How Pigeons Are Helping Dogs Walk Nicely – 300 Peck

300 Peck is a cool training method that makes increasing the duration or criteria of a behaviour easier for both the learner and the trainer; it’s systematic whilst maintaining an effective rate of reinforcement.  When we are training animals most of us find it hard to increase the difficulty level gradually without making it too challenging for the animal to progress.  We are often compelled to push on when we are having success, only to find the behaviour starts to break down.  Any behaviour that requires an increase in duration can benefit from this type of approach, but none more so that loose lead walking.

300 Peck was first discovered during experiments with pigeons were a scientist was investigating variable reinforcement schedules on behaviours.  The birds were trained to peck a bar for a food reinforcer and then gradually required to peck more and more often in order to earn the same reinforcer.  The experimenter found that by gradually building the number of pecks she was able to progress the behaviour onto a variable reinforcement schedule of 300 – 300 was the average amount of pecks the pigeons would offer in order to earn a reinforcer.

So how do we use this when training dogs?  When training a stay you can simply add an additional second to each trial in order to gradually increase the duration from 1 second – 300 seconds.  That’s 5 minutes – which is a pretty good stay behaviour!  Likewise 5 minutes of loose lead walking for one treat is pretty impressive work, as is 300 steps if that is your preferred measure of success.  We use 300 Peck in our loose lead walking workshops and courses because many people find the systematic approach so much easier; it gives both the handler and dog something to do!  The only skills needed are the ability to count to 300 and the motivation to practice and develop the behaviour during your daily walks! 

Setting criteria for loose lead walking should consider both ends of the lead – for me the only requirement is for the lead to be loose; beyond that my dog can be doing as she pleases – sniffing, moving from side to side, looking around her and such like, so that we are both enjoying the walk and I’m not being dragged down the road.   So – loose lead walking with 300 Peck.  Decide upon your degree of measurement, the options are time or steps – I like to use time.  We walk on a loose lead and count for 1 second then click and treat, then count for 2 seconds then click and treat and so on.  If your dog pulls you should go back to the beginning and start again.

The training plan should look something like this:

1 – Click/Treat

1,2 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3, 4 – Click/Treat

1, 2 – opps she pulled – stop and begin again!

1 – Click/Treat

1,2 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3, 4 – Click/Treat

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Click/Treat

And you keep going until you have achieved 5 minutes (300 seconds) of lovely lead walking.

……. 299, 300 – Click/Treat – you’re a 300 Peck ninja!  So, count to 300 again before you click and treat and you’ve now got 10 minutes of lovely walking!

At the start it may take a while to even get past 10 seconds, especially with those dogs who have a reinforcement history of pulling, but seriously don’t be disheartened!  In fact the higher level of reinforcement that this causes at the early stages will help establish an even stronger behaviour and I find that it makes the latter stages go even easier.  Before long most people are getting up to a minute even with the distraction of other dogs in the class – it’s so great to see!

This is just one of many ways of building criteria and duration in behaviours, but one that I really like because it is easy to implement for you and your dog; it’s systematic and, above all, effective.  Once your dog is happily walking for 5 minutes for each treat you will have pretty much cracked loose lead walking and there will be no looking back!

Give it a go and let me know how you get on!

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