Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | April 29, 2009

Train For Fun

"Let's Play Chase!"

"Let's Play Chase!"

Second Chance Humane Society promotes humane and positive behavioral training for your pets, recognizing many varied training theories exist that emphasize additional factors such as relationship, status, respect, etc. But regardless of which training modality you choose you can be assured that anything you try to teach a new learner strengthens in direct proportion to how many times it is rewarded.  And, every time the new learner does the behavior without the reward attached, the behavior weakens (as in becomes a weaker response – not just “doesn’t become a stronger response”). 

Does this mean that you have to reward you pet for every single behavior?  Only when initially teaching the behavior.  After the behavior is well trained, using intermittent reward can maintain its effectiveness as long as there is periodic reward. 

But, “drilling” on a particular behavior – repeating it over and over, without reward, can actually be detrimental to the training process.  For example would you repeat an action over and over again (sitting on the floor and getting up repeatedly) in the absence of intrinsic or extrinsic reward?  Particularly if other interesting stimuli exists that you would prefer paying attention to?  Yet you would ask your dog to do this all the time and expect them to respond with enthusiasm?

If training isn’t fun for dogs or lacks a “pay-off” your efforts act to extinguish a behavior rather than reinforce it.  Thus, “fun” becomes the one standard in training that we can apply to any technique we choose.  Now what is fun for one dog may be scoffed at by another.  You want to “audition” various “reinforcers” such as toys, playing chase, massage, playing fetch, etc.  If you can also come up with creative ways to initiate the reinforcement directly after the desired behavior – bingo – a learned behavior!

In learning the reinforcement that works best for your dog you develop a deeper understanding of her unique personality and quirks.  The special spot he likes to be scratched, the best tone of voice, etc.  Dogs, like people, are one of the few species of animals who play throughout their lifetimes – perhaps one of the reasons we share such a bond with one another. 

Both species are what scientists refer to as “neotenous” – retaining many of our juvenile behavioral traits.  We share a lifelong interest, sometimes obsession, with our “toys” (although a human’s can change form with age transforming from a Fisher-Price boat to a motorized speed boat) and we share a love for balls (although some of yours, such as basketballs and footballs, don’t always fit in your mouths).

Additionally, play reinforces both parties – dog and human, in training exercises, keeping it fun for all.  Given this shared interest of play it truly is underutilized as a reward, while food is over-emphasized.  Myself?   Well I can fly like the wind and am ready to learn anything you want to teach me if it is followed up by a good round of chase.  Come play chase with me in the Second Chance Shelter yard and I will readily come home with you for a lifetime of fun and games!

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other Programs.  Visit our shelter pets online: www.secondchancehumanesociety.org.  Direct Pet Column questions to:  kelly@secondchancehumanesociety.org.  Photo by Real Life Photographs.

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