A New Project for Bob Bailey (like he needs another one:))

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Most of you would be familiar with the name Bob Bailey. He is one of my mentors, a great guy and an amazing animal trainer. If there is a better training mind alive today, I don’t think I would know who that would be, he really is da bomb!  The man is a scientist with the creativity of an artist. I think it really is a blessing when a good trainer has a imaginative creative side as well. Bob is a great “idea guy”. When someone gives you the ideas of how to start something, it makes it alot easier to get rolling, but often the difficult thing is coming up with a lateral solution to your problem to get you started.  I think that is one of the biggest challenges to people that are new to shaping behaviours. Bob is not only brilliant, he also has the ability to keep thing simple, so that everyone understands without feel like they are being talked down to them.  Bob called a couple days ago and while we were chatting I got this idea that he should start working on a new project. Now Bob always has a dozen irons in the fire, so at 70+ years old he likely doesn’t need a new project. My enthusiasm wasn’t dampened.  I know he is going to be hanging around his house more than usual over the next month, so I thought I would put a bug in

Training my chicken at one of Bob Bailey's camp

Training my chicken at one of Bob Bailey's camp

 his ear to focus on something new. So I am going to put it out there to all of you. If you could ask Bob Bailey any question at all, or get him to explain anything or express his feelings on a certain subject or have him write an essay on anything . . . what would that be. Even if you don’t know who Bob is, if you could ask the greatest training mind on earth to speak on any topic what would that be.  While you are thinking about that you can check out his webpage ,www.hsnp.com/behavior.

Today I am grateful for the amazing people like Bob Bailey in my life, who calls out of the blue and always brightens my day


  1. I am new to “shaping” behaviours and I have a 3 year old border collie. I am trying to do more of this type of training but cannot get her to offer behaviours at all. What can I do to get her to start offering behaviours?

  2. I purchased Bob’s DVD and had a question regarding something he says on the DVD about doing whatever is needed to “get the behavior” first. Does that mean that luring is okay to do initially in order to first get the behavior and then use shaping afterward?

  3. Methinks Susan may be prone to exaggeration about me. I was a lucky person who happened to be at the right place at the right time. However, let me respond to Sue and Melanie’s questions. Two factors here- how good is the trainer and how good is the dog. I have a little saying; “training the animal is the easy part.”

    If I am training people, which is most of the time, then I want the student to “stretch” their skills. I believe one of the best tests of a trainer’s skill is pure shaping of a behavior. Even the most skilled of trainers should shape at least one behavior in an animal (or a person) in a month. The final “exam” in my beginning level chicken training is shaping the chicken to peck at something that had already been thoroughly extinguished. The student could not lure, remove objects, hide objects, or do anything other than reinforce behavior.

    Now I’m ready to make Susan Garrett’s teeth clench. When actually training, I seldom began by shaping behavior; waste of time! When I wanted behavior I targeted, lured, modified the environment, essentially anything to get the behavior going. BUT, and this is important, I never did any more prompting than necessary to get the behavior. I never lured if I could target. I never targeted if I could modify the environment. I never modified the environment if the animal simply offered the behavior, or something close to it. If I used a prompt, I got rid of the prompt ASAP. If I could start the animal working with one prompt, that’s all I used. If I was still prompting responses the same way 10 reinforcements later I would go the wall and bang my head very hard three times! If you are going to prompt, then do it properly. Prompting responses should be as planned and practiced as shaping. If you don’t prompt correctly it will slow down training, not improve it.

    I am, and my company was, very much into production training. High quality, reliable behavior obtained in the least time and effort was very much the name of the game. We “over-trained” animals so they would work for others (usually strangers) nearly as well as for us. We got the behavior ASAP and at the lowest cost- our economic lives depended on that.

    SO! If you are already a skilled trainer and your dog is experienced and you are in a hurry, GET THE BEHAVIOR! Use whatever tools necessary to get the job done. If you are testing or expanding your skills, or the capabilities of your dog, shape, shape, shape. Shape properly. Plan! Practice your timing. Video your training. Change your behavior quickly and as necessary (same as with prompting).

    So, how did I train? I usually let the animal tell me what behaviors it had. I then (prompted)(shaped) as needed to get the behavior as quickly as possible. To change an animal’s behavior quickly you should change your behavior ASAP. Doing more of the wrong thing does not make it right.

    About repressed animals, I suggest high rates of reinforcement for anything (non-destructive) the animal does. Don’t always feed in the same place, which will get the animal moving around. Don’t try to shape (A) behavior at first. I believe it might be best not to lock a behaviorally repressed animal into giving a limited range of behavior. Later, when the animal is more receptive to change and giving new behavior, you can begin shaping new behaviors.

    Hope this helps

  4. Something I have recently been wondering about is related canine conditioning and strengthening.

    What I know in human conditioning and strengthening, the more a muscle can be isolated and moved in a slow and intent-full way the better the strengthening for the type of movement we need in agility from our dogs (i.e. not bulk, but strength).

    So my question to Bob would be to ask how to best shape slow, isolated movement and intent-full behaviors, which would strengthen our dogs the best way possible?

    (It’s like the opposite of what we ask from our dogs – drive forward/speed and accuracy – this would be asking for slow movement in individual areas of their bodies, enlisting them in strengthening……can we teach our pups yoga/Thi-Chi?)

    Maybe this is me being naïve. I know we can teach play bows, shake, etc…..but what about holding a single leg up….like dressage movements but with dogs…..again I am still learning here so maybe we don’t need to ask the “worlds best trainer” maybe someone else can answer….but thought I would put it our there.


  5. I want to know exactly when Pavlov ends and Skinner begins. OK, I know, Pavlov never ends, but I can dream. Maybe Bob can at least tell Pavlov to stop riding my dog like a jockey?

  6. When you are asked to teach a complex behavior/skill that you are not very familiar with or have never seen an animal perform how do you go about designing/planning the training steps you are going to use to get the final product?
    Do you visualize the final behavior and then work backwards fro final training steps? Do you find you think of all the steps at once and then prioritize? Do you think of some action which is critical and then work from there?
    I am not sure this question is clear – but what I am interested in is the thought process you use before embarking on the training process when working on a complex behavior.

  7. I’d like to know how Bob would go about working with a group of dogs at one time for training? Can it be done? I’m not referring to multiple dog and handler teams but literally a small group of say 7 small barky little dogs that need to learn as a group since individually they are all great. Simple things like not barking! Nothing to complex. 🙂


  8. Fluency.
    I love to teach abstract behaviours. One thing I have always struggled with is obtaining true fluency in dogs with multiple behaviours. Not only the basics of how to start it, but how to *really* obtain it and maintain it over time.

  9. I thought of a new question for Bob if possible.

    How can you best reduce/eliminate self reinforcing behaviours?

    Waiting them out doesn’t seem to work very well…..

  10. Teedub:
    Your question about working w/ multiple dogs or in your specific term a group of dogs. I have not done this but will offer a one way I would approach it.
    I would start off w/ your first two most relaxed dogs and begin reinforcing them for their non-behavior, non-barking when this is fluent you can add a cue, “Quiet”. Then add a third dog without the cue when all three dogs are quiet you can reinforce then, again when fluent add the cue. One way to achieve this quickly is do the training after a rigorous walk or exercise session to tire them out.
    Then you can continue along this path of adding another dog and the cue. Go slow at first and you will achieve faster success in the long run. It is all about reinforcing the behavior.

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