Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Using Negative Punishment

Cala loves agility. Oh boy, I did that one right--she LOVES agility. And she has extreme drive and always struggles to keep it from overwhelming her. So yep, we have real control issues and she only has her OA and her NAJ because she usually loses it about halfway through the course and just barrels around taking everything in her path as fast as she can, screaming like a banshee (nobody who has ever seen Cala run at a trial forgets it, trust me). My goal is to help her cap her drive (i.e., focus it and use it instead of spending it screaming and flinging herself at things).

In Operant Conditioning, Negative Punishment is taking something away to decrease a behavior. I want to *decrease* Cala's vocalizing. I also want to *decrease* her obstacle focus. She's too focused on obstacles and not focused enough on me. So I simultaneously want to *increase* handler focus.

I started out by crating her, putting a jump up to 24", and bringing her out. As we approached the ring, I kept her on a 6 foot leash and said nothing. As is usual, she immediately went to the end of the leash and began to pull to the ring. I backed up. She backed up too and glanced at me. Click/treat. It took 5 minutes to get to the ring on a loose leash with attention. Then she saw the jump. She zeroed in and began to move forward. Each time she looked at the jump, I either backed up or turned around and left the area. I never jerked her, she always came with me. I never said a word, and I kept my body posture and face calm and positive/smiling. She began to yodel in frustration. Each time she yodeled *or* took her eyes off me, I simply left the area of the jump she so desired. Sometimes I turned left, into her, sometimes I turned right, away from her, sometimes I simply backed up. Once or twice I clicked her for returning to heel position but I didn't want the game to become "I look at the jump and bark then return to heel and get a click." I was still completely silent. I was letting her figure out the problem with no input or anger from me.

It took another 5 minutes or so, but Cala learned that looking at the jump or barking at me or the jump got her removed from the jump. Looking at me and being quiet let her approach the jump. Once she was heeling to within a foot of a jump with total attention on me, I began to occasionally click and treat at the jump. And then I began to release her TO the jump. So now I've added positive reinforcement to the negative punishment. When I look at the jump or bark, it goes away. So I don't want to look at the jump or bark. (negative punishment). When I look at Mom and am quiet, I get a click and treat. When I look at Mom and be quiet, I may get to jump. Positive reinforcement--adding something to increase a behavior. In this case, adding the reward of getting to jump to increase the behavior of holding attention on me before the jump.

My plan is to work Cala up to being able to heel completely around an entire course with total attention on me and none on the obstacles. I've started with the jump. I'll add jumps into a jump grid, then begin working in other obstacles one at a time. My goal is not to shut down her drive or totally eliminate her obstacle focus (which wouldn't happen anyway, she's too obstacle driven) but to help her learn that taking cues from me is her route to the big goodies she loves so much. During our session, which lasted a total of about 10-15 minutes she never lost attitude, never lost drive, and was totally into the game even if sometimes a bit frustrated. And she's learning.

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