I was recently quite frustrated with the fact that my dogs had no interest in going after the thrown less-than-perfect Frisbee, that I had to introduce changes in their playtime.
The changes that I introduced in our following Frisbee sessions are all based on principles of animal learning which everyone wanting to work with animals professionally or even just with their own pet should really understand. One of the most important things we can do to modify behavior is changing the environment in such a way that we can be more successful in reaching our desired outcome. Below is how I changed the environment to facilitate better learning and less frustration.
Think of the times when you had an upcoming trip. Now, think of how much enjoyment you experience pre-trip just thinking and planning your trip. The same happens with dogs. Anticipation is a salient part of any reinforcer.
For my purposes of creating more desire in the dogs to playing with me and the Frisbees, I got the Frisbees out and then asked both dogs to go inside a big training pen I have next to the “soccer/Frisbee field”. I began by playing with the Frisbees by myself by tossing them up in the air and running towards them for a few minutes. I was clearly having a ball 🙂 – with both dogs watching me attentively but unable to participate.
Social Facilitation (Learning):
Since dogs are very social they are constantly observing each other and even learning from one another.
Sometimes they learn stuff we rather they don’t learn and sometimes they do learn stuff we are happy to have another pup teach our own. Since Rio’s technique of catching a Frisbee is superb and she has a bigger-than-life attitude to become air-born, I wanted Deuce to spend a few minutes watching her going after the disc. Watch and learn kind of a thing.
Control of Resources/Manipulating Satiation Levels:
These two concepts are a fancy way of saying that if we are the ones doling out the goods, we can decide when to give them out. I keep all the fun stuff to play and train within the garage or in the home away from my dog’s reach; they do have their packed-to-the-max toy box with toys they can access freely. So even I open the garage door it’s a clear indication that we are going to have fun, which in turn produces huge anticipation in my dogs.
A Satiation level has to do with motivation. If your dog is not hungry because you just fed her a meal, she might not be so keen on “working” for food. Now, she might be more interested in playing with you if playing is high on the love to-do list – or something else for that matter. In our household, the dogs are fed part of their meal via training sessions, or when not doing this we go out and play/train 1 hr. after their meal. So they have learned to expect this after breakfast. The odds of them wanting to play Frisbee with me in the AM is higher than perhaps in the middle of the day – 2-4 pm when they both hit the snooze button.
Make it Fun- No Pressure:
Vastly important for any learning. Frustration from the handler will VERY quickly tamper with this rule.
Modify The Learning As Needed:
If a dog is not able to perform a given behavior either the dog is: not interest (lacks the motivation at that moment) and this can be for a myriad of reasons such as: too hot, too cold, too tired, hungry, aversives have been used as part of the training – dog is fearful and the like. It is also very possible that the dog is undertrained.
Literally, the dog has not yet learned to fluency (can do anywhere, at any time) the behavior at hand. I modified the session in the case of Deuce, by showing him the Frisbee and moving it away from him as I held him with my other hand and me saying enthusiastically: Re-a-dy, Re-a-dy?? Once I noticed he could not wait any longer to chase, I would let him go. In addition, I made sure the Frisbee was thrown horizontally to the ground and not vertically so that he did not have to jump up in case this is the reason behind his not wanting to go after it.
Last, I encouraged him every single time he rushed towards the disc, regardless if he got to it or not. If the relationship between dog and owner is a good one and one and based on trust, this kind of praise builds tremendous confidence and joy in the dog and why not go there? Life is too short for anything else!
For Rio, it was easier to modify the session so she would want to go after the disc. I just waited for her to be ready to go by watching her body language; I also paired it with a tasty treat every time she brought me the Frisbee for me to throw again. She did not chew the Frisbee and did not give me a I don’t wanna attitude at all!
I have to report that the session went on as planned. Both Deuce and Rio went after the Frisbees. I kept the session short and moved on to the always-popular game of the orange ball and whippet.