Friday, August 20, 2010


This evening's walk was rather interesting. First we were in a big field. I found a stick that the human promptly conscripted into use as a training tool. I was on a 12 foot long leash and he'd ask me to sit and stay. He was so mean. He dangled the stick at me. He threw the stick off into the distance. He walked in a 12 foot circle around me. The whole time he expected me to sit in once place. Talk about difficult! I wanted that stick. The human was using the Premack principle again: if one wants to perform a given activity play with the stick) one will perform a less desirable activity (sit/stay) in order to get at the more desirable activity.

While we were doing this an older couple came up and talked to Jason. They whispered in his ear that there is a neighbor nearby that doesn't like dogs off leashes (he somehow must have missed the 12 foot leash) and that the neighbor takes pictures of dogs without leashes and their humans and turns it into the police.

That's not very nice. I wonder how we might use the Premack principle on that neighbor?

After some time spent doing that, we practiced some loose leash walking in preparation of my upcoming evaluation to be a therapy dog for the Delta Society. As an added bonus, we got to practice walking on a loose leash past other dogs. In my therapy dog test I'll have to pass by a "neutral" dog. We'll assume that dog isn't going to lunge at us or otherwise try to engage with us. While we were out on the road we got chased after a shar-pei that had escaped from his house and then two pit bulls who were very eager to play with me. How'd the human keep me focused on loose leash walking?

The Premack principle of course. That stick, with all it's magical powers, immediately appeared in front of my nose. The human said "watch me" and I did--and watched the stick, and watched him, and watched the stick some more.... It also helped that after a couple of the "watch me" commands little tasty bites of food appeared right in front of my nose too.

So let's break this down: the human used rewards (the food) when I kept my attention focused on him and not the other dogs. He also layered on top of that the Premack principle: playing with the stick is a super desirable reward for me. I'm willing to forego playing with other dogs (sometimes) if there is the promise of some sticks in my near future.

Here is a clip from a couple of days ago. We were at a local tennis court practicing down/stay. Rather than using a stick we used my favorite rope toy. By the time the human took the video I was already exhausted so I had to debate awhile whether staying down was more enjoyable than running for the rope.

Try out the Premack principle with your dog. You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll see things change.

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