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Questions from Class Series - #1

Last night kicked off spring term's Beginning Obedience Level 1 class. We're off and running! Classes are full of good questions, and I have the idea to make a running series of blog posts highlighting a question from each night's class.

So we'll jump right in!

Context: We were practicing "automatic attention" -- where the dog looks at you and pays attention to you (without you needing to give an attention command) in distracting or novel situations. For beginners, this is done by waiting for the dog to look at you, then marking "Yes!" and treat.

Question: "My dog is looking at me, but he's also jumping up. He's looking at me AS he's jumping up! So do I reward it because it's attention, or do I *not* reward it because it's jumping up?"

This is a FANTASTICALLY GOOD QUESTION. I looked over, and sure enough, her Chihuahua was leaping into the air as he looked at her. The jump and the look were truly happening at the same time, so there was no possibility of "just try to mark really quickly, after he's looked but before he's jumped." There are risks either way you look at it here -- if you *don't* reward the attention/jumping up, you will lose the jumping up -- but you also might lose the attention. If you *do* reward it, you will keep the attention -- but you might also keep the jumping up.

I think that to answer this question, you have to know what's more important to you at this very specific moment. Is it more important that the dog is giving you attention, or is it more important that the dog is not jumping up? Jumping up is obviously an unfortunate habit that can be hard to break, and we definitely don't want to be giving cookies for it... but attention is possibly THE most important foundation skill a dog can have. Trainers have to make this kind of decision all the time, and you will too! I ultimately said for now, go ahead and DO reward. Here are some of the factors that went into my decision.

1) It is usually possible to slowly shape away the bouncing while keeping the attention.

2) The high activity, energy and fun level is something that I want to keep in the dog; it actually will figure in waaaay down the road when weaning off treats.

3) In this complex environment (obedience class) I want the dog to be successful at something right away. If he were to check out and give up now, we would not have a good tone set for the rest of the course.

4) A plethora of "four-on-the-floor," non-jumping, polite greeting, and other calm-related lessons are coming up very soon on the agenda and we can use those to also tone down and reduce his general bounciness.

So, in this case DO reward, but with the following qualifications: 1) When you treat, do it calmly and low on the ground -- treat delivery is highly influential to how the dog ultimately performs the behavior, and 2) Keep a very close eye for non-jumping check-ins (I promise, they do happen somewhere and you can catch them, reward them, and keep them) -- soon you will be getting a mix of jumping ones and non-jumping ones, at which point you can reward only the non-jumping ones.

Again, great question! How would you all handle this with *your* dog? Remember, answers may vary, depending on the dog!

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