Something else I took home with me from Susan’s Seminar was the idea to us an LRS (least reinforcing stimulus/scenario). An LRS can be used when your learner doesn’t perform a behavior correctly. That is to say, when Phoebe doesn’t perform a cued behavior correctly, I’ll pause for half a second so she knows the opportunity to earn a reinforcer for the originally cued behavior is over – the time slot has closed, and that’s okay. Then I cue something different – another behavior that is easy for her, and that I am certain I’ll be able to click and reinforce. After resetting her this way, I can then cue the original behavior again and give her a new chance of performing successfully.
In the past, I used to wait it out: when Phoebe looked at me and didn’t know what to do, I’d patiently wait for her to eventually offer the behavior I was looking for. Sometimes, this worked and she would then perform the behavior successfully. Other times, she would throw her entire behavior repertoire at me or show “frustration” behaviors such as jumping or barking. At this point, I might have cued the original behavior again, and the chance of her not succeeding was higher than before because of her increased level of arousal and decreased ability to focus.
Phoebe gets easily aroused – she’s the complete opposite of Snoopy, my last dog, who was the mellowest training partner ever: he’d do most things I asked him to do, but he’d take his time. If I asked Snoopy to do something and he didn’t follow the cue successfully, it was okay to wait him out: chances were high that he’d get it right after a little while, and waiting didn’t cause frustration in him. Well – he was a Dachshund, and had a completely different character than Phoebe. Equally challenging, but in very different ways.
For Phoebe, I’ve now switched to the LRS game instead, and I can see that this way, Phoebe stays attentive throughout a difficult exercise without getting too aroused to work. This way, she gets stuff right more often and frustration is minimized – with makes both of us happy!