Distraction, Duration & Distance: The Key to Improving Your Photographs

In the second unit of the Karen Pryor Academy, we learned about behavior fluency. Fluency means that when an animal perceives a cue, they start the behavior right away (low latency) and they perform it precisely (precision) and quickly (high speed). Fluent behaviors are pretty impressive to watch. I wrote a bit about how I was working on fluency with Paco in my post about playing training games.

In this third unit, we are covering three more aspects of fluency: distraction, duration and distance. Those characteristics are all for the most part self explanatory. Distraction refers to being able to perform the behavior in distracting environments, duration means holding/continuing the behavior until released and distance means being able to respond to the cue even when the handler is not directly next to the animal.

These three aspects of fluency – I’ll call them D/D/D – are also impressive to watch. A dog who can respond to a “down” or “wave” cue from across the room is likely to be quite the crowd pleaser. As you can guess, mastering D/D/D takes a decent amount of time and practice. You have to work on each aspect individually while temporarily relaxing your criteria for the others.  They all sort of build on each other, so once you have one mastered, you can begin working on the next and then inevitably adding them all together down the road.

Like pretty much any dog who is just starting to learn, Paco needs work in all three categories. He started out by being easily distracted, jumping up as soon as he performed behaviors and only really responding when he was right next to you. I am happy to say he has improved a bit since we have been practicing. By slowly adding distractions to our sessions – never adding too many at one time – he has become less sensitive to them. By shaping duration (basically rewarding him for holding behaviors for different amounts of time) I am now able to give him certain cues and know he will hold them until I release him. He is even getting better at “sit” and “down” from a few feet away from me. Slowly but sure, he is shaping up to be quite the great little performer.

I didn’t realize it until I took him out on the town the other night, but these skills are really going to help me improve my photographs of him. Before, I would give him the sit cue and as soon as I would back up to take the photograph, he would follow me (which you might have noticed because of the amount of close ups I have of him – ha!). I am looking forward to the day where I can plant him somewhere and get whatever shots I want! And have him be happy about it, of course. The whole point of teaching him D/D/D with clicker training is for him to hold these behaviors and respond to cues from far away and not worry about distractions because he wants to, not because he is worried about what will happen if he doesn’t.

Here is a photo from week one of working on D/D/D. I plan to have many more for you moving forward, thanks to Paco’s new found modeling skills!

CityDog1

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