Monday, July 03, 2006

Doggie Zen


I found this neat idea on a website today. It's a dog training idea that's also a Buddhist idea....

Doggie Zen:

http://www.shirleychong.com/keepers/Lesson3.html

Shirley's Clicker Training Lessons


As I am fundamentally an evil, sadistic person who likes to make dogs (and people) suffer , I'll describe the mechanics of the lesson. At the end of the lesson will be some questions; once you've done the lesson, see if you can answer the questions!

I call it Doggie Zen: to get the treat, you must give up the treat.

Get out a treat that is good and smelly. Cheese works well for this, as does liver or Rollover-type stuff. Fix a few pieces that are small enough for you to cover in your closed hand.

Let your dog see that you have a goodie in your hand, then close your hand over the goodie and let the dog sniff, lick, nibble, etc,trying to get the goodie. Eventually, the dog will give up. When the dog turns their head away from the goodie or steps back away from it, even if it's just a temporary thing, catch that moment with the clicker and open your hand.

It's important to leave your hand down at the dog's level, perfectly accessible to them. Let them have a good chance to try to get the treat out of your hand on their own. If the dog gets too enthusiastic and is actually hurting you, say OUCH!, glare at them and pull your hand up out of their reach for a few seconds.

Give the dog as many trials in as many different places as you can.

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Questions

Why do you have to leave your hand within the dog's reach? Why not just pull it up and away from the dog until they sit or do some other behavior?

What can the *handler* learn about training a dog from this exercise?

Re-state the Doggie Zen phrase to describe training in general.




ANSWERS

The lesson was teaching Doggie Zen: to get the treat, you must give up the treat.

The first question was: Why do you have to leave your hand within the dog's reach? Why not just pull it up and away from the dog until they sit or do some other behavior?

My thinking goes like this: what Doggie Zen is doing is teaching the dog the very beginnings of self control. Dogs are not born knowing self control. They see something they want and they go after it (unless there are extenuating circumstances). No dog has ever been born that stops to say "is nabbing the steak off the kitchen counter really a good idea?" Unless given a reason to believe that things might not go their way, they leave the philosophical speculations up
to the humans and nab the steak. A lot of what people do is essentially teaching the dog "wanting something is not a good reason to go after it." By taking as many variables out of the equation as possible, it's easier for the dog to learn to hesitate in the presence of something they want. It sounds like a trivial deal but for dogs, it's far from easy.

Now, looking at the situation, I would say it is inaccurate to say I am teaching the dog self control. I can't teach the dog self control.

ALL I CAN DO IS SET UP A SERIES OF SITUATIONS WHERE THE DOG TEACHES ITSELF SELF CONTROL.

This is true of many training situations. The dogs teach themselves--all I do is set up the situation so that the only way they can win will go the way I want.

So that's why I leave my hand within the dog's reach. If I pull my hand up and out of the dog's way, they haven't learned to give up, they've just learned to give me a certain behavior. Now, this behavior is certainly a good thing--but pulling my hand up and out of the dog's reach is hopping over the important part, the part where the dog decides on their own that actively going after the treat will not work, so they should try some other strategy. I can't teach the dog how to make that decision--for one thing, I have no idea how they make that decision. All I can do is set up the situation so that the decision will eventually occur.

The second question was: What can the *handler* learn about training a dog from this exercise?

I'm just like everyone else. I want my dogs to learn fast. I have observed that learning is stressful and frustrating and I don't want my dogs to feel stressed and frustrated. I'm also not the most patient person in the world by a long chalk! I want my dogs to get it and I want them to get it now, if not five minutes ago.

But sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere is not what looks like the most direct route. Some things just have to take their own time and happen in their own way. It's hard to sit back and wait for the dog to figure it out. But I can't force a thought into the dog's head and I can't really force them to do anything.

The third question was: Re-state the Doggie Zen phrase to describe training in general.

Doggie Zen: to get the treat, you must give up the treat. I see this as very close to the training contract: if you do what I want, then I'll do something you want. So it's one way to explain to the dog what the training contract is.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Lodo Grdzak said...

Thats an interesting post, though I'd argue that the dog is learning elements of self- control with all its commands and socialization. Like when its house-trained; or when it learns to walk on leash at your pace; or when it learns not to jump up on strangers. On the other hand, I like the mental challenge and almost intellectual consideration required of the dog by asking it to back away from something it's so instinctually hard-wired to pursue (i.e. food). Certainly might develop a few more furrows in that dog's cerebral cortex .

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why the people of Buddhist countries,(Thailand, etc) who claim to respect "All" living creatures are so cruel, totally indifferent to the poor homeless dogs roaming the streets? I have seen them being kicked, burned with hot water, and just letting them starve to death in the streets! I will never go back there, this memory follows and hurts my very soul the rest of my life!!!!!