The Experiment- First 2 Weeks

It's officially been 2 weeks and 10 sessions since I started the experiment with Vito.  Seeing how far personal play can take us to maintain well taught behaviors.  Seeing if dogs are actually willing to, and excited to, choose to work when they know no other reward is on the table.  The difference between this approach and the work that some balanced trainers have done in the past is that here the dog has full choice.  Play with me, eat grass, stare out into the world, get a belly rub.

I'm even going a step further than I did with Lance in that I'm not trying to get Vito back when he opts out.  Lance didn't completely opt out much when I did this a few years ago, but I know I upped my game and tried to be more exciting if he wasn't sure he wanted to play.  Not anymore.  I don't mind being more fun once I have a dog who made the choice to play/work, but I'm well past the point in my learning when I used to try and be more exciting than the environment in order to convince the dog to choose to me.  Subtle, but big, difference.

There's a small group of 4 of us working on this with different dogs.  Currently none of us have "high drive" dogs with great "work ethics."  It certainly is a different learning curve than my experience with Lance who loves to work!

But I have learned quite a bit so far.  Dogs DO want to work.  And sometimes they don't :)  And we use way too many external reinforcers in our training sessions.  It took a few days for every dog to finally realize food/toys weren't on the table.  Granted these are all advanced dogs, but the fact that on day 2 and 3 dogs were still hopeful that if they kept working a reward was coming says a lot about how little food/toys are needed to maintain a consistent level of dogs choosing to work.  And these are low drive dogs!

So far Vito's journey has pretty well matched my expectations.
First 2 days, complete hope.  Worked well.  Session 3 had a lot more checking out, but still gave me a section of nice work.  Session 4 I saw the first frustration based behaviors.  Vito's always been a little loud in play but here was the first time he gave me repetitive frustrated barking at the end:


And then Session 5 was the very first day Vito chose not to work at all.  Past the hope, and currently into stage 2- Despair!  I prefer to think of it as my "unplugged" time.  I sit in a chair, bundled up, and watch the Red Cow graze.  Sometimes he checks in with me and gets a few butt rubs before he turns back out to the pasture.  And sometimes he teases me into thinking he is going to play with me, but it only lasts maybe 30 seconds before he's gone.  

Today, session 10, was the first day that Vito decided he was done grazing and chose to lie down by my chair.  

It is going to be hard to continue this process due to the weather and dwindling sunlight.  Currently I've been racing home from work and have a total of 15min before it is pitch black.  Soon I will have zero.  Since training like this in my house is impossible, I am guessing I will be limited to weekends and maybe once a week at the club.  
Again, if anyone is interested in playing along we have started a closed facebook group.  But active participants only.  

Kristen  – ( November 11, 2015 at 8:04 AM )  

I was about to prompt you for an update when you posted!

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