Friday, January 1, 2016

Impulse Control for Service Dogs

Impulse Control for Service Dogs

Impulse Control is the life skill that most affects every dog, not just service dogs. One of the most easily done techniques to help a dog learn impulse control is also the one most people don't use!

Choose a behaviour you want to get under control.
Then set the situation up so the dog will do the behaviour.
Add a cue to it. Practice pairing the cue until the dog can do the behaviour at the start of a new training session on a new day. This gives you an indication the dog is starting to understand what behaviour the cue initiates.

At this point is where the technique comes in.
Now start reinforcing the periods between when you aren't cuing the behaviour. The dog needs to be reinforced for NOT doing the behaviour as well as for doing the behaviour.
At first, mark and reinforce before the dog has a chance to do the behaviour. That interrupts the pattern of just giving you the behaviour whether you cue it or not.
Next, add tiny increments of time between when you cue the previous behaviour and when you reinforce the dog for not doing the behaviour you are cuing.

Then as the dog starts catching on, mix up the order of how often you cue and reinforce the uncured behaviour between.

Videotape the training sessions so you can see when you are missing opportunities to reinforce between the cued behaviours. You have to be quick in the beginning. If you know exactly what you are looking for, then you will b better prepared to catch it.

Additional Information:
Most people assume that if they only reinforce the behaviours they want, that is what they will get.
That is true for many behaviours and in general for dogs that are not that creative, pushy or eager to be shaped. In dogs that lack impulse control this approach alone doesn't work.

If the absence of the behaviour (when the dog is not doing the behaviour) is reinforced, the absence of it will also become stronger. Think about that for a second. Both the cued behaviour and time between the cues need to be reinforced so the dog understands that it's not just the behaviour that is being reinforced like in a shaping session. This approach will stop the dog from offering the behaviour fast and furious and give you control over when and where it is done.

This approach is especially important when an unwanted behaviour has been heavily reinforced in the past (inadvertently or otherwise) or is a self-reinforcing behaviour. A self-reinforcing behaviour is one that feels good for the dog to do. Some examples, jumping up, barking, spinning, demanding attention etc.

Here is one example. Lucy used to jump up whenever I carried her food dish to where she eats. Even after I put it on cue, she continued to jump up unpredictably. It wasn't until I added the last piece of reinforcing her for not doing the behaviour as we moved along that she finally caught on to the full picture.

Here is Part 2 of my video on stimulus control showing how I use this.

This approach an be used to teach your service dog not to greet other people while working: as a person approaches, interrupt the behavior with rewarding the dog for facing you. (no eye contact is necessary.) Overtime add duration before you reinforcing for not greeting. Then use your cue (Go say Hi" cue to allow the dog to greet them.

The same can be used for greeting other dogs.

What behaviours does your service dog do she you don't want him to? Share your ideas below.
Try this approach and report back how it works for you.