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

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Monday, August 29, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 22" - Building Desire In Catching And Carrying

With Wally more and more interested in catching things, and getting a bit better at it, I took part of the day to have Wally like the ball even more.

I want him to do anything he can to get the ball in his mouth. To do this, I turned to shaping-type activity.

The behavior I want is him getting the ball in his mouth. Once he did this, he got a reward for it. Nothing happens with any other behavior. Nothing else is good enough, no pawing, poking, pushing the ball, just picking it up.

I went through about a dozen of these and then switched to a more active scenario. I rolled the ball, and he had to go get it, but without me saying so. I want it to be the default behavior. See ball moving...get ball in mouth.

Our prior working on retrieve training interferes with this as he is used to waiting for the cue to go after whatever it is. I want to frame this differently, so he can understand the difference between the two activities. That is something for me to think on.

After doing this, I held the ball in my hand and moved it around. He had to try to grab the ball. Again, all of this in an effort to get him to go into "Must. Get. Ball. In. Mouth." mode. Each time he succeeded, he got a click and a reward. I also kept getting him and keeping him excited the whole time, which had him increasing his efforts.

However, it didn't stop with just the ball. Also on the agenda was developing his "pick up and carry" desire. Since we had been working with getting the ball in his mouth, this would be a good follow up since it's also involving getting objects in his mouth.

This is a little more difficult since he's not as apt to carry a lot of things, but I used the ball again. Instead of catching the ball, he had to pick it up and carry it to me. Success netted him a game with the ball. That would be the reward I used for this set of exercises.

After getting him warmed up with the ball, I used other light household items, like a duster, balled up napkins, stirring spoons, and so on. Hopefully, this could be the precursor to other actions like putting the object in a box and moving him further along in becoming something of a "housework dog".

Saturday, August 27, 2011

English For Wally: "Speak"

While a lot of plans for training today are halted thanks a lot to Irene, we did get to do something with reading.

We worked on "Speak". I held up the card to Wally and said "Speak!" when I did. If he didn't bark, I showed it to him again, moving it to get his attention and said "Speak" again.

Eventually, he barked which got him a reward. Did it again, and again he wanted to touch the card and all of that. But he did bark - and again another reward. He started barking more often after this point, and I wanted him to bark at the card so that he's looking at it while barking and getting the click.

I am hoping that helps him make the connection between what's on the card, what I'm saying, and then he's able to get it. Of course, it's going to be an on-going process and this is just start of getting him into the exercise in general, let alone getting the concept.

This also gave him something to do with all that energy and how he usually gets when he's wet...which is hyper. He's been more subdued overall. Fortunately, he doesn't seem to care at all about the storm, which is good. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wally To Ground, "Please Stop Moving."

You probably heard about the earthquake that hit Virginia. Well, being in Virginia, not terribly close to the quake center, but close enough to feel it significantly, Wally went crazy when it started.

He didn't want to walk at all, even after it was over. He was scared it would start moving again. Fortunately, he was able to calm down about a couple hours later.

While it was going on, I took his mind off what was happening as best as possible (not easy with house rattling and ground shaking). We played some games, tried to get him into his catching, which worked a bit. We also did some simple training, just anything to get him to think about something else but the quake as much as possible.

Then the aftershocks. While they aren't much to worry over for us humans, he's still looking at the ground when it happens. (One just happened as I'm writing this, but luckily, he's sleep and it was quick so he may not have felt it). They don't worry him as much, but they catch him off guard.

Wally certainly does not like the ground under him moving. I don't even like to move a rug while he's on it, or his bed while he's on it. That might just be a dog thing in general, not liking their feet moving or the ground under them moving - it might be something all us land-based creatures don't like.

For what it's worth, the fish in house didn't really care about the whole thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 21" - Saga of the New Floor

Well, Wally's world got thrown upside down a couple days ago. My mom (Wally's owner) changed her floor drastically, and it confused Wally completely. While he didn't get into full fearful mode, he was noticeably uncertain.

So much of the last few days has been spent getting him comfortable with the floor and showing him that nothing really changed in regards to him.

It also didn't help that she put some rocks along the entrances of the rooms and had me put down a new tile design on the floor. That added to things to get him used to. Fortunately, though, he's come a LONG way from the way he used to be, so this was not nearly as hard as it could have been.

Much of the training was playing lots of games and getting him to eat tidbits of food off the rocks and the bench on the side of the hall. I also wanted to get him to move eagerly along the hall so that he could understand that the floor tiles and such are still easy for him to move on. I think over time he will love the floor, since the more slippery linoleum is gone.

This was a case where "all-positive training" really works. It technically is not under operant conditioning, but more desensitization, part of classical conditioning (think Pavlov's dog).

The work was successful as now he's sniffing the rocks as he goes by, just in case there's some food there! We kept up with the having him walk on just his back paws as usual, and all his usual routines and jobs are still there, though the change in the floor color did create a screwing up with his keeping out of the kitchen behavior.

What happened is that "dividing line" to him was, in part, the change between the white linoleum flooring and the brown tile of the kitchen. Now the floor is brown and it looks too much like the kitchen tile, so it's a bit confusing for him at the moment. We'll have to reteach it, so he can pick up on another landmark.

In all, it wasn't hard, but it was something of a setback and something to deal with a bit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

PE for Wally 3: Wally The Outfielder?

Today, we did more with catching, and this time I used a new object. For this session, we played with a black and white baseball.

Immediately, I noticed a more keen reaction to the ball. Perhaps the different colors on the ball made it easy for him to track the baseball's movements. With the disc, sometimes it seemed he couldn't pick it up very well.

It may be a height issue as well. With the ball, I throw it underhand, so it may enter and stay within his vision for longer time, helping him track it in the air. Whatever the reason, he was going after it aggressively in the air.

He has a harder time grabbing it, sometimes it pops out of his mouth, or he misjudges it, and it bounces off his nose. Sometimes, I swear he's trying to catch it with his paws! He seems to be coming up with a way to catch it more reliably, by moving towards it a bit. Perhaps he's trying to understand how to catch the ball at it's highest point.

His enthusiasm is still strong when I do shorter tosses (short as in: about a foot from him, if that). He jumps up high, sometimes making a twisting landing. He hangs on to the ball, though, and I started doing some of those tosses in more rapid succession. He liked doing these, so I'll definitely do more with him. These shorter tosses are easy to do indoors as well, making for more chances to practice.

I've considered using a smaller ball (like his tiny soccer ball) so it's easier to catch, but then again he can catch this ball. He just has to learn to judge it and adjust to the throws.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 20" - First Word: Sit

The beginning of 'reading' for Wally began with using the "Sit" card. I picked this one as it is a behavior that is simple and beyond learned.

This is also makes it a very good exercise for an all-positive session since he is unlikely to get a sit wrong as this stage of things.

We began with showing him the card and when he was looking at it, I cued "sit". There's some refinement to make later because he came up to the card, sniffed/touched it, then sat. I click and treated and will worry about the refinements later on.

This went easily. Click and treat when he sits and use his touching the card to get him to stand up again, so I can cue another sit. Click and treat again and then repeat. I think part of him is trying to figure out what's going on because he's moving somewhat slowly, but not because he's scared. I think the whole situation is confusing him and he might be wondering why he's having to sit.

I think he will get the idea, especially with more repetitions. I hope to get some time to really drill this in his head and fill up his brain with this.

The early returns indicate that he will be able to pick this skill up, and that's all I'm looking for on the first day. It's a very promising sign!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

English For Dogs: Can Wally "Read"?

An idea I have gotten lately is to try to teach Wally to "read" words on a card and perform the behavior written on them.

I'm curious to see if I can teach this to him, and how well Wally will be able to grasp this. I haven't started yet as I'm thinking of way I want to do it. I'm guessing the most direct way would be the best, as in: show card, say the verbal cue, and then reward when (if) he does the behavior.

Then again, the shaping approach is always pulling at me, but I don't think it would work for all of them, and it may slow down learning in this case. We shall see, I suppose!

The first four words are pictured below on the "cards" (I printed them on the shiny side of 4" x 6" photo paper.)

Wally's first four words to read.

I'm excited for this! I may hold of until Monday to do it for the "All-Positive Monday" (I know I missed it this week - circumstances out of my control, unfortunately) and it would give me a couple more days to think and do some research on methods others have used.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wally's New Bed: A Dog's Life?

Not too long ago, Wally finally got a real, legit dog bed.

Wally, the Coton, resting after training sessions with the amateur dog trainer.
Here, see the Coton, named Wally, resting after a long day of messing with the amateur dog trainer's (read: my) head during training sessions.

As you can see, it's a nice-sized bed.  He took to the bed immediately, which is unusual since he is usually wary around large objects. With the bed, though, he warmed up to it immediately ever since he first put a paw on it, literally. He put a paw on it, paused for a moment, and then climbed on and promptly lied down.

Wally looking up at me after taking the last picture, awakened by the flash of the camera.
It looks like the camera flash caught the attention of Wally, and now I have drawn his interest. I can only wonder what is in his mind.
Even when I picked up the bed (after having to coax him off of it!), he started following the bed, and when I stopped to open the door to take it downstairs, he kept sniffing the bed. This is really out of character or him because he very rarely shows interest in big things picked up and moving around. This bed really has captivated him.

Wally is curious, but is staying on his bed.
While his interest is aroused, Wally is reluctant to move from his comfortable resting spot and watches with a slightly-lazy curiosity.

He sleeps on his nice new bed almost as much as his favorite corner in my room. Almost. I guess comfy beds are great and he'll gladly take it, but nothing beats an old, familiar spot he's slept in since he's been here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

PE for Wally 2: Catch Practice

I recently discovered that Wally has shown an interest in catching and isn't terrible considering we've never really put much interest into it. Still, though, he seems to want to catch things and gets all excited about the chance to do so.

To that end, I got him a small blue disc, designed for dogs of course, that is rubber and soft on his mouth.

First thing I always want to do with him is introduce the object in a calm way and praise for interaction with it. Then slowly increase excitement level and play around with it with him. I want to do this to remove any concerns he may have about the object and have him desiring the object. This will come in handy.

Fortunately, he took to the disc VERY quickly. This is surprising to me, but I'm glad for it! He's already trying to grab it when I hold the disc in my hand. If I move it around, he's trying to bite it and all of that. A lot of desire for the disc already.

With that out of the way, I'm "throwing" the disc from a very short distance. This serves a dual purpose: 1) I can see how he tries to catch, tracks the object, and how he prefers to make the catch. 2) I can learn how to deliver the disc to give him a higher chance of success. This is a new thing for me, too, so I have stuff to learn and improve on as well.

This is where we are at now and we're both having fun with it. Hopefully, this gets us off on the right foot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

PE for Wally 1: Hopping and Jumping

For the first attempt at bringing in physical aspects for him, I decided to try his hopping and jumping, and trying to get him to get better at both.

Hopping is just a matter of trying to capture it, but he needs to do it more consistently to make that more likely. For now, he still needs something to motivate him to try reaching. I didn't want to use food as the lure as this is a good chance to make an object more rewarding and desirable.

I used one of his rabbit skin strips, and he was certainly attracted! After a bit of teasing, he stood up on his back legs, but didn't make any hops.

I encouraged him to "get it" and he did start hopping. I lifted the object up more and moved it around to get him really tracking it. Once he hopped up to get it, I let go and let him shake it. Then I gave him a click and a treat and started again. Now, he was twice as into it, and started getting higher off the ground and hopping more steadily. Still need some work, but this was a good effort, and I didn't want to wear him out for the jumping.

Now the jumping, that's a different story. He wasn't certain of it, and I think part of this is because he's lost judging the distance past the jump. I think he was as much uncertain of that as he was of the hoop again.

He tried to go around the hoop, like he did way back in the beginning. After much urging, he started jumping through the hoop. I clicked while he was in the air going through the hoop, and rewarded him when he landed.

He got more motivated, but still, he was hesitant. Looks like this is something that will really need to work on to get him back where he used to be comfortable with the hoop.

He also used to jump "in" the hoop and then back "out" the hoop if I held it a little above the floor and flat. This time, though, he totally refused.

That's good, though, because it shows me where he needs work and what we need to keep working on, and that means more chances for the both of us to grow.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"All-Positive Monday 19" - Reading For Wally?

I got an idea from this post on a dog forum I visit often, and it made me want to see if Wally could get started with this.

I figure that it could be another way to teach object discrimination to him as well, and who knows what other cool things.

First, though, we have to start at the beginning. The first thing to do was make him look at the paper. So, every time he looked at the paper, he got a click and a reward. I kept working on this where he got a click and treat every time he looked at the paper and did nothing else.

Hopefully, this will be both a reward history around being shown a sheet of paper (gets him anticipating doing something for the reward) as well as draw his eyes to the paper instantly and with focus. This is going to take some time in all likelihood since a piece of paper is not going to be the most exciting thing ever.

This is a good thing to work on for an "All-Positive" day, since there's nothing to really correct. If the dog isn't looking at the paper, then just move the paper around to get his attention with the motion. He'll get the point over time. I don't want to rush this step because this is the foundation of the whole skill. It would be like trying to read a book without having enough focus to read the pages or motivated enough to read the book and your mind and eyes start wandering.

With some patience and time, maybe Wally can start 'reading' :)