Here at the WDC, we believe in using the latest scientific advancements to improve our program.
We believe the best way to accomplish this is to create an atmosphere that provides the access to current knowledge and tools and encourages our staff and volunteers to continue their own personal development.
This year we have introduced Wednesday’s Lunch & Learn, a weekly opportunity to come together as a group and explore the many facets of the working dog.
Read how the Lunch & Learn has impacted trainer Julia Gentile.
“I am the trainer I am because of the mentors, gurus, and teachers that shaped my skill, and by the grace of the dogs in my life. The Working Dog Center is the launch pad for it all. It is as if somebody whispered an operant conditioning secret in my ear and granted me superpowers. Having natural skill and engagement with an animal will only get me so far, I needed the science. And it’s the science that makes it feel like magic.
As I learn dog theory and practice techniques, my “what I know for sure box” becomes smaller.
Thus far, I can include:
- Leadership is granted not taken.
- Proximity and height are important factors for dogs.
- Dogs like it when we respond with genuine enthusiasm.
- Reinforcement sustains and increases the likelihood of behaviors.
- Extinguishing behavior is difficult.
At times, dog training consumes me. I spend hours buried in books, observing animals, and asking questions. A question which stands unanswered most often for me, is where do emotion, behavior, and cognition converge?
A behavior that confounds me is the “out of sight down stay”. I have taught dogs to heel backwards, climb multiple ladders, search with vigor, and recall from a steak, but I cannot get a reliable down stay. Until I joined the WDC’s Wednesday’s Lunch & Learn. While I have the principles of positive reinforcement etched in my soul, I was doing it wrong. During the Lunch & Learn we watched a video where Dr. Sophia Yin use fixed interval reinforcement to calm fearful dogs, and change the emotion of behavior. Previously, I had rewarded and released by the incremental increase of behavior. For instance, the dog stays for 10 seconds, I return, release, and reward. Next step, 15 seconds. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This method left me without long term success, and my dog broke the stay without any predictability, sometimes at 4 minutes, others at 37 seconds. After watching the video, and discussing our observations, it dawned on me that I was using fixed and varied ratios based on behavior instead of behavior. Reward as a function of time, instead of as a function of behavior, especially for a dog which finds it almost impossible to remain still with their belly on the floor, let alone when emotion takes over and their human has disappeared. I can change the involuntary emotional response to the behavior through fixed interval reinforcement! What a difference it has made, even for our most stay challenged pups.
The profound, lasting change in my own behavior and understanding based on the experience of Wednesday’s Lunch & Learns fuels my brain. It’s those moments of joy due to unexpected results that create my brain high. None of which I would get without an open forum for learning. A free one, granted to me via my proximity to WDC Director Dr. Cindy Otto, Training Director Annemarie DeAngelo, and Training Manager Pat Kaynaroglu. The notion that all the humans are welcome to join, ask questions, share thoughts, and even make mistakes freely is one I do not take for granted. I know that when I can see it, hear it, touch it, and try it, I learn best. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from great humans, give it a try, maybe get it wrong a few times, and then be rewarded handsomely when I get it right with delight and mutual respect.”