Monday, July 15, 2013

Puppies and Children: Not That Different

The day we brought Murphy home
At the end of the school year, Husband and I became "parents" to an English Springer Spaniel puppy named Murphy. Since I would be home full-time for the summer (minus 20 half days of summer school), timing couldn't have been more perfect--two weeks at home with adorable Murphy to play, snuggle, work on crate training, house breaking, and general obedience before summer school... what could be better?

Fave sleeping spot: under the couch

Now, don't get me wrong, I love that furry little booger. Murphy is well-behaved (aside from typical puppy behaviors like nipping and accidents) and quick to learn commands (he mastered "sit" within half a day). He is such a love bug and just wants to be with his humans, whether it's sitting directly on my feet while doing dishes or crawling onto Husband's chest while he lays on the floor. He's social and loves meeting new people in the neighborhood and other dogs. Perfect on paper.
Oh hai... rub my belly?

Reality: puppies are the worst. They are so much stinkin' work. I honestly think that raising a 10-week old human baby would be easier than a 10-week old puppy. Sure, they're freakin' precious and do totes adorbs things all the time, but you have to watch them at every moment to make sure they're not harming themselves or your things, don't come when called because they're eating a tasty mouthful gravel, will stare right at you while having an accident on your beautiful new rug (right after coming inside), lay down in the middle of the street during walks, screech-cry-bark until 2:30am in the morning because they hate their crate and want to be with you, bite you in the face while playing... etc.

Murphy : Content; Clam : Happy
Terrible hide-and-seeker
I have to say, my behaviorist training has surely helped. In undergrad, I took a semester long animal behavior lab where, among other behaviors, we taught white rats and guinea pigs to use a Skinner box for research on food hoarding behaviors. With the help of positive reinforcement and oodles of training treats, Murphy recognizes verbal commands and hand signals for "sit," "shake," "down," and is working on "come" and "stay." Lots of practice, time in the crate, and rewards for going inside means that we get to sleep the entire night with minimal (pathetic) howling when he first goes to bed. Although Murphy occasionally has accidents and doesn't consistently ask to go outside, he does his business quickly when he hears "go potty" or "go poop." In fact, I think he's manipulating me with going to the bathroom, because he'll pee 2-3 times when we go out, all the while looking at me for a treat when he finishes. Now, he only gets one treat... smarty stinker

Hoarding: Puppy Edition
Please sir... I want some more.
It's really no different than "training" kiddos to accomplish the behaviors we desire. We started by flooding Murphy with praise and treats when we first were teaching behaviors so that he would quickly learn that by doing something right, he would be rewarded. We even went more basic at first by rewarding approximate behaviors--things that were close to what we wanted, but not quite. For a student you want to stay in his seat, start with him staying a designated work area or part of the classroom, then when he has mastered that, begin rewarding for in-seat behaviors. The more you consistently reward kiddos (and puppies!) for completing desired behaviors, the less they should engage in undesirable behaviors because they're getting the reinforcement they want through positive means.

Snuggling with Husband on a car ride
We are starting to use intermittent reinforcement for some of the behaviors Murphy has down pat--he does not always receive a treat when he sits or shakes hands. Intermittent reinforcement is great because Murphy still gets rewarded, it just isn't as often and is more random, so he continues to do desired behaviors hoping for a treat. Think of it like a slot machine--it's going to hit at some point, you just don't know when, so you drop a few more nickels in and hope for the best. Intermittent reinforcement can increase resistance to extinction, meaning that if we decide to forgo any treats for mastered behaviors, Murphy is less likely to notice and will continue to do the right thing. It can work for kiddos, too! Surprise or spur of the moment reinforcement, like "caught being good" tickets or a Hershey kiss during work time, for desired behaviors can be more exciting than predictable reinforcement because students may be more attuned to what they're doing in the classroom, hoping for the possibility of a reward.

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