Girls Luv Wally, Practicing the "Mat", and thoughts on Shaping | Exploits of an Amateur Dog Trainer: Blog Edition

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Girls Luv Wally, Practicing the "Mat", and thoughts on Shaping

Today was rather eventful. I thought about multiple posts, but I don't want to spam anyone so it gets all stuck together (let me know if you would have rather it been multiple posts, I can go either way). First event happened during one of our walks. We often walk by the neighborhood playground, and a couple little girls saw Wally (one of which "knows" him since she's seen him more than a few times), and they came up to Wally as usual and started caressing him and cooing over his fur. I was in something of a hurry but I couldn't bear to stop the little girls. Guess I have a soft spot for them, plus it's more socialization for Wally, which he could use.

Wally recognized the one he knew and met her when she came up and started sniffing her and accepted petting from her quickly. Her friend that day was not known to him and she was...forward with touching him. She wasn't hurting him, but she was holding the sides of his body as much as petting him.

Wally wasn't too keen on that but I let it go on to see how he'd handle it, and plus, he needs to learn to accept kids. They don't always approach/do things "right" with dogs, but he needs to not feel overly defensive about it. I also know he's not going to bite anyone, he'll just be sticking close to me and looking at me more than the kids and that's how I know he's had enough, so neither he nor the girl was going to be in harm's way. For Wally's part, he did sit still and started investigating the girl once the initial "Who are you?" type reaction passed. I think he also smelled the girl's dog too (she mentioned she had a dog) and that might have been half of what the sniffing was about!

If I would have been on the ball, I'd have put bread balls in my pocket and given them to both the girls to give to Wally. That was a bit of a wasted opportunity on my part.

Once I had some more time later on and before time for dinner, we did some more working on him going and settling on his "mat". I put mat in quotes because it's not so much a mat as it is "any rectangular shaped piece of cloth on the ground". We did more practice via shaping to refresh the behavior. We had done this a couple times before, but like with other things I tend not to ask so much for, it gets left behind a bit. With some shaping, though, he quickly remembered how it goes and he did a pretty good job of it overall.

Eventually, we won't be limiting it to rectangles - and we'll try it using the round rugs (like those kind you can get from IKEA), but for now, we're sticking to rectangles since that's the shape of the towels and blankets that's easy to get at.

While doing the shaping with him, I started to wonder why it works so well with Wally. It's unbelievable how he just took to it once he got over his initial fear about the method and gave it a shot. I read something that said visuals help speed up learning in humans significantly (the book, in the introduction of a computer programming book no less, said 89% faster memory and learning). I wonder if shaping doesn't "make it visual" for Wally - or dogs in general. Perhaps "visual" gets replaced with "behavioral" or that the step-by-step approach helps also form the mental images in his head about how to do the behaviors.

Marker training is also considered to act "like a camera" to "take a picture" of what the dog was doing and where and how. Shaping combines markers with "more pictures" and perhaps that is what really can help a dog speed up his learning if the trainer decides to go with it and can get the dog to buy into the process as well.

No idea if I'm not way off base with this line of thought, but it was just something interesting that popped into my head while thinking about how the "mat" session went and how fast he recalled it during shaping.