Today I enjoyed a fun 'training' session with Bailey at the kennels where he is staying. Bailey has the habit of running away when called, which leads to frustrated carers but could also lead to less freedom in the future, so today we worked on a joyful response to a recall cue.
Bailey's recalls were reinforced with a mixture of high value treats (dehydrated beef heart); very enthusiastic, heart-felt praise and the opportunity to go play again. Bailey happily responded to the cue.
We also practised taking hold of Bailey's collar (included in the video clip below) and attaching his leash to his harness (sorry no footage as I could not hold the camera and attach the leash at the same time!).
Bailey has learned that responding to his name or a recall cue means that play has come to an end. "We are now going home"; "You are now coming inside"; "You are now going in your kennel"... My goal with today's session was to teach Bailey that coming back to me; taking hold of his collar; attaching his leash... did not mean that fun was about to end. Quite the contrary! Not only did he receive a tasty treat and lots of enthusiastic praise, the play continued!
I interspersed some of the recalls with a set of leash walking - Five steps on a continuous rate of reinforcement (one step = one treat). Walking nicely on leash is another behavior Bailey has struggled with. He has a tendency to pull and unfortunately, this has quite a strong history of reinforcement as people have hung on to the leash behind him as he has dragged them along. Bailey is young and boisterous. He is already a large dog, presently weighing approximately 40 kilos - 88 pounds - but at only eight months old, he still has some growing to do. He is thought to be a Light Spanish Mastiff (Mastín Español Ligero) cross. Walking nicely is a necessity for all dogs but especially for large and giant breeds, as, not only could either the dog or the human be injured as the dog surges forwards, not walking nicely could result in not being walked.
By including small amounts of leash work in with the recalls, I was able to do achieve a few objectives:
- Practise coming when called
- Practise walking nicely
- Make some large 'payments' into Bailey's 'bank account' of positive reinforcement
- Teach Bailey that coming when called does not always lead to the end of play but neither does it always lead to going straight back to play. As I previously stated, as well as using high-value treats and praise, I was also using the opportunity to 'go play' as a reinforcer for coming back to me. However, I do not want Bailey to learn to come back to me and already be anticipating running off to play again. This could lead to a dog running in and running away again, before anyone has time to attach a leash.
At the end of our session when it was time to put Bailey back in his kennel, I did not use the recall cue. I popped on his leash and we walked back to the kennel where a big yummy chew and a large clean bowl of drinking water were waiting for him. As he happily walked into his kennel, more treats rained down from the sky. Wow - going into the kennel is also a good thing!
Here is a short video showing some of Bailey's 'play' session: https://youtu.be/rBWNvqpsolM Please note: We are working in an environment full of competing reinforcers. Every sniff of the dirt; bark of another dog; person passing by; scent of the nearby horses drifting in the air; objects to investigate; avocados scattered around that have fallen from the trees that provide the cooling shade... This was only Bailey's second session. There is some latency in a couple of his responses but when this occurred, I simply worked out what had caused the delay e.g. still eating food - My fault as I should have realised and waited until he finished. My response to his return was always delivered with maximum enthusiasm that was truly heartfelt! Well done Bailey!