So the puppy and I had a night out last week to the New Day Meadery, a local mead and cider room. (I drink very little, maybe a glass every couple of months, but I find their libations very tasty.) Their tasting room also offers specialty foods, and I ordered a honey-drizzled Brie and prosciutto platter along with my mead. Only problem is, their tasting room is pretty hip, with ultra-low tables to serve the lounging couches. And Brie and prosciutto are pretty attractive to a 15-week old puppy (or any dog, let’s be honest).
But this wasn’t a new behavior, just a new level of distraction. Mindy’s gotten plenty of clicks for lying down near a high table of food. Now we’re just asking her to do the same thing, only with the distraction visible and right at puppy nose level. I cued the down instead of waiting for her to remember herself, to jump-start the good behavior, and I placed my foot on the leash giving her plenty of room to stand and move but not reach the table, just in case. I then began treating for remaining down.
A couple of times she stood and the leash stopped her, but I didn’t fuss at her. I let her do the math herself. “I stand and reach for the table, I get nothing. I lie down and ignore it, and I get lots of treats. Huh. Okay, this seems pretty obvious after all.” And she was getting lots of treats. Because this was so tempting, and because I wanted the right choice to be so obvious, I was treating every 2-10 seconds, pretty much the entire time. Yes, that’s a lot of food — it was her dinner that night! — but it made the options quite clear to her, and she tried only those couple of times.
Later we can slow down the rate of reinforcement, once she trusts that this is definitely the better behavior choice, but in the beginning we make quite sure that she has no reason to question if the grass might be greener elsewhere. The behavior we want pays best, puppy, trust us.
We were joined by a couple of friends, and at one point I left Mindy with my friend Emi while I went a few paces away for a short chair massage (it was a “Mead and Knead” event). It was easy to track Mindy’s progress by the clicks, and as long as I heard them coming regularly, I knew she was on track — though Emi did report that Mindy tested at first if the rules were the same by standing and looking at the plate. Typical experimenting, as Mindy hasn’t worked with many other people and it only makes sense to ask! but once she realized the same deal was on, she lay down and worked for Emi, too.
High rate of reinforcement, for the win!