Fast does not mean better
We are becoming surrounded by a culture of fast. We are being sold that immediate gratification is the only solution and this is not restricted to youth as all ages can be persuaded. There is a likelihood that a feeling of running out of time as you progress with age may push you more towards fast and immediate solutions.
This fast, fast, faster culture has become the new mode in dog training. Why is fast training considered better or ever a solution?
Does fast training wall us off from asking deeper questions?
I do not want my dogs to be measured by a watch or by a calendar. No pressure to achieve certain development stages or expectations of what they should have learned by a certain date.
I do not want to measure them by research that persuades us development periods are fixed and that we should socially expose our dogs to a specific schedule.
I want to measure by confidence, personal and individual achievement. I want to explore social situations when the confidence and desire to do so is evident, not because some self-promotion guru thinks a list of party events, cultural gatherings and different surfaces should be checked off as if they are a graduation process.
I do not want a young border collie exposed to fast moving traffic before their no-chase skills are in place, their accompanying partner is fully aware of the risks and it will be a stress-less event. They may be two years old before that occurs, but the success of this process is decided by the individual, their learning history, their genetic make-up, the lifestyle. I see too many sad young dogs exposed to counter training when the situation should never have occurred so early.
I want time
I want time to enjoy the teaching process. As a learner I absolutely want to learn at a pace that enables me to make every step a step of success. I want to savour that success, roll around in it for a while, and then seek the next step when I feel ready. Feeling ready is about confidence and the energy needed to absorb new information. The process of absorption is delicate, it needs digestion time, it needs assimilation with the knowledge I already possess. Once it has arrived, melded into place I then need to remember to call upon it and integrate it in the way needed to gain mastery. This is particularly energy-greedy when it is a change to a motor skill or new way of thinking.
As a teacher I want to see my learner bloom and shine, have time to connect and enjoy their pleasure in learning. I want to explore who they are in this process.
I do not want to see them lose the shine in their eye as their confidence takes a knock when we make the next jump too high, when we are greedily following our agenda and not listening to theirs.
Allow a space to listen, enjoy the time to connect to the dog, try not to race on your agenda and certainly not on someone else’s agenda.
Fast rate or high rate?
I wonder if we are not using our language or descriptions clearly enough, and equally just assuming what “fast” means.
One of the crept-in-when-we-weren’t-looking jargon to litter up the system is “high rate of reinforcement”. I no longer think the original context or purpose of that phrase is used and it has become to mean something else.
As instruction passes blog-to-blog (a blog that needs a visit to a transmitted disease clinic?) it changes understanding and easily gets truncated.
“Dogs greet each other by sniffing genitals”. This is true, but it has morphed through the blog-to-blog disease with truncation of the second part of the sentence: “when offered”. If those genitals are not being waved around for access, THEN THEY SHOULD NOT BE SNIFFED. Neither mine, or any dog that keeps their genitals secured should have them sniffed.
A rate of reinforcement, or a rate of anything can only be measured when we know what it is measured against.
A “high rate of reinforcement” absolutely does not mean fast. It means a rate relative to the number of behaviours occurring. This is not measured in numbers per minute. A tortoise can have a high rate of reinforcement with one behaviour, one delivery per minute. If a leg moves (12 seconds) and it is marked, and a piece of lettuce delivered, that animal may take 40 seconds to eat that reinforcer.
This term “high rate of reinforcement” was born as an antidote to the life-sucking process of waiting for the animal to offer the desired behaviour. This means that animal could “offer” (try without success) 18 behaviours before hitting the choice desired by the trainer. For any learner this is an appalling way to learn with absolutely zero guidance. For the sensitive learner is means school is a living nightmare. The aim for a high rate of reinforcement is to encourage a high rate of success by changing the criteria or expectation, adding guidance so that the learner experienced success. Only success, not life-sucking failure.
“Clicks per minute” are again only comparative to what was happening in the previous minutes. But without knowing how long a reinforcement process takes, measuring by clicks per minute is irrelevant. The behaviour may stay the same or improve, but if we have changed the pattern of reinforcement delivery and the dog needs to travel further to receive the treat, then the number of clicks per minute is going to reduce. We should be examining how the behaviour is carried out and measuring progress in quality, flow, and confidence. NOT speed within a time frame.
The “fast” and “high rate”, need to be used in relation to a measurable scale.
A runner can be going fast, their legs are moving fast, but they may not be covering the ground “fast”, ie at a speed considered fast for that person measured by the distance covered in a specific time – miles per hour. What may be fast for a 22 year old athlete, is not for a 55 year old non-athlete. It is a comparative term.
The reinforcement process should begin promptly, that does not imply “fast”. The marker allows you to specify the process is about to begin, but the process may be thoughtful, not fast, but effective. Or it can be exciting, arousing and short. Research showed us that without a prompt start to the reinforcement process the learner was unable to relate the reinforcer to the behaviour.
The reinforcement process is greater than consumption. This is where anticipation is under-used.
Fast feeding as a diversion
When we need a feeding process as a diversion, I would plan to make that quite a lengthy, slow, engaging activity. I have seen too often that it is used when the trainer is on the edge of panic and the process becomes frenetic and transmit that state to the dog.
We should be super careful in our descriptions and double check what we understand it to mean. So often the original intention is lost, or the term is misused or truncated. Progress is then built on misinformation. A learner is a class of many may not stand out as one of the future influencers of training protocols. All learners should be treated with the same potential and given accurate information, not that quick pass along that is poorly explained.
“What do I understand that to mean?”
This should be a common question to ask of ourselves and of our learners, and ask it frequently.
Check, check and double check
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