classical conditioning

Training Tip #2 – “Go see” and Classical Conditioning

Ok, I know it’s been a month since I posted the first training tip. I’ve been away teaching and going to trials with Shejpa (who is now in level 3 in both standard and jumpers and did some really nice runs!). We’re moving to our new home on Monday, so it might take a while before I’ll be able to post #3, but I will translate the second one for you tonight (and hey, comments are very reinforcing).

Todays tip is about adding a cue to the behavior of greeting (people and/or other dogs). I was just reminded of another benefit to this. Someone had put piles of wood in our yard and when I took Squid out to potty in the dark, she was a bit scared and raised her hackles and growled at the new sight. I tried telling her to “go see” and she instantly changed her attitude. She started to wag her tail and ran up to sniff the piles of wood before we continued on our walk. This is a cool example of the power of classical conditioning. I don’t usually make a big deal out of the puppy barking at new things and I don’t know if I think it’s a good idea to always make sure they go up to sniff and get over it. I think the best response often is to just act normal and walk on, but in this case it was interesting to watch her response to a well known cue in a new setting.

If your dog is uncomfortable around new people, this cue might help you break the ice in some situations. But you can’t use it too often in situations where the dog is insecure, as it then won’t be associated with good feelings, but rather the opposite. Add the cue in situations where the dog is happy and relaxed, like every time he is reunited with a family member or close friend. When the conditioning is strong, you can try it out in a more neutral situation, but be very careful not to scare the dog during the greeting.

The “goo see” cue (as any cue) has both a classical and an operant part. The classical conitioning is all about the emotions evoked by the cue. The operant part has to do with the dog learning that he may greet other people when, and only when, the cue has been given. You will want to be even more careful with getting your timing right when adding the cue (see Training Tip #1), if the classical conditioning is important to you. Make sure that your cue is presented before the dog goes to greet. If you give the cue as the dog is greeting or is running towards the person to say hi, the classical conditioning will be weaker than if you present the cue first.

I therefore hold the puppy in her collar or with my hands around her chest when I want to add the cue. I give the cue when I see that the puppy really wants to goo see and let go of the dog half a second later. I repeat this for every greeting for a couple of weeks, before I start using the cue as a reward for good behavior (looking at me, walking on a loose leash or staying in position, for example).