I have been talking with clients a lot lately about a concept I am calling “miscroskills.” Microskills are the tiny elements that make up most of our future behaviors–they are the skills that make it easy for our dog to learn anything else. I would divide microskills into three categories: behaviors, reinforcers, and life. Here are the behavior microskills I find the most valuable, in no particular order:
Nose targeting–Simply put, we need our dogs to know that touching a thing with their noses is a viable option if they are trying to gain access to reinforcement. I like to teach them to hold their noses there too, but it’s not as vital as just showing them that a nose target is a smart first thing to try whenever they are learning something new. I also use a nose target to move them in space, which can really cut down on the amount of physical manipulation we have to use.
Paw targeting–Similarly to nose targeting, our dogs should know they have paws and that those paws can earn them stuff!
Luring–How is luring a microskill? Don’t all dogs know how to follow food? Most dogs will follow food when presented but they do not come preprogrammed to pay attention to what their body is doing while they follow that food, nor do they come with the ability to just follow and not chomp! Teaching great lure skills is a really easy first step in puppy training and a nice way to get a bunch of other behaviors trained right off the bat.
Four feet on–Once our dogs know they have feet and can use them to get reinforcement, I like them to know how to deliberately place their whole body on or in something. This makes later training for contacts, tunnels, husbandry, fitness, and obedience a breeze.
Front feet on–Understanding that keeping front feet stationary while the body or the other feet move is an excellent microskill too many dogs lack when they begin sport training.
Back feet on–Back feet on a thing is easier to train than one might think, so long as other microskills are in place. And once the dog can put his back feet on stuff, he can pretty much learn any physical skill you might want to teach him.
Here’s Idgie demonstrating both front and back foot targeting of the same object:
Stationing–Basically, stationing is “get on that thing and wait” in my book. It’s what my dogs are doing when I am prepping the learning space, or just when I need them to chill.
Try stuff–This is essentially the microskill of “shaping” and I like my dogs to have specific parameters surrounding it lest they throw behaviors at me constantly in a futile effort to gain access to reinforcement. I teach them early on that if I am seated with my hands in my lap they should get creative.
Be still–The flip-side of the “try stuff” microskill; I also need my dogs to know that stillness is a reinforceable behavior. If they are stationed, or if I am in my “stand by” position, they should wait for directions. This takes so much frustration out of training and saves valuable energy from being wasted and unreinforced!
Check out next week’s blog where I will cover Reinforcer Microskills in-depth!
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