Lots of different numbers get thrown around when discussing the number of repetitions needed for a dog to learn a new behavior; some suggest an average of 30-60 reps, while others say it can take around 10,000 to achieve perfection. Based on recent experience I’d suggest that if Beagles are involved and the reward is tasty enough, then 1-2 repetitions will be quite sufficient.
Over the Christmas period I made the terrible mistake of preparing Beanie & Biggles’s dinner while Susan was out walking them. They came through the front door to find their food waiting for them in their bowls, sitting on the floor in their usual serving positions. Confused and elated at the same time, they stuck their heads in the same bowl. Rapid human intervention was required to make sure that they both got a proper serving, mainly because Beanie can eat at twice the speed of Biggles, having long since dispensed with the slow and unnecessary chewing process.
On their next walk I could sense growing anticipation and excitement as we returned home, but it was all for naught; their bowls weren’t waiting for them when they tore through the front door. There was brief disappointment, after which everything returned to normal. Then, maybe a week later, the “instant dinner” scenario happened again, and a switch was well and truly flipped in Beanie & Biggles’ heads. That last 100 yards to our house is now an excited tugfest, especially when Susan is holding the leads.
It may be the fact that the instant dinners happened inconsistently and unpredictably that locked in this new behavior (trainers refer to this as the Gambling Effect) but regardless, two reps is all it took to hardwire it.
Just as quickly as we taught our two furries to pull like mad on on the way home, I believe I’ve relieved Beanie of her longstanding roadside assistance habit. The Beanster has always been very particular about her feet; she doesn’t like twigs or grit getting between her toes, and when that happens she stops dead, holds up a paw and waits for me to fix things. Usually the irritant is so small I can’t see it, so I fall back on the “magic rub” treatment. Maybe that shifts the offending particle, or maybe it’s all just placebo, but normally that satisfies her majesty and we’re free to continue on our walk.
About a week ago however we had a really, really bad case of “paw’s not right Dad”. In fairness it was very frosty and the gritter lorries had been out, spraying not just the roads but the pavements too; I can imagine that if you’ve already got ice between your toes the sudden introduction of salt could lead to an unpleasantly nippy sensation. Regardless, a paw was raised, and seeing no obvious tootsie contaminants I administered the magic rub. The paw did not go back down. I repeated the magic rub, really working my gloves into the gaps between her toes, but still the paw remained in the raised position.
“Whatever it is, it’ll get better if you walk on the grass for bit. Come on Beanie, let’s get moving!” I said encouragingly.
Ever the stoic Beagle she tried a step, but then lifted the paw again and began hopping to keep up with me and Biggles. I stopped and saw that her raised leg was trembling as though in pain. This was a bad one, and desperate times call for desperate measures. I picked her up, rolled her onto her back, and in full view of motorists, other pedestrians, a Westie and an outrageously coiffured Poodle, I cupped the affected paw in my hand and blew warm air on it.
This mended the sore tootsie instantly, but did irreparable damage to Beanie’s street cred. She wriggled to get back on the ground as quickly as possible then double-timed it until she’d put some distance between her and the site of this embarrassing incident. We’ve since had more frost and even a decent snowfall – all of which brought the gritters out of hiding – but we’ve had no more calls for roadside assistance. I fixed it for good, and it only took one try. What breed are these dogs that need endless repetitions? Not Beagles, that’s for sure.
This is what happens when one Beagle obeys the “wait” command, and the other one takes off as soon as he sees the biccie leave my pocket. Life is just not fair.