Sunday, May 10, 2015

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

Many people embark on a dream to train their own service dog. Along the way they get bogged down, tired, life happens or their medical issues flare up and all contribute to them taking a longer than planned break from training.

What can you do to stay motivated?

Reinforce and Reward Yourself!
Before you scoff at this idea...
When you go to work, you get paid, right? Why shouldn't you get paid to train your dog as well? If your boss offered you the opportunity to do your job without getting paid, you would do it right? Wrong! So why are you asking yourself to do another job without payment? Payment comes in many forms. We'll get into external motivation versus internal motivation in a minute, so bear with me.

The first thing we need to address is that we humans need both reinforcement and rewards to start and keep up behaviors just like our dogs do. Training is one such behavior that can be reinforced and rewarded. Explained simply, reinforcers occur immediately after a specific behavior has occurred. They increase the possibility of the behavior happening again. Rewards occur after a series of behaviors have been completed and reward the whole process, rather than one specific act. A hug given immediately after someone is assertive on behalf of someone else, is a reinforcer. A $200 bonus received at Christmas time is a reward.

What is Reinforcing and Rewarding to You?
Just like we would for our dog, we need to make a list of what foods, things, activities, people and events are reinforcing to you. Make sure to include some from each group. Include some of small value, medium value and high value. The low and medium items are used as reinforcers. The high value ones will be reserved as rewards for bigger accomplishments. Prioritize them least to greatest value to you in their separate groups.

Next, make an overall training plan for your dog. Start with today's date and end with your goal date in the future when your dog will be ready to help you as a service dog. If your area needs the dog to be certified, that would be your end date. If you want to use the public access test as your end date, use that!  Click here to see a more detailed post on creating a training plan.

Go ahead and reinforce your self for taking the first step of making the plan! Have a special coffee, eat a piece of chocolate. There, doesn't that feel better? Reinforcement is delivered as soon as the desired behavior is done. Finish writing down the first step of your plan, eat your chocolate.

Take the Next Step
Identify the foundation skills your dog needs to be able to do both at home then in public no matter the distraction? List those.

Here's a few:

behavior
at home
in public
sit


down


recall


leave it


nose target


loose leash walking


settle/relax


be handled by a stranger


ignore other dogs






Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks does your dog need to do to mitigate your disability? List those.

task
at home
in public
alert you to a doorbell ringing


pick up a dropped item



do deep pressure therapy to you






Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks or behaviors are not needed but you think might be fun to train? List those.

task or behavior
at home
in public
pivoting from in front of you


backing up






Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

There's a good start on a reward plan for yourself!

To incorporate reinforcement into the plan, break down each of those behaviors into their smaller training steps and choose reinforcers for each one. Even if your dog isn't as successful as you like, reinforce yourself for doing the training that day! Be kind to yourself (use a higher rate of reinforcement on yourself when you start losing motivation for a specific behavior) and motivation will come!

Behavior: settle/relax
relaxes on dog bed or mat voluntarily

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

settles on mat until released by cue

relaxes on mat on cue

settles on mat on cue near chair in new room

settles on mat near chair in yard




Another way you can apply Premack principle is to do a training session of one behavior you enjoy less to train, and alternate that with a behavior you enjoy training. It works! 

What other creative ways can use use Premack Principle on yourself?

External Motivation vs Internal Motivation

Back to this. The difference between these two is interesting. They have a relationship. External reinforcers and rewards can be things, objects, games, activities, travel, interaction with people, another person's approval etc. Internal motivators are feelings that you get from inside yourself when a step, task, job is completed or your dog figures something out on his own.

When you start out using external motivators, then apply them to yourself intermittently (ask for more of the same behavior to earn a reinforcement (called two-fers and three-fers in dog training) , the activity that you are being reinforced for becomes reinforcing with application of the external reinforcers. When you start to see a change in your dog's behaviors in specific situations, you feel good about it. Those feelings, caused by your dog's change of behavior, lead you to be more motivated to train your dog as you want to see more behavior change and feel better about the fact that "Yes! you CAN do this! "

This process is explained by the application of the Premack Principle that is the most powerful tool in a trainer's toolbox. Premack Principle says that if you pair a lower likelihood behavior with a higher likelihood behavior, over time the lower level behavior will increase in value to the learner. Sometimes becoming equal in value to the higher value behavior.  So pairing a lower likelihood activity (training in public) with a higher value activity (going out for coffee with a friend afterward), you increase your enjoyment of training.


Ultimately, the process of doing the activity becomes internally reinforcing. Internal reinforcement is when we do specific activities for the satisfaction or pleasure of doing them. No external rewards are necessary to do them. Over time, little things become internal reinforcers. The fast that your dog CAN do a specific behavior that he was having trouble figuring out. That your dog CAN do the same behavior in a pubic place! Voluntary eye contact from your dog. that makes you feel good! The feeling of pride when your dog helps you for the first time in public as a service dog in training learning public access. Many, many such things will become reinforcers to keep you motivated if you start incorporating external reinforcers into your training plan. 

For me, in writing these posts, I am reinforced by the feeling of satisfaction that I get when I hit the "Post" button on the blog. It is one step in being able to help others. I then Premack myself by having lunch of something I enjoy eating.  I get rewarded when someone lets me know that the post was helpful to them!

Watch for Part 2 for more ways to keep yourself motivated to train your service dog.