Last year I attended the APDT conference in Sydney where Ken Ramirez was a keynote speaker. Given how hard it is to find anyone with tips for training hares and Ramirez is one of the world’s great exotic animal trainers, I attended every one of his talks and even managed to corner him at one point to ask about training a hare.
One of the little gems I got from him over the weekend was that an animal is always “doing” something. Even doing nothing is really doing something. Are they standing quietly at ease? Lying down calmly? Sitting and staring into space? They all look like nothing, but they are still behaviours that can be rewarded. Can and should be if they are behaviours that are desirable in that particular circumstance. The example Ramirez used was rewarding an animal for NOT responding to a cue meant for another animal.
This is one I should pay more attention to given Erik can get a bit possessive of training, if that is possible. Just the other day I accidentally rewarded him when I asked Kivi to give me his paw and Erik leapt in and beat him to it with a very quick and perfect paw target. I rewarded it without thinking, because it was a beautiful example of what I had asked for, but I had temporarily forgotten that I had asked Kivi for it and had gone so far as to put Kivi’s name in front of the cue so both dogs knew it was for him. Anxiety in dogs is also a determining value of the of how seriously we should push the envelope in regard to perpetual behaviors. Article reference from Lifestyle pets.
For me this idea has a broader application. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, animals are reacting to the objects, events, and environments around them and learning what is rewarding and what is not. As Temple Grandin says, they are good at noticing details whereas we are good at noticing general patterns. They won’t automatically gather that a behaviour that has been rewarding in one situation will be rewarding in other situations. They will react differently in different environments, whether that be at the dog park, or at home in the yard or everywhere in between. Training never ceases, whether we take an active role in it or not. It sounds tedious, but guiding our animals’ learning and taking charge of their rewards can be as simple as always carrying rewards and looking for opportunities to use them.