Being shaped by a cocker

As a puppy, Shejpa would always run away from me when she got a toy in her mouth. Her behavior has improved since then and she usually gets praise for her nice retrieves from the field trial people. However, during the last couple of weeks, she has started to run away with toys that i throw for her or let her win during a game of tug. It wasn’t all that bad at first, I could usually get her to come if i called her, and sometimes I just had to wait a little longer… But then it got worse, and yesterday, she wouldn’t even come to me with a boring toy and trade it for chicken necks. I suddenly realized that her reinforcement didn’t come from running around with the toy, but from my reactions. I think this is very common and we often don’t even stop and think about it, because we’re so into getting the toy back and running the sequence again. The behavior gets even worse and then we stop throwing toys to avoid the behavior…

When I realized this, it took me about five minutes to fix it. I wish I had been wize enough to take action the first time she ran off with the toy, but I often do whats the most reinforcing right now (getting the toy back so that I can run some more agility) just like the dogs. How did i fix it? Well. I had my tasty chicken necks (that Shejpa really loves) and I gave her an easy task: Give the toy back to me when I let you win it during tug. She failed. So I went to Pax, our german pointer that was resting on the field, and I gave him her chicken necks. She came back and I put her back in her crate while i did some training with Pax. I wanted her to leave me. I didn’t care about what she did once she got the toy. Her toy was of no interest to me, but I had the chicken necks and I really like to feed it to the bearded dog if she isn’t around… After a few repetitions, she started to give me the toy right away (and got fed for it, of course), so I challenged her some more by throwing the toy to her during agility. She came right back to me! I couldn’t get her to not come straight to me every time. I’m curious about what she’ll do in training today, but I’m sure that I’ll bring another dog out with me.

“Dog’s are better at shaping people than people are at shaping dogs”
Susan Garrett

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