Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Power of Yes

If you came to this post thinking you'd find something along the lines of Shonda Rhimes' book Year of Yes, you'll be disappointed. This has nothing to do with facing my fears or being an introvert. After this paragraph, it will have nothing to do with Thursday night television. (Plus, Shonda and I aren't on speaking terms right now after what she's had David do to Susan on Scandal--I was ready to abandon Liv and the gladiators for a Susan-David spin off and then Shonda had to go and make me hate one of the only two characters I still cared about on the show. Really?)

This post is all about the most important word in Barley's vocabulary. The theme for this month's positive reinforcement hop is the power of play, but Barley refuses to play most games in the presence of other dogs, so it's not our most useful training tool. We can do relaxation games and focus games (but only if combined with regular treats). Barley won't go anywhere near toys when she can see other dogs. And even if she would, she is so easily distracted by other dogs that I would never want to throw a toy as a reward for going over a jump or through the weaves because that amps her up too much and if she got sidetracked by another dog in that state, it could be a disaster. So, play is a training tool we only use when combined with lots and lots of yummy things and I thought it would make more sense to focus on one of our most useful training tools.

She is a very literate dog--she is part border collie, after all.

When we first started training, our trainer stressed the importance of marking good behavior with a praise word followed by a treat. We started doing this with sitting in heel position--we'd stop walking, if she sat beside me nicely, I'd say, "Yes! Good Girl!" and then give a treat. We've since moved on to using this with looking at me when other dogs are around, for recall work, for weaves--pretty much every single behavior I've trained Barley to do. The praise becomes the reward when it comes before the treat, so in a situation when treats aren't allowed (or a certain chubby puppy doesn't need more treats), your dog can still feel happy and rewarded for doing good things.

"What's that you said?"

"Yes?! Woohoo!"

A few weeks ago, Barley poisoned herself with some baker's chocolate. On our first walk after the incident, I was hesitant to give her treats because I knew she needed things that were easy on her tummy and none of the treats on hand fit that requirement. 

I decided to leave the treat pouch at home and just do a quick loop around the neighborhood. We've spent so many years training yes as a reward, that we were able to make it 1.37 miles without a single treat (which may be a record for Barley).  This isn't something I like to do often. Barley doesn't like to work for free and she is a food motivated dog, so I like to treat randomly so she always believes that a treat could come at any time (if you treat every single time after they've really learned the behavior, they'll start to think they can hesitate and do whatever you've asked whenever it's convenient for them). 

Barley will also quit working if I go too long between treats. When I'm trying to keep her away from the cat food, I can call her name and she'll turn and when I say, "Yes! Good girl!" she'll come running out of the kitchen to me--but if I do that more than a couple times, she'll decide the cat food is a much better reward than "yes" and she'll ignore me. If I don't treat often enough when she sees other dogs, especially new ones, her hackles will raise and I can feel a growl rumbling up the leash. 

Barley always prefers the food rewards--and I can't blame her because I'd rather have someone give me a snack than tell me I'm a good girl, too, but yes is a word we couldn't survive without. It keeps treats from losing their value. It helps us get out of the house even when treats aren't an option. Most importantly, though, it makes Barley happy and that's the best kind of word ever.


We're joining up with Tenacious Little Terrier, Rubicon Days, and Cascadian Nomads for the Postive Reinforcement Pet Training Week that begins on the first Monday of each month and lasts all week. Be sure to visit all of the other great blogs participating in the hop!



16 comments:

  1. Great post! YES! is Zoe and Phee's favorite word, too! Both of the girls also prefer food over toys, too. I've worked a lot on building toy drive with them. Phoenix loved toys from the beginning but she had to learn to play with me with them. Both dogs prefer food over toys any day! LOL

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    1. In our house, we all live to eat (despite many reminders from my mom that one should eat to live not live to eat), so I really can't blame Bar for choosing food over toys :) She gets it from her mama.

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  2. I prefer clickers over verbal markers but I agree praise is important! Mr. N gets "good boy" a lot. It get confusing when I'm training female dogs... Thanks for joining the hop!

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    1. I'm not coordinated enough for a clicker--when we first started training, I had to have the leash in one hand, treats in my hand, have one hand for Barley's hand signals, and somehow click, too. Pretty soon our trainer realized that I was never going to be able to click at the right time and we abandoned the clicker. Barley would be totally fine with you calling her "good boy"--we had an agility classmate named Farley for a while and our neighbor (and one of my aunt's dogs) is named Harley, so she's used to responding to anything close ;)

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    2. It's the same for us, the clicker just works better - Luke responds so well to it. I also use "good boy" for praise. There are times though when I cannot coordinate with the clicker (I mentioned the leg weaves in my post), so it is good to have a verbal marker as well. I tried to switch it to something simpler like "yes", but the words "good boy" just keep coming out of my mouth! :)
      Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    3. Most of the time my praise comes out as "Yes! Good girl!" because I can't break that habit, either. But sometimes I am not even sure the sounds are real words because I'm so focused on trying to get praise out :)

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  3. Yes! Our dogs don't even know the word No, but they sure know "yes!"

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    1. Barley also knows no--it's usually reserved for those moments when she decides to ignore everything else and go for the cat food, but that's another post for another day :) We try to stick to the happy words!

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  4. Yes! :) That third picture of Barley shows just how much she responds to the power of "yes". I ended up using the word "Good!" for Haley when she was young and I guess I just stuck with that.

    I'm so glad Barley was okay after eating the chocolate. :)

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    1. I think good works just as well! I usually consider myself lucky if I get anything that remotely resembles a real word out ;)

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  5. I use this word too. And I don't always reward as you said. Some days just having my hand in my pocket makes Delilah think she's getting something! I have gone on a walk and forgotten to fill the treat bag, or forgotten to grab it. Those are fun times. **Insert eye roll.**

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    1. Once when my dad was babysitting Barley, he discovered that she'll take "air treats"--which you get by pretending to reach in your pocket and hold your fingers out. She'll "take" the treat out of your hand and lick her lips! It doesn't work too many times in one walk, but it's good for those moments when you forget the treats or the treats run out!

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  6. It is wonderful that you were able to make a nice walk without treats. We rarely use treats (or clickers). Chessies will work for praise or retrieves and treats are secondary to them.

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    1. I wish Barley had some of that Chessie attitude--it was a miracle that we made it over a mile without any snacks. Usually she'll keep working for a few words of praise, but she won't usually do that too many times in a row. We've done a lot of work to build up the amount of time we can go without snacks, but she makes it very clear when she thinks we're reaching the limit ;)

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