Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A matter of fairness...

Sometimes in the course of training dogs, or teaching humans we have to take a step back and evaluate what we've taught and what we need to teach with critical eyes. I think I've taught X, but the dog has interpreted that as Y, but I have expectations of X - didn't get X, generalized that dog should know X and perhaps become a little annoyed that dog didn't do X, when the dog clearly thought his response was correct. Clear as mud?

I had one of those mea culpa moments today with Kipling. Kippie had broken through the baby gate in the kitchen for about the tenth time this week - in less than 20 seconds actually - on a mousetrap I thought was pretty well put together. Kipling usually only challenges the baby gate when I'm on the other side, though on a couple of occasions it was the cat who enticed him to jailbreak. It doesn't appear to be anxiety, and when he moves the gate, he clearly thinks he's pretty clever. Hey! Look at me, I figured it out!

I'm in the kitchen, he's supposed to be not in the kitchen - and suddenly he's right there at my feet - or in the dining room harassing the cat under the dining room table. This morning the setup was similar, I left all three boys in the den while I went through the kitchen and into the living room to put outgoing mail in the mailbox. By the time I had closed the gate and turned towards the front of the house, there was Kippie right behind me.

His yellow-ness got marched back to the den and into his crate for a time-out. Yes, he did probably need some downtime (and he immediately settled down for a nap) - but it got me thinking about the fairness of my expectations. The same puppy not 24 hours earlier had maintained a 10 minute downstay in the den while I took a shower in another part of the house...certainly we've proofed those stays. What's the deal with busting down baby-gates?

I think the answer is pretty simple - I haven't put any value or reinforcement into staying behind the baby gate. Murphy and Teller respected the gate from day one around here - Kipling isn't identically programmed and indeed, Kipling has gotten a lot of reinforcement for problem solving - how to get cookies by cramming himself in a box, how to balance on an exercise ball for his core conditioning. Lots and lots of reinforcement for thinking outside the box and coming with me - no reinforcement whatsoever for hanging out with the other dogs without actual direction in the den while Erica takes a shower.

So the question of fairness - and the fairness of expectations - sometimes when our dogs 'fail' we really need to go back and look at what criteria we've taught and to make sure we've taught what we think we taught. This is true for dog sport as much as it is for every day life of dog. Is it fair of me to expect a 10 minute out of sight downstay for my 8 month old puppy? In my house, with normal distractions - you betcha. Is it fair for me to take him to PetSmart and proof a 10 minute downstay? Of course not. It's up to handlers and trainers to work very hard to make training and expectations fair - and to recognize when they're not fair.

As for Kipling, he's getting some remedial lessons on how to stay behind a babygate and some extra credit for novel application of escapism.

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