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

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Push, Push, Push!

Today, I wanted to take the ball pushing to another level and put a goal to it. This would be doing the behavior like a job and something that has to be done to finish the job.

The ball wasn't his soccer ball. I tried that, but it was much too small for this. His head had to go to low to actually push the ball instead of just tapping the top of the ball. So that was out. That left it to the big blue exercise ball. That one is probably too big, but, hey, he had to deal with it.

Initially, he thought this was just the ball pushing "game" where he could push the ball once and get rewarded. Once he found out that wasn't it, he turned less happy.

I kept up with it, he had to keep pushing the ball. That was the one of the hardest parts for him to understand. He had to push it. With me telling him multiple times, he thought he was getting it wrong. He started even shaking, but he would keep taking treats so he wasn't stressed out that bad. As such, I ignored the shaking and all that and kept him working.

Then I opened the patio door and made that the goal. He had to push the ball out of the door. This is the other part he had a hard time understanding. The goal was to get the ball out of the door, but he just thought about trying to push it when I said "push".

As such, I started directing him to try to give him the best chance to push the ball in the right direction. This helped quite a bit, but also threw in another instruction for him to keep track and be aware of. This really worked him both physically and mentally. I also wanted him to move quickly and keep going.

He did manage to do so, and we repeated the exercise several times. He seemed to get better at it, and at the least pushed the ball harder.

After that, we went outside and pushed the ball around out there too. On the grass, he had to push it harder to get it moving, so I went easier on him. Still, he had to move the ball, and push it multiple times. I also had him push the ball back inside the backyard gate before we went for a walk right after.

All in all, it was a pretty exhausting day for him. From the mental and physical demands of doing the "work" and then going for a long walk. He had a lot in his day and now he's crashed out for some well-deserved rest.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 14", Paw Gaming

In an effort to continue improving his eye-paw coordination, today we played a paw game.

The game we played was where I had a treat in my hand and moved it around, saying "get it, get it" (note to self, look up a shorter word for 'get it' in Spanish instead of the one I found before) and he, of course, tried to grab it. I don't have a name for it but I'll call it "Slap the Hand" for lack of any other creativity!

Later, I'll work on eye-mouth coordination, but this time I wanted him to use his paws to "slap" my hand. When he succeeded, I would praise him and give him the treat. For the first few times, he was still trying to grab with his mouth, but then he started realizing what was working.

At that point, I moved my hand a little faster and more erratically. I saw him use his paws more, trying to slap my hand and predict its movements. He kept getting better and I had to keep moving faster to make it challenging. I also changed height with the hand. He responded by using his "sit pretty" pose (pictured below) in an attempt to slap the hand. Dang smart dog!

He's not begging for food, but to play "Slap the Hand" again!
I don't know where he got that paw crossing from. He just came up with it.

Once that happened, he started going into the pose on his own even before I started the game. I took this and made it the signal that he was "ready" to play.

He got so good, I had to move my hand much more quickly and randomly. I included some start-and-stop movements, "jerky" movements and changing height much more frequently. He was having quite the time playing, and it was tiring him a bit it seems as his tongue starting hanging from the side of his mouth a little! I guess it's the combination of focus and concentration (tracking the hand with his eyes and his trying to predict the movements) and physical effort (taking the pose, moving quickly in short direction changes) along with of course the drive to get the food.

Later, I turned it into a bit of him not trying to get the food from my hand, but put a paw on it, leave it there, and then look at me. This might take some doing, but maybe the foundation of an idea formed in his head. For today, I simply delayed giving him the treat when he hit my hand (I also slowed the movement down and kept it more predictable). He clawed at my hand (I suppose that could be an indicator too, he could claw at the object hiding the treat), but then realized that wasn't working. He looked up at me wondering "what's up?". I moved the hand a little and he pawed it, and then just held it there.

That was a start and he got the treat. Next time, he did it again, and got another reward. Now I waited for him to look at me. I could see a bit of thinking on his part as he put the paw on my hand and was like "now what do I do?" he slowly looked up at me, which got rewarded. He did it a second time, and after that, I ended the session on that success.

It was great and quite a different activity. We'll be playing this again for sure!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Do Some Dogs Learn More With Shaping Than Others? If So, Why?

I have pondered this question on occasion.

As those who have followed this blog for a while may know, I'm in love with shaping. Part of this is from its use being the key to unlock the beginning of our relationship and part of it is the sheer success the method has brought to our efforts.

The trade off for this is:

  • Time - shaping takes a lot of time for complex tasks. The trainer also has to be able to break things down, sometimes prior to the session, taking more time.
  • Difficulty - even Wally has gotten somewhat frustrated or confused with some sessions. That is likely my fault in some degree, and some of the blame lies with his past or his personality, but the effect is there.
  • Randomness - there's some measure of uncertainty with what a dog will do when left to his own ideas. This isn't so much a problem for me, but it's something that's often inherent to the process. Tracking progress is mildly difficult since the dog may 'stall' at different points in the process, seemingly for no reason.
  • Minimal Guidance - again, not typically a problem for Wally and I, now, but there are times where I have to remember not to "give hints" or outright redirect him. This may well prove a challenge for a newcomer (either dog or human or both!) to the method. In the beginning, this was the first obstacle Wally overcame.

And for that price, I wonder if there's something extra that's getting learned.  Personally, I believe there are some "extras" that get learned along with the end task. These "extras" often build up even if reaching the goal doesn't happen that session. 

"Extra" benefits of shaping:
  • Creativity - When the dog faces a new challenge, or a twist on an old one, he is more likely to try something since that has brought good things in the past.
  • Confidence - I always say dogs teach themselves when asked about shaping. They are putting the clues together to solve the mystery. I believe this gives them more confidence.
  • Less Pressure - With the lack of guidance can come the lack of worrying about "doing it right" and more about "hmm...what if I try this?". For less confidence dogs, or ones with softer/submissive personalities, I think this is a very good benefit.
  • I don't know how to sum this up, but the dog tells you what he knows. He knows he should have got a reward. He knows something worked last time and wonders why it's not working. I think that's developing some part of his intelligence/logical thinking.
  • Fun - there can be no "point" to shaping and still be fun and helping the dog learn how to learn using shaping. It can be random, free-form, just "whatever", and the dog is still practicing the process.

So I certainly still believe there's a lot of benefits to shaping, but do they all manifest to all dogs? If not, why and can they develop the potential positives of the method while minimizing experiencing the potential downsides? Would it be worth it to "convert" dogs who are learning decently without shaping to learning with shaping training? Is a "mixed" approach to shaping viable? For example, introducing a task using other methods, then refining or fully teaching using shaping?

Is there some personality of dog that tends to do better with shaping? Could it be related to breed traits? Perhaps herders do better with shaping since their job requires on-the-fly thinking and less "overbearing" guidance? Perhaps an independent breed, like a Husky, would do better since it seems like "it was their idea all along?" 

Not to mention trainer personalities. Are there some human personalities better suited to using shaping, or is shaping more a skill than a style and as such is not really impacted by personality?

What does everyone think? Has anyone had experiences trying shaping with multiple dogs? For those who have, could you tell the results were different due to personality or other traits, or were the results basically even? I'm interested in hearing what everyone has to say!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Training In the Garden

He knows boundaries in the house and when around on walks, but we never did it for the garden in the backyard.

At first, I didn't worry about it. He's usually interested in sniffing the grass or listening to what's going on all around. Sometimes, he sniffs the wind or such. However, today, he relieved himself in the garden! Fortunately, it was on top of some weeds and not on any vegetables or herbs.

Another thing is that there's tomatoes growing, and I don't want him to lick or take a curiosity-bite of a tomato leaf, which could hurt him and make him sick - not to mention the chance that he could break some stems and vines, which would hurt the garden.

As such, today, we worked on boundary training with the garden. Just like with the other scenarios, there's (typically) a clear division between the garden and the rest of the yard (motivation to keep that grass trimmed I guess!!), and I can use it to help him explain the differences between the yard area and garden patches.

To do this, I turned to shaping again, and caught him doing the right thing first, staying away from the would-be boundary. As long as he stayed behind "the line" then he would get rewarded. He also pawed it, which was rewarded and then I held out for him lying down. Once he did that, he got rewarded heavily and he kept offering it like he does when we review this in the kitchen.

The familiar nature of the task helped him, and he quickly took to it. It's a matter of practicing more so he can continue to learn where the off-limits areas are.

In addition, I wanted to teach him the paths he can walk on, so he can learn how to get around the backyard. It was a mix of the boundary training (if he went across the boundary, he got redirected), and mixed in some recall so he could get used to coming around the paths even while excited. To increase the challenge, I put central garden area between us, so he can't take a straight route, but had to use the paths to get around the garden.

We will have to keep practicing, but he did quite well for the first day of being exposed to the "new rules".

Monday, June 20, 2011

"All-Positive Monday: 13: Object Discrimination, Wally's Choices

For this All-Positive Monday, I did some object discrimination, but this time, I let Wally make the choices.

Really, I didn't do anything except just observe. What would Wally choose when allowed to interact with which ever object he wants. I put out some of his toys and other objects out and rewarded him for touching/picking up any of them.

I did this kind of thing a long time ago where I just said "go get it" and he went to a pile of objects and could get any one he wanted, but for this he'll have some objects all around to choose from.

I'm interested in seeing if there's some kind of indication or preference he might have for certain objects, or what's going through his mind if ALL the objects are "legal", what will he pick, and if there's any sort of pattern to his choices.

I also changed up the objects, leaving the one he seemed to like the most and replacing the others with different things. I went with three objects.


He often picked out his new ball. After that, he picked out the soccer ball the most. So the balls seemed to be his preferred objects this time around. I took the balls away completely and put his dumbbell out, and he went for it exclusively. This choice I can understand because he and I have worked retrieving with it frequently, so the object "suggested" to him what to do, go pick it up. When the balls or the dumbbell weren't there, he choices were much more random, and it became difficult to tell if there was any favorites among them or if there's any kind of pattern.

This tells me to try this again, but without the balls or using the dumbbell. Give him more time with the objects he showed no clear preference for (or against) and see if there's any kind of pattern that emerges. Also, I'll go with three essentially unknown objects (he might have seen them, but they don't have any names or much of any interaction with. I'll also try with the colors again, the blue and yellow cards, and see what he might pick most often.

I'm always interested in seeing how he thinks when left completely up to his own choices (in case you couldn't tell that by now). Hopefully, I'll learn something that can tell me how he thinks/relates to objects, and maybe give some insight on why he makes the mistakes he does during the "real" object discrimination training.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blend of Object Immersion and Discrimination

Not sure what "catchy" title to call this. It's not just object discrimination or object immersion, but today we did some of both, with also giving him his first all-Spanish "sentence": 'Donde está ____ ?' which sends him looking around for the object in the blank.

Where's That Bone?

Since the bone, 'hueso', is the object we've spent the most time with, that was the first object. I pulled out his big soccer ball (not his new ball) and put that in the floor. I tossed the bone a little past the ball, so he'd have to cross the ball's path to get to the bone.

As I thought, he would try for the ball a lot. After some simple "nope" whenever he would even try to interact with the ball he started looking around. He found the bone and that got rewarded heartily (with homemade cinnamon banana bread).

Now that he's all hyped up because there's now a super reward attached to this, he kept going for the ball again! This was likely excitement combined with the fact that in the past we've worked only one object at a time - so the concept I might be wanting something else has a hard time sinking in so far.

But, once he got some more "nope" from me, he started looking for that bone. I kept calling "hueso! hueso!" and he kept looking around. After some successes with the bone in one spot, I tossed it somewhere else, again so he doesn't just get used to going to that spot.

He got into the groove and I hid the bone behind my back and kept calling "hueso!". I wanted to see if he could recognize the bone wasn't there at all. I wanted confusion because that means he's looking for the object, can't find it, and he's looking around and "asking" for help. Once I saw that and he wasn't looking at me, I'd hold the bone out. Once he turned around and saw it, he came running up to it, and I rewarded him.

Then that's when I threw in "Donde está hueso?". He already knows "Donde está?" as his cue to find it. So hearing that question will already put him in the "find it, find it!" mode. This time, I specified "it", the bone - hueso.

He looked around, and a few times wanted to go for the ball, but didn't! He pulled away and kept looking around (the bone was on the bed, not hidden, but not in plain sight). Initially, he was confused, still looking around the floor, but got a thought to try the bed. He jumped up and found the bone, brought it back, and got his reward.

Did this for about 10 minutes or so, and then switched objects.

Now, where's the ball?

For this trial, the soccer ball was replaced by his new ball (this would be the target) and I put down one of his favorite toys and another random object as the decoys.

To help his mind change gears, I did a quick touch exercise with the ball (pelota). I said "pelota" with the ball right there near him, so it was easy for him to touch it. What's interesting is the first few times, he was tentative - as if he knew that before he wasn't supposed to get the ball! That was interesting to watch.

Once he was touching the ball eagerly. I tossed it up on the bed (while he was getting the reward so he couldn't see it) and called "Donde está pelota?" He looked around and didn't see the ball. He went for his favorite toy, drawing a "nope" from me. He brought it to me anyway, and I just took from him and tossed it back and called for the ball again.

After a little more searching, he found the ball and retrieved it. He didn't try to bring back the other objects too often, which was good to see. A few times he went for his toy, but that was it.

Observing His Search Pattern

While he looked for the objects, I watched his searching. Often, he searches the same area repeatedly before thinking to move to a new area. It seems he's also broken down the room into three parts: the area with the bed, the area around his favorite corner (with the TV as well), and the area between the two. I'm not certain why he searches the same area multiple times - perhaps he thinks it will appear or show up and he doesn't want to miss it.

Of course, once he finds the object in an area, he will go back there the next time, usually as the first place he looks. He did go look in the "TV part" of the room a few times, but not particularly often (mostly when looking for the ball - wonder why).

Perhaps that could be the next thing down the line, trying to improve the efficiency of his searching. That sounds like a real big challenge!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Object Immersion 2 - Bone, Generalized Indoors

Today, we continued the theme of immersion with the bone, making the object a part of whatever he and I do if at all possible. 

The next progression in this will be getting him used to this concept everywhere he is, not just in my room. First, we'll begin indoors where there's less distractions but still more "environment" for him to deal with and a little more "terrain" with stairs and the like. 

First, we started in the hall and I had him retrieve the bone several times using "go get ___ " with the blank filled with "hueso" the name of the bone (I haven't forgotten the "canine programming language" idea). I also threw in the "give" cue today. So I said "give hueso" instead of just the generic "give". 

In addition, we played around with the bone and did the same "hueso! hueso!" as before when starting the immersion with the bone. He responded as eagerly as always, and he's learning the constant is the object. 

After the bit of play, I put in another cue, "take", this time calling for "take hueso" with the bone in clear view in my hand. Now that he has it in his mouth, he can get some practice carrying it around (something we need to get back to...), and can start doing things while holding the bone, like opening doors. If he has to put it down for now, that's fine as it gives another chance for him to practicing "take" and another chance for me to use "take hueso". 

Eventually, we'll take this outside and continue the same things (sans opening doors, of course). Being outside will add challenge for us both, especially now with kids likely to be everywhere with school out for the summer (here's hoping for a lot of family vacations in the neighborhood!)

Also want to add in "hueso" (or any object name) for cues like touch and paw. This might give him another way to indicate the object and another action for him to perform on it during shaping practice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Object Immersion 1: The Bone

In an effort to get the objects further into Wally's head, I'm going to try making the object a focus of any games or training we do.

The games aren't anything fancy. This afternoon, I just moved the bone around on the floor and while he was trying to get it, I kept saying "hueso! hueso!" while he was focused on it and trying his hardest to grab it. When he does get it, of course he get a reward. Then we do it again.

I also would hide the bone behind my back and ask him "Donde está hueso?" to get all wound up and trying to find it. Once he's looking everywhere (and away from me) I'll subtle hold it out and repeat the question. He then sees it and comes over to grab it and get the reward. A variation of this is for me to throw the bone up on the bed while he's still distracted by the reward. I then ask him "Donde está hueso?"again and he starts looking around. I only keep repeating to keep him eager.

I probably shouldn't have done this, but I also threw in a new spanish word "obtengas" form of the verb meaning "to get". I do want to turn "get it" to a spanish cue too, but I might not should have done it while also trying to focus on the bone. Anyway, I worked it with throwing the bone and saying "obtengas hueso" and rewarding when he gets the bone and brings it back to me. (I know that might not be exactly right, but it works for him - teaching him one word for the object is hard enough to get even more complex with it!)

Continuing to work this with him will at the least immerse him in the object's name and shape. From there, I am hoping he will be able to make the connection between the name and object.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 12" - Letting Wally's Creativity Run Wild

Today for the 12th All-Positive Monday, I brought Wally to an open area and just let him do anything he wanted to get a click and treat. I hesitate to call it any form of shaping because it wasn't towards a final behavior or chain. It was more like "free writing", canine style, where we could "write" about whatever he wanted how ever he wanted. Perhaps it's some kind of game as well - though games usually have some structure or rules.

Any movement action he took earned him a click and treat. If he did a stationary behavior, I would click and treat if he held it for a second or more, showing he was really maintaining it, not just in thought of what he should do next. I also put a pillow out so he could have an object to interact with if he wanted. The objects easily accessible to him:

  • A large mirror
  • His crate
  • A pillow on the floor
  • The freezer
  • Me (i.e. he can offer behaviors to/at me)
  • The black place mat his food and water go on in the morning

The area we worked in. Not pictured is the freezer. I couldn't get it in the shot.

There are also some the objects around that he can't really get to, but he could try to get to them if he wanted. The patio door was open as well, so any sounds he decided to focus on would get clicked and treated also.

It was, basically, just go for it, Wally! Do whatever strikes your fancy. I wanted to see what he would decide to do given no task to work towards or no cues of any kind.

It went well. Wally got into the game after a few clicks and first worked on the pillow. He pushed it around with his nose and then put his front paws on it. After that, he play bowed on it a couple times before going back to pushing it and then going on to something else.

Next, he saw the mirror. He looked at it and then moved to doing some behaviors at me. He did a sit and then moved to a down. From the down, he then put a paw on my foot, then both paws. He stood up again and then looked at the mirror more.

He started getting fascinated by the mirror. The more he looked at the mirror and got clicked and treated for it, he got more curious. I don't know if he knew that was "another dog" he was seeing, but he did start going up and sniffing the mirror, so I wonder.

He also seemed to notice my hand moving in the mirror. I did it once and he turned and looked directly at my hand. I let some time pass and when he got intent on the mirror again, I moved my hand, and he did the same thing. I wonder if he can use the mirror to see what's going on around him...

Another freaky looking thing was his reflection looking at me. Like directly at me. It's like he could line up my eyes using my reflection and would look at my reflection looking at him. This is starting sound like a plot line in Inception, and perhaps I was imagining it in the end...I will have to figure out some kind of ways to try to test and use this...

Sometimes, he would focus on some sounds outside, which also got rewarded. This didn't happen often though (somewhat surprisingly, given how nosy he is). Other times, he would offer things like sitting pretty or using the place mat like we were doing mat training. He even shifted his position while in the downs, which is a behavior, so it got clicked and treated.

In something of a surprise, he was quite tired once he got to settle down. I would have thought with there being no real goal or puzzle for him to figure out, it would have been a pretty light-on-the-brain activity. He had plenty of fun and was dog laughing afterwords, always a sign he had lots of fun, but he was laid out on his side not too long after. Interesting.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wally's New Ball

Today, I was out and about, but before coming in, I stopped by Petco to see if there was anything I could get for Wally. It was on my way after all so I figured, "why not?"

New ball vs soccer ball.

At first, I didn't think I would find anything of interest. Well, aside from treats which he already has plenty of for now. And food. Plenty of food. Too much, perhaps. (Wally would likely say "you can never have too much food!")

But, as I was walking out, disappointed, I found a nice colorful ball for him. It has short, raised nap to help him grip it (and he often grips it by the loop it hung on in the store), and is pretty fat for his size and feels like it's durable. It's different than his soccer ball in that it's firmer, has a squeaker in it to get his attention (he can't make it squeak, though, I don't think he's strong enough, but I can squeak it), and with it being fat and more compact, he can carry it easier. His soccer ball hits the ground because it's much bigger, knocking it out of his mouth.

Wally trying to keep ball still
so he can grab it.

Wally took to the new ball quickly and seemed to like the nap. He still has a bit of trouble picking it up, probably still needs to learn how to grip it, but he enjoyed going after it and pawing at it when he got to it. The size makes it easier for me to throw as well and I can make it bounce a little, throw it in different ways, or toss it quickly past him if he's close by or after getting him wound up trying to get it out of my hand.

Unfortunately, the heat and humidity were in full force today so I couldn't have him run around for long. Didn't want to risk any heat sickness or the like. Later on, played with the ball indoors and I was able to get some pictures of his play.

Wally carrying the ball back to me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Some Physical Activity Today

Today, I worked mostly on physical sort of things. Can't forget about his body, especially since I'm not taking him walking as much because of the weather and time constraints.

Of course, we did all this stuff indoors. It's way too hot to be outside doing any of this stuff!

First, I had him do some balancing. Started with his standing all the way up on his back paws. I wanted him to stand still for a little time before I praised him and gave him a reward. He had to be perfectly still, no wobbling around or taking steps to balance during that time. He had to do all that to get balanced, then hold it for at first a couple seconds and then about five before he got the prize.

Since he loves to walk while he's on his back paws, I worked that in the next round. I got him going and then stopped and he had to stop moving and get his balance and hold it. This was harder, but he was able to do the same.

After about a minute break, I asked for the "sit pretty" pose where he's sitting on his back legs but the front ones are up. He used to barely be able to get into this position, but now he's able to hold it for quite some time and be perfectly still with it. He's even raising his paws up higher.  This one is no challenge for him any more, but I still go through it anyway. Practice never hurt anything.

Next up was one he did one day trying to get food from me when I was playing with him. He had to do those two poses above, but on my lap. This is different since my lap isn't as stable as the floor. My legs are round, they aren't hard like the floor (ha!) so it's harder for him to stabilize.

He's clearly uncertain about it as he's slower in getting into the pose, especially standing up on his back paws, but with enough encouragement (read: egging him on and teasing him!) he'll get up there...and then start climbing on me like a tree!

One thing I've thought about is maybe actually trying to get him to balance on a ball or something. Never tried it, but it might be interesting to try and see.

The last thing we did was getting his jumping on. Not only coming up to and jumping laterally through the hoop, but holding the hoop close to him and higher up to get him to try jumping vertically more. I'll also put the hoop low, and have him jump "into" it so that's he's standing within the hoop's area. Then he has to jump out from a standstill. This is hard for him! He's still quite uncertain about it (understandably!) but he will make the effort and do it pretty well. Eventually, I'd like him to hop in and then back out on his own and quickly. One day, one day!

All in all, he had lots of fun and was eager for more, but I had him rest and let him call it a day for any "real" training. It's Friday after all, and maybe even dogs need an easy day once in a while.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shaping Games To Keep His Mind Sharp

It's been one of those days where not much in the training department is going to get done. I was able to steal away about thirty minutes to do more than just walk Wally around and let him do his business. Thank goodness he's very well house-trained. He kept poking at the door and whining and even opened it and was running back and forth in and out of the room, trying to get me to follow.

Anyway, during that small moment of availability, I ran through shaping basics with him. We went back to the first game we played with shaping where he just did something, anything, and I would reward it for a while, then stop and make him do something else.

There was no real point in terms of a final behavior. Instead, just him throwing out whatever to keep him in the mindset of trying something and seeing what happens, and when that doesn't work (i.e. he doesn't get food), try something else.

It's not a hard game to start or even teach. The hard part is getting the dog to get going, but starting that is easy if you just get ready to take whatever. I always start this game with him touching something since he is nosy...I mean curious...about things I touch. He has to see what it is, which means he's going to be following it with his eyes (and nose), tracking where I put it, and then going up to sniff it. All of those things can be marked and rewarded.

Once the object is down, that's when Wally really gets into it since he knows what's going to happen next. He'll poke it with his nose, paw it, even pick it up.

A lot of times, I don't even use an object anymore. I just sit somewhere near him and wait. I'll get a paw raised up or he'll stand up and come sit in front of me, etc. Once that starts, the game is on, and we just go from there with whatever I feel like rewarding. Now that he knows a lot of basic behaviors, it's easier for him to think of something else.

Though I did get a totally new behavior, which is why I love playing this game. He lied down. I kept ignore it just to see what he'd do. He put his head on his front paws. I quickly rewarded it. At first, he didn't get it. He thought it was just for lying down. I waited again, and he put his head down. Another reward.

The light bulb must have went on because he was now intentionally doing it. I would only have to wait a second or two and the head was going back down. In fact, if I waited "too long", he started barking...with his head down. Strangest thing I've seen.

Anyway, that's about all we could do today, but at least he got some practice in and got to have some fun.

Monday, June 6, 2011

"All-Positive Monday" 12: Objects The Shaping Way

As planned, Wally and I worked on the four objects again (circle, square, bone, and ball) but with a new approach. This time, I just let him pick an object to touch, and when he did, I would click and treat him.

After he got going and understood what he was getting rewarded for, I started saying the name of the object, just as he touched it. So if he went to the ball, I'd say "pelota" just as his nose was about to touch it, and when he did touch it, he got the reward.

Hopefully, this will build up the attraction to the objects. I am also hoping he can make the connection easier with this approach. He's hearing the name just as he interacts with the object. Perhaps this let's him make a very direct connection between the two.

Also, going with the shaping approach takes me more out of the picture. This limits the potential for any pointing and touching I might do becoming part of the cue he keys on (though I have an idea for how to use that since he does seem attracted to what I touch). The shaping approach might get it to be just the object and his action on the object, which is what I'm shooting for.

Another benefit I'm hoping to achieve is the removal of frustration or confusion. With this approach, he's always right, and he is learning the name just the same. It is similar to the difference between:

1. "Where's the ball?" And then I tell him if he found the ball or not, which can then lead to try to remember what it's called and getting anxious/frustrated because he's having a hard time.


2. Wally going, "What's this called?" and I tell him what's it's called (ex. "hueso" or "cuadrado") and rewarding him for "asking" and touching the object.

Keeping Wally in mindset #2 keeps him upbeat and interested. Keeping him upbeat and interested keeps him in drive and engaged in the process. This also goes along with what he knows about shaping, the way I've approached teaching for the large majority of what he's learned.

The only downside is he can more likely get fixated on one object. While there's nothing, per se, wrong with this - especially at this stage - I do want him to interact with all the objects. So if he gets too fixated on an object, I temporarily remove it, and this gets him going to the other objects.

Today was a big success, and it could be a new way to approach the situation.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wally's Art Lesson 5: Introducing White and More Observations

It's been a while since we worked on colors, and this time, I wanted to introduce another color. I picked white for a couple reasons.

One, to test a theory about contrast, or perhaps the lack of, being an issue in the room. Two, to also see if it was a sound issue between "azul" and "amarillo" that was at the root of the confusion for him.

Another change was a change in objects. I switched to some different colored strips of rabbit skins I had bought for him for a different purpose (trying to teach scent discrimination) but the colors came in handy for this. The thinking here was that texture might have something to do with it. The "flashcards" and the cones have a shiny texture - perhaps reflecting light oddly and interfering with his color vision.

Immediately on starting, Wally seemed to have no problems picking out white (using "blanco" as the cue). This points directly at the contrast issue. The carpet is a sort-of dark gray (I guess you could call it "medium gray") and the white stands out tremendously. The blue was also on his bed, which is lighter colored. He seemed a little better at finding the blue color in this case. Putting it back on the carpet, though, and it was more of a challenge.

The same occurred when I put the colors on my bed. The dark red sheets on the bed probably look just like the carpet, which brings up the same issues with the blue. In fact, he could see the white color so well, he would pick it up when I called "azul" in hopes of being right! He was like "I can SEE this one, isn't it the one you want?"

When I swapped out the blue for the yellow, he could find the yellow better. Another notch in the contrast theory. The yellow stands out much more than the blue in all cases.

This makes me think it's a combination of the lighting (perhaps not strong enough) and the colors in the room as well. I don't think, yet, the sound of the cues ("azul" vs "amarillo") is making the difference at this point. After all, he gets "abres" and "abajo" and "arriba" just fine, even if I use them in ambiguous contexts (like saying "abajo" near a door)

The strips of rabbit skin

The light levels in the pictures attempt to illustrate my thinking with light level impacting our progress. The top picture was taken with no flash, and is a better representation of the light level in the room. The bottom was with flash. The blue especially comes through much better with the higher light level. The other colors seem more rich as well. The shadows also disappeared (granted, the flash was right near the objects so I don't know how well that effect can be reproduced "naturally), and I know shadows are something dogs see well (it's how they detect and track movement so well, they can see the change in the shadowing on an object as it moves).

I could try this in a brighter room, like the living room, where there's more natural light coming in. The natural light could also do more to help his vision (dog eyes might work best only with natural light - could be the UV rays in the color spectrum, etc, that artificial light doesn't really give off.) I would take this outside, but then I think I'll be fighting more than just the colors.

May be on to something, and best thing is that there's hope yet for teaching colors to him!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Object Discrimination 4: Introducing Circle and Square Together

Today, we worked on the circle and square together for the first time. There wasn't any "testing" of the concept yet, just getting him to start seeing a difference between the two and that they have their own names and that each name relates to just that one object.

Much like in earlier lessons, the objects were pointed at while I said the name, in this case either "circulo" or "cuadrado". I also made sure to say the words very distinctly, sort of trying to give him a hint along the way and hopefully to get him to listen to the sound instead of just being so eager to run off and touch something.

I do think he's getting the hang of things relatively well with these shapes. When working just one shape at a time, he started to look for the shape so he's getting the idea of what each one looks at, it's just the names we need to drill more. It doesn't help work has been a pain lately, cutting into our training time.

With next week's "All-Positive Monday" I might work with all four of the objects, "hueso" (bone), "pelota" (ball), "circulo" (circle) and "cuadrado" (square). This would be the first time more than two objects have been presented to him, so I'll move slowly and try to make it as clear as possible for him.

Hopefully, this weekend, I'll have a chance to review the two shapes and the other two objects. I've also considered making "flash cards" for these as well, like with the colors. Or perhaps even cut out shapes, that way he's looking at the actual shape instead of the shape on a card. The question there is - can I make it big enough, but if he can see a piece of kibble or a treat, he should be able to see cut out shapes.

First, though, is getting him more confident in the problem at hand. I can't get too far ahead of myself!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Focus Work. Focus, Wally! Focus!

One area Wally certainly needs more work in is in focusing on what he needs to do. So often, he gets distracted because he's so...curious (read: nosy) about what's going on around him. It is even worse if it's a dog or person as he's paying so much attention on where they are.

What much of the day of training was today was just him staring at me, maintaining eye contact for a certain amount of time, then getting rewarded.

This is ridiculously hard for him. I think I'm going to make this a focus (no pun intended) of training for a while. Also work with him looking at me first thing if we stop walking and keep looking at me. Sometimes, he'll look at me, but then if I don't look at him, I can see him in the corner of my eye looking around. Other times, he's too busy trying to find something (likely cats under cars) to where he doesn't look up at me for some time.

I do plan to have a new cue for focusing ("mires" a form of the Spanish verb for "look" or "watch"), but for now, I'll probably approach it from a shaping type method where he has to figure out what he needs to do.

The other part will have to come form me remembering to do it! With the things we're working on, sometimes "simple" behaviors like this get left out of my mind. I will have to really consider a "basics training day" along the lines of the "all positive monday" - that would help me get more on top of it.

Looks like we both have some work to do. Nothing new there!