Sunday, May 22, 2011

Agile-ity Training: Dog Training as an Iterative Process (Part One)

Recently, after spending a few hours with me and my dog Liffey, a friend asked me how long after I got her did I begin training her?

"Immediately," was my answer. He was surprised that I didn't wait for her to reach some developmental milestone before I began teaching her. I explained to him that he may have been thinking about old-school, traditional (aversive) training techniques, which generally recommend waiting until a puppy is four months old before beginning training.

But thanks to the work and research of animal ethologists, behaviorists, trainers and veterinarians from the last several decades, we know now that puppies are perfectly capable of learning simple behaviors like "sit," very early in their lives. Some service dogsinterestingly, begin their learning as early as six weeks old; a good, reputable breeder begins imprinting puppies even earlier than this.

[My pup came to me at 8.5 weeks knowing the sit,down, leave it and take it, which the fine folks at the East Bay SPCA had taught her and which we use to this very day.]

The fact is, that dog training is an iterative process; as such, the experts suggest we begin training our pups immediately, rather than wait for a select milestone in the project schedule.. er, I mean, a select milestone in their development.

What do I mean, exactly, by "iterative?" You'll recall that I previously quoted The Elements of Scrum:

a little bit of requirements gathering, a little bit of design, coding and testing, and delivers a little bit of value..”  and then you do it again.

We can certainly think of dog training in the same way.

Let's take jumping, for example. On a regular, consistent basis, I am jumped on by every kind of dog, from 90-pound American field Labs to 5-pound chihuahuas and everything in between. I have been jumped on by every age of dog, as well, including adult and senior dogs who should have been trained otherwise but were not. Let me say to those dog folks right now: it ain't cute. I don't like having to wear synthetic clothing (aka, my “crazy dog lady clothes”) every day because you don't and/or won't properly, positively train your dog to stop jumping on me, a stranger.

But, thanks to those remiss dog people, I have now gathered a requirement – I will teach my dog that jumping on humans is unacceptable behavior. But how?

Well, to start, I didn't teach my dog to "stop jumping;" rather, I taught her to sit, stay and then "say hello nicely."

In reality it was even more iterative than that; I got value in very small amounts: first, the “sit” had to be solid – whether we were at home, at the dog park, along a hiking trail, on the sidewalk in a busy shopping area, etc. Any place that is distracting/fun for a dog is always a good place to practice or “proof” the good behavior(s) you want.

Once the sit was firmly established, we moved on to our “stay” – first, inside the house. Initially, my wriggly dog could only do it for a second or two; she could only deliver a very little bit of value (I took it, happily).

To be continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment