The Right Reward

November 2, 2013

I realize I haven’t really explained in any of these posts what our training method has been for teaching A.J. to walk nicely on a leash. As I mentioned, we’ve started working with a trainer to get this under control. Using purely positive reinforcement, the idea is to get him to focus on me and not be so intent and overexcited about everything around him. What our trainer is having me do is to tell him to “Look at Me,” and when he does give him a treat. (We also have been doing clicker training, where I click then give him a treat when he does something good. Unfortunately juggling treats, clickers, leashes and a crazy dog can get difficult, so sometimes I forgo the clicker.) He always gets rewarded when he gives me eye contact. In addition, when A.J. starts pulling hard on the leash I change directions, reversing, doing circles or weaving around. This is supposed to get him to pay attention to what I’m doing so he doesn’t get surprised by quick turns, and it also turns him away from whatever he’s pulling towards.

So that’s what we’ve been doing. Now, back to our story…

A.J. and I had an interesting walk today. He was a little crazy this morning. He walked down the street pretty nicely, but as usual when we got to the corner he was pulling a lot. I went ahead and took him across the street to the parking lot even though I never got him under control going around the corner. We weaved a little getting all the way into the parking area. Then I decided to try something different today. Up until this point, when I try to get eye contact from A.J. and give him a treat when he does, he’s really not interested, He’ll take the treat, then go back to staring at whatever he was intent on before. There have been times he won’t even take the treat. I’ve come to the realization that when he’s out for a walk, treats are not a reward for him, they’re kind of an annoyance. He just wants to run around and explore. So today when I told him to look at me, as soon as he did I said “Good Boy!” and we took off running.

We ran across the parking lot and onto a path in the park on the other side, then stopped. A.J. was of course completely amped up. We stood for a minute while I caught my breath. I then told him again to “Look at me.” He completely ignored me.

In the end, we stayed in that same spot for probably 10 minutes. A.J. refused to acknowledge me. He would sit, he would lie down, he would occasionally lunge, he’d cry. I kept bringing him back, waiting for him to look at me. I finally made a clicking noise that got his attention and he gave me brief eye contact. I immediately said “Yes! Okay, let’s go!” and we took off running again. We ran a little ways then stopped again. I gave him a chance to look around, said “Loot at me,” and…he ignored me again. After a minute I made the clicking noise, he looked, and we took off again.

We continued to do this. The clicking noise stopped working after two times, but I switched noises and the next one worked. Finally, after about five times, he responded to “Look at me.” Yay!

I don’t know if it was a great idea to let him go crazy after looking at me, but it was the only reward he was interested in, so I think it had to be that. Maybe someday after he gets better at paying attention to me we can up the ante a little and ask for a little more control. But for today I think we did pretty well.

November 4, 2013

This was day 3 of the running experiment, and it’s working incredibly well so far; I’ve found the one reward he’ll respond to. Yesterday I took A.J. to the park again and we did the same thing as the day before: when he looks at me, we take off running. He did great. He was looking at me every time. We actually both had a lot of fun, and he got pretty worn out.

Today we went down to a bigger park. We stayed in the car for a little while because he was so excited he was shaking all over. I finally said “Look at me.” He looked at me, and we got out of the car. He walked pretty nicely into the park. When we got in I stopped and stepped on his leash while I got out a long (15-foot) leash. He took off running and the leash slid right out from under my foot. He didn’t go far. He remembered the squirrel he saw last time we were here and went straight to the first tree and started barking. So I went and got him and got the long leash hooked up.

I told him to Sit, which he did. Then I said “Look at me.” He looked right at me, I said “YES! OK!” and we took off. We did this repeatedly the whole time we were in the park. Fortunately there were no other dogs there; we didn’t even see a bird or squirrel. After about half an hour or so he started being a little less responsive, so it was time to go home. When we got back to the parking lot I switched from his collar to his harness and had him walk right next to me. He walked beautifully back to the car.

We had a fun day today.