What Do Dog Training and Candy Crush Have in Common?
Like a lot of people, I play computer games, and the one I play the most right now is Candy Crush.
I understand the theory of variable reinforcement and why gambling can become so addicting, Behavior nerd and doggy fanatic that I am, I started wondering, what is it about Candy Crush that makes it more addicting than so many other games and how can this help us in relation to dogs? So, I did some research on the matter.
According to designers and psychologists, the game has some unique factors that make it compelling http://business.time.com/2013/11/15/candy-crush-saga-the-science-behind-our-addiction/ .
The following is taken from this article (I admit to picking and choosing these depending on what I feel is the relevance to dog training and dogs).
1. We get praised when we make a good move
Even though the automated voice overs are contrived and machine generated, they may still subliminally affect us. We all like praise, even computer generated praise, apparently. According to experts in gaming, people play the games to feel good about themselves, and in general,praise increases motivation. Feedback is even better than praise at influencing behavior change.
In training, it helps to have a mental picture of what you want and the feedback needs to be immediate. Candy Crush doesn't say "Sweet!" 5 moves after you've done a good one. It also has different terms for more difficult combinations. For dogs, jackpotting is one method of letting the dog know they've REALLY done something hard or special, as is saving special rewards for certain behaviors. My Lacy had a hard time learning Utility signals and performing them in the ring. This isn't unusual, many dogs flunk the signal exercise, especially in Utility A, where it's the first exercise the dog does. I used to use a really high-value treat for that exercise, and the only time she got the treat was when we did signals. Likewise, with dogs in class who have difficulty with the "down," besides different ways to work on the exercise I'll recommend that the owners have a special "down cookie" *just* for doing downs, and to let the dog know this is their "special down cookie." Almost without fail, people who do this will have a dog willingly going down when asked the next week in class.
2. It's time limited and makes you wait for more
The game only gives you 5 lives, than you have to wait. One of the things that we tend to do when working with our dogs, is that we'll do the same thing over and over. Dogs DO need repetition to learn, but most get bored after a while (except perhaps for some over-the-top OCD border collies, but that's a subject for another day).
My second golden, Bleys, taught me this well. He was way too smart to be a dog and was easily bored. Not only that, but he wasn't very food or toy motivated. If he did something the way I wanted once, it was best if I moved on. I could come back to it later, but even doing the same thing 3 times in a row was enough to cause him to start putting in variations or want to quit. Owners who just can't help drilling their dog over and over need to establish some stimulus control over their own behavior, by either taking out only so many treats or marking down so many reps to be crossed off, and then stop when they're done. This often tends to happen to obedience competitors right before a show. Both the anxiety of the upcoming deadline and an exercise that the dog may be having problems with will cause the owner to do it over and over, thus almost guaranteeing that the exercise will deteriorate even further, which leads to more anxiety, etc....you get the idea. (And yes, most of us have all been there at some point).
3. This is related to point #2--it leaves you wanting more
Given that it is time limited (and I know there are ways around this), it makes you quit before you're ready. Again, dogs have limited attention spans, and it's a good rule to quit while you're ahead and resist that temptation to do it "just one more time." Once you do that, you'll often find yourself on that slippery slope where the dog isn't mentally capable of continuing and by insisting on it, what you're teaching will deteriorate, which then causes you to want to keep going until you get back to the point where you were at. By the time you do stop, you and the dog are both discouraged and sick of the whole thing, and when you go back to it later, the dog is already mentally "checking out" before you've even started. Especially if you're doing something that involves either a lot of energy (mental or physical), it's best to do it in short sessions.
I've had many dogs with various training problems related to anxiety and/or fear. Once the dog has gotten up her courage to do whatever it is (which hopefully you've gradually worked on) don't make the mistake of asking her to do it over and over. Charm had a big fear of the teeter in agility. Again, this isn't an unusual fear, and I probably contributed to it in my training, but once it was there, I had to work on it (which I actually had to do twice because she regressed after slipping off of it at an outdoor show one morning when there was some frost on it that the host club hadn't removed). Since your dog only has to do the action ONE TIME in the ring, don't make her do it over and over--do it ONCE, and quit and have a party. If you were terrified of heights and I got you to climb up on the roof and you did, how would you feel if I told you to do it again? And again?
4. It taps into our inner child
Dogs are notoriously good at giving "unconditional regard" and it can be fun to act silly without feeling like we're being judged. Training should be a lot like play, the dog doesn't know the difference.
5. It's social
If you're taking a class, you're meeting with people once a week and chances are you all are having similar issues. People in puppy class love commiserating about their puppy's chewing, swap stories about housebreaking, and have a good time watching the other puppies. They also see progress if they work with their pups even a little bit during the week. If you show and compete, you soon find yourself going to shows and seeing the same people regularly.Since you spend a lot of tine just sitting around and waiting, soon you'll get to know each other. Some people even join dog clubs, which in the days before computers, was one of the few ways we had to connect with other similarly dog-obsessed.
6. It's an escape
Training your dog helps you live in the present. You need to forget about everything else and just concentrate on you and your dog. If you've had a bad day leave it at the door and do something fun with your dog. Sometimes just doing that can put you in a better mood. Not only that, the activity can help you both. Sweet!