Boundary Games Troubleshooting
As you all know we love boundary games but sometimes people have struggles and we thought that its probably a cool idea to put together a troubleshooting tips series….so here goes!
WHEN I STOP FEEDING MY DOG, THEY SOON GET BORED AND COME OFF THE BOUNDARY. IT FEELS LIKE I AM HAVING TO CONSTANTLY DRIP FEED. HOW DO I ACHIEVE DURATION? HELP!
When it comes to building value for the boundary we need to feed our dogs for being on it. This is how they learn where the cool place to hang out is! To begin with, we for sure want to keep the rate of reinforcement (how often we reward) high. A constant drip-feeding action. The trouble with the drip feeding action, is as humans we can quite quickly become robotic and predictable in nature with the delivery of the food. Dogs are smart little monkeys. They can very quickly pick up on ANY sort of pattern and the action of feeding your dog on their boundary can become a pattern in terms of how often and how quickly the food comes. So for those smart dogs and patterned humans, we then get the struggle with duration as the dog knows the timing of which the food is being delivered. If there’s any sort of gap or change the dog knows that the opportunity for reinforcement has gone, so they come off the bed.
So how do we achieve duration? While you are the adding value for being on the boundary, it’s really important to ensure that when you deliver the food, you mix up frequency and pace. For example: 5 bits of food delivered fairly quickly, then a 2 second gap, then 1 piece of food delivered in really slowly. Mixing it up with length of time between bits of food being delivered (but keep it to 1-3 seconds tops at the start), how many bits of food are delivered in succession, and how the food is delivered (fairly quickly or super slowly) is so important. It’ll ensure your dog isn’t able to pick up on any sort of pattern! Dogs are gamblers and the anticipation of reward, that unpredictability is rewarding in itself! Once you have added value by rewarding in an unpredictable way, growing duration gradually will be a cinch!
MY DOG REALLY GETS THE GAME INDOORS ON HIS BED, BUT WHEN I USE A DIFFERENT OBJECT OR TRY AND PLAY THE GAME OUT AND ABOUT ITS AS IF HE HAS NEVER PLAYED IT BEFORE IN HIS LIFE.
One word: generalisation! Variety is key with boundary games! Pretty much from the get-go, you want to be introducing different objects and scenarios as boundaries. Let’s remember that boundary games is more than teaching a dog to stay on a bed! For the skill to truly transfer to everyday life; generalise, generalise, generalise!
When starting out with introducing a new object or scenario, and by scenario we mean things like doorways, car boots etc, retrain the skill. Essentially pretend that your dog has never learnt boundary games. Having this mindset will help you to pitch the training where it needs to be at the start when changing things up. It can be very easy to rush or lump the training when using a new object if the dog has already learnt the skill on a different object beforehand.
Remember: when starting out, each new object or scenario that is used for boundary games needs to be trained. Now, you may be thinking; oh but this will mean I need to train boundary games forever as there will always be a new object/scenario to consider. Here’s the very cool thing; once your dog is an experienced boundary games player, this is where the magic happens. They start to seek out boundaries in their environment! The game has become more than a behaviour, it has become a concept!
As the game is being generalised, the desire for boundaries increases. This is what leads to your dog ultimately choosing a boundary in their environment, even if it is something they have never seen before. This ninja level of boundary games ONLY comes from generalisation. If you use the same bed for every session, the ninja level of the game will be out of reach. Generalisation is your key!
BOUNDARY GAMES FOR ME ARE A LITTLE WOBBLY. MY DOG DOESN’T SEEM FUSSED ABOUT BEING ON THE BOUNDARY.
For this struggle it is a question of value. Put simply, where your dog is when they are being rewarded, you are not only putting value on the game or skill itself that you are teaching but you are also putting value on the place your dog is at the time of receiving that reward.
If you think about it, when you ask for a sit on the flat, where does your dog automatically tend to position themselves? They tend to park their bum down in front of you, right?! As there has been a history of reinforcement happening in front of you, not only does your dog have value for the behaviour but also the place!
In the realms of boundary games, you want to create so much value for being on the boundary, you want your dog to automatically gravitates to the boundary. You want to imagine that it is like a big magnet sucking your dog in! To get this, lots of rewarding for being on the boundary needs to happen. Don’t be in a rush to move things on! Before looking at adding in any testing of skills such as adding in duration or distance or impulse control games, you need to test their choice making.
Do this by standing right next to the boundary with your dog on it, say your release cue and as your dog leaves the boundary, do nothing else, don’t move a muscle, don’t say anything! What does your dog do? If your dog makes alternative choices, then this is telling you that more value needs to be added to the boundary. If they immediately without hesitation and with desire hop back onto the boundary this is telling you that they have value for it. This is the level you need to get to before considering moving boundary games onto to more complex challenges.
So there are just a few troubleshooting tips, if you are new to Boundary Games or need some practical help, we have a Boundary Games Workshop taking place on Sunday 20th January and we have 2 spaces left! For more information, click here