Sunday, March 6, 2016

GMAB for the Greeter

Dean loves people.  He always has.  Especially people that he knows.  Once someone meets Dean Dog, that person becomes one of his "human friends".

And Dean greets much like an overeager Golden Retriever!  He likes to "upsnuggle", as our Agility instructor used to say.  He's not out to knock anyone over - he just wants to get up to his friend's level and give a big Dean Dog hug.

This was something of an issue when he and I started trialing.  He would actually try to break away from me to go greet the judge.  And if a friend that he knew was sitting in the ring as a bar setter . . . that was a difficulty!

At this point in my development as a trainer, I was very involved with incorporating the games from Control Unleashed into my training.

I decided to help Dean learn to remain focused in the ring, even when one of his human friends happened to be present there, through use of the Give Me a Break game.  (GMAB)

According to Leslie McDevitt, the author of Control Unleashed:

Give Me a Break is about giving the dog frequent breaks (using what I call the "quick dismissal") from short, highly reinforcing, training sessions and then resuming the session as a reward for the dog's choosing to ask, "Can we keep working?"  The goal is to increase the dog's attention and eagerness to work with you. (Control Unleashed p. 148)

The game is straightforward for the dog to learn, and incredibly powerful.


Before we began to use this game in a class context, Dean learned the meaning of his "quick release" at home.  In order to learn the meaning of his "quick release" (Dean actually knows several different quick releases), Dean was given permission to disengage from me to sniff, look around, greet human friends, or whatever he might want in a given circumstance  (Naturally, this training happens in a safe area).  However, at any point where he chose to disengage and turn to me to work, he would get a click and a high value reinforcer.  And then he would immediately get the quick release again.

When Dean was consistently refusing the distraction upon getting the quick release, we would get into our training session proper.

Class Application

This whole training setup was approved by our Agility instructor, and the other members of the class.

When Dean and I would come into the room together, I would immediately release him to go greet, and then I would step into the ring (equipped with a favorite tug toy), leaving him out on the sidelines, greeting all of his friends.  When we first started doing this, he literally went to greet every single person in the room!

Once he turned his attention to me, I would wave the tug toy toward him, and he would come running and we would play.  No Agility.  No behaviors.  We would just play.  And then I would release him to go visit his friends again.

It did not take long before Dean flatly refused to leave the ring again to do the second greeting.  When he got to that point, I started adding some more Agility into the picture, always keeping it very upbeat.

And eventually, Dean refused the initial greeting, insisting, instead, on going right into the ring to play and run Agility!

Note:  In a circumstance where I would not have been able to turn the dog loose on the sidelines, I would have gotten a small group of people to come into the ring to setup the "free visiting" area.

Transfer to Trial

Of course, at a trial I could not turn Dean loose to work the crowd, but by that point Dean knew the structure of this game, so he didn't need that.

I was able to use permission to visit with just one select person outside the ring in order to "Reframe the Picture".

According to McDevitt:

For a situation that evokes an undesirable response, reframing means using cues and familiar rule structures to make the situation look different.  That altered dynamic transforms the situation into one in which the dog can more easily learn a better response.  (Control Unleashed p. 56)

Before a Rally run, or an Agility run, I would give Dean his quick release on the sidelines to give him permission to visit just one person.  I would usually do this when we were "in the hole" or just before.  I would allow Dean to visit as long as he liked, and once he turned his attention back to me, he got a treat.  Then I would quick release him back.

In the end, Dean understood this structure so well that he usually refused to visit that one person, fully understanding that the quick release put us into the Give Me a Break structure, and then he was able to maintain that focus in the ring.


The results that we got from this were excellent.  Dean completely stopped trying to break away from me to greet judges, and, even when a volunteer in the ring was one of his human friends, Dean could see that person in there and maintain his focus on our activity together.

It may seem that the whole process would actually encourage visiting, but I have found the opposite to be true.  I have found that with a super friendly dog, nothing actually builds desire to work with me more than building and using that "quick release" where the reinforcer is permission to visit.

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