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

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Monday, May 30, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 11" - Introduction To The Square, Memorial Day Dinner

Training today was cut short/interrupted by Memorial Day stuff and whatnot, but we did get some time in to introduce the square (cuadrado) - with the square being a white square pillow.

At first, he had a few problems figuring things out, probably because I might have been saying the word the same way as it's a little "tongue twisting" but I did get it down, and it helped him, though I think he was still having some issues figuring out what exactly it was he was supposed to touch. I wonder if this is another color issue.

What started getting some success was standing up the pillow against the bed, maybe a change in the background or perhaps better able for him to see it. What ever the case, I was getting the trademark charging at the object and his usual enthusiasm. We got into a rhythm after that, doing the usual moving it around to make him find it in different places. Again, there was some initial difficulty with this (much like with the circle), but he started looking around for the object and then finding and touching it.

Further work was cut short by the holiday festivities - and one area Wally is still apprehensive is when strangers want to interact with him. With all the scents of the food around, though, he was more "friendly" (mostly curious, if not outright nosy, about the scents/food) so at least he wasn't as uptight as usual. I sneaked him some bits of food to reward him when he did show interest in someone (or their food), hopefully taking some advantage of the situation.

He spent a lot of time sniffing around and looking at me (as if I was going to make them give him food or something!), and he was getting all excited, so I took him out and played around with him and had some fun.

For dinner, he got some shreds of barbecue ribs and some pasta salad. He devoured it in no time and was rubbing around on the floor like he does when he loves his food (or his super happy to get it, like when he's super hungry), and then started sniffing at my food, but being good - he didn't try to get it or anything of that sort, he just sat and stared at me, then lied down and kept staring.

And now, he's already sleep. All the activity of the day must have worn him out!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Re-Training Stand

Stand has always been one of those things that's given him trouble to get exact. He'll stand up, but then he'll continue to come towards me, or proceed to sit back down once I mark and reward him. Standing from a sit also gives him problems for some reason and sometimes when I want him to stand or when I ask him to stand after sitting down on his own (i.e. I want him to stand back up), he'll act as though he doesn't know how to do it.

As such, I've tried to think of ways to "explain" this to him again.

From A Sit:

One thing that's helped was teaching him walk backwards, especially doing so from a sit. This required him to "pop up" his rear in order to move backwards. Repeating this got him in the habit of "popping up" when asked to stand from the sit position. Doing this also prevented him from moving forward as his front paws don't need to move at all, except maybe to slightly re-balance his weight a bit. This is much better than the old way where he would take a step forward in order to stand from a sit.

Sometimes, throwing a "stay" right after would help. The idea would be to get him to anticipate the stay right after standing, causing him to freeze. However, this gave mixed results because sometimes, he'd be going into a walk right as he stands. This might do nothing be stop him after taking a step, when I want no steps at all.

From A Down:

Standing from a down is much easier for him, especially once he learned the fold-back method of going down. The stand is just the reverse of this, making it easy for him to get some muscle memory for getting into position.

The big problem here is again the moving forward, and it's even worse here because the reverse of the fold-back has his body's weight moving forward, making it natural for him to start walking forward. To help counter this, I asked for the stand while being very close to him, giving him no room to move forward. Hopefully, this starts to teach his body how to control the weight shift and "unfold" while staying put, except again to shift his paws to maintain more comfortable balance.

For now, I still have to work close to him doing this, but I have begun moving back from him to start generalizing the distance so that he doesn't think he stays put only when I'm right up on him. The last time we did this, I was maybe three or four feet away from him and he didn't move forward when he stood up. Looks like we're making some early progress in this regard, but there's more work to do.

Also, for now, there's no Spanish cue for this. Sit, Stand, Speak, and Drop (lie down) don't have a Spanish cue connected to them yet. For stand, I want to work on the behavior more, for the others...well...I don't know why not!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Wally! ¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Wally!

Wally barking as I tell him happy birthday. Happy Birthday, Wally!     

Today is Wally's 4th Birthday!

We didn't do any training or anything so far today, and probably won't so it can be an easy, fun day for him. I also will get him some kind of present. Not sure what to get him but I'll think of something that will be easy to afford and that he'll enjoy playing with.

For lunch, we had pizza with pepperoni and sausage toppings (his favorite!) and he had two slices, which he thoroughly devoured. Not even the smallest of crumbs or any bits of meat left. He'll get another piece or two for dinner later on tonight as well.

When I take him out for his evening and nighttime walks, I'll make sure to play some of his favorite games and let him run around and have tons of fun. Of course, we'll chase and probably will do the station-to-station game as well since he loves to play that one. Taking a toy out will be fun for him, too. He'll get a big kick out of that.

This will be extra fun for him since it's been a while since we've done these things (too hot on some days, too much rain the rest of the time). I'll probably get the brunt end of a lot of built up energy all released in sheer excitement!

I can't believe he's four already. Been that long since he's arrived (almost three years). They say time flies when you're having fun!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grooming "Lesson" Cut Short By Broken Comb

Wally still has a few fears left, and one of them is getting combed. I've been trying to help him feel more comfortable during being groomed (since he has no behavior problem with being groomed, either for me or when I take him in, but he seems so scared, I hate to see it), and was giving him some pieces of those veggie straws he loves every so often while grooming him, especially if I have to pull out tangles.

We were getting into it (and into some mats due to him changing his coat still to accommodate the warmer weather), and he was getting rewarded and I could see the signs of him getting a bit more relaxed. The shaking in his back legs slowed, he didn't pant as hard, and when I gave the verbal marker, he was quickly looking towards the treats on the floor and ate them readily.

But the comb could take no more. It's been getting stressed near the handle for a couple weeks now, but it was holding on.

Tonight, though, was the end. My faithful ally against all things matted-coat finally used the last of its strength.

Alas, here lies a faithful and capable Untangler comb.

Fortunately, they are not expensive at all (if I get it from Amazon anyway, when I looked at one other site, they wanted to charge me a minimum order fee. Seriously? A fee for not ordering so much? No, really, seriously?!), so a new Untangler comb is on the way.

Meanwhile, I'll have to go back to the greyhound comb I suppose. I liked the Untangler because the teeth rotate so it pulls less on the coat, even when taking out mats. It's either that or cramping my hand trying to hold half of a half-a-comb...

Hopefully, his coat will "behave" until then so that can be a scenario we can avoid, both for his comfort and my hands.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 10" - Introduction To The Circle, Practicing the Mat

Today on the 10th "All-Positive Monday" (can't believe it's that many), I introduced Wally to the first of the two shapes I'll best seeing if he can identify down the road and we also worked on going to a "mat" (really, a rectangular towel on the floor), something we've done here and there, but haven't done a quite a while.

Also a new reward for him this time, some "veggie straws" that he loves.

The Circle, El Círculo

For the circle, I'm using a round blue pillow right now. The pillow is a decent size and is something he is familiar with and very comfortable with.

Much like with the other objects and the attempts with colors, the first step was teaching him the name of the object and rewarding him for going to it. This time, though, I started him about four or five feet away, hopefully to let him get a better view of things, so to speak. The distance didn't bother him at all and things were going smoothly.

Of course, I didn't want him to just walk a path and remember that, so I moved the pillow when he wasn't looking. I think, already, he was having a clue on what the target was because this totally confused him. It didn't help I put it in a "hidden-in-plain-sight" place, but he looked everywhere. All I did was keep saying "círculo" when it looked he was "stopping to think". He did find it, and after the first four or five go's with that, he started finding it quickly.

Now, something a little unusual happened. I put the pillow on the bed. When I called out the shape, he charged to the bed and jumped up, bit the pillow, and jumped off the bed so forcefully that he nearly made it back to me on the fly! What's up with that?

Wasn't just that one time. Each time, he kept doing it. In fact, if I kept calling for it, he'd keep biting the pillow and trying to carry it back to me. It's too big, though, but it didn't stop him from trying! When I put the pillow out of the room, he started to bark and whine a bit as he looked around until he saw it as he was passing the door and then he went to it. I think it's safe to say he at least has an idea!

Practicing the Mat

This always has him starting by trying to look under the towel since he's thinking I hid some food under it. This isn't a new problem, and I was expecting it. I picked the towel up, put it down, and pointed at it. He got on it and laid down, which got him the reward, which I called him off the "mat" to get (so he could go back on it).

He must have remembered what this was since after a few pokes on the towel, he laid on it consistently and quickly. If his paws weren't on it all the way, I would say "go mat" and he adjusted how he laid on the towel. When all the paws were on it, he got the reward.

I was hoping he'd start to adjust his paws if I delayed the marker a bit, and he did start doing that, but not quite like I'd hope (he most adjusted how he was laying down, not so much his paws on the "mat", but since he was on the "mat" and getting the idea, I gave him the reward anyway. Refining things can come later. I figured he was getting tired at this point, since this is usually when he has his nap (we worked on this after dinner, so he likely would want his "post-dinner nap"). We went a few more times, and ended while he was still eagerly going to the mat.

Another good and fun Monday for us both. He's sleeping happily as I typed this post.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Lazy Sunday: Day Off For Wally

Everyone needs a day off. I think that includes dogs.

Today, we didn't do any training at all. Just a day of leisurely walking and he could just go around and sniff and walk ahead (to a point) and just investigate things.

We also played a bit, just a straight up game and having fun. He really liked that of course, and he was very very happy on the walks almost like he knew it was just a "free day" for him. He had plenty of fun just checking out all the scents and catching up on the "doggie news" and "pee mail".

Of course, he continued to be nosy - that's just him. He came out in the garden with me to catch some sun and listen to the sounds in the neighborhood. Once in a while when a dog walked by, he didn't bark or even go to the fence, but just watched with interest and sniffing the air. He also sniffed the wind when it blew, something he seems to enjoy doing, I've noticed. He listened to the voices of kids and other sounds with interest.

Most of the day, though, he spent in the below position:

Don't mind me, just chillin' in my favorite corner of your room.

He took the chance to get a lot of sleep. It was kind of warm today, and that usually makes him a bit sleepy as well. He was so devoted to his sleeping plan that he didn't even try to find me when I "sneaked" out of the room while he was knocked out. He didn't even move from the corner, he just lying in a different position.

Even now, he's still sleeping, occasionally twitching an ear or sniffing while still lying down. He did move from the corner though, and is now sleeping on his bed in my room.

Looks like he's enjoying sleeping as much as he enjoyed his leisurely rest of the day!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Colors vs Objects: One Harder Than The Other?

We just finished another attempt at color discrimination, using the cones this time, and we seem to be making pretty slow progress. Sometimes, it looks like he's getting the idea, but other times, he's still clearly in guessing mode, even when factoring out any excitement. With the object discrimination, he appears to be grasping things much faster. He's getting an understanding of the names of different objects and is making more sure choices.

I wonder if I'm running up against a sort of "natural limit", so to speak, in his intelligence. What I mean is that the task of distinguishing by color might not be something his senses and mind can readily pick up. Color might not be that important naturally while the shape of an object means a lot.

This is pretty interesting to me, and is something I haven't thought of until now, and this might be the first time I've seen any overt evidence of it - assuming I'm correct in my thinking at least.

If this is the case, then it's clear that he's regarding the objects themselves, and since the only difference is the color, the shape will be the same and he's uncertain of which of the two same-shaped objects I'm calling for. He's equally pulled to both, and makes a decision on other factors, such as location ("how did I get to it last time?"), position (a cone lying down looks different than one standing up, but I even take this away because both are standing up), distance ("maybe the close one is the one...", "maybe the far one...", "one word must mean the far one and one for the close one!") and which choice got him rewarded most recently. Color might not even entering his mind at this point.

This brings me to a couple initial ideas on how to proceed from here. One is that I might can test my theory. The other is that I forgo colors, at least for now, until I can think up (or find) a good way to teach colors to dogs. I haven't found any sites about it, and perhaps I'm finding out why first-hand. Being the type of person that hates to give up on something, I will likely test the theory first.

(Just as an aside, he reacted more to my verbal reward marker than the clicker. While he reacts to both, usually equally well, this time, it took "good boy" to get him to come get his reward. I wonder what that's about.)

Tests To Test The Theory

An idea I had was to have two large shapes. One being blue and one being yellow. The difference from the previous color testing would be that the shapes would also be different, say a circle and a triangle (this may give me an 'excuse' to teach him more Spanish, and learn more myself, as I could give the names of the shapes in Spanish).

Since he doesn't know the shapes by name, first, I'll teach him the shape names. Once it looks like he's grasping the shape names, I'll try to teach the color names with the same shapes. After that, I'll call for either the shape name or the color name and see if he gets it. I'll also see how fast he progresses, which could give some clues in addition.

Another idea I had would be to find a blue object and a yellow object that are two distinct shapes and sizes. Then do the above process on those two objects. This might be a challenge since I don't know if I have many blue or yellow things. Well, his food bowl is blue, but that will attract him for a different reason!

Even when we come up short in an attempt, he shows me something interesting to think about. I wonder how things will go when we get an opportunity to work on this.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Object Discrimination 3: The Ball, The Bone, And A Small Change I Made.

El hueso - the bone, object #3

After some time away, we're back to the object discrimination. Sometimes, it's good to have him take some time off from a skill or behavior and then come back to it. He can struggle with something, but even though we don't work on it, he sorts things out and comes back doing better.

First, Let's Revisit the Ball "la pelota"

Before introducing the bone, we worked on the ball (the rabbit is going to be "dropped" for the moment, will explain below). He seemed to get "pelota" very well before, and this time he was picking it up after a few initial attempts to target the new object (I wonder if this means he understands that the object is "new" and is assuming the cue I'm saying belongs to the new thing I put down? Hmm....), he was able to find the ball and target it repeatedly. After some runs with that, I switched positions to keep him from getting to used to the ball being there (i.e. "pelota" would mean go to this spot because the ball is always there - he'd be picking up on the wrong cues from the environment).

When I switched the objects, he sure enough went to the "old" place the ball was. Even then, though, he started catching on to looking for the ball itself. In fact, he looked "lost" because he didn't know where the ball was and it wasn't in the old spot. He did find the ball (it was in the bone's "old" spot) and targeted it forcefully. I could see him thinking, as if he was sorting out conflicting information. He was like, "That looks like 'pelota', but it was over there, but the 'pelota' isn't over there..."

From there, I moved both objects again with the ball on my bed and put the bone to where he would have to pass by it to get to the bed where the ball was. He looked at the bone, but never targeted it. In fact, a few times, he self-corrected and then went to the ball. Seems like he's getting more and more of an idea of what "pelota" looks like. After a few self-corrections, he ignored the bone each time with ease, going straight for the ball. When the ball fell on the floor, he still went right to it.

With each change, I sped up the pace of the exercise. This got him even more into it and more into a back and forth rhythm, which might help him. 

Here is a New Object, Wally

Next, I had him get on his bed and put the ball and bone nearby. I then said "hueso" to represent the bone. Predictably, he went to the ball. When no click came, he started looking around and saw me holding up the bone. He touched it, earning him a click and reward.

I did some more "hueso" and threw in some "pelota" as well. Now that the bone was "in play" he touched it once or twice when I said "pelota", but he quickly went back to the ball. I alternated randomly between the two, sometimes indicating the same object multiple times. This didn't cause any problems! "Hueso" caused him to look around for the bone, while "pelota" had him all but attack his ball. Like before, I sped things up once he looked like he was getting the hang of the two and he kept up well, making no mistakes.  

A Slight Change I Made

Once little thing I did that seemed to make things go much smoother.

I waited until he stopped panting.

Okay, I know that sounds weird, but hear me out. When Wally's excited and eager, often times he starts panting. Nothing unusual there, panting can be a way a dog expresses being relaxed, happy, and eager. When a dog that is panting stops panting and closes his mouth, he's focused in on something. It represents a shift in his mind and is going from "OMG I AM SO HAPPY! GOGOGOGOGO" to "Hmm...what's up?" or "This is interesting...I wonder what's going to happen?", especially if he's otherwise still alert and relaxed. Wally often perks his ears completely forward as well or waves them back and forth, another sign of him seeking information.

When I got this expression, I then gave the next cue. So far, it seems doing this will have him much more aware of what I just cued, instead of just "I HEAR SOUND! GO DO WHAT I DID BEFORE!" I also noticed that when he came back to get his reward and then focus attention on me, I was getting the alert, closed-mouth, ears forward alert look. I wonder if I've come across something to make our communications more effective.

Why "el conejo" is Taking a Break

 The rabbit, "el conejo" is not "in play" for the moment because I'm testing a theory. He seems to have a real hard time with the rabbit. There's a few reasons that popped in my head:

-"hard c" or "k" sounds at the start of cues are hard for him to hear. When I think back, he struggled with "come" but got recall immediately with "here".

-The color is hard to see in my room for whatever reason. I don't know if the brown is too close to the surrounding colors in the room by his vision.

-It's too small for his ability right now. This kind of plays into the thought above, but maybe it's too small for him right now.

Early returns on the success of "hueso" seem to bear out at least one of these. The bone is white(ish) and red, and while red isn't a color dogs see well (or at all), perhaps the "two tone" nature of the object makes it easy for his vision to find. The bone is bigger and has a larger "footprint" on the floor. I know dogs often detect objects by shape/silhouette as much as by color or detail, especially at a distance. Perhaps the "footprint" of the bone is easier for him to pick up as well.

This might also explain why he does well with the ball. It's the biggest object of the three, it's round - maybe a shape he can easily distinguish from the environment as there's not many round things here (never noticed that until now...), it's a soccer ball so white and black - high contrast colors, and it pretty much looks the same from any angle, helping him find it from various orientations.

Not sure if these thoughts have legs, but early returns make it something I'll keep in mind and observe going forward.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wally's Spanish "Vocabulary" Grows: ¿Dónde está? (Where is it?)

Yet another cue fell under the influence of the improved learning when switching to a Spanish word (or in this case, a short sentence).

Well, perhaps, not so much "improved" but he certain took to it immediately, and I'm wondering why.

The cue this time was "find it!" which, as you might guess, cues him to start searching around trying to find "it". Part of the quest for object discrimination is to be more specific than "it" but, right now, this is where we are. Changing over to "¿Dónde está?" (Where is it?) took hardly any time at all. This was really interesting because usually, there's some period where he's still trying to figure it out. But with this, he just got all over it.

Don't know why! Perhaps it's that it's connected to sniffing? Maybe it ends up being self-rewarding as he enjoys the sniffing and then of course if there's something for him to eat, he'll love the food.

As usual, we played something of a game with it. I hid lots of treats around in various places and I would take him to the places and cue "¿Dónde está?" for him to go find the treats. He does seem to not quite understand that the one cue is for all the treats he can find, so that's one place he will need to figure out, but given the early returns, that should be no real problem at all.

Adding on the object names one day will probably be where the challenge skyrockets in using this expression. That will certainly be an adventure, and probably take a lot of time and practice. 

Of course, I'm still wondering why the "new language" is working this well. There is one expression he just can't get at all and that's "Buenas noches" (good night) in place of "bedtime". Now this one is taking a lot longer for him to get. It's got to be a sounds thing. I wish I knew of a good way to test which phonics sounds he hears well and poorly! Anyone have an ideas?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" 9: Fronts, Go-Arounds, And...Scary Food Bowl?!

The ninth "All-Positive Monday" happened, and for the most part it was another success, but there was some..."quirks" in it today. Read on.

Fun With Fronts With Finishes Thrown In

This was something of a game. I would move away from him and entice him to come get me. I walked backwards as fast as I could while he comes trotting up to me to catch me. Then I stop. When he gets up to me, he sits down and then I click and treat him. We keep doing this all over, around corners, up and down stairs. He gets really excited with this and after a while I can't get all that far away from him since he's charging after me or mirroring my movement.

At this point, I just keep taking a couple steps back. He follows, and then I do it again. I click and treat after a few of these and then start backing up more and more times. I can hear him start to do his "dog laugh" and he starts "sitting harder" each time.

When we went outside for a walk, I let him get some running in by putting him in a stay and then going quite a ways from him (one day, I'll have to show a picture since I can't judge distances at all) and called him to front. He charges all hard and then comes to an abrupt stop in a front. I give him a treat and repeat the process. He loves this and it gets him some good sprinting in.

For the finishes, we didn't do anything special, but I attached it at the end of each sequence. This made it something of a precursor to a treat and another round of the activity which then became like a double reward for the behavior, making up, hopefully, for fewer "formal" repetitions with it.

Go Go Go-Arounds...Or At Least We Wanted To

For the go-around (where he goes around the indicated object) we played the station-to-station game. Or at least what we could of it. Back when we first played it, the weather was still kind of cool and the days a little on the short side, so there was some time we could go out and have the playground basically to ourselves. Now, with the weather warm and the days longer, kids are out all over the place (and I swear they are all girls, and little ones at that, which we just get no escape from). This was the first "quirk" that got in our way.

With all this activity, there's just no way to get the game in as there would be too many distractions and all they need to see is a dog they thing is sooooo cute and want to pet all the time running around the playground to get their attention. I swear, little kids have their own version of "prey drive"!

Anyway, for what we could get in, we did have some fun playing the game again. Wally remembered the go-around easily and loved the game just as much. I hated to cut it short, and Wally was still all fully of energy and jumping and bouncing around trying to get me to start the game again.

Really? Running From Your Food?

This really, really has me stumped right now. I mean, seriously, he is suddenly running from his food bowl and gets scared when he's laying beside it in what was his usual "CAN I HAZ IT NOW?" place where he waits for me to "allow" him to eat.

In fact, when I give the go ahead (literally, I say "go ahead!"), he goes to open the door and runs down the other end of the hall. Or to the laundry room (go figure that one too). What's equally odd is that if I put the food in a white bowl (one of my bowls) he'll eat it up. And then, as if it wasn't odd enough, this only happens during dinner. Breakfast, he just eats it right up.

Well, he's going to have to eat from the food bowl. So this part of the "All-Positive Monday" was devote to desensitizing him...to his own food bowl. Fortunately, it didn't take much to get him to get up (since he was hungry) and start to come over to sniff my fingers (I had some of the food on them). When he licked the food, I praised him. He kept doing it until he took the food off my fingers, which got him more praise.

Then I used a bit of targeting to get him to put his head in the bowl, praising every movement to the food. He was still a bit hesitant, but with some more encouraging and started to lick/nibble at the food. This earned him more praise and he then started actually eating, which got him more praise and I went away. I noticed that once he started eating, he devoured his food like normal, even licking the ball clean.

I don't get it. He still loves the food, he's very hungry, and once he eats, he's all normal (and looking at me like "Look! I ate my dinner!"). If any one has an explanation for this, I'm all ears. Right now, this has me completely baffled. I mean, when I put treats in the bowl to test and said "go ahead!" he chomped them down (this was before dinner) so it's just when it's his food in the bowl.

I don't know. It's one of those times I wish I could read his mind to know why he's suddenly doing this.

Even with the scary food bowl business, it was a good day and another success.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wally vs Me: Day 3 - Vámanos/Pare

First, no scorecard picture as my camera's battery ran out so I can't get the picture. Sorry about that.

However, I can report that Wally surprised me with his performance as I thought this would be quite the challenge for him, but instead, he mopped up.

The final score was Wally winning 29-7, a 80.5% success rate. This is his highest percentage so far, beating out his Day 1 percentage of 76.3%. This was great to see as at first, he had a real hard time with these two, especially "pare" as he couldn't get the connection that this was the old "wait" behavior.

Wally, though, clicked and clicked often. There wasn't even much of a "warm-up" period where he would struggle and then run off successes. This time, he mostly struggled from excitement. It didn't help that there was a lot of movement going on and without any run of failures, his spirits were always sky high and ready to go, sometimes missing what I would want him to do or not coming to a stop and staying put when I said "pare".

As such, there was no real context that created more problems for him. Even at distance, he was able to get the cues and working well. Granted, his success rate was just above that "magical" 80% mark, observing him carrying out the task, he knew what he was doing, instead of the errors being ones of confusion or him hesitating and "over-thinking" the cue.

The running total thus far is Wally: 81, Me: 33, Rate: 71.1%

Not bad at all. Just really one struggling day, Day 2 with opening and closing the door.

Tomorrow is All-Positive Monday, so no game for sure as he might not always get it right (since the All-Positive Mondays are attempting to find ways where true 100% positive reinforcement training can be used). In fact, I think I'll delay as I reconsider the next two scheduled game days. Main reason being that he may not know them in enough contexts to really give him a fair chance. Those days involve object discrimination and color discrimination, two things we're really just getting the handle on.

We'll see, but for now, a good job for Wally and his part game and part training times!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Re-Training Front and Finish

We took a break from the games to work on sitting in front and finish positions. Wally's drifted out of position for these, and it's hard to understand where he got the idea from, but whatever the case, he needs to be refreshed in these positions. He used to be able to come from a looong distance away (don't know how long it is) and come to a perfect screeching halt-sit-front right in front of me. Then short distances became even a problem and I didn't even want to try the longer distances.

Fumbling Fronts

It got so bad at one point to where he didn't even want to do fronts anymore because he could understand why he was doing it wrong and I probably wasn't giving him good enough clues to help him along either, thinking he knew it and just needed to figure it out. Then, of course, calming signals kicked in as well, making him want to keep space between us, causing him to sit further out of position.

What I ended up turning into was good old targeting. Targeting my hand is almost a reflex at this point and using that to bring him to front position accurately also overcame his tentativeness in performing it as well.

With the clearer picture for him, he was getting the idea again and coming forward much more enthusiastically. He put his nose on my hand and sat down right in position. Getting praised, clicks, and rewards just made him more excited, which made him do the next one twice as good. The target could be faded as well, though at this point he still gets the target sometimes. It's looking like we are getting back to where it was.

Finding Finish

Finish wasn't as mixed up, but there was still problems with his execution. One of the most common errors he'd make was sitting more perpendicular to me instead of parallel to me. This is one of those times where I wish I knew what he was thinking to make him think that was the right thing to do! It was a very creative error, it's too bad there was anything I could do with it...

Another particularly interesting error was when he would sit in what would be front position, except in the opposite facing and location. For example, if I was walking forward where finish would be on my left, he would sit on my right in otherwise perfect position and be facing in the opposite direction! Write up another for the Mysteries Only Dogs Know file. Oh if only to swap places with him for a day...

Anyway, fixing this was another exercise in targeting. This time, my hand to my side brings him around (and this also means he actually does know what it is...) to sit in the proper place. Most of the more minor errors are him sitting too far back, which this corrects. Now as for the perpendicular thing, I don't know. I don't think I'll ever figure that one out...

Like with "front", he's getting back in the groove with finish. I think keeping up with the targeting and keeping up with the review will help him. I need to incorporate them more into "daily life" as well. If anyone has any ideas on day-to-day tasks (even if we have to make them up/start new routines) that can either be used with front/finish, please feel free to share!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wally vs Me: Day 2 - Arriba/Abajo

Freaking blogger...ugh. Extended downtime really stinks. Just totally. It stinks almost as bad Wally's poop when he's sick. Almost.

Anyway, things didn't go so well this time around:

Not nearly the same success as Day 1

As you can see, Wally struggled much more this time around.

And again, there was one distinct context that did it, if I called for the direction while I wasn't either at the top of bottom of the stairs. Another thing that got him a bit was calling for a direction right after. Like if he got to the top of the stairs on "arriba", if I called for "abajo" he'd get mixed up, especially at one spot where he can go up another "stair" or come down the stairs back to me.

So there's a gap in our training, the second major one uncovered in just two runs with these games. If nothing else, I'm glad I decided to do this for that reason alone. I never would have thought to do this otherwise since most of the time, I was focusing on training for "real" situations. It's not often (ever?) that I have him go up or down the stairs without me about to do the same, or going in that direction and I might want to have him go before or after me.

It is that situation, Wally did very well. He had no problems going up or down in that context.

I think I'm getting another "life lesson" of sorts about thinking on how to further extend a concept during training so that his knowledge can be more well-rounded. Pretty much a lesson in more generalization during training over time.

To Wally's credit, he does pick up on what's going on, and that shows up during these games. There will be a streak where he's very inconsistent or having no success on the first try, but then he'll start doing it as if it's no big deal. At that point, he's getting into a rhythm and having a run of successes. There seems to be something of a mindset he's having that might be getting in the way more than anything else. He knows how to do it in the sense of what behavior goes with that sound.

I think part of this is he gets an idea of what's going to happen next, and he's all geared up to do it, he's just waiting for the sound (i.e. the cue). Thing is, sometimes any sound that's close, he'll just go do whatever it was he was geared up to do.  I didn't count this in the game, but if I go "arriba" to send him up the stairs, "pare", to stop him about halfway, and then say "abajo", he'll keep going up, or if he comes back down, there's a lot of hesitation.

And I know there's one existing quirk where he'll be just so ready to do whatever just got him a reward and then gets that stuck in his head. It's almost like I need an "okay, reset your brain" cue!

Just some quirks that's coming up with the games. I imagine there will be some more gaps in the coming days since the challenge will probably go up for him. Perhaps I'll actually delay the other games a bit. That may be "cheating" but I want Wally to "win" anyway. On the other hand, it might not be a good idea since the point was also to see where we are as of now, so "teaching to the test" would disrupt that aspect, and maybe not to a lot to help him anyway if I'm not hitting on the areas that he's struggling in.

And hopefully, blogger won't be shutting me out again anytime soon. Tech problems: 1, Me: 0.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wally vs Me: Day 1 - Abres/Cierras

As planned, we could get the first of these "competitions" in and we did it as the schedule said with opening and closing doors - Abres and Cierras.

Here's the scorecard:

Wally wins the first event 29-9

Wally pretty much beat the challenge pretty handily, though I have heard that if the dog doesn't perform at 80% or higher, there's still work to do. In that case, we need more work on this. I wouldn't disagree with that as I also want Wally to do something well at least eight times in ten. Preferably eleven times in ten.

Looking at how this went, there was some bit of a...I guess "lull" in the beginning where he must needed to warm up or something. Perhaps it's getting his mind "in the right attitude", so to speak, to begin thinking about instructions. That's something I noticed right off the bat, which is a lot of the point of this whole idea at the end of the day (that and fun interaction with him, of course!).

There was also one specific context that really, really gave him problems and is where I got most of my points (and lemon cake). That context was when the basement door wasn't just barely opened, but wasn't all the way opened. This totally confused him. Like, completely. He would try to go down the stairs or close the door, it was difficult for him to get things down. Mental note made - there's one place we need to really work.

Continuing on, he struggled a bit around the bathroom door. In this case, it was mostly an orientation issue. At the basement door, he is heading in from the door's left. The bathroom is the exact opposite, he has to come in from the right. This confused him initially, but he started to work it out, though somewhat tentatively. So there's another context we could stand to work on. Approaching the door from the right.

After that, there wasn't much problem. Upstairs, he had to push the door open with his nose. No problem as he has to do that to open the basement door from the inside (as in after coming up the stairs from the basement). What impressed me was that he did the "cierras" from inside the room and I'm still on the other side. Even more so is that he did the "abres" just as easily from the same place. In fact, once he did the "cierras" and then "caught" the door on his nose before the door closed to open it back up, likely because the rewards were outside the room, but regardless, he solved the problem on his own.

We did a few with me in the bathroom and him pushing the door open as well (probably not the best thing to show him, in retrospect!) and he did it without problem. 

After that, I was out of cake, so that was the end the session. Wally had tons of fun doing his "dog laughing" and almost literally FLYING down the stairs (no idea why...), I mean, he literally like just sort of slid/jumped/something down the last four stairs.

Looks like Wally did a very good job, and had a lot of fun. All and all a good day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Game Idea: Wally vs Me or Competitive Training

I just got this idea in my head and have started to flesh out how I'd go about it and what the competition would be like. But first, I'll explain what I mean.

Competitive Training?

"Competitive Training" is what I call it because Wally and I will be "competing" for a common high-value resource that we both want. Badly.

If he performs the required behavior correctly, he'll get a piece. If he does, he gets to watch me eat what would have been his piece.

But this won't just be with Ye Olde Bread Balls (at least not this time, and he does love them) but this will be what might be his highest-of-the-high value, the penultimate food prize, the true to-die-for morsel he could ever think of...

Lemon cake.

I have some, and I will use it as the bounty.

Oh and we'll keep score, and I'll post it, just like a baseball box score.

Fun With A Practical Side

I love games and think they are a big help to training dogs. These "competitive training" sessions will help him learn the skills that are the subject of the day and also give him more opportunity to practice them in a highly positive emotional context/environment, which seems to help him learn things very quickly. It will also take some of the edge/frustration of getting a no-reward marker and he'll have to control himself enough to understand the situation, listen for the cue, and then think about what the right behavior is.

Doing this will also allow me to mix up the training sessions for him. I can be more animated and dramatic because I'm not as concerned with picking up the behavior as I am making it all this big deal to him. I'll also do this to up the challenge subtly as I'm now being as big a distraction as anything else and revving up his emotions to higher than usual levels. Oh yes, I plan to get him barking and wagging and jumping up.

Plus, if it's easy, what does he learn?

There's also another practical purpose - the days he "loses" or "barely wins" are areas in which we need to work more on during "formal" training sessions. Gaps/weaknesses in what we've done so far will show up, giving me a better picture of where we are.

Rules of the Game

Here's the rules:

  1. The only "behavioral rule" will be to stay engaged in the game at all times. This won't be a problem, though, unless something unexpected happens and freaks him out. We'll put the game on "pause" if that happens to let him settle down.

  2. Each day, a new skill will be picked and at least 20 trials will be run through but there could be any number at the high end (realistically, probably about 40 at the most - I only have so much lemon cake and can make the pieces only so small!)

  3. Any known context is applicable and can be called upon.

  4. Only reasonably well-known behaviors/cues will be required. For example, asking him to get his dumbbell from a pile of objects is fair game, asking him to get "azul" instead of the "conejo" is not.

  5. A success gets him a treat, a failure means I eat it instead.

And the preliminary schedule of "events", so to speak:

Day 1 - Abres y Cierras (opening and closing doors)
Day 2 - Arriba y Abajo (going up and down stairs)
Day 3 - Vámonos y Pare (going and stopping)
Day 4 - Pelota y Conejo (determining his ball and rabbit)
Day 5 - Azul y Amarillo (the return of the blue and yellow cards or cones)

If I think of more stuff he'll have fun competing against me with, I'll add them in somewhere and the schedule can change.

Oh, and yes, all the cues will be the Spanish words I've been using.

Hopefully, we'll be able to kick this off tomorrow. Also, I hope Wally wins and beats me badly! That would mean he's learned everything very well and in more than just one situation!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 8" - Serving Up A Main Course Of Stop And Go With A Sprinkling Of Objects

We devoted much of today towards drilling "pare" in his head - meaning "stop". And we went about it taking one step at a time.

While at the same time, "vámonos" (let's go) was formally worked on as the "let's move" cue. I figured this would be good synergy in training.

To start this off, I first began with "vámonos" to get him moving as he was sitting on the porch. As soon as he stood up and began moving, he got marked and rewarded. Then I cued "pare" and gave the hand signal, and once he stopped, he got another mark and reward.

This alternation between "vámonos" and "pare" literally went step-by-step. The frequency of rewards and the completely different "walk" we were on totally captured his interest. He didn't know what kind of game this was, but he wanted to keep playing and win his prizes (this time, a left over failure of what was supposed to be a belgium waffle).

With the continued reinforcement, Wally was eagerly going into the movements, making it harder for him to stop promptly on "pare". Seeing this, I slowed down the whole process in terms of calling out the cues. Adding in this twist also added in a little work on controlling his excitement. He couldn't start shooting forward on "vámonos" because the "pare" would be coming right behind.

Once he was getting the "pare" down nicely ("vámonos" was no problem for him!), I stopped using the hand signal. Once I did that, he had only listening to tell him when to stop. Harder, as expected, but he didn't do all that badly with it.

From there, we went to more random "pare" cuing. At first the stops came kind of late (but once he did, he still got rewarded), but he must have got in the back of his mind that I'll call for a stop at any time, making him stop more promptly. All the while, he kept getting excited and was watching me intently.

Each walk we went on today went like this, giving plenty of chances for him to see what the two cues mean. The walk before dinner went without treats, as it I didn't want to spoil his appetite, earning him verbal praise and some hearty pats on the side. He got just as excited, maybe because he thought that was the invite to a game. While this wasn't a game, it did give me an idea for one to play with him sometime.

Don't Forget Your Rabbit And Ball

After his dinner and post-dinner name, but before going to bed, I had him work some more with the rabbit and ball, mostly a run through of what "conejo" and "pelota" are, his rabbit and ball, respectively.

Nothing really fancy, mostly the same beginning lessons as before. Mostly it was a review of what the objects are called, but there was more distance between him and the object to get him used to looking in the distance for the object and going to it from farther away.

No real problems here, but there shouldn't have been! Still, this must have been some challenge for him as he promptly went to sleep right after we were done. I mean he went straight to the "dead dog" position!

Maybe it was harder than it looked, or perhaps he made it look easy because he still had to really, really focus and concentrate to remember what the object looked like. I was surprised to say the least to see him that worn out, as if I had taught something completely new.

I had thought maybe it was just the time of day, his body winding down, but he was very active and alert during the actual exercise. Go figure!

Muy bien, Wally. Another good Monday for us both!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Don't Be Afraid To Change The Cue: Biggest Lesson Learned in the "Spanish Experiment"

A cue is simply the signal the dog will key on to trigger a behavior. I say signal instead of sound or word because dogs pick up cues from their whole environment. A scent on the ground, a bird in the field, a piece of ham hitting the floor, all these things can trigger behaviors, and as such are cues, often termed "environmental cues". They are not, per se, from the human to the dog, but from the world to the dog. That said, humans can use them too. Something hitting the floor could be a cue for the dog to "leave it". An open door could be a cue for the dog to close it, or go through it.

Doing things like that can also help the dog navigate his environment independently. Some might not want that, but I do - I think Wally knowing what to do just by seeing me do something or seeing something that "needs to be done" and doing it is an awesome sight.

The type of cues most of us are familiar with are the ones we deliberately say or signal. Like "sit", or the palm moving down to signal "lie down", these cues come from a human to the dog. We tend to understand these if only to say it as "telling the dog what to do."

So why change them?

Reasons to change your cue:
  1. Poisoning - A "poisoned" cue is one that the dog gets an adverse emotion upon hearing it due to being punished/corrected for doing what he was taught to do in response to that cue. For example, if I was mad at Wally, gave the recall cue, then proceeded to punish him, I would be poisoning my recall cue. In his mind, I just punished him for doing what I taught him to do. If this continues, he will either continue to do the recall on cue, but be hesitant and scared or he'll form a new association which tells him recall cue = "I'm in deep %&*(# and need to stay away from him!"

  2. Confusion - Sometimes, dogs get confused during training. Sometimes we apply the cue too early in the process and the dog is trying to figure out the behavior, attach the cue, and form a connection. If we attach too early, the picture in his mind can get garbled and the cue then triggers this garbled up but kinda-sorta-maybe-somewhere-in-there-correct response. Sometimes the best way to attack confusion is to work back up to fix the problems and attach a new cue to it. This will give him a clear picture of the new cue, and can improve performance. This is what the Spanish words really did for us. I re-shaped the behavior of opening the door and attached "abres" to it.

  3. Inconsistent Delivery - Sometimes, we just pick things we can't repeat. A hand signal we can't get right, or close enough, for the dog to understand consistently. A sound we can't repeatedly make, such as a word the syllables get squeezed or left out ("come here" vs "com'ere", it could be as if you made two different sounds and the dog is like "whaa?") or something like snapping fingers or whistling at a certain pitch/way. Teaching a new, repeatable cue for that behavior can be the only thing that's really needed as any errors/attempts by the dog are just his way of trying to deduce what your signal means.

  4. Sound Mixups - Personal example time: I had taught Wally "downstairs" to send him...you guessed it...down the stairs. Then, I wanted to teach him to lie down on cue. So, naturally, I pick "down". So here we are in the middle of the playground, and I say "down!" and Wally looks around and back at me like, "Are you sure?". Of course, I say "down!" and try to get all encouraging, and Wally started moving around, looking for something. Guess what he was looking for? Stairs. "Down" and "Downstairs" sounded way too much alike for him. When I changed to "lie down", he got it almost immediately!

  5. Ambiguous Situations - Another one I've been guilty of a lot (I've been guilty of all of these at one point or another!). Another personal example. Wally (appeared to be) good at closing doors just by seeing them open. An attempt at teaching an environmental cue. So I open the door to the basement. He waits for me to say something - and when I don't, he just picked a behavior (he went down the stairs). I was like "um...what?" and he came back. So I waited again - and he went down again. Turns out, when I open the door for him to go downstairs, he was waiting for the "downstairs" cue, and when I didn't give it, he thought he was just supposed to go ahead. I wanted him to close the door. Oops.

Some Ways To Change Cues

Just some ways I changed some cues I give to Wally:

  1. Change the sound - I went from "down" to "lie down", from "upstairs" to "arriba", from "open the door" to "abres", from one loud clap to three rapid claps for non-verbal recall. All of these changes helped him with the attached behavior.

  2. Change the type of cue - If a hand signal isn't working, try a verbal one. If words down work, try something like clapping or using a whistle (remember to be pick something where you can be consistent in delivery!). Perhaps go to environmental to induce the behavior, and then you can attach another signal to it.

  3. Simplify the cue - For a hand/body signal, a simpler gesture could let the dog key on it easier and then execute the desired behavior. For environmental cues, this would involve removing as much ambiguity as possible so that the answer almost suggests itself (especially early in the teaching process), for verbal/sound cues, a simpler sound (including within the cue itself) could be all the dog needs to really understand what you're talking about.

And of course, you can mix and match as need and circumstance dictate.

Hopefully, this gave a little insight on cues and why changing them can be a good idea and perhaps the best way to solve the problems that arise in teaching and getting behaviors.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

From "Housework Dog" to "Treat Finder" and A Couple New Spanish Words

Whew, a multi-faceted day for Wally on this Saturday!

The Housework Dog

Or, at least my assistant of sorts. He got a lot of practice with opening and closing the doors today as I had lots of things to carry around and stuff to do all over the house. Actually, he got a lot of practice all the way around because he had to go up and down the stairs as well.

In addition, I was cooking so there were times when he had to bark at timers going off (a job he loves). He even barked at the tea kettle when I got side tracked and forgot I had it on. If only I could get him to bark at when a pot boils over!

About only thing I didn't have him do was carry things for me. I didn't think about it at the time, and too bad because this would have been a perfect time to get him more used to carrying different things. Other than that, he was very good with getting the doors opened and closed and he remembered all his Spanish nicely.

The Treat Finder

Instead of having to hunt around for leftover treats and other crumbs, I had Wally do it. This gave me an excuse for using a kind-of-new Spanish cue, "Donde esta?", the new cue for "find it" (it means, "where is it?", prompting him to go find "it" in the future, I'll be trying to attach names of things). We've been working on this a bit, so he had an idea of what to do.

He was a bit confused at first because I didn't set up anything for him to find (he's used to me explicitly hiding things for him to find), but after some encouraging and saying the cue again in an excited way got him going and sniffing around. Once he did that, he was finding some crumbs and stuff. He sniffed around for a little while and then looked up at me since he couldn't find anything else.

There a few he ended up missing (and stepped on, which prompted him to sniff and eat the crumbs...and lick my shoes), but I think he did a pretty good job. This gave me some ideas for how to step up the challenge for finding things in the future as well.

A Couple More Spanish Words For Wally

Today, I introduced him to a couple new words, one of which I can't believe I forgot about.

That word is "Vámanos" meaning "Let's go" (or is it "vamos"...or "vayamos"...ARGH I remember why I hate irregular verbs in foreign language...or in general...*random verb rant* would some Spanish-inclined person please help this newbie? Por favor?) - anyway...the reason I can't believe I didn't use this one is this is like the first word ever on Dora - which is where all of this Spanish trying started from, his (Wally's) fetish with that girl.

So (at least after I try to figure out what it is before I say "gah" and just go with "vamos" and call it a day...) I started using it as cue for when we start moving or are going somewhere. It's basically my "come on, let's get moving, we're going" cue.

The other is much easier for me to figure out - "Bien" meaning "good" and it will be used as a reward marker. This will be easy enough, though I'll probably want to formally teach it using classical conditioning (in other words, "Bien", shove food in this mouth, "Bien" shove food in his mouth, etc, etc) so that it can have the intended effect I need for a marker.

That's it for now, oh, and to all the mothers out there "Feliz Diá de las Madre!"

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Day of Spanish Cues: A Mini-Test and More Work On Stay

Just to mix things up a bit, I decided to give a little "test" to Wally on the Spanish cues we've been working with for quite some time now and it looks like he has an understanding of them. This was not only a test of giving the right behavior in response to known situations, but what he figures out when given the cue in new situations (for that cue).

Also, we worked more on training stay and did throw in a little more working with recognizing the ball and rabbit, but that was nothing that hasn't already been mentioned before. The majority of cues he got were in Spanish, so it was a day of Spanish for Wally.

The Mini-Test

Abajo, Arriba, Abres, y Cierras

First up would be the mini-test. This would be on the first four Spanish words I really introduced to him and used in training him.

Abajo y Arriba
For "abajo" and "arriba", I put him near the stairs and he had to go in the proper direction that I gave. At first, it was easy, I stayed where I usually do and cued arriba or abajo. As expected, this was no problem for him. He got these easily for both sets of stairs. A really good job and didn't really miss any, aside from the occasional "extra" barking before he would do the proper movement, especially, for some reason, with arriba. Maybe the sound of the word just sounds exciting to him!

Having mastered that, it was time to up the challenge some. I moved back from him to add some distance with him staying put. Then, I cued the direction. He was anticipating another instruction at first, and the first few times, he was confused. This was especially the case on "abajo" likely because he was even farther from me and he had to pick out the sound with some walls and such between us. Even though this was harder for him, after a while, he picked up on it.

Next was really tricky. I had him come to the middle of the hall. Arriba was to make him go up one set of stairs, but abajo was for another set. This really threw him for a loop for quite some time! Up until this point, arriba/abajo belonged to the same set of stairs, just a different position relative to him and I (probably, at least that was some part of the "picture" he had). Now, we're in the middle and it was less obvious. Wally had a tough time with this, and I certainly made a mental note of it.

The next test was as tricky as it didn't involve stairs at all, but a chair he could jump/climb into and jump down from. Or at least I though it would be tricky. He figured it out somewhat quickly, though it's probably something we could stand to work on later.

Abres y Cierras

Working these two was more limited as they relate to doors. At first, it was right near the door. A warm-up of sorts was leaving a small crack in the door (so his nose could fit) and cuing abres while a clearly opened door would have me cuing cierras. No problems here, he moved quickly and only got them mixed up when he wasn't thinking straight and just eager to one of them, usually the last behavior he did, regardless of the cue. That excitement. Looks like we need more work on controlled excitement training as well.

Increasing the challenge came mostly from creating ambiguous situations or cuing the same direction more than once (Especially for abres as this has easily practical uses - I may need him to open the door wider for something).

With the ambiguous situation, I put the door with more than a small crack in it, but not quite halfway open to where it would be clear which one I want (or where it would be impossible for him to close due to the angles and position of the door). Now this made him think! I could see him pausing before acting as if he's trying to remember which cue when with which behavior while looking at the door. It looked like he was thinking "okay, where do I need to push the door to do that?".

At first, he sort of just guessed, or took the easier looking action, but after getting some light "nope" markers, he started to think about what was going on, and starting picking the right behavior more often, and once he started getting rewards again, he was making a clearer connection and being right more, and more frequently.

To close out the test, I cued abres/cierras from various locations. I might not always be right by the door, and neither might he, though most of it was me being in different places. This worked well, he didn't get mixed up by where I was, he was focused on the door and manipulating it correctly. He did better than I might have thought initially, but I wasn't too shocked as I probably did this now and then just in day-to-day moving around the house and such.

Stop, Wally! Pare!

He's getting it better. I resumed working on the hand signal and saying "pare" and that's helping to stop a lot faster. I've even been able to move away from him while doing this and he'll stand still. Excellente! I think he'll continue making the connection as I continue drilling it (in a fun way of course!) and using a lot of Premack Principle, which is probably how I taught "wait" and "stay" to begin with.

I'm glad and maybe a bit "relieved" that he's getting a better grasp. I think there's still a little disconnect with the sound (once I gave the cue while on our walk, where we worked on it this evening, and he took a second to even register the sound, but then stopped on a dime. Another thing that will come with continued work and repetition and of course plenty of rewards (read: bread balls)!

Of course, I looked up "Spanish dog commands" in google and found this little chart of cues in foreign languages, including Spanish. Of course, there's a different word for "stay" but, hey, I figure it's fine. He doesn't know - and it's not really "Stay" (as in stay put and don't start moving) but "stop moving" (implying he's in motion) so it's more a wait.

Plus, not everyone uses the same English cues - so, yeah. Still, it's a nice little chart. I'm also using SpanishDict.com to look up meanings and such (Again, it matters to me - of course not at all to him...as long as I can say it consistently!) The link goes to "parar" which is the infinitive verb form. I'm choosing the Usted Subjunctive form for verbs at this point, though I broke from that for abre and cierras... not sure why.

Well, guess that wraps up the day. Muy bien, Wally!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

From Learning the Ball To First Spanish Struggle

Today was a mixed bag day. First, we got the chance to introduce the ball. Then after that, we worked on converting another cue to a Spanish word, which for the first time might be something of a struggle.

Yeah, Same Thing As Pushing, Wally.

Here is the ball, the pelota, in question:

La pelota, object number 2

With this ball, he quickly caught on to the idea that he was to touch the ball. He was equating it with the pushing stuff we've done during exposing him to the basics of treibball, which got him quickly into the mindset of poking the ball with hose nose forcefully.

This enthusiasm allowed me to just focus on saying the cue "pelota" and having him wait to make sure the connection is being formed between the cue and the behavior. Since progress was so fast, we didn't need to move so methodically as we did with the rabbit and not nearly as slowly as with the colors. How great! Immediately, we could go with distance and he looked around readily for the ball no matter where it was.

The only reason we had to stop was because I had to go get another piece of bread! I'm glad I chose to use the soccer ball (and this size of ball) after seeing these results. Hopefully, when it's time to add in the rabbit, this kind of progress will manifest itself again!

Say It Isn't So! Our First Spanish Fail?

Perhaps we were due. Perhaps it was working too well and the Dog Training Fates said "enough of this, time to make them have a set back!" and threw this monkey wrench in. Perhaps I wasn't saying the word consistently enough, but...I doubt I've been particularly consistent as it is, plus...it's not a hard word to say.

"Pares" a form of the verb "Parar" which means "to stop". As you probably can guess, this is the new "wait/stay" cue. While trying to think of why suddenly the struggle here as opposed to the other successes, some thoughts came into my head:
  1. This is an "old" behavior, perhaps 'stay' is too established in his mind
  2. Going in line with #1, perhaps I've forgotten how I 'explained' the behavior to him
  3. The sound of the word itself is too difficult for him to pick up
  4. We have just one cue that starts with a "P" sound, perhaps he's not used to hearing it
  5. The stay/wait wasn't as strong as I thought to begin with, so this just exposed it
I recently read about the "stay into a moving stand", and, thanks to a post on a forum I'm on, I got a lead/tip on a hand signal she used to do it. I can't find the freaking post so I can link to it. I know who wrote it and I'm looking on the right forum. Ugh. Anyway...trying that route seems to be working a bit.

With him walking beside me, I give the hand signal and say "pares" and if he stops, he gets a click and treat. At this point, I'm also stopping since that often triggers him to do the same. Everything to try to get the association going and make a connection.

Success has been hit or miss and so far getting him to wait or stay in any other way while using "Pares" has not worked particularly well so far. Hmm...it's too bad I can't fully remember how I first did "stay" with him so that I could try that. No way we're giving up, though. I know it's just a matter of getting those first few breakthroughs and then we'll hit the ground running from there.

Object Discrimination 2: Learning the Rabbit

El conejo, the first object

Just like with the starting off with the colors, the first thing we need to do is work on him learning what the rabbit is in terms of the cue for it. I want to start with one object at a time at first to help him start the idea in his head.

Up Close and Personal

First, the rabbit is placed close to him. I wait until he noses it naturally and mark and reward him (using a high value treat as always, this time his favorite bear treats from Petco). Once he is going quickly and immediately to the rabbit, it's time to put the name to it, "conejo". As you can see, I decided to chop of the "el" part for the sake of simplicity - both for me and him (I'm not a native Spanish speaker after all!).

Before he goes to tap the rabbit with his nose, I say "conejo" and then mark and reward him when he touches it. After some repetitions with that, I have him wait until I say the word for him to go ahead and touch the rabbit. This helps me feel like he's getting the connection between "conejo" and the behavior explained to him instead of just nose-touching the rabbit with me babbling something in the background. It's the start of cue-then-behavior-then-reward sequence I always want to start building when doing a new behavior.

With this looking good, time to move the rabbit around.

Touch It Up High, Down Low, All Around

Now I want him to get touch the rabbit, when I say "conejo", with the rabbit in different positions. Just to further explain that it doesn't matter. Same process as with the color cards, and with a more "3-D-ish" object, it probably looks different to him from the various angles, especially when changing height, so I want him to get to know the rabbit and the fact "conejo" still means the same object, from different vantage points and perspectives.

Actually, this confuses him a bit. At first, he kept looking at the floor for the rabbit, not realizing at first that it has been moved. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about - and want to avoid. He started to assume the position of the rabbit and the rabbit won't always be down there at his paws. Maybe it will be up on a step, on my bed, poking out from under a towel, etc. I don't want him to think that "conejo" means "look for the rabbit on the floor", but just "rabbit" and he should just look around for it. If the rabbit is on a pillow, and he's looking all over the floor, he'll never find it! Look up at eye level and above, too, Wally!

Adding a Bit of Distance

Finally, I wanted to put a little distance between him, me, and the rabbit. I won't always be holding it and always up close to him. It may be off in the distance somewhere, and he needs to begin getting used to that too. Also helps keep my hand out of the mental picture of "conejo".

The distance was just a couple feet at first and the requirement is still to just touch the rabbit. If he does bring it back to me like a retrieve, that's more than fine. He'll get marked and rewarded just the same and I'll toss the rabbit away a little ways and carry on.

He definitely is getting better at looking around now. He is still focusing on the floor a bit too much, but at least with some distance, he's keeping his head up as well to find it, helping him locate the rabbit faster. All the while, he's getting faster about reacting to the cue "conejo" and keeping up with the effort and enthusiasm.

We ran through this for about ten minutes and about thirty minutes or so in total. I think we had a successful first day. Hopefully tomorrow, I'll get to introduce "la pelota" to him, which will be his soccer ball.

Oh, I switch from "bola" to "pelota" because I think "pelota" fits better as it means ball completely in the sense of "a round thing you play with" (yes, paraphrasing!) while "bola" meant anything from the sense like "crystal ball" to "have a ball" (i.e. a good time).

No, it doesn't matter to Wally, but begrudge the human half of this partnership an occasional favor, por favor!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Object Discrimination 1: Rabbit vs Ball

I figure it's time to start doing some "real" object discrimination again. I've done it some time back, and then tried it here or there, but probably going too fast or not using things he can really see. They last time I really did this semi-formally, it was trying to have to tell the difference between a picture of Dora and Kai-lan, two kids characters he seems to like.

That didn't go well, and then I started working on his bone and ball, and didn't really go that into it for some reason.

And of course, keeping with the Spanish theme, I looked up the words for ball and rabbit in Spanish and will be using them as the cue. In case you're mildly interested, rabbit = el conejo and ball = la pelota. I'm debating between including the "el" and "la" for purposes of a cue. It adds a syllable and there's going to be lots of "el"s and "la"s if I keep teaching objects, so I don't think it adds any information for him.

The two objects are of vastly different shape, size, and color. This helps keep it easy for him to see a distinct difference in their appearance. Both of these objects are very familiar to him (they are some of his toys).

The only other question is what size of ball to use. I could use the BIG exercise ball, his soccer ball, a smaller ball than that, or his tiny soccer ball. The tiny ball might be TOO small. Hmm...perhaps this might be something to experiment with. All of the balls are different size from the rabbit, so there's one less thing to worry with.

I think he'll end up enjoying this as much as the colors, and it will be interesting to see if he doesn't pick this up faster since it's a physical object instead of something somewhat abstract like a color.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" VIII: Work That Rear, Wally!

We had a lot of fun doing the as-planned rear-end awareness and some work on catching/eye-paw coordination games.

Back it up, Wally!

Most of the time was used on the rear-end awareness as it's slower paced and more challenging for him at the same time. At first, we worked on backing up and I had him backing up back and forth along the hallway. We went just a couple steps at a time at first, trying to emphasize keeping the rear straight. I noticed that if I held something over his head (like the treat), it was easier for him to get the idea or keeping his form right.

Once I was doing that, we were able to start moving a bit faster and, more importantly, getting more steps in at a time. At this point, I tried getting him to turn backwards by angling how I "walk into him" to get him to back up (he's right in front of me). This is a work in progress for sure, but it was interesting to try it.

Hit The Book, Or At Least Step On It

Then we moved to the paws-on-the-book exercise and it was every bit the challenge as expected. Going to the right is "easier" for him as he moves much easier shifting around the right. When trying to do the same thing for the left, he is much stiffer and it's almost like he has to think about how to actually move himself to make the movement, or he thinks he can't (or perhaps actually does not know how to) make the movement and tries something else - in this case, either coming off the book or putting his back paws on the book and sitting down with all four paws crammed on the book.

I suppose this means he's "right-pawed" or somehow is just more comfortable turning/moving towards the right than the left. Something I might have to explore...

Get Up On Those Back Paws, Please!

After that, I had him stand on his back paws and walk beside me. Again, I had a treat to help him get the idea on where to focus and to help him with his form for best balance. This was harder, but he was doing it. We started with just a few steps at a slow pace, and it seems like we'll be needing to work with this more, but he was getting the hang of it.

I then moved the treat around and he had to keep following it while standing on his back paws still. I moved the treat somewhat quickly and in random directions with sudden direction changes. This, he was better at for some reason (I would have thought it would be harder), and he loved this. At this point, he was getting more excited as well.

Lastly on the stand-on-back-paws list, I had him try to just balance and stay perfectly still. This exercise got him whining with excitement as we wanted to move, but instead the tail went crazy wagging as he tried to stay still. He had to remain motionless, like holding the pose, for a few seconds before he got the reward.

Brief Work On Catching

After a little break to let him rest a bit, we started on the catching. For this, I used some "heavier" pasta shapes (corkscrews) so they could fly on a more steady path. At first, he had a hard time tracking it, but then he started trying to grab it. His "bangs" got in the way a couple times, obscuring his vision. He did start catching more of them from a short distance and I knelt down to his level. We didn't get to work on too much with this, but we'll continue to work on it later on. He certainly wasn't bored, though!

Slap Me Some Paw, Dog!

Later on in the evening, we got a chance to work on the eye-paw coordination. As expected, he LOVED this! I would egg him on with "Get it! Get it!" and "nipping" him with my fingers to really get him going. He jumped down in to his play bow and was intently following my hand around, sometimes trying to pounce and other times slapping the floor with how hard he was doing it.

When he got one of those slaps on my fist, he got the prize. This also helped him to understand what would work. At first he was trying to stick his nose in to pry my fist open, or sometimes grabbing my wrist in his mouth to try to hold it (which was surprising!), but he starting figuring out that only stopping my fist with his paws would get me to give up the goods.

In all, yet another great "All-Positive Monday"!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" VIII Plans

Tomorrow will be the 8th All-Positive Monday and the plans I have for this one is to work more on his rear-end awareness and eye/mouth/paw coordination.

For the rear-end awareness, I will work more on backing up and movement while standing on just his back paws. This will continue helping him get used to controlling himself with just those legs and help his balance and stability in that situation. He already loves standing up "like a person" so why not use this to both our advantages?

I'll also work on walking backwards, something he's got the basic idea of and we have a cue for it ("back up" - oh, I know, so very creative). I can tell he has some problem with it when he has to keep doing it when his backside starts curving instead of maintaining a straight line. A few steps and he'll keep going straight back, but after that, he'll start to curve.

Hopefully, as a side-effect of sorts, he'll get better at doing the pop-up stand as well. We need to work on "stand" in general since he doesn't quite get that it's just to stand up. Not get up and come towards me. That can be something we'll do later in the week.

I'll probably also do the "front paws on book" exercise where he has to turn himself using just his back paws. This is HARD for him, especially going to his left. Perfect.

The coordination is going to be more fun for him since that's mostly going to seem like a game, especially for eye-mouth coordination since that's just catching. The question is: What to use? Should I use food tidbits to heighten his interest, but he gets them only when he catches? That seems to have an advantage in that the catch is self-rewarding (he eats whatever it is). Should I use a toy or other object? The advantage there is that most of the time, he won't be catching food, but something else. Hmm...something to experiment with.

For eye-paw coordination, I have an idea for a new game for him. I'll hold some food in my fist (closed up so he can't get it) and move my fist around on the floor. I'll encourage him to get my fist, and to do so, he has to put his paw on my fist. I'll stop and then let him get the food. (If I can find a blue marker, I'll draw a square on the back of my hand as a target)

He'll love this for sure, and it should help him with tracking objects, timing, and reaction time.

That will be the plan for tomorrow.

P.S. Sorry for the recent infrequency of posting. I'm newer to blogging than I am dog training (4 months vs 3 years) so I'm still getting the hang of how to do it "right". Hence the experiments with the ads or no, posting frequency, layout, colors, etc.