The Obedience Experiment Conclusion

For those who followed Vito's experiment last winter/spring I never really posted it's conclusion.  Last update in April was 5 months in.  I did another month before ending the experiment, kinda took another few months break, and resumed obedience training in August.

The experiment of taking away all his food/toy rewards wasn't all unicorns and rainbows.  It certainly didn't have the results it had when I did it with the Corgi but nor did I expect it to.  Unfortunately the dogs who I think can benefit the most from really building up the value of personal play and choosing to work are also the dogs who will really struggle with it.  The dogs who naturally have great "work ethics" are likely going to excel whether they go through a learning stage like this or not.
Vito can come off as a high drive working dog, but it's purely obsession that masks his naturally low energy, low work drive.  His experiment was painful.

The last month (and remember it was still extremely few sessions each month) I tightened up Vito's freedom by keeping him on leash.  He still had full control of whether he wanted to work or not, but less choices of what to do during his time.  We would walk together around the training building and let him sniff all the things, but then I would stick to one spot.  It didn't bother Vito at all as he was still pretty darn content to lie down and watch the world.  But I do think it helped.

Actually we did have 1 downfall of doing this experiment.  Vito got in the habit of being able to sniff and explore the area before working.  Acclimation is a GOOD thing, but Vito was past the point of needing to directly acclimate in the working area vs just outside of it.  All the sniffing and crumb finding he practiced for months was quite the rehearsal.  If I had done the on leash exploration earlier in the process I think it would have helped.  For the most part, 1 month back now into jackpot training and criteria for choosing to work outside of a ring, then full focus in the ring, and Vito is back to not checking out of work to explore.  Except weirdly enough the exploration kinda seeped into agility training at home.  I never quite using toys in agility but all summer Vito runs out into the agility field when it's his turn with happy helicopter tail exploring the yard, searching for a non existent ball, for a few minutes until he runs back to me ready to work.  It's a bit odd.

I do think the pros of this experiment are still many, even for dogs like Vito.  Vito's personal play skills increased.  His value for his dumbbell increased.  He fully understands choice in working or not working and it was thrilling when he did work even when he knew there was no rewards.  Even now with the introduction of rewards back into training- still never on my body- we can go quite a long time before a reward.  It's a bit more like the rewards are a bonus than the sole reason for choosing to start work.
Precision is still slowly working it's way back, but I think it will get there again.  At least the precision errors have remained due to excitement errors and not lack of effort.  Mainly we have forging, crabbing, and creeping.

Here is a long video of Vito's training session on Wednesday.  The first 3 minutes are of absolutely nothing.  I am waiting outside the ring to see if Vito is going to choose to start work or not.  There are no rewards on my body.  Then Vito does decide to start work and once we enter the ring he stays in work mode until I decide to have him sit and bring over some treats for him.  I then repeat the process of exiting the ring and waiting.  The 2nd time is much shorter and I cut the video off once we make it back inside.

Kristen  – ( September 16, 2016 at 9:54 PM )  

I loved hearing about your experiment!

What made you decide to end the experiment? What will you be doing now?

Laura and The Corgi, Toller, & Duck  – ( September 16, 2016 at 10:12 PM )  

I never planned on doing it forever. I felt like I kinda reached a stalling point with it. I didn't think that with Vito his rate of working would get higher and I also wanted to get back to actual real training for obedience. It's awfully hard to train precision when all you really are focusing on is staying in the game and having fun!
Now we're back to what we were doing before, more informal jackpot style training. I'm just focusing a lot more on the food never being on my body, don't show him it up front, and I'm less afraid to push duration. If Vito is done, then we're done. And we still have sessions where he chooses not to start.
I really have zero goals for Vito in competition obedience anymore, it's just seeing where the road takes us. Not giving up, just not pushing things.

Kristen  – ( September 17, 2016 at 8:53 PM )  

Thanks for sharing that part - some experiments seem to have an obvious ending point but I didn't know that this one did.

I'll be interested to see what happens next!

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