Ranger explains “Intermittent Reinforcement”

I usually struggle with to how to explain the concept of “Intermittent Reinforcement” in a way that is simple to understand. Ranger said he could do it. What the…? <shrug> I have no idea, but I’m too tired to question it. With that, I give you Ranger…the dog.

Hi, Ranger here. In yo face! Hee Hee

<“Ranger, you’d better be writing.”>

Intermittent Reinforcement should be called “Playing Wolf.” RrRrraR! I like it for obvious reasons, but also I don’t know what those other big words mean. This is how I use it with Mommmeeee.

<“Use my real name, please.”>

I love Mommy  Sara, but at night she does something that I don’t really like, so I decided to train her to do what I like her to do instead.

I like to sleep right next to her under the covers and in the middle of the bed. But when she sleeps she moves around a lot: Sometimes she moves so much that she kicks me and I fall out of bed. And then she doesn’t wake up or move over so that I can get back in. So, this is how I trained her.

If Sara knows that I need to go outside to use the potty, she will get out of bed to open the door. This has always been a big deal to her.  She might even still be asleep when she gets up, but she always gets up. It’s perfect for me because when I come back inside, I can zoom in and get back my spot in the bed.

I let her know I need to go outside by scratching on our front door. And, even though I’m not a puppy who doesn’t know better than to potty inside the house anymore, she still always says “Good Boy, Ranger” and then lets me get right back into bed where I like to be.

But, when I get pushed out of bed, Mommy doesn’t wake up or move out of the way so that I can get back in. So, I tried pretending that I have to go potty. I walked to the door and scratched. She got out of bed and opened it. It worked!!! Instead of going outside, I zoomed back to the bed and got back into my spot. tricked her and it worked! She laughed too ( “Very clever, Ranger”). I like making her laugh.

So, I started tricking her a lot. One time I tricked her 4 times in a night. HeeHee! Then Mommy seemed kind of mad. Instead of laughing, she said “Hey, what are you doing? I’m asleep. Stop playing games.” I didn’t want to play games either.  I was super tired too, but I wanted her to move over so that I don’t end up on the cold floor!

I thought she would understand, but then Mommy started doing something new that I didn’t like. I would scratch at the door like I always do and then…she stopped getting out of bed at all! She said, “Go to bed.” and “Stop it!” I couldn’t believe it. It made me sad.

Then one time I really DID have to go to the bathroom. But, when I scratched, she didn’t get up. That’s our signal, and it didn’t work. But, I REALLY HAD TO GO! I didn’t know what else to do, so I scratched nicely again. But, she just kept sleeping–she didn’t even yell anymore. I almost went potty in my pants, so I decided to show her how badly I needed to go. I scratched really loud and hard on the door and I didn’t stop. And you know what? Mommy got up to see what was going on.

“What’s going on?!”, she hollered.

She walked over to the door and opened it. I ran outside as fast as I could and Mommy(oops, Sara) said, “Oh, you really did have to go out! I thought you were just crying wolf again.” When I came in, she said, “Goodness. I’m sorry. I love you so much. Thank you for letting me know that you needed to go out. Ok, get into bed. Nighty Night.” She hugged me.

So, crying wolf by pretending that I needed to go outside backfired on me. She ignored me. But, when I sometimes go out, she is happy. So, I decided that sometimes I’d better go outside and at least try to go potty so that she continues to make an effort to go to the door and then even hug me. Sometimes when I fake and run back to the bed she sounds sort of mad, but I need to get back in too! So, the secret is that I keep her guessing.  And it works every, single time!

She calls it “)*#!!! Intermittant Reinforcement.” I call it “Teaching.”

Post Script by Sara: Thank you, Ranger. It really does make the concept of Intermittent Reinforcement crystal clear for me now. And you are now giving me new ideas about how to motivate you to do a few things I’ve been meaning to work on with you as well. But first, I’m ordering a new, bigger bed.

Dogs Have No Social Filter

Ok, I’ll admit that I’m not enamored with every single dog that comes through the grooming door. I secretly probably blame the owners, but I’ve spent a lifetime mastering the fine art of being polite and respectful.

Dogs? If I were to treat a dog the way other dogs treat dogs they don’t like? I would be out of business. They don’t even attempt to conceal prejudices and judgmental attitudes.

There’s a poodle in the shop today that, I’ll admit, I’m not super crazy about. He is flea infested (owner’s fault), 12 years old and still unneutered (owner’s fault), is walking around peeing on everything, is neurotic (so is the owner),  and has few social skills (again…similar to the owner).

His owner is someone (to put it politely) I would like to find a way to fire as my customer. I just haven’t found a way I feel comfortable with–and, of course, I’ll need to lie since anything else would feel just…impolite!

Right now I am boarding a dog whose personality I wouldn’t mind borrowing from time to time.

When this poodle walked in and pee’d, “Teddy” came out, took one look, and started growling.  It’s like he said, “What’s the matter with you? We don’t like you.”

My own dog was a little more forgiving.   Teddy then followed our ‘guest’ outside. The dog pee’d more. (The owner told me as he dropped this dog off that he probably also needed to ‘poop.’ I handed the leash back and asked if he would like to take him for a walk then. He responded, “No, I’m late for an appointment.” When I callled to tell him later that his dog was ready to pick up, he informed me that he won’t be able to pick him up for another two hours because he is at a doctor appointment. I am not providing daycare voluntarily. Yes, I really do want to fire this client.)

Teddy comes from the old school of behavior adjustment and admittedly has infinitely more influence than I. He gave poodle dude an instant attitude adjustment.

Poodle guy was boldly investigating everything in my clean studio–and acting like the joint was his. Teddy addressed it immediately. “GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!” (Translation: “Make one more stupid move and it will be your last.”) I was embarrassed, “Teddy, can you find a nicer way to say that?”

Teddy: He doesn’t understand “nice.” It’s completely lost on him.

Couldn’t disagree with that.

Poodle Dude: I was uh…just going to go over here.

Teddy: You don’t listen very well, do you?

Poodle Dude: Uh, how about if I go over here instead and don’t really look at you?

Teddy: Your left testicle is in direct line of my laser vision. I am a herding mix, you know.

Poodle Dude: Just one step?

Teddy: Try me.

Poodle Dude:  So, no step?

Teddy: I see that you’re still breathing. You must be getting too much air.

Poodle Dude: Umm.

Teddy: Did you move? So help me…

Poodle Dude:  Nnnnnnnnnnnn…help? <lifting front legs toward me>

What can I say? Poodle Dude is now wisely asleep in my lap.

Normally I might be concerned that one dog is bullying another. In this case, I have to agree with Teddy. Were it not for him, this dog would have made a really awful mess of our just cleaned shop/home.  Teddy handled the peeing, the snooping, and the whining with some very well-timed and clear guidelines about how to act (or not act). He’s convincing to the poodle that his criteria doesn’t change: The rules are DO.NOT.MOVE. And that’s all the poodle needs to know.