Gathering reward anticipation

With careful planning we can gather many stimuli “under one roof” so to speak, and transfer the reward-memory.

During the 1980s I was involved in training dogs for search and rescue on the hills in South Wales.
These hill areas are all populated with sheep and/or birds and tourist-walkers that are in need of rescue.
Many of the dogs selected for rescue work are of sheepdog heritage, either collies or shepherd types or gundogs. The breeds most likely to be susceptible to the sheep and birds encountered in their searches.

Dogs with the strong instinctive behaviours are likely to want to employ the traits we have selectively bred for when these potentially rewarding events, situations and activities pop up. Both sheep and birds often “pop up” at the very worst moments. Their behaviour is the very stimuli that releases the innate, rewarding, responses from the dogs.

A dog would undergo several months of search training and when exposed to working in the hill environment begin to take an interest in sheep or birds. This would be an end to their career.

Young dogs would play many games with their Person in the first few months. This game is then used to teach the indication behaviour. The toy would “lost”, the pup would search for it, and the reward would be Games.

Later this toy is transfered to a “casualty” who then gets lost, the pup sets out to seek for their toy-casualty, and the reward is a game, possibly including the casualty but certainly with the Person.

During the play-games the pup would be exposed to the scent of sheep. Firstly, playing where sheep were recently grazing and the ground would smell strongly of sheep-poo. Gradually sheep would be introduced on the other side of a fence where the dog is playing and then introduced closely around the playing dog.

Sheep, their very individual scent, their poo, sight of sheep, moving sheep would all become paired as stimuli of the play-games and have the same effect to the dog: reward-memory that would motivate the search behaviour.

This is called the Fade-in protocol.

The very object, activity, event, that has the potential to disrupt the behaviour becomes the stimuli to motivate the behaviour

I have successfully used this protocol for many different situations and turned an event that was a potential weakness into a strength.

I used to compete in dog sports and the early days of toys as rewards resulted in my dog becoming distracted. When competing in the ring another dog or person would be warming  up their dog and be playing alongside the ring. Sounds of squeaky toys, “get-it, get-it” were common.

These were the very rewards I was using as well. Although I was sharp enough to use different play-cues, it was extremely hard for my dog. By introducing a floor full of toys to train over and every movement or sound of a toy being the cue for me to play I turned a weakness into a strength.

As soon as he heard a squeak, or a “get-it” he would walk on air with the building anticipation of the game we would shortly enjoy.

The traditional view of a distraction being something negative is turned into a welcome boost to the reward anticipation.

Bring it on!

Traffic chasers

I have worked with many, many collies of the years that have found urban life, or life around non-sheep movement extremely difficult to negotiate. Rather than go down the desensitisation and counter conditioning avenue I employ the fade-in protocol.

But firstly I deliberately teach and build the herding ball games that collies are going to find at the very, very top of their reward mountain. Nothing beats sheep-balls except sheep.

Traffic sounds, kids on skate boards, other people playing football, is gradually faded-in as we play the game. At first, potential disruptions are safely on the other side of a fence.

The strongest reward-memory is going to be evoked by the sight of their ball. If the dog is exposed to traffic for more than a few minutes in the early days I would be walking to the park with the ball in my hand to support the building fade-in of the traffic sounds and movements.

Ideally the young dog is prevented from ever learning that traffic or other movements are disruptions and the ball games are well established before any exposure to these disruptions.

Check what you have learned

Developing a good understanding of what you have learned is often measured in your ability to apply the learning to a change in context or conditions.

Below are a series of questions. I would like you to give them some thought, and then “open” the toggle to view the answer.

Answer to the point

Learning to teach yourself is a skill in itself. If you have ever purchased a “home-build” product, you may experience a sense of excitement or dread as you prepare to tackle the task and unpack the components. At lot will depend on whether the building process is intentionally designed for you to achieve success or makes an assumption on your skills or previous experience. Instructions can be straightforward to follow or leave you completely at a loss.

My experience with IKEA furniture leaves me in awe of their design for home building, and appreciative of the added extras – which can either leave you with a sense of comfort that there are spares or a sense of alarm that you have forgotten to use something. But the future is one of seeking more stuff to build, it gives me a little buzz every time I use it.

2. Answer to the point

Learning to teach yourself is a skill in itself. If you have ever purchased a “home-build” product, you may experience a sense of excitement or dread as you prepare to tackle the task and unpack the components. At lot will depend on whether the building process is intentionally designed for you to achieve success or makes an assumption on your skills or previous experience. Instructions can be straightforward to follow or leave you completely at a loss.

My experience with IKEA furniture leaves me in awe of their design for home building, and appreciative of the added extras – which can either leave you with a sense of comfort that there are spares or a sense of alarm that you have forgotten to use something. But the future is one of seeking more stuff to build, it gives me a little buzz every time I use it.