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Service Dog Quest: Dig Into Distractions

If you and your Service Dog participated in Week Two of the 2014 Service Dog Challenge, you should have a much clearer understanding of exactly what your canine partner knows and how well she knows it. During Week Three, the focus shifts from your dog to you. Gear up for a fun week of learning and as always, thanks for joining us for the 2014 SD Challenge!

During Week One of the Challenge, we dig into what your Service Dog and training goals for the year were. In Week Two, we figured out exactly where you and your partner currently stand in regards to training, public access, cue understanding and known behaviors. This week, our focus is 100% on you, the handler, and on the information you’ll need as a Service Dog trainer, owner, user or supporter in order to begin bridging the gap from where you are to where you want to be.

The old saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” definitely Distraction Proofing Service Dogholds true when it comes to training, behavior modification and ongoing learning, so don’t be afraid to really dig in and learn about something new. Just because you’ve never tried it or it’s untraditional or you don’t believe it could work doesn’t mean you may not find something of value in it. If it doesn’t work, all you’ve lost is a little time. If it does work, you’re moving forward. Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from discovering new things, especially when it comes to your dog.

You don’t need any special equipment this week outside of a computer with internet access or the ability to trek to the library. Keep your 2014 Service Dog Challenge binder close at hand, though, to track this week’s Bonus Activity and to take notes on this week’s topic.

2014 Service Dog Challenge: Week Three

Week Three Goal: Learn or review the foundations and theory of distraction proofing and building focus

Week Three Focus: Handler’s academic knowledge of basic behavioral modification, reinforcement schedules, Premack Principle and distraction proofing

Week Three Instructions and Checklist:

Distraction Proofing Service Dog1. Learn/Review the basics of behavior modification, including operant conditioning and motivational theory. It’s ok if that sentence reads a bit like Greek – in a few minutes, it’ll make perfect sense. Please don’t skip this step, even if you’re already familiar with operant conditioning and behavioral/motivational theory. A little review never hurt anyone. 🙂

If you’re brand new to operant conditioning, start with “A Beginner’s Guide to Operant Conditioning.”

If you understand the basics but would like to further your knowledge of operant conditioning and the quadrant as well as how they apply to dog training, start with this excellent 4-part Skinner’s Quadrants overview.

For an in-depth breakdown of the quadrant, FAQs and detailed analysis, work through “Unveiling the Myth of Reinforcers and Punishers.”

2. Follow the instructions below and record your answers in your 2014 Service Dog Challenge binder, notebook or file. Don’t skip this step – it’s important to solidifying your understanding of operant conditioning and ensuring we’re all on the same page moving forward.

  • Define “reinforcement,” “punishment,” “positive,” “negative,” “behavior,” “learning,” “reinforcer” and “aversive.”
  • Draw Skinner’s Quadrants and label each section appropriately. You should have an “adds to” and “takes away” column as well as a “decrease behavior” and “increase behavior” row.
  • Add any other notes you’d like to remember.

Distraction Proofing Service Dog3. Study Premack’s Principle. Here’s the basics, here’s a little more info, here’s a great visual guide and here’s a relatively life changing book on the matter. The most important thing to remember about the Premack Principle is that distractions can be, in and of themselves, rewards. Anything your dog finds rewarding can be used to reinforce (or increase) behaviors your dog finds less rewarding.

4. Review the basics of distraction proofing in dog training.

  • Start with the 3Ds – understanding the 3Ds of dog training is VITAL to succeeding in teaching solid obedience, task work and manners, particularly in public.
  • Learn the ways to help your dog work with, around and through distractions.
  • Most importantly of all, learn how to make yourself more rewarding and interesting than anything going on around you. If you’re not relevant, your Service Dog has no reason to focus on you and you alone instead of the environment or objects/things she may find more rewarding. Learn how to be the reward.

BONUS: As you go through your day to day routine with your partner, begin identifying instances you use the Premack Principle but may not have known it. Do you ask your partner to sit before feeding them? Before putting their leash on? Before beginning off leash play? Before throwing a ball? Before offering a treat? If so, that’s Premack.

Continue last week’s bonus activity but work on identifying and recognizing which piece of the quadrant you’re using and what effect it has on your Service Dog’s behavior. Here’s last week’s bonus activity:

At some point every day from now until the next Challenge is posted, set a timer for 2 minutes. For the entire 2 minutes, ask your Service Dog or SDiT for behaviors requiring cue recognition. For example, you may ask your partner for repetitions of “sit,” “down,” “stand,” “bow,” “sit pretty,” “play dead,” and “spin.” Only include commands marked on your test sheet (the ones your dog responded to confidently and reliably the first time asked in a distraction free area), keep your energy upbeat, excited and happy, and reward every single repetition of the command like your Service Dog just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Keep the pace moving; as quickly as you can give commands, your dog performs them and you reward them, the next one should come.

Use this week to further your own knowledge, foundation and understanding of the theories behindDistraction Proofing Service Dog changing, influencing and creating/decreasing behavior. The links we’ve provided are excellent starting points, but don’t be afraid to go behind them and make discoveries of your own. While this week is more about you than your Service Dog, don’t forget about her – use the bonus activity to continue refining her understanding of cues and to hone your own ability to recognize reinforcers, aversives and Premack in action.

Got questions, comments, concerns, thoughts or ideas about this week’s Service Dog Challenge or want to share a resource/article/video on distractions or operant conditioning you found helpful? Chime in with a comment and let us know!

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