This is an extract from the book: Teaching with Reinforcement by Kay Laurence

 

Dogs will often choose how they maintain their connection with you. This connection, the thread that binds the pack, is an invisible and easily dismissible element. I see it more and more often, and feel greatly renewed when the threads are strengthened. I see it in the elderly gentlemen taking his dog for a walk. I see it in the casual hand contact between the farmer and his tractor passenger. I see it in the competitor resting their hand on their dog whilst waiting to enter the ring.

The connection itself is difficult to observe until you have developed your eye for the highly punishing disconnection that frequently occurs and is obviously punishing behaviour.

~ The person who has been training their dog, but continually casts around the room to see who they have impressed.

~ The person who has been playing with their dog but stops to talk to their friend.

~ The disconnected walk where the person and dog are physically separated and they are both outwardly focussed: the dog is watching the horizon and the person is texting.

I see the dog, I see the withdrawal of the connection and a slice of understanding just evaporates.

Connection is not black and white, it comes in lots of shades of colour and intensity and it is developed between both recipients. I do not have the same connection with all my dogs. They are different individuals and have different needs in our relationship. Some are doubtful in their connection and needs regularly and lengthy strenthening with affection and time together. Others are quite sufficient with a monthly top-up.

The connection cannot be measured by a simple on or off switch, a yes or no answer, it will come and go in different strengths. This is often a reflection of the activity you are engaged in, the environment around you both and disruptions that draw you attention.

The connection may be supportive when one partner is focussed on an activity, it could be protective in a threatening situation, it can be caring. It should be healthy and an active choice for both parties.

Connection works at its best when equally reinforcing for both ends of the thread.

When it stops being a reinforcer

Connection can stop being reinforcing when the dog requires some “dog time”. Either to rest, sleep or interact with the ground. They need their own time, and this is good time to absorb learning, who knows, perhaps they “reflect” on their lessons! But without the down time from endless interaction and communication it can become a less effective reinforcer.

Trying to maintain a connection in a disruptive environment can be tiring.

Proximity

This is part of the social security and power that many dogs find reinforcing. In the company of multiple dogs, the dog nearest to you is enjoying some reinforcement from their proximity to you over the other dogs. I keenly observe where each of the dogs settle when I change my activities. Often I place their bedding where they chose to settle, particularly for the dogs that find comfort a lower reinforcement than being nearest to me, or being able to watch me.

Collies generally have comfort quite low of their list of favourite things and nearly always place themselves between me and the doorway out of the house. Any fun time tends to begin once I am through that doorway and they hate to miss out. Gordons will observe from a place of comfort until there is a definite cue for action – boots on, coat on, keys picked up.

Tessie, the Gordon, returned to me at 4 years old, was very in need of my company, a connection, for the first few months. As she became more confident she would watch me settle down to watch TV, and then go back to the kitchen to her favourite bed. This change in need to be near me, was a good indicator of her change in sense of security. On odd occasion she “needed” to join me on the sofa, and perhaps something had happened during the day that made her slight anxious. When I see her “needing” me more often, I take special care to have our staircase chats, sitting side by side, several times through the day.

This frequent connection is deeply reinforcing for both of us, and reduces much of the stress behaviours in all my dogs. It is sometimes easy to ignore the adults until their behaviour changes, this regular connection maintains a relaxed atmosphere and easily managed group.

1 Comment

  1. Iris Maxfield

    “Trying to maintain a connection in a disruptive environment can be tiring”

    I think this is something we need to remember, and be very aware of in the competition environment.
    .

    Reply

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Heartbeat of Geek-land

I like to regard a “teacher of dogs” as someone who meets dogs in their world and teaches them how to be their best whilst living alongside us in our world.

The life of my Time

Time is my ninth generation of collies. He lives for being a collie and all that collies have done for generations – work in partnership and assist in what their Person likes to do. This ranges from collecting sheep off the mountain to toddling round the main ring at Crufts.

Treats for life?

The whole collective of rewards, or reinforcers, serves a purpose of ensuring that the tasks just completed keep getting completed. The task may tolerate a lapse of memory, but you will soon find that door smacked in your face if you stop acknowledging the courtesy offered to you by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.

One day you will love him again

The puppy that you adored, could do no wrong, is now a living horror story. We want to use positive reinforcement, and our mind focuses on the success of what is not happening. But reinforcement attaches itself to something happening, not an absence and cannot select for a multitude of different things that are being reinforced.

Construction or suppression

There are distinctive goals: Continual success, always travelling forwards ~ Each click to represent a moment of joy and not a moment of relief from the anxiety of not understanding. Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

How do you know what you don’t know?

The age of trusting the professionals is fading fast. I am not sure anymore what exactly is a professional and the difference between genuine, self-styled and fake? With so much information freely available and shared when we open the gate to “looking for a xyz” we are struggling to recognise authenticity from smart marketing.

Which course, which conference?

This is a regular question when mixing with the trainers and professionals of tomorrow. There are more folk wanting to fullfil life goals to work with dogs and their people. Unfortunately the “make money whilst I sleep” crowd are seeding the market who can be parted from their time and money.

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