February 28, 2012

Routines, repetition, and possible monsters under the bed....

I wrote this blog in my head while in the shower this morning (a few days ago now).

 I keep thinking about my training.
thinking and thinking...

Not about the behaviors I train. Not about the nuances or the specific movements that must be just right,
like practicing those contacts or front crosses till they are just right. But about ruts and routines, anticipations and confidence.

You possibly have heard me mention that Surf is a thinker. He is NOT a caution to the wind kind of dog. He is built like a mini border collie and will play like one but he does not have the RA gene (reckless abandon). He likes routine (he lets us know when it is time for bed). He is cautious about strange people and places. He was very worried about people (except his 'person' that he is a die hard manic for) when we got him at 5 months. He liked dogs not people. (warning generalization about to happen) Some 'agility people' suggested that was fine, he didn't need to like others, just me. It would help his focus. Unfortunately, we are not that kind of family. I have a husband that is not dog savvy and kids. We are a very active family and meet and greet a lot of people in a lot a places. I have in-laws that are not dog 'comfortable' and it is very important to me that our dogs be good members of the household so we can host a lot of gatherings with family and friends.
He is now wonderfully socialized to both people and dogs. As long as he doesn't think you might pick him up, your cool. Did I ruin him for

 agility? His lack of focus and visiting in the ring is it a product of his socialization? I can't help wondering. The point really is moot, I love him just as he is. It's that little voice in the back of my mind that whispers to me about World teams and Championships that has me wondering/doubting/questioning.
Is it the socialization or is it his need for routine? I knew he lacked confidence trialing. My other paps are all retired so he did not get the advantage of following the others to shows and training with the other dogs. I knew it would take time for him to get comfortable but is the routine a good thing for him? What will be the long term consequences, if any?

He did not like the crate but loves to get in the crate at bed time. It is all he has ever known. He knows we go to bed at 10:00pm. If I try to stay up later than that he starts to be a pain, whining, pacing, barking. He knows exactly when the kids are due off the bus. When my husband should be home from work and when I leave for work he heads right for the crate even though my husband is the one that locks up before he leaves almost two hours later than I. Is all this routine a rut? Is it good for him? Will it help or hinder? Is there a monster lurking that will later jump out to bite me in the rear?

I'm beginning to suspect, for him it helps. I noticed it the second day of trialing. I expected a tired dog less interested and less focused for the game on day two. Instead, he was so much more improved. Right on target, focused, and working. This was also the second weekend of trialing. Maybe more is better for him?

BUT isn't randomization of reinforcement key in keeping the interest in the game? We are taught that reinforcement starts on a schedule. Heavy at first, every response=high rate of reinforcement to increase the likelihood of a repeat of the wanted behavior. Then you start to decrease the rate of reinforcement as they gain proficiency. Then you move to a varied rate=keep'em guessing. They will offer more behaviors in attempt to determine when the reinforcer will be delivered.

As I think about it more, I am beginning to think maybe they are two completely separate ideas. Rate of reinforcement for training the in the ring behaviors and routine and repetition for the trial behaviors. I don't know.......thinking, thinking, thinking. Uh oh starting to smell something burning. ;-)

Of course, if what I suspect is true, I have just shot myself in the foot again. We don't have a trial again until the end of March...............<sigh>

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