Training Tidbit for January:
The Rehearsal Effect: Why Your Training Isn’t Working
Frustrated that your different training tactics never seem to work? Every time I hear this complaint, without exception, there is one common denominator to people’s stories: the dreaded rehearsal effect. Here’s an analogy to help you understand what’s going on.
First, think of a forest full of trees and bushes. Each time you walk a path through that forest, it gets a little easier to get from point A to point B as you wear down the vegetation. If you walk that path enough, over the course of years, it becomes a freeway – virtually the only way to get where you want to go!
The connections in your dog’s brain are like that forest. Each time your dog performs a certain behavior (or chain of behaviors, like counter surfing) his brain is “walking a certain path.” If he walks that path often, that behavior not only gets easier and easier, but it can also become virtually the only way of fulfilling a need – it gets him from point A to point B with the least amount of difficulty. Why take the back roads when you can take the freeway? This is called the Rehearsal Effect, and it’s what makes early intervention in training so important!
What we’re trying to do with training is carve a new path through that forest. In rehearsing a new behavior, a new means to an end, your dog begins to walk a new path over and over – and the more opportunity to practice your dog has, the more this new pathway grows, until it becomes the new “freeway” – an easy and effective path to take.
Now, here’s the trick. If you don’t stop using the old freeway and give it a chance to disintegrate, it will still be there in the background, enticing your dog into relapsing! That is why so many training programs fail. Behavior management is essential in training – you must be creative and proactive in preventing your dog from “practicing” unwanted behavior. Each time your dog has a “relapse,” he is maintaining that old pathway.
This means that you may need to get creative. All good dog trainers are also excellent lateral thinkers. Have your dog wear a leash in the house, and make use of baby gates, crates and ex-pens BEFORE your dog has a chance to screw it up. Put him on a long line when hiking if he tends to
|Uh-oh. Time to restrict his choices so he can’t walk the old path again!|
blow off your recall. Make it worth his while to choose to come to you by increasing the value of your reinforcer, or working with food directly before mealtimes when he’s hungry. Avoid situations in which your dog is likely to fail, and actively seek out situations your dog can handle – stack the deck in your favor. Put some forethought into your plan, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – some of us do lateral thinking for a living!
Have an idea for a Training Tidbit? I’d love to hear from you!