Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Training in Real Life

It is always SO much fun to see your training pay off in real life! Last night, about 1:00am I was still up, busy working on some stuff, ignoring the dogs. Elo had to go out and I was ignoring him. Finally I finished what I was doing and went to let the dogs out one last time before bed. We got the entry way and I saw a puddle where Elo had peed. Totally my fault, but I didn't want any of the dogs to step in it and track it all over as I was cleaning it up.

We had previously worked a couple times on an "out of the kitchen" command, basically boundary work, teaching the dogs to stay in the living room and not cross the threshhold to the kitchen, which borders the entry way. Rather than fend the dogs off while I cleaned up, I decided to give the command a try, and it was a success!! The dogs stayed in the living room (with periodic treats), I cleaned up, nobody tried to cross the threshhold, and it was a happy night!

Ah, little victories!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nose v. Paw Target - Part Three

Last time, when I left off, I had observed that, when switching back and forth between nose and paw touches in a single session, Elo generally offered the behavior that was previously being rewarded, regardless of the command given. I had noticed though, that he seemed to always get the very first one right, and had decided to move to single-rep sessions. Well, my initial observations seemed to be a fluke. When we moved to single-rep sessions, Elo generally remembered what command I had asked for the last time we worked the target and just gave me the same one. At this point, I was ready to call it quits, for a couple reasons.

First, I was getting bored with the whole thing. Second, I've noticed that Elo does not seem to be a very verbally-inclined dog in general. He is HIGHLY sensitive to context, changes in my body position, tone of voice, position the room, etc. Numerous factors seem to affect his ability to respond to verbal commands in general, such that even after almost four months with me, he still sometimes has a hard time with "sit" and "lie down," and he often mixes up other commands that result in similar behavior (for example, rolling over v. putting his chin down on the floor). By contrast, the border collies (well, the hearing border collie anyway, though the deaf one does the same with hand signals) easily pick up verbal commands and associate them with behaviors, most of the time filtering out other contextual information, and are much better at generalizing of the signal and context are not exactly the same each time. How much more difficult, then must the nose/paw distinction be for Elo, when the target is not always in exactly the same place relative to my body or his body. When sometimes I ask for a target behavior when he is sitting, sometimes when he lying down, and sometimes when he is standing. When he sometimes looking and me and sometimes at the target when I give the command. When my tone varies. And on top of all of that, the occasional mis-timed or erroneous click when I think he's going for it with his paw, but ends up using his nose instead. Poor confused little dog!

I decided to keep working it, at least now and then. Laura posted some great tips on teaching distinguishing behaviors that I'm going to try to take into account. I've gone back to multi-command sessions, switching back and forth. Could have been luck, but last night I asked for step/touch/step touch and Elo scored 100%. In the mean time, I've learned something really important about Elo's method of processing information and his learning style that will hopefully help me improve his training and the training of future dogs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Manners and Object Discrimination

In the spirit of teaching manners, I've been working with all three dogs on taking treats GENTLY rather than alligatoring my fingers off. They all KNOW how to do this. But when we're working on something other than taking treats nicely, the behavior goes away, and I end up with sore fingers. It's my fault, cause I don't demand it, cause I really don't care that much. The giving the treat part is boring, I want it to be quick and on to the next training thing. That is, until somebody chomps my fingers particularly hard, or until Elo manages to wedge one of his needle-sharp canines under a fingernail, which he does often. So my criteria has changed (for now, we'll see how long this lasts) and the dogs are now required to take treats gently, every time.

In FUN training news, I've started some object discrimination work with Jun. Having never done this before, I'm making it up as I go along, as usual. Two things I would like her to be able to pick out by name, for starters, are my keys and her leash. I started by putting two objects on the ground (keys and another random object) and clicked for a nose touch on the keys. Then I switched to keys and a different random object, then I added more random objects, varied the location of the keys, put other objects on top of keys, put all the objects in a pile, spread the objects out, etc. Right now, she is pretty reliable at picking the keys out of any set of objects, and retreiving them. I would like to be able to send her on a hunt for the keys, thus setting her up to be able to find my keys when they are lost, but that's a way's off. I started the process for the leash last night. The hard part, I think, will be having the leash AND the keys out together and having her reliably retrieve the correct object. I'm hoping it will be a little easier than the nose/paw touch distinctions which I am still working on with Elo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Picture This . . .

. . . since it was too dark to take an actual picture in my house and, really, to get the full picture it would have to be more of a video. But then, it would be an awfully boring video . . .

Three dogs, Mr. I Stress Out on Stays, Ms. Perpetual Motion, and The New Guy. Ten minute down-stay, all three lined up in a row. Rewards for each dog every 30 seconds to a minute. Not a single bicker over treats. Not A SINGLE Break!!!!!! Not even a close call!!!! How did that happen? I have no idea, since I really don't think any of them have ever done a ten minute stay in their lives. But I was very happy with them. Good Dogs!!

Once again, Laura has inspired me! I've really been lacking on the motivation/inspiration lately, especially when it comes to Lok (whose combintation of vision loss and personality have been making it extremely difficult to teach him anything new) so this is good.

One thing I have largely failed at as a dog trainer is teaching my dogs practical skills and manners. Sure, they know tons of tricks. Sure, they behave at home and can show off at obedience class. Yet, not a single one of them can walk nicely on a leash and Lok is the only one I would even remotely trust to down-stay in public, and not for very long. (All the dogs recall perfectly (well, probably not Elo in public, yet, though he does pretty well) but, let's be real, they're border collies, big deal.) So we've been working on these things, with Jun in particular. Lok stresses in public and tends to tune me out, then I get frustrated and he tunes me out even more. We need to work on that first. But I really want to work more with the dogs on manners and practical skills. I won't say it's a "goal" exactly, because it's not concrete and I'm not sure exactly where I want to go with it. I want Jun to walk nicely on a gentle leader. I want to try a front-clip harness with Lok and see if I can get him to walk nicely on that. The tuning out problem is a big part of why I've never been able to teach LLW to Lok. I'd like both of them to be able to sit/down and stay in public wherever we are, and have that solid enough that I can trust them completely for a minute or two, at first.

And one other totally unrelated, random thing . . . forever I've wanted to teach a dog to "put their toys away" or put things into a box or other container. It's completely unreasonable for me to ask Lok to do it (though this amazing video tells me I may just have an attitude problem--p.s., the lady in this vid is hilarious! obnoxious, but hilarious!), but the other night I finally taught Jun! We were getting nowhere with teaching her to blow bubbles in a bowl of water, but is great at retreiving and she was solid at putting her head in the bowl. It took no time at all for her to combine the two skills and have the idea down of retreiving an object and putting into a container!! Sweet!! My little genius!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nose v. Paw Target - Part Two

I'm still working with Elo on learning to discriminate between a command for targeting an object with his nose (touch) and targeting an object with his foot (step). When I last posted, I was working one command at a time, asking for several repetitions of that behavior, taking a break to work something else, then working several repetitions of the other command. Each time I switched from one command to the other, Elo would start offering the behavior we had worked on previously, before figuring out I wanted the other one. So, for example, if we had started working on "step," when we switched to working on "touch," he would offer "step" the first couple times.

I've since gone on to asking for both behaviors within one session. I'll ask for a few paw touches, then a few nose touches. Occasionally E gets it right, but usually when I switch commands, E still offers the previous behavior before realizing we've switched. I have found though, that he usually gets the very first command of the session right! So for the past couple days, I've been working only on single-rep touches and steps. I start out my training session, put Elo in a sit, put the target down a couple feet away from him, get his attention, ask him for either a step or touch. If he gets it right, that's it, we are done with targeting for the day! If not, "oops" (NRM), no reward, back in a sit, try again. As soon as he gets it right, we're done. So far, I think I'm getting better results this way, but it's only been a couple days, so we'll see.