Woof Wednesday With Leslie Fisher

Photo of Leslie Fisher's Lab Bridget


My guest this week is Leslie Fisher of Look What I Can Do Dog Training. When Leslie and I first started talking about the topics for this week’s post we were both lamenting about behaviors that are both highly reinforcing to dogs, and are reinforced randomly. Leslie’s dog Bridget (pictured here and who turns 4 today) is an escape artist and provides excellent fodder for this discussion; as this post from Leslie’s Facebook account shows.

Too much like work! At least we are all getting our exercise and it is a nice day. Have run out of mesh now lugging wooden pallets around as temporary blocks. yes the yard Bridget vs human challenge is ongoing and probably will be unto eternity. Should really write blog about power of random reinforcement as it…

So I asked Leslie to blog about it here, this is what she said.

Looking over this post, I realize comments from one friend might prove to be true: that I will need the Army corps of Engineers to construct a Bridget proof fence. It truly has been an ongoing exercise in determination on her part— and I suppose myself equally as determined that she will NOT escape. There you have it, the power of random reinforcement! In Bridget`s driven, busy mind, if a good thing happens ONCE, there is a darned good chance it could happen again. For example, Bridget still has a habit of searching under my car at the hairdresser where she viewed a groundhog going under— 2 years ago.

Imagine then the power of being able to escape from the yard on a random schedule to a dog like this! Are they likely to ever give up trying? Not likely! In fact the escape behaviors have escalated driven by the fact that she is escaping randomly. On the occasions when I have been observing, and see that she has been foiled, I can almost see the gears turning as she stands and stares at the house: “what should I do now?” The look on her face is priceless but it ultimately means trouble for me in the form of yet another eventual escape. The only way that this behavior can ever truly be over will be to build an escape proof fence and wait for her to give up on her escapist attempts. As the behavior has been so well reinforced, I am quite certain there will be quite an extinction burst, which should prove to be interesting to observe. If and when I am able to get the new escape proof fence in place that is. For now it is going to be mesh and staple gun, and vigilant supervision. We work with what we have. What I have is one extremely driven dog!!

Dogs, of course are highly individual in their behaviors. My English Lab Talley has never left the yard, even when the gate was left open by Bridget. She is firmly attached to her food dish. Bridget, however, has dedicated her life to finding new ways out of the yard. Different dogs, different motivations. Achieving extinction of undesired behaviors, in driven dogs like Bridget, with activities that are highly self-reinforcing, may be nigh impossible. Remember, this is the dog that continues to check under a car at one location, where a groundhog was spotted two years ago. My friend may not have been wrong, I may need the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a Bridget proof fence with the following qualities: fencing buried three ft underground, at least 6 ft high, top angled into the yard, and solid boards not mesh to eliminate climbing. Short story is, having been so randomly reinforced for escaping, combined with her driven personality, she will never stop looking. When Fort Knox does get constructed, I expect it will be a very long time indeed before she gives up patrolling for an escape.

In terms of dog training then, my best advice is to know the behaviors of your own dog. I know Bridget just never gives up on anything. If you have a Bridget you will always have to be one jump ahead, with your management and your training. Good luck to you!!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks Woof Wednesday With Leslie Fisher. For more information about Leslie and Look What I can Do Dog Training, you can visit her website at http://www.lookwhaticandodogtraining.com, there you can find links to her Twitter and Facebook pages as well. Leslie also writes a popular blog “The Dog Trainers Dog” which can be found at http://lookwhaticandodogtraining.typepad.com/my-blog/

As always we welcome you to share your comments and stories of escape with us.