Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Impulse Control Part Three: Rile and Recover and Recover

Memorial Day weekend Allister and I had the joy of attending the Positive Vybe seminar hosted by the Minnesota Disc Dog Club. Positive Vybe is run by Ron Watson and Apryl Lea, and they've been working with high drive, high energy, and high maintenance dogs longer than I've been alive. I intentionally waited to write this post until after the seminar because I knew I'd obtain bucketfulls of new information to share with everyone. Ron and Apryl are amazing teachers, and I can only pray that I have a fragment of their patience, kindness, and humor in teaching. They put up with all manner of crap without even swearing (well, not swearing much), the least of which was having me follow them around for the whole seminar picking up scraps of knowledge the way a crow harasses people for shiny objects.

As a result, I filled my brain up to the point where I had to start writing things down. (I never take notes, mainly for fear that I won't be able to understand them later.) I learned a ton about disc sport, but I also picked some valuable insights into dog behavior. I'd like to think Allister picked up a few things, too, but you never know with the weasel.

 For example, I now know that it's a lot easier to throw discs when you're mildly (okay, moderately) inebriated. I know that Allister needs at least twenty minutes to adjust to a new place before I can ask him to really get to work. I learned the value of video taping training sessions.

And I also learned that I am nowhere near knowledgeable enough to write an entire blog post on rile and recovery.

I can't even find a firm definition of what rile and recovery is. I've heard the phrase tossed around in dog training circles for years, but I've never really sat down and tried to put a firm label and training plan onto it. Whoops. Should've thought of that before I decided to make it part three, huh?

The way I understand it, rile and recovery is the method of getting a dog super excited (usually with the use of a toy), and then asking the dog to do something that requires thinking. For example, I'm playing ball with Rubi. She brings it back to me, and I ask her to sit. Once she sits, I throw the ball again. It forces the dog to think at a higher level of arousal. It's also a way for the dog to learn that if he or she does what is asked and thinks through the problem, the dog has the power to keep the game going. Rile and recovery is great for dogs with impulse control issues because it forces them to curb their impulses in order to get what they want. It also helps shy dogs build confidence and gives focus to high drive dogs.

What do I mean by high drive dogs? Drive is how much a dog desires something. When a dog is obsessed with squirrels, for instance, we might say she has a lot of prey drive – a high desire to chase and or hunt/kill/eat small animals. Discs dogs need to have high toy drive; they have to want those pieces of plastic. There are ways to develop drive. Dogs with medium or low toy drive can be encouraged and focused to create higher drive. And dogs that have high drives in other areas – for example, the desire to chase and play with other dogs – often have to potential to become high drive in an area of our choosing. It's then possible to take that high drive mentality and, using rile and recovery, create a dog that has higher control and focus when ever any drive is stimulated.

One of the big ideas I came away with from the Pvybe seminar was that I'm underutilizing Rubi's drive. Rubi can be very drivey and obsessive, and thus far, my training has mostly focused on curbing her drive – asking her to relax and take it down a notch. In theory, by increasing Rubi's drive in other areas (toys will be easiest, I imagine), and then forcing her to focusing using rile and recovery, I should be able to help her maintain self control in that highly aroused state of mind. Wouldn't that be cool?

For Ron, it seems like the corner stone of his rile and recovery system is eye contact. Before any activity, then dog must give eye contact. Then he rewards the dog with movement. So he gets eye contact, and then gives the dog an activity that involves movement – chase a disc is obvious, but we also rewarded with hand touches, jumps, and other forms of targeting. I'll be honest, on my list of "stuff to reward dogs with" nowhere will you find "movement." It's definitely on there now! I was surprised with how well this works, but when I sat down to think about it, movement makes sense. For dogs like Allister and Rubi, for whom sitting still is difficult, moving is internally gratifying (a "primary reinforcer" for those of you who speak dog geek). By giving them a specific movement to perform, I'm also giving them the opportunity to earn another reward – a treat or a toy (a secondary reinforcer). Double the reward, double the fun! And also double the focus?

Another interesting concept that I learned about was the idea of a dismissal cue. The concept isn't entirely foreign to me, it showed up in Leslie McDivitt's Control Unleashed among other places, but until now, I hadn't given it much thought. To teach a dog to dismiss, you first get them really interested in you by playing a game, doing fun training, something like that. The you give your dismissal cue and let the dog go do their own thing. Ron and Apryl tell their dogs to "go do dog stuff," which I like but has proven too much of a mouth full for me; my dismissal cue is simply, "go play." Then you ignore the dog for a bit go let them sniff grass, pee on stuff, eat dirt – you know, dog stuff. When the dog looks back to the handler to see if anything interesting is going on – yes! and restart the game. Once the dog is really digging the game, dismiss them. Lather, rinse, repeat. The benefit is two fold. First, increases a dog's desire (drive!) to work with their person because the person is a) really fun and b) a limited resource. Second, it makes the environment less interesting because the dog is (or thinks it will get) ample opportunity to check out the environment, but only limited chances to work with the person.

So, much to my pleasure, we have some things to work on. I say that with absolute sincerity: as long as Rubi's reactivity continues to get in the way, I hope I will continue to find new ideas to help her. One of my favorite parts about my chosen careers is that there's always room for more knowledge. Isn't that awesome?


  1. Dismissal is the only reason Elo chases a disc at all!

  2. You wrote a post about Vito!

    That stuff is hard! I have successfully played the eye contact game (just 1/4sec!) with Vito now but only after a few throws first.

    I think applying that stuff to Rubi is a fantastic idea!!! It certainly can't hurt!