The Obedience Experiment- 5 Months

Vito has been continuing our no food/toys obedience with choice experiment.  It technically has been just over 5 months since Vito has received a traditional reward for working with me in obedience although sessions have been roughly once a week this past winter.  Vito has also gotten rewards still for his work in agility, gun dog foundations, and recently nosework.  I am also certain that Vito has zero confusion between what sport we are doing and whether rewards are going to be forthcoming or not.

I think my last update was mid Janurary, 2.5 months in.  At that time he had a 100% rate of working at the club but was hardly choosing to work at all at home.  That changed.
Less than a month later (probably only 4 sessions) Vito was happily sniffing around the ring at the club but was choosing not to work at all.  He would come in for butt rubs and to check in with me and then would go back to sniffing.  Didn't look like stress sniffing in any way, just a dog who loves, loves to sniff and take in all the information he could.  Very relaxed when coming over to me for some rubbing.

A few more sessions later and Vito was back to sometimes working and sometimes not.  Working sessions were incredibly high energy with an extremely pushy and vocal Toller.  Accuracy not quite there, but the intensity was high.

Due to his inconsistency and me being ready to experiment with another change, I decided on 2 changes that started the last week of February.
First I started putting him on leash for our sniffing sessions and walked the ring with him for several minutes.  Pointing out things to sniff and crumbs to lick up and praising him.  Then we would go and just sit together in the middle of the ring where I would pet him if he wanted to be petted or he could continue to happily air sniff.  If he looked like he was done and would maybe work, I would invite him.  Otherwise we would just sit together.

And secondly I added the addition of a toy at the very end of our session, separated from any work he may have done.  So if he chose to work, at the very end we would go back to just sitting on the ground and petting/praising him for being a good boy.  Then after a bit I would stand up and get him a moderately valued toy and just tug/toss it for him with no asking for any other behaviors.  A free toy that would be given regardless of his decision to work.

Because I made 2 changes at once I can't be entirely sure what has caused a bit of difference. I first thought it would be the toy.  That even though it was unrelated to work, he would connect it.  But I'm not so sure.  Vito hasn't shown any signs of seeking out the toy (that I might not even have in the ring) nor of looking expectedly while working/not working.  In our jackpot training we've done previously there were always at a few moments where Vito would look to where the toy was to at least ask me if he earned it yet.  I'm not seeing that now.

I do think the on leash exploration with me followed by the restriction has made some difference.  Likely less to do with the support/inclusion of me and more to do with the restriction afterwards.  Vito loves to air sniff just as much as ground sniffing, but I'm sure being limited gives him greater incentive to do something with me with his choices more limited.

Anyway, currently for the last several sessions Vito has been working almost every time and has been almost butt tucked in his work.  Calm and happy sniffing the ring, calm lying down, then suddenly high as a kite and stressing UP.  Whether or not I wanted the dumbbell to be his primary reward it certainly has become it.  At first his high behavior worried me a little bit.  Major stress?  But now that I've been able to do a session at home (yay spring!) I haven't noticed that much of a difference.

At the club last week:

At home:

This last week at the club was a bit more relaxed.  So relaxed I didn't think he was going to work.  But he did and was still pretty intense, just without the panting and butt tuckedness.

We're going to continue this journey for a bit longer before transitioning back to traditional rewards.  If this has done nothing else it has taught me that we rely way too much on our food/toys to keep a dog working versus truly giving them a choice.
And hopefully it has increased the value for playing with me.  And his dumbbell :)

Danielle D  – ( April 14, 2016 at 7:05 AM )  

Really enjoying watching this work with Vito!

Kristen  – ( April 15, 2016 at 3:57 PM )  

I have been waiting impatiently for this update! I can't wait to see what happens next - very exciting! With many training examples I have an idea for how things will go - but this is such a surprise.

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