KPA: Let the Games Begin!

We are now about one third of the way through the Karen Pryor Academy, and Paco and I have learned so much about how to teach (and learn) new behaviors. While I am mastering my shaping and capturing skills, I still haven’t been thrilled with Paco’s progress. I had dreams of us being like those freestyle teams where the dogs respond instantly to anything the handler cues. Paco and I often found ourselves frustrated because either he didn’t understand what I was asking, or I wanted a better, more polished response from him. How was I going to teach him to be an allstar?

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It was right about then that we began learning about precision, latency and speed (P-L-S) in our coursework. The more I read about these three behavior characteristics, the more excited I got – this is what would help Paco and I become an impressive pair! Precision refers to the accuracy and polished look of a behavior. Latency is the time it takes for an animal to respond once it perceives the cue, and speed is how long it takes for the animal to complete the behavior.

In our lessons, we learned different techniques to sharpen our precision, latency and speed. One piece of advice that stuck with me as I was going through the unit was that latency and speed are contagious, meaning if I am quick in my movements and timing, Paco will likely be more eager and quick with his. I was excited to practice this with him during our next training session.

I first tried with our most basic cue: sit. You might think that for someone like me taking a course like this, I would never have a problem getting my dog to sit. Wrong. I took for granted that Paco knew the cue sit before I met him so I never officially taught him, and then he often had trouble responding correctly (my fault, of course).  I turned teaching a quick and correct sit into a game, sort of like the “suddenly settle” game some of you trainers out there might know. I ran around my house, got Paco excited and then would suddenly stop, and as soon as he sat, I clicked and treated and off we went again.

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He loved this game. Paco is a people dog and, like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, gets real jazzed up when he gets to interact with you. At first, I wouldn’t cue him and would just wait for the sit. Once he seemed to have it down, I added the cue. His response times got quicker and quicker. If he was sluggish in responding, I turned around and walked away without him in sort of a “nope, try again” fashion. He quickly caught on to the game.

Our success with this game has now translated to other instances. Previously, if there was even the slightest distraction, Paco would have trouble responding to any cues, even sit. Now his sit is down pat! I know it was just about re-teaching the sit cue, generalizing and then perfecting our P-L-S, but this game really seemed to help it click with Paco (no pun intended!).

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I have been playing this game with most of the new cues he is learning, which now includes down, spin, touch, contact, up, jump and more. We have a long way to go, but I feel like we are really starting to hit our stride – which is good because we are less than two weeks away from our next testing weekend!

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