My training friend Wes is taking a Harvard class in behavior and shared with me some startling information regarding open and closed economies in training. Graphs of success rates indicated much different rates of learning -- in closed economies (those without supplemental feeding regardless of performance), the rates were much higher. The two charts looked like different experiments entirely!
I think it's obvious that the average pet dog does not need to live in a closed food economy. He should get regular meals and a fixed number of calories a day. I'm certainly not advocating starving a dog into obedience! But when I found my back up against the wall with Laev -- fast approaching Nationals and a dog more interesting in squirrel-gazing than anything else -- I opted for a closed economy.
Well, we're on day 3, and I've seen a startling difference today. Last night there was a glimmer of brain activity but it came and went irregularly; today, Laev actually earned 1 3/4 lbs of food (she ordinarily gets 2 lbs/day -- yes, it's high-quality raw, and yes, I would shed blood for that metabolism!). Yesterday she maxed out at 1/2 lb earned and 1/4 lb for free because the other dogs were having supper. (My closed economy wasn't 100% closed; I just don't have it in me to make her watch them eat.)
And Laev's attention has improved dramatically. While the other night I was rejoicing to get 25 steps of attentive heeling, tonight she was giving me nearly 100. I opted to R+ at that point, but probably could have stretched it longer. I'll be building up over the next two weeks to a full BH routine and beyond.
We're not using any toys or special treats, just her daily diet. I'm using ground raw in a waist bag with a spoon to dispense it -- not pretty, but clean and effective. I'll be getting the food off me soon so that it's not a cue itself.
So it's been a steep learning curve for Laev, and she nearly blew it tonight; she was doing very well in the center of our yard (several fenced acres) and so I moved behind the big historic barn. Oops! Wildlife area! and she started to fade. I caught her collar for safety and asked for some very simple behaviors with an absurdly high rate of reinforcement until she could refocus. Even then, it was stare at Laura, hear click, scan for critters while Laura delivered food, wrench eyes back to earn another click.... But I did some fast sequential fronts back in the direction of the safe zone and then faded into heeling again, which she did well. I rewarded a final recall by letting her clean out the treat bag.
This is not an easy environment. Our mower broke 3 weeks ago and the #&*$ mechanics didn't pick it up for repair today, so I have large areas which have not yet been cut this year. The grass is knee-deep on me in places; if Laev were a Pomeranian, she'd be lost. And Laev's been watching the squirrels come out after hibernation, and there are favorite cat hiding places all over, and.... Oh, well. When she can focus here, with such a history of R+ for hunting, traveling on the road should be much easier.
But at least I'm seeing progress! Huzzah!