Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition: March 2011

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Marker Wars: 3 Clickers and My Voice Compete For Wally's Mind

Ah, markers. Something so useful to dog training. Quick definition, a "marker" is a stimulus (i.e. an event) that indicates that the dog will get a reward (or punishment). The biggest strength and convenience to markers is that the dog's mind will remember what triggered the marker's occurrence, even if the reward is somewhat delayed in arrival. For example, if you give a click while the dog is 20 feet from you, whatever he was doing when he hears the click will be remembered, even though it will take time for him to come that distance (or you to him) to deliver the actual consequence.

Markers have to be taught, but that's not hard if you're even somewhat consistent and diligent, and are very powerful. I'd never train without them.

Now what's this about Marker Wars?

Well, I'm doing a little "experiment" to see which marker sticks well in Wally's mind. This first "round" was as follows:

The Players: Wally
The Markers: Old Petco box clicker, StarMark clicker, i-Click clicker, my voice.

The Task: I set up three cones, all the same color, shape, size, and distance away from him. I marked when he touched one. That was be the "point". Whenever he did that behavior to that cone, he gained a "point" (and a bread ball as treat). After 20 attempts, there was a 5-minute break and the cones were gone. There was no other interaction with me during the break (I completely left the area).

When it was time to resume, I repeated the same thing for 20 more attempts, and so on until all four markers were tested.

Order: Since my voice and the StarMark clicker are likely most familiar to him, they were saved for last with voice being absolutely last.

The Petco clicker was by far the worst. My timing with it was not as sharp (since it is harder to push down, it might actually take split-second longer and the behavior might be gone by then) and it clearly interfered with his figuring out what to do. Of the 20, he got 9 points. Nine.

The StarMark clicker was the best for this, though it was close. With the i-Click, he got 15 points. My voice got him 16 and the StarMark clicker got 17, so it won by just 2 points over the third place total.  It looks like as far as clickers go, the button clickers were indeed a major improvement in both my timing and his understanding. I am surprised that the i-Click came in so well, not because I think it sucks, but because in "normal" use, he seems less...aware I guess that he got clicked. With the StarMark clicker, he's nearly giving himself whiplash, and same with my voice. Yet, he obviously was picking up something because the performance shows he was pretty much the same.

It was an interesting little "experiment". I know it wasn't scientific and probably not run optimally, but I wasn't exactly trying to split atoms here!

Maybe next I'll try it on the colors. Teach one color with the StarMark clicker and another with the i-Click clicker then see which color he gets more reliably. Though, that would have a ton of other factors involved, probably.

Wally says: Do this again. I get mucho bread balls out of it!

There's a Monster Under the Table! Oh...It Was Just a Pillow

No training today. Wally had the day off from my craziness so we just hung around when going outside, letting him sniff around "be a dog" as they say (what else is he going to be? Some of these expressions make no sense to me!) and just lay around the house and dig imaginary holes in his bed and whatnot.

Though he did one really strange thing. Usually he goes in the living room while waiting for me to get my shoes and jacket on to take him out. But I notice he got to the entrance to the living room, stopped and turn around. At first I thought he was doing some wacky thing, but when I asked him to go into the living room, he kept looking under the table and then would turn around again looking all agitated with his tail down and everything.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rear-End Awareness Tuesday

No, I'm not sure if this is going to be "Tuesday's Theme" but that's what we worked on today, getting him to use those back legs to move himself around or position himself.

To do this, I did a lot of working on him to "back up", getting him to walk backwards. I did it both on all-fours and with him standing on just his back legs. What I did was hold my hand up (he thinks my hands always have treats, which is an advantage for stuff like this) and cue "back up" as I moved the hand back. At this point, he at least has the idea that he is to walk backwards, but in the beginning, he would whip around and follow moving forward. If he did that then, or happens to try it again now, I'd stop and start over, while giving my no-reward marker so he knows to try it again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wally's Color Flashcards and "All-Positive Monday" III Results

Yellow vs Blue - Wally's first two colors

One of the things we did for "All-Positive Monday" III is the start of color recognition. Started with the blue one because that was the first one he touched. (Hey, let the dog decide! Why not?)

Every time he touched it, he got a click and a reward (used the clicker as the marker for this one) and then told him the name of the color. He touched it as I said the name, and then got a reward for doing so. So it stayed with the "all-positive" theme and introduced the first color to him.

"All-Positive Monday" III

Monday #3 of "All-Positive Monday" and this time it will be different. I will leave "hints" around at things he can do to earn rewards. For example, one room might have one of his toys he likes to pick up, so he can go pick it up if he wants, or poke it or whatever. Doors that can be opened or closed, objects he can interact with, basically there will be objects around that hopefully will attract some attention and lead to behaviors I can reward.

Also will be doing this outside on our walks. If there's some obstacles in the way, even better. I can then capture him going around them, or even interacting with them, or maybe jumping over them? (that would be nice!) Different terrain so capturing him heeling when the terrain isn't even/level can happen. Might even take an object outside and see what he does. Won't be something "loaded" like his dumbbell (that would suggest too much of what he's supposed to do with it) but maybe something like his soccer ball or something.

This time, I won't be looking for any temperament changes - Monday #1 and #2 have shown me there won't be any - which is a good thing, really. I'll be looking for more in the way of any new or newly used behaviors. See more what he's thinking and what he'll choose to offer in various situations, and see if there's any changes as things go on. Perhaps even try to set up changes - take him to one scenario where he'll be more apt to paw and then take him to another where usually he'll pick something up - see if he paws instead, things like that.

As always, feel free to contact me with ideas or anything else.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Asked For It By Not Asking For It: A Dog's Skills Get Rusty Too

Yesterday, I got the bright idea to ask for his formal retrieves again. Well, what showed up was the fact he hadn't done it in so long that he lost the position for bringing it back. While trying to get him to line up and come close enough for me to take the dumbbell from him without having to reach too far, the whole behavior just about fell apart!

He would go get it, but bringing it back ended up triggering a wide array of really strange stuff I never seen him do even when first learning this. He would wonder around then come back, take the dumbbell and carry it off somewhere, then put it down and get it again. He wouldn't get it even at times without being told to get it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

English For Dogs or "Canine Programming Language"?

Yes, I understand that dogs don't understand meaning in the sense humans do. The good old example of "You could say 'lollipop' (or insert other random word) and have the dog sit, because dogs don't know what 'sit' means."

No, they don't. That's why you teach them. And if you want to tell your dog that bending his knees and putting his butt on the ground is called "lollipop" go ahead. However, a 3 year old kid might not know what "sit" means either. Their first exposure to meaning is probably via connecting the word to the behavior. I.E. putting her butt in a chair or on the floor.

Sounds like what we have to do for dogs, no?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gameday Tuesday

Yesterday, we played a lot of games all day long. A large majority of the interactions we had was through games and it was a lot of fun for us both. I love using games as training and I feel they can teach a lot of the very things we want dogs to learn in a fun way for both dog and human alike.

The games I play with Wally are mostly mentally focused, though there is usually a physical aspect as well. They also often relate to a behavior we've been working on and it gives him a safe-yet-practical application of that behavior, with the pretext being having a good time, so there's no stress involved.

Here's the games we played most of the time - all of these were played indoors:

Hide And Seek
How to play: Have the dog stay in one location while you move out of his sight. Then call him. In the beginning, call him at regular intervals, then do so less and less as he becomes better at the game. You can also cover his with a towel or blanket so he can't watch you leave. This will have to use his ears to try to get an idea of where you might be going. Adding challenge can also be done by going farther away. This can cause the sound to become less exact in where it's coming from, requiring him to pay more attention to locate the sound relative to where he is.

Often times, I put little "obstacles" in his way that he can clear using a behavior we've recently worked on. For example, yesterday I left cracks in the doors I went through to have him open them with his nose in order to get by instead of just leaving the door open. Back when he was learning to go up and down stairs on his own, that is when I started hiding on different floors of the house.

If for some reason he just can't get to me, he can bark (him calling out to me). This may help teach him a skill I hope we never have to use - if for some reason we get separated, stay put and bark. That will allow me to follow his bark to find him, hopefully.

Rapid Cues
How to play: Have the dog in front of you, and then start calling for various behaviors that he knows, allowing just some seconds between them. The dog has to change positions/perform the behavior correctly and in time before your next direction. After so many correct responses, reward him and play another round. If he doesn't get a response correct, start over and the dog gets no reward.

This can be a challenging game, both mentally and physically, so start slow and with just a few behaviors. It is also best to stick with known behaviors he's performed reliably since this game is more about how fast he can remember the behavior and then perform it. As he gets better at the game, increase challenge by speeding up how fast you call out behaviors, by increasing how many correct responses you require before getting a reward, or by throwing in more behaviors you'll call out (and when he or she gets really good - you can do ALL of those: Speed up and require more behaviors while calling out more and more of his known behaviors).

It is hard to recommend a time to start with and how to decrease it since it will depend on the dog, how fast (s)he picks up on what you're doing, and what you're asking of him/her. I will suggest that this is a game you might want to use little tidbits of food you like (for example, I use bits of bread or deli meat) as this seems to add a competitive aspect to the game and that seems to make Wally get even more into it. Not only is a wrong response preventing him from getting food - the food goes away! (I eat it)

Directions Game
How to play: I use the coffee table as a barrier and I stand on the other side of it and back from the table a few feet. I then indicate a direction with an arm signal and the verbal name of the direction (I just use left/right - I know, how imaginative). Remember, that the direction is always relative to the dog, so if he's facing you, his left is your right and vice versa. When he comes around the table in the proper direction, he's gets rewarded. Of course, you can almost play like the Rapid Cues game and have him going in different directions multiple times before you let him around the table for the reward.

One variation is using targets and put them to the left, right, and behind the dog. Call and indicate the direction and when the dog touches the proper target, praise (or click if using a clicker) and reward him. Like before, you can play it in a Rapid Cues style, having the dog return to the center position each time (which can help teach him "front" as well if you have the center lined up with you).

Find It!
How to play: Simple. Hide something, make your dog find it. You can start with treats with a strong scent or anything that has a scent he can pick up on. Usually, I'll wrap up some well-loved treat in a towel, then put another towel on top of it, and then put in some location where he'll have to go looking for it.

Wally got good at this really fast some time back so I pretty much have to make it hard for him or else he's done in like 30 seconds. I'll ball up towels, wrap them in another towel, tie the outer towel into a knot, cover that knot with ANOTHER towel, and then put it somewhere so he has to go looking for it. Once I threw in that last part (going to look for it) this put the challenge up for him and he had fun going to all the different places where it was - to find out it's not there - and then expand his search pattern. For even more challenge, I cover his eyes and walk/move quietly as possible to not give away where I am placing the towel via sound.

I hope you and your canine(s) enjoy these ideas. If there's games you like to play, feel free to share them as a comment on the blog, or email me and I'll include them in a future post after trying them out on Wally to see how he reacts to it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"All-Positive Monday II" Results

Once again, no major changes in Wally's demeanor or behavior from the "All-Positive" day, so it must not be that major of a change for him. That's good. :)

I did notice one interesting thing: I didn't get any new behaviors from him, despite constantly getting rewarded for anything - whether we worked on it before or not.

He usually did most of his usual behaviors, just faster, more often, and with more "oomph" sometimes as if sitting so hard that he flops on the floor will make me reward him faster or something! But I was thinking he'd try to pick up some of those newer behaviors, just to try them to see if he would get rewarded again, but I didn't see it. It seems like that for us, this is a good way to refresh/review known behaviors.

Or, perhaps I'm looking at the wrong data, as it were. Perhaps what he is telling me through his behavior is something like "These are the ones I can easily call up while I'm so excited and just want the next reward!" or perhaps, "These are the things that are on the top of my mind/are the ones I feel like I've been most rewarded for."

Or, perhaps I need to "create" more situations. Leave out some objects and see what he does with them. Put some new "features" in the "terrain" to see what he does or how he responds. Things like that might trigger some other behaviors or give more insight to what's going on.

Looks like I have some things to consider in preparation for next Monday! I am glad I started this, though, and I don't think Wally has any complaints about it either!

Monday, March 21, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" II

Is it Monday yet?
It's Monday again, so time for another attempt at an "all-positive" day. Like last Monday, Wally will get a reward and/or praise for everything he does, barring any safety,etc behaviors that can't be rewarded. Last time, there wasn't too much of a difference, so maybe this time, there will be more of an effect. If not, perhaps I can safely conclude my methods are "close enough" to where he just doesn't perceive any real switch in how I relate to him.

Of course, in regards to position, it will be more practice for me to be quick on the draw. Like if he's walking with me, catch him in heel position so I can reward him instead of when he's not in position and then I have to call him into position again. Things like that will improve my observation skills and awareness of him "offering" me or other objects behaviors.

Another thing that has me thinking is trying to come up with a "theme" for each day between Monday and Friday. The weekends he usually gets "off" where we don't do any training. Kind of a time for him just to unwind and process the week before. Usually. Sometimes (okay, often!) I can't help myself. I guess I enjoy training him and he certainly perks up when he senses a training session is going on. While I don't need the clicker all the time, he definitely will perk up if I grab it! I think he knows what that means!

I don't know what I'll come up with, and if there's any suggestions, feel free to let me know what's on your mind! In fact, do that anyway, let me know what you think and any suggestions. I'm all ears and will listen to any feedback. Or perhaps I should say, I'm all nose and will sniff any feedback since we're talking about dogs and all!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Is Your Canine's Payscale?

Keeping up with the jobs theme I guess, I was thinking more about how I "pay" Wally for jobs and tasks well done, or for doing well during training.

It's pretty simple here, everything he gets is something he considers to be "high value". In other words, this is something he is really excited about getting and really loves to have. For Wally, that's almost always some kind of food as he's highly food motivated. I always keep some bread or leftover pasta or some kind of tidbits he likes around so that I can capture things I like and it's always in reach for when I want to do some training or practicing some behaviors.

There's a couple ways to go with this. Some like to have varying degrees of reward, saving the best stuff for the hardest tasks and/or the best performances. Some just use one kind of reward - finding something the dog likes and just using it. I like to just use something he loves every time. 

Along with the value of the reward, there's the frequency of reward. Some reward every single correct response, some require multiple correct responses before a reward. Really, each has a use during the training process and beyond into the "real world" where the behavior is asked for in a practical applications. During the early stages of learning and in beginning use in practical situations, a reward each time can be an advantage. Once the behavior is set and is reliable, switching to a more random frequency (and try to be truly random, don't do every 3rd success all the time, etc, dogs can indeed pick up on patterns like that) can make the dog much more willing to perform the behavior over and over again, in the hopes that this time, the reward will come.

So reward delivery can come in various flavors and styles, making for many ways to "pay" your dog for successful jobs well done. Eventually, the job hopefully will become a reward on some level in and of itself, and even the opportunity to do the job, but these things come later down the road after an established history of "good pay".

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Job Creation For Wally

Cotons aren't noted for having "jobs" like a working or sporting breed, but I try to come up with things Wally can do for me as "jobs" that he is physically able to do and uses the behaviors he's already learned. So, like with a human job, I try to come up with Wally's "résumé" of sorts - a list of things he can do that could be put to work.

  • Barks loudly, especially for the size of dog he his. Cotons don't have yippy, "little dog barks" and that's certainly true of Wally. This let's me hear him bark in almost every place in the house no matter where he is or I am.
  • Likes to use his paws.
  • Can push things with his nose
  • Will stay in one spot if so instructed
  • Has some ability to pick up small/light objects
With these skills in mind, I have to come up with things I have teach him how to do and that he could do either on a quick cue and he can carry the task to completion, or he can do based on environment (what he sees and hears triggers him to do that task).

This will be something of a project for us but he has some of jobs already.

  • He opens and closes doors for me (though we are still working on the closing part, and developing new cues to make the sound distinct - for now we are using "abres" and "cierras" spanish for "open" and "close")
  • Whenever a timer goes off in the kitchen or the kettle is whistling, he barks loudly so I can hear it, even if I can't hear the actual sound (like I'm in the basement). Sometimes he'll even hear the ding of the toaster oven timer from the basement and bark!
  • We're working on this but if I drop something small or light, I'd like to have him pick it up and hold it for me. We're working on both the pick up and hold/carry, and him doing it when something drops without a verbal cue from me.
  • If there were light switches on the floor, I'd have him push them with his paws, but alas... 
  • With planting season right around the corner, I wonder if he could dig holes in containers or loosen up the soil...

He enjoys doing these things. Seems like it gives him something to do and think about and of course he loves the praise and rewards he gets for a job well done. Then there's just another thing we can spend time together doing - all things dogs love. Hopefully, we'll be able to learn more behaviors and get better at these things so he can continue to learn and gain more confidence as a "houseworking dog" of sorts!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dog's Emotion: A Blessing For Wally and I

Wally expressing that's he's ready for action!
I used to look at Wally's highly emotional nature and how strongly he feels emotions as a curse. Of course, part of this was because of his fear issues he had back then. Everything would trigger such a strong avoidance and fear from him and it would take him so long to recover and be something resembling 'normal', that it just seemed like a hindrance to everything we wanted to do.

Even then, it helped his learning, though not in a way I would want to repeat or try to recreate, but the strong fear emotions also made him remember what got him taken away from what he was fearful of. One way I didn't realize at the time was getting him to sit and/or indicate in his way to me what he was afraid of so I could deal with it and keep him from trying to strangle himself getting away. When he saw that sitting near me and staying close would get me to take him away, it ended up being something he remembered strongly. He learned this quickly as well.

Fast forward ahead about a year or so and the fear issues aren't the consuming thing for him anymore, and now the emotional intensity is on the other end of the scale, sheer excitement. This level of emotion worked the same way, with the added benefit of being an emotion I did want to trigger. Who doesn't like to see a happy and excited dog? What I learned, though, was that these emotions would cause the events that occurred while in that intense state to be more strongly remembered. So the things I could teach him while wound up and excited and super into the game or training we're doing, they would make a bigger "footprint" in his brain, making it easier for him to remember and making a bigger impression on him, so to speak.

So now, the first thing I like to do is get Wally wound up. I do what I can to get him excited, bouncy, and super alert and ready for action. Once he's had time to "charge up" we start going into the game or training we get into. I also use treats he loves (everything I use is 'high-value', meaning I only use treats he puts on his to-die-for list) which only helps keeping the spirits high, even if the task at hand is challenging and that he struggles with accomplishing.

There are other benefits to working him in this higher state of emotion:
  • He learns how to think and perform behaviors when something excites him in "real life".
  • He learns how to control himself during times of high emotion.
  • The alertness and focus that occurs when he's like this also burns off energy, adding to any physical and mental energy he's consuming.
  • It keeps the learning and training fun, making him want to participate in training again later.
  • The fun he is having becomes part of the memory associated with the behavior and cues - a form of classical conditioning. Performing the behavior itself can trigger some of these feelings when the history is strong enough.

Of course, there's too much of a good thing - and if the dog is too wound up to where he's not able to perform with control and composure, or is unable to listen to your instructions, it's time to dial it down some so he can regain some self-control. Take a break, do something low intensity, whatever ways you have to calm the dog some so he can be in a more controlled state.

And of course, negative emotions are something you have to make the best of - obviously not something you want to trigger and cause your dog to intentionally endure - and the same rules apply: calm him down and withdraw him from the situation if he's so overwhelmed that he can't think (often called "shut down" or "the dog is shutting down"). At this state, there's no sense doing anything because he mind has "locked up" and is not processing rationally. Wait until he's settled down and try again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" Results

Wally getting into a training session

Well, the day of truly all-positive feedback (basically everything he did got him something he wants, be it food, a game, whatever) went well. I don't think Wally has any complaints, and I don't either, though I don't know if things really seemed all that different. Perhaps that is more an indication that my interaction with him is pretty close to where it didn't seem like an earth-shaking event for him.

One thing this approach did force me to do was to really watch him. Some things like the entrance to the kitchen (which he's not allowed in, but sometimes "goes a bit too far" and has to be redirected out) really had me watching so I could reward him for going up to the boundary line without having to redirect or say "at-at" and redirect him out of the kitchen. On his part, I think he saw it mostly like a shaping session and he was doing the right stuff I wanted so he was just lying down or standing up or sitting by the boundary with an occasional pawing of the boundary line just to remind me he's not past it.

A somewhat subtle thing he did was do the "right" thing more often elsewhere during the day. For example, when coming back in, he immediately went into the living room and sat down. Sometimes, he'll sniff around the hall or start sniffing along the hall or any objects on the bench before going to the spot in the living room. Not today, he went right there. Not sure if that was a byproduct of the approach or if there was nothing interesting to sniff! He also did it in my room, this time going up the door, which was closed, and barking. Now how is that something I want? Well, for one, he's not shy about expressing when he needs help, which given his old personality, is a good thing in my book. Before, he'd just look miserable by the door, but no one would know he needed something! But, perhaps even more so, the door blocked his way to his bed in my room, and that's where he usually goes! So, he wanted to get there, but couldn't, and was like "get this %&*(#% door open!" It didn't help it was a folding door, so he couldn't open it from outside the room.

Otherwise, there wasn't much of any difference in our day. He's usually a happy-go-lucky kinda dog that gets very into games and play and isn't shy about expressing his emotions - and that was more of the same today. He got into our training sessions as much as usual and ran through his arsenal of behaviors (seeming to prefer his "sit-pretty" or begging pose for some reason).

I may do this again sometime soon to see if there's any more differences the next time, but I'm thinking it won't make too much of a difference. Now, whether that's because I usually interact with him in about a "85% positive" way or because he didn't realize something was different, or if he just saw it as something totally different, not sure, but it certainly didn't hurt anything to try!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Punishment Monday - Attempting a Truly "All-Positive" Day

Whenever I hear "purely positive" training, I always cringe because I know there's going to be some negative punishment. The fact you don't give the dog a reward if he thinks his action will earn him one is negative punishment. That's just the way it is. To be truly "purely positive" you have to give a reward for EVERYTHING the dog does. That reward doesn't have to be food or even a click - it could be just giving him what he'll want in that situation.

So, tomorrow, I will try just that, just to see what happens. Well, I guess even then it's 99% because he still will not be allowed to do anything that disrespects someone else (or their property/pets/family), or anything that is unsafe, either for himself or others, but I don't think that will happen. It hasn't in a long time.

Otherwise, everything he does will get something he'll like/want. It will be interesting to see how this works out and what might change going forward, especially since there's not a lot of punishment going on here anyway, mostly during "formal" training (shaping, marker and reward or nothing), but there's not necessarily a lot of overt reward either. Most of the things he does, he's just "allowed" to do and generally gets little reaction from me.

It will also be interesting to see what he does differently, if anything. Perhaps he won't be able to tell a difference, and just act as he always does. Maybe I'll end up getting too many offered behaviors, where it will become more of an inconvenience than anything else, while doing nothing for him. Or perhaps it will have a...ahem...positive impact any maybe he gains more confidence or somehow all of his tricks and such become better.

Can't wait for tomorrow actually!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Muscle Dog in the Making?

Every once in a while, I weigh Wally to make sure his weight is at the right level.

Well, today, I noticed his weight had climbed up 3 lbs. Now, I know his legs are getting stronger. I was feeling them a couple days ago and could tell they are getting far more muscular, and it was easy to tell because the poor dog's hair was stuck to his skin due to the rain.

What I never would have guessed is that he put on that much weight just from his muscle! He also picked up some muscle in his neck as well, but three full pounds? I weighed him four times, checked the scale to make sure it was calibrated, it was just a surprise.

And it is just the muscle - his body shape is the same, making it even more surprising that the weight increase was there.

That said, I could tell he was getting stronger. He's much more able to stand on his back legs for what seems like an eternity and he has zero effort going from any position to standing up on them (and he seems to love doing it even more than before). He's even taking to hopping while standing on his back legs, and walking backwards. Backwards! The begging/sitting-pretty position is no problem for him, though I imagine that is more about his back strength, but it does take balance on his back legs.

So I'm wondering just how much muscle and strength he'll keep picking up. Also wonder if working on his rear awareness is contributing to this as well.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Punch That Ball, Wally!

We're continuing to explore the basics of treibball - a dog sport oriented around "herding" balls towards a goal area. The dog can only move the balls by poking with his nose.

At first, the "NOSE ONLY!" rule was hard for him to grasp. It took him some days to get over his desire to always want to put his paws on an object. Of course, some of this might, maybe, sort of be my...doing...as during shaping, he would run with paw behaviors and I'd take them. Also, other tasks involved using his paws (like standing on a book or sitting on his scale) so paw actions received more reinforcement, and of course, actions that are reinforced get repeated.

So, that determination to "make" pawing work was a bit of a battle, but now it seems like he's gotten the idea. He's poking the ball more, and now it's a matter of trying to get him to really put some oomph behind those nose pokes.

Fortunately, getting him excited is one way for me to get him to put more enthusiasm, let's say, into those nose pokes. Another way is the old shaping trick - triggering an extinction burst of sorts. What happens with that is that I just mark and reward any brushing up of his nose with the ball. So now he's in this rhythm of tap, marker, reward, tap, marker, reward, then I stop it. He's like "hey!" and wonders where the marker went. Then he gets a little frustrated and starts poking harder. THEN the marker "comes back" and he gets a reward again.

This is where we are now, trying to get him to use the harder pushes from the start so that such behavior can be the default offering, and then we can start putting a cue to the behavior, giving it a name he can reference for the behavior.