Eighteen month old Tootie is super smart, but also a super mugger when it comes to treats. I stopped working with him last Spring because I didn’t really have the skills to keep up with him (or his teeth!). We recently had our first clicker session in months. I kept him behind a barrier so we could work on targeting and backing. When he understands these pretty well, (and he’s starting to get it, if you watch the video below,) I’ll have two positive ways to keep him out of my space.
The problem with Tootie’s mugging is that it is very self-reinforcing. He doesn’t care at all if he never gets a treat. He’s just happy that I’ve come to be his life-sized play toy. So, if I wanted to work on just manners while he’s sill this bad, it would be hard to extinguish the bad behavior without also using negative reinforcement (which I don’t want to use). At this point, if he nuzzles me looking for treats I ignore it, but if he starts biting, I walk away.The barrier helps him stay out of my space and lets him focus less on me and more on the target.
As soon as I click, his current mindset is to head straight for me. When I treat him, he has to back a few steps to get the treat. This creates a nice cycle:
target –> click –> back 2 steps –> treat –> target –> etc.
Then, when I click, his first thought will be stay still or back up, rather than barge forward. Also, he starts to learn that when I move into his space, he should back up. This was our first session with this. If you watch, towards the end he starts to get the hang of the rhythm of the cycle. So, I’m starting first with teaching him the fundamentals of how to respect my space, but the means I’m using to accomplish it are targeting and backing.