (Cue is the term used to describe a the verbal or physical stimulus that elicits a behavior. Traditional trainers often call a cue, a command.) To put it simply, when I ask for my dogs to perform a sit, with my hand extended, palm in the air with an upwards motion, paired with the word "sit" my dogs should sit on "cue." So what I did with the word "ready" is put a reaction of barking and lunging on cue by capturing that moment and rewarding or reinforcing it with a treat.
After I scratched my head and asked what the heck all that reactivity was about, I realized what the word "ready" meant to Chico. How could I have been so clueless and not noticed on other occasions that Chico was giving me what I asked for? It was a great learning lesson for me. I've started the process of counter classically conditioning Chico with the word "ready". It's actually not been to difficult at home, but I have a feeling under the pressures of another more stimulating environment it my be more challenging. To counter condition Chico's reactivity to the word '"ready", I say the word very calmly and quietly. Then treat him immediately after saying it. Slowly adding more excitement and volume to the word. The night I found out he was reacting to the word, I started counter conditioning. We have continued and are having successful "READY!" lessons now. Whew!
Take a look at the video below. I took it after 3 short lessons of "ready" counter classically conditioning. On a level of reactivity, this would be considered a very low reaction. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most reactive I will give this a 1.5-2.0. His original reaction to the word "ready" was a 7, with an added point of a biker to make it a 8. Had I chosen to try to redirect Chico while taping this video, I'm certain I could have done it without much hesitation. For training/learning purposes I let him do what he naturally did without redirection.
"Ready", after 3 training sessions of counter conditioning
What lessons have you learned from your dog? Have you ever trained a bad habit without even knowing it? What did you do to resolve the problem behavior?