Becoming the Cookie, Becoming the Moose, and Boogie’s prey drive…
March 30, 2011 at 5:11 am
I just did something quite impulsive.I signed myself up for Susan Garrett’s “5 minute recall formula” online training course and it ain’t cheap. (hmm… what can I sell on ebay? Who wants a doggie drawing?)
I have been seeing link recommendations to this web course on many dog trainers’ blogs and facebook pages and after watching a few intro webinar videos, something hit a nerve. I think it was the term “prey instinct” or “prey drive”. I keep coming across this term on the web, on dog behavior forums, websites, blogs etc. and the more I read about working with “drives” and “building arousal”, the more I realize that:
- Boogie has a super intense prey drive (eg, tennis balls, squirrels, birds, cats etc. in motion)
- I haven’t a clue what to do when Boogie is distracted or in prey drive mode. I no longer exist for him. The only way I can get his attention is by picking him up off the ground.
- Premack works for when he is still under threshold, but not so much for when he is already over threshold /aroused/magnetized by his target object.
- Boogie doesn’t chase. He stalks very very slowly. Then suddenly pounces or sits and waits. At which point the squirrel is already way up that tree. This is why I believe that he will never catch the squirrel and may live out the rest of his days in frustration….
- Boogie NEVER chases me when we are playing with his toys. He makes me chase HIM. And I stupidly follow every time, so this behavior of “making Mom follow me” is super reinforced.
- Food rewards and tug games help - he runs after me, but then he immediately runs off after eating or winning the toy.
- If training with a dog’s “prey drive” requires that I encourage and reward my dog to CHASE ME and fixate on me, then yep, I have a lot to learn….
Metaphors in dog training are kinda amusing. Susan Garrett’s course is about identifying your dog’s “cookies” (= rewards that are food, toys and activities), and “Becoming The Cookie”. ie, becoming the master of all reinforcements for your dog so that when you call him, wherever he is, whatever he is doing or interested in, he will turn away and he will RUN TO YOU. LIKE THE WIND.
Elsewhere on the web I came across another model of dog training that I hadn’t heard of before. It’s called Natural Dog Training and of all the web articles and authors that I have read on the subject, Neil Sattin’s website is the easiest to follow. Based on what I have read so far, the Natural Dog Training philosophy doesn’t involve any physical punishment but is somewhat dismissive of Operant Conditioning. In Susan Garrett’s webinar, she also mentioned the limits of using only Operant Conditioning because “drive states are not considered or manipulated”.
(Here’s one article that says NDT is more Freud than Skinner)
According to Neil Sattin, we should “Become the Moose”. Yep, Moose! Not Squirrel, not Cookie, but a big ol’ Moose which is NDT’s chosen metaphor for a dog’s highest-value prey object.
It may sound like a masochistic death-wish (yeah I want my dog to hunt and kill me?) but it isn’t. The Moose is supposedly big, calm, powerful and always attractive to the dog. The Moose as uber-prey is the thing that activates a dog’s hunting drive and creates social bonding between a bunch of dogs who otherwise would not be interested in bonding. In NDT, they see resolution of a dog’s innate hunting drive/prey instinct or the release of energy/stress as being more relevant to learning than food rewards.
The stress release focus reminds me of BAT because in BAT, eliminating stress IS the reward. (-R) We want to do everything in our power to keep our dog under-threshold and un-stressed in the first place. The focus is on teaching and reinforcing good choices and self-calming signals in our dog so that ultimately our dog learns how not to stress out when some scary person or dog appears.
In NDT, the goal is the same (a calm unstressed dog) but I see no mention of calming signals… The focus is on encouraging the dog to act out their “natural prey drive” through healthier outlets so that it doesn’t turn into stress/aggression/reactivity towards other dogs and people etc.
They highly recommend letting your dog’s energy express itself in games of tug and ALWAYS letting your dog win (!?!) Or playing chase where you ALWAYS have your dog chase you instead of vice versa because the human is supposed to be the prey aka Moose. (Ah! In the intro webinars, Susan Garrett says the same thing about having your dog chase you and rewarding him with play play play)
I think the logic in all this is that if I teach my dog to assert himself with/through ME when he is all revved up, then I can still hold his attention and focus even when he is all revved up… I totally fail at this with Boogie.
There is a NDT exercise called “Pushing” which involves pushing and feeding your dog at the same time to get him simultaneously “aroused” and “relaxed”. The dog is encouraged to “push back” for his reward. More here – Dogwise forum: Has Anyone Heard of The Pushing Exercise? (it’s a very long discussion between Neil Sattin & +R trainers, I haven’t read it all yet)
The first exercise in the Recall Course involves collar-grabbing & feeding at the same time and Susan Garrett explains this as a Classical Conditioning exercise. Action games of tug and chase are also encouraged to break up the exercise and to keep the dog’s arousal level high. *This is hard… Boogie backs away when I touch his collar.
Two schools of training with different behavior theories but similar exercises …
Now if I can only get Boogie to chase me. When I run off with his toy and call him, he stops and stares at me as if to say “I’ll wait here until you throw it or bring it back”.
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