I wanted to get this article on dog training and procrastination out on Sunday, but I kept putting it off. Ha Ha...You see what I did there? I'm a hoot, I tell you!
In all seriousness, too often we think of our dogs as stubborn, or not yet understanding the task. But it reality, the problem with our dog training might be procrastination.
Why Does It Happen
Procrastination happens when the reward isn't quite good enough. It is this way for humans as well as dogs. Think of a job you really don't like. Let's say cleaning a toilet. I won't clean your toilet for $5. Just won't do it. Sorry...I'm just not that cheap! Now, for $100,000, I'll be banging on your door, pleading with you to let me clean your toilet. Procrastination is a third category. It sets in when you are asking me to do the work for $20. I'm thinking, "there are a lot of other things I'd like to be doing with my time, but $20 would be nice, too." I'll eventually get to cleaning the toilet, but I am not banging on the door. I keep putting it off.
Procrastination And Dog Training
Our dog training pupils do the same thing: If the reward is big, they will plead with us to do the behavior. If the reward is non-existent, they won't give the behavior. But if the reward is borderline, they will delay in giving the behavior.
This is why the careful selection of rewards is essential when doing our dog training. I still struggle with this. I ask for big behaviors, but offer small rewards, or rewards that are not all that exciting. The dog will tell you what constitutes a good reward and a reward that makes the dog say, "meh".
Example: Recall And Procrastination
Zeke is a victim of procrastination. Zeke is the cover dog of this blog. It is his training journey that is being covered in this blog. Zeke is a hunting dog; a bird dog. We took young Zeke out several times last fall to do some pheasant hunting. There were several times when Zeke smelled or saw a pheasant in the distance and he would take off after the bird. Zeke's job is to pin the bird without flushing it so we, the gunners, can get in range to hit it. Out in the field, when we would call Zeke in, he would come in only when he was good and ready. Usually after he flushed and chased the birds to the horizon.
Zeke suffered from procrastination. The reward for coming is was not as good (in his mind) as what was "out there". Only when he had exhausted the "out there" was he willing to come in.
The solution for Zeke is that we need to train him to expect big rewards. We need to make it a habit of calling in Zeke and offering him something big: a hamburger, a steak or a bird for his effort. If we do this occasionally...once in a while, Zeke will actually think that big rewards can happen. The potential reward becomes greater than the "out there" and his recall becomes stronger. Several weeks ago, I wrote up a plan for an emergency recall on a special whistle. At the heart of that plan was the idea of teaching the dog that big rewards are a reality and possibility.
How Do I know If Pup Is Procrastinating
It can be hard to tell the difference between a dog not really knowing how to do something and a dog not wanting to do something, or putting it off. Let's take something simple, like a down command. Lets say that pup is hit and miss with this behavior. Try offering a higher value reward and see what happens.
If Pup's compliance suddenly gets up to 90-100% compliance, and quick compliance at that, then your dog is trying to tell you something: quit being so stingy!
In contrast, if Pup is really excited, but starts offering all sorts of behaviors...other tricks he knows...just a random assault of stuff to try to make you give him the treat, this tells me that Pup just doesn't understand the desired behavior yet.
If you are not getting the response from your pup that you would hope for, try a higher value reward. Also, throw in a BIG reward sometimes. You might see an improvement. Who knows...maybe I'll even clean your toilet.
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