Punch That Ball, Wally! | Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition

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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.