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Is Walking Away from Danger a Reward for Your Dog?

With BAT, we often have the student dog walk away from the trigger or decoy as a reward. But let’s say that you see some great behavior and you try to get your dog to go away, and they don’t. Does that mean that your dog doesn’t want to walk away?

Not necessarily. Here are some other reasons:

  1. Not walking away after the marker signal + “let’s go” may just may mean that the magnet is too strong. You can sort of think of a magnetic pull between your dog and the trigger. If they get too close, they need to charge in and make the scary thing go away. If they are just a little too close, they may be stuck, wanting to go, but afraid that if they turn their back, the other dog will bite them in the rear. So you either just wait until the magnet weakens, or you abort the trial (call your dog away) and then do the next trial at a better distance, maybe 5 or 10 feet further away from the trigger.
  2. Your dog may not be “done” yet. By that, I mean that they are still gathering information, and walking away is not what they want at that exact moment. We need to teach them to gather info quickly and make good decisions, so it’s critical that we let them sniff and look when they do it. Not being able to go without getting info is really common with dogs who are not fearful, but rather protective or in some other way wanting the other dog or person to go away, rather than just fearing for their own lives. So they need more information before they can safely go away. Signs to look for: body relaxes, head turns away (toward handler, away, toward the ground, whatever).

Here’s a video clip of what “done” looks like. You’ll see this trial twice. So first, the German Shepherd (Panzer) will turn his head a little, and also give a lip-lick. This is great to reward, but he is NOT necessarily done at this point. If you are just getting your dog started on BAT, then you can and should reward small head turns – but only if they will come away with you. If they won’t then just praise and wait for the dog to be done (and possibly work farther away to decrease the power of the magnet). Panzer’s second head turn is when he’s really Done with the interaction. You can see a decision has been made. The first run-through of the clip is at regular speed, the second is slow motion.

When I first did BAT with my dog, Sagan, getting her to go away when I said “Yes! Let’s go” was really hard. We were more successful with doing her retreats at an angle, so she could keep an eye on the dog as she retreated, but then my timing got better on the walk-aways and now we can easily do a direct retreat. I began to just praise her for the little stuff and reward only when she was done. After all, it’s not a Functional Reward if the dog doesn’t want it! If they aren’t ready to go yet, they aren’t ready to go. I also threw in the occasional bonus reward (treat) for walking away, to help increase the value of going away with me.

Now, even when the dogs aren’t “done,” they do actually seem to have a decrease in stress if we call them away. But it’s just not as rewarding as a full functional reward. So at times when I want to reward her for something and I know that if I just wait her out, it could go badly (like a close-up greeting) then I will call her away using my recall cue (Come) and give her a treat as a bonus reward.

Comments? Questions? Click here for more info on BAT.

Written by Grisha Stewart, Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle [Slashdot] [Digg] [Reddit] [del.icio.us] [Facebook] [Technorati] [Google] [StumbleUpon] Tweet This Post!
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2 Responses to “Is Walking Away from Danger a Reward for Your Dog?”

  1. The mailman sessions – Part 1 « Boogie’s blog Says:

    [...] If you are registered on the Functional Rewards Yahoo Group, you can read the discussion threads on this session. e g, Boogie and the Postman. Also check out Grisha Stewart’s article on Walking Away From Danger/How to tell when your dog is DONE staring at the trigger. [...]

  2. Gina Says:

    Hi Grisha
    So glad to read your clear response to “Is Walking away from Danger a Reward”. I’m just learning about BAT and am considering it as a training for my intense, reactive, stalking , prey-drive GSD. (I love her!!) I was doubting BAT as an alternative because she is so intent on getting to the trigger, and I assumed that retreating would be a punishment. But now that you explain that the magnet is too strong…Ahha! and I the dog needs time to gather information…Ah-ha! and when on a walk and another dog is just continuing to approach, your dog is so busy freaking out trying to figure out how to react, that they get so worked up…Duh! My challenge in practice will be to find some willing decoys (the suburbanites around here think I’m nuts) and finding a high enough value reward (not food motivated)

    (BTW: if she didn’t stalk, lunge, and rush the other dogs and make them react, she actually is VERY social and loves to play).

    My follow up question would be, “my dog can usually overcome and calm herself given enough time (gathering info) in presence of trigger (like she acclimates), will this transfer when there isn’t a lot of time, or will it be like a whole new scene?”

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