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Is my dog stubborn?


A common Dog training pitfall is the belief that our dogs can be stubborn. Your dog is not bad, stubborn or ignoring you during Training. Simply, they have not been given the tools to deal with the behaviour in all situations.


We need to understand that dogs have a lot of innate behaviours and hormones that drive their behaviour. Therefore, when training a behaviour we need to full proof it across multiple criteria and environments and make the rewards worthwhile. This will allow your dog a higher probability of understanding the behaviour under increasingly distracting conditions. So, unless your dog has been taught a behaviour that they then understand fully and will perform on cue 100% in a variety of settings, any distraction or excitement they face may render their understanding of the behaviour obsolete.


To fully train a behaviour we must follow four stages of learning, they are:

Acquisition

Fluency

Generalisation

Maintenance

Acquisition: what this means is that the dog is beginning to learn the behaviour. they are in the understanding that a certain antecedent will predict a certain consequence for a behaviour. in training an antecedent is the factor that leads to the behaviour, what happened right before the behaviour to cause it (I.e we lure or cue 'sit'). And the consequence could be the reinforcer (E.g a treat - which will increase the likelihood of a behaviour).


Most people teach the basics of the skill to their dog (acquisition) and then expect it to be performed in all scenarios. When cueing a behaviour in an unfamiliar highly arousing environment a dogs instincts and hormones will have control and the behaviour is not displayed.

Sometimes, dogs will be focused on you and the cue but distracted or overaroused by the environment. in these scenarios it extremely difficult for a dog to understand and they will likely perform a series of behaviours to try and gather what it is you want. Occasionally this leads to frustration and we will see this in barking jumping and what looks like disobedience.

Fluency: Instead, be more patient with the training build up a strong association with the visual cue and then the verbal cue. Increase the number of correct performances of the behaviour (Fluency). Fluency can be described as the rate-per-minute measurement and it is best to aim for a success rate of 80% before advancing the behaviour to more difficult criteria.


Generalisation: From this we can start to put the behaviour in different scenarios (generalisation). for instance, you teach your dog to sit in your living room, you do this everyday for a week before work at (7:30am) and by the end of the week they perform the behaviour 8 out of 10 times. You go round a friends house one evening (7:00pm) and decide to show them how well your dog performs this sit. you repeat sit over and over but your dog is looking at the new people and sniff round the kitchen and does not sit once. in this scenario the dog has little generalisation with the learned behaviour.


So what went wrong? well the behaviour was performed exceptionally well in the area where acquisition occurred. this is also their home when they feel comfortable and familiar. all of a sudden they are taken to a new environment, with new smells and unfamiliar people. All this take from their ability to focus and leads to misunderstanding.


Instead increase the criteria gradually, check for 80% fluency (like in the living room of the home in the example). then move to a different room (same familiar house, same people) and build up the fluency here, keep doing this, with ever increasing distractions, kitchen, garden, out the front. this will strengthen the behaviour in a multitude of scenarios and equip the dog with a well generalised behaviour.


Maintenance: All behaviour has a function and the consequence gives that function, if the behaviour has no consequence, and therefore, no function, it will extinguish. Practice the learned behaviour and the reward it offers your dog (Maintenance). by continuing the conditions learned the behaviour will remain in our dogs repertoire, if it goes unpracticed for great lengths it will lose its fluency.

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