When talking about greed in the context of teaching dogs I think of the following:
- The lack of generosity in rewarding behaviors you want to promote
- Asking for too much too soon.
- Taking offered behaviors for granted
Let me explain what I mean:
- It seems to be part of human nature to blame dogs for their “mistakes” or “mis-behaviors”. Humans also tend to feel that there is a certain preconceived limit on how often they will or will not reward behaviors. Some kind of judgment like: “She should know this by now”.
Well frankly, you cannot predict a dog’s leaning curve nor can you really know in advance how often a behavior needs to be rewarded for that behavior to truly become the first offered behavior replacing the nuisance behavior or even just establishing the behavior as an automatic polite behavior or a taught trick behavior.
What one should be thinking if the dog reverts to an old behavior or does not understand what is expected of him next is: “Oh, I need to reward the desired behavior more, I have not made it clear to the dog.”
In other words: the dog does not really fully understand what he should be doing, the reward delivery was not clearly marking the part of the behavior that needs reinforcing. And who’s “fault” is that?
- A good example for “asking too much too soon” is when you make an exercise much harder right away or you ask for a different version of the behavior (in a different context, in a more distracting environment, with less of a cue or even too many repetitions without rewarding). All of a sudden the teacher will be disappointed when the dog gets confused or gets stressed out.
- Sometimes a dog will offer a wonderful behavior on their own. As teacher you are thrilled that you can add that to the repertoire of behaviors your dog will offer. So you think: “Oh, we have that down! I don’t need to practice and reward that!” Wrong. If you don’t reward on a good schedule the behavior will begin to weaken whereas other behaviors that had to be taught carefully and rewarded on a regular basis will be offered with more enthusiasm.
Those actions can be described as “greedy” from the human point of view in the context of teaching a dog.
What should we keep in mind?
- Train “in the moment” without putting pressure on the dog or oneself in terms of a time limit or a lofty goal.
- Don’t ask for a better, faster or bigger response before the previous step is not totally secure and cemented. That is true for the teacher and the dog.
- If you see that a behavior is difficult for a dog physically, stop and teach something different or a different version of that behavior.
Reinvent the exercise.
Take a break and give the dog a break.
Good teachers tend to reflect. It is their job to be able to gauge what how to make the learner successful.
So next time you are angry because your dog failed to understand something, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you have been acting in a “greedy” fashion.
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