Saturday, October 22, 2011

Come to Me

Come is an essential skill that may save your dog's life; it'll certainly save you gray hair. Much of it won't be formal recall training as such, instead you'll just work it into daily life together. Take great care to make sure coming to you pays well and often, and that it rarely results in the end of fun. Usually it just means come and get a treat and then go back to what you are doing. Sometimes it means come have fun with me.

The crucial elements the way I teach a recall are to protect the value of the cue, classically condition it at every opportunity, pay well and practice, practice, practice.

Important things about recalls 
If you follow this process and keep on using all those free recall opportunities, your dog will always want to come to you.
  • The primary recall cue for all of my dogs is their name. When I say their name I want them to turn their attention to me and then come to me. Later I will add other cues as recalls, such as "come" and "puppy". I rarely use those, except to train them and keep them fresh as recall cues. I teach those in case my dog gets out of the yard; someone who doesn't know her name is likely to use one of those.
  • Its very important to protect your dog's good association to hearing her name. So never use your dog's name to scold him or stop him from doing something.
  • Never use your dogs name to call her for something unpleasant, like a bath. I admit that sometimes you'll slip up, but be as careful as you can humanly be.
  • It is important that your dog always go back to play after a recall during walks or play sessions, so that you set up the idea that coming to you is a great opportunity to get a reward before going back to exploring. Coming to you is not the loss of good things.
  • If you know your dog is distracted and likely to have difficulty responding to the recall, pair it with running away (call and run away simultaneously), using your motion to strengthen the cue. Because your dog wants to be with you this ensures success.
  • Sometimes when you call your dog, run away as she heads toward you - so that the chase becomes part of the game, part of the reward. If your dog loves to play with you, a good game of chase is always fun.
  • Use very high value treats to reward the best recalls. Other times use less-valuable rewards. Try not to over-use your high value treat or you'll devalue it. Other times use other valuable rewards. So even though every recall is rewarded, its still on a variable system of rewards because the rewards change.
  • Practice success. On a slow day, you'll want to do 50 recalls a day. You want to practice this a LOT.
How to teach the recall
  • Start with bathroom recalls (bathrooms are boring and small, so you are surely THE most interesting thing going). Say your dog's name and stick a treat in her mouth - without requiring a response from her. Your dog will learn quickly that hearing that special word means good things and very soon she will be glued to you. Do 100 bathroom recalls each day for five days (20 at a time, in five short sessions).
  • Then repeat that recall training in other rooms in the house - bedroom, kitchen and living room. Now there is one important change. Say your dog's name and stick a treat in her mouth - without requiring a response from her. Then throw a treat behind her and say "yours". When she turns to get the thrown treat she is resetting herself for the next recall. When she has eaten or is eating the treat and while she is still facing away from you, say her name and be prepared to give her another treat when she comes.
If you do the bathroom recalls followed by three other rooms, five days each and 100 repetitions a day - you've already done two thousand recalls! You have established a great foundation for a very reliable recall.

Remember - your goal is to get in a minimum of fifty recalls a day. That sounds like a lot, but it really only takes a few minutes of active training. Also, many of those recalls (as I describe here) are just a matter of being mindful of the possibilities.

Its also a matter of being prepared to reward your puppy any time and anywhere you are. In my own house I have small custard cups containing treats that won't spoil stashed safely out of reach in every room of the house (yes even the bathroom). If I'm going to be outside working in the yard, I get prepared by stashing some small containers with treats in the tops of a couple bushes and a few other places.

Gimme here: I always follow my person around and wait for a chance to come when she calls me. She knows where all the food and other goodies are. Sometimes we run from the front yard to the back door, through the porch into the kitchen and she gets me something delicious from the refrigerator. My person is the keeper of all things wonderful and hanging out with her is the best place to be.

Expand the recall concept
  • Start by training the recalls just as you did in the bedroom, kitchen and living room, but now in places outside your home. Do that same training in your front yard, back yard, and garage. If you take your puppy with you to a friend's house, do the training in their yard, house, garage.
  • Give your dog treats for checking in voluntarily (initially treats every time, later random treats but still petting and praise). "Check-ins" are any time that your dog has his focus on something other than you and then turns to see what you are doing.
  • When you see your dog coming toward you to check in, call her name - using that opportunity to strengthen the association.
  • If you have other dogs, do group recalls at home. When all the dogs are sitting in front of you, each one gets a treat.
  • Use your dog's name to call her when she is already coming to you for anything she wants. You know when she wants a snuggle, is getting ready to climb on the couch, any time she is following you around... any of these can be used as an informal recall opportunity. This is classical conditioning at its finest.
  • Use your dog's name to call her for a good game of tug (or other play) a couple times a day.
  • When working in the yard, call her randomly for treats. Sometimes because you have a ball or a stick to throw.
When you have done the things recommended above for about three weeks, its time to take it on the road. You alone know the area you live in and whether you have access to truly safe places to train your dog off leash. If you don't have those places, you can still train, but you'll have to be more careful.

You will want to purchase a 30 foot light line (such as parachute cord) and tie a clip to one end, then fold over and tie a knot to make a loop on the other end. This line is a management tool, it is not a training tool. The idea is to use the line to keep your dog safe and help him be successful. The point is - you won't be using it to correct your dog for a failure to come when called. Also, do not use a long line where other dogs are running free, since they can become entangled in the line.
  • If you have access to a safe off-leash environment and your puppy is young, you can start training there right away. A dog that has a lot of structured safe freedom early on, isn't as likely to be reluctant to give it up. They always know there will be more free walks and so are always happy to get in the car after walks. So, if at all possible, arrange for plenty of free walks early in life.
  • Whenever you are walking your dog in an area suitable for free walks, attach the long line and let him go snoop around and be a dog. Do a lot of random recalls, which are heavily reinforced and then encourage your dog to go back to exploring. Use a balance of recalls and free time.
  • If your dog starts becoming too independent during free walks and is going too far away for your comfort zone, then start playing you-lost-me. If your dog goes out of sight, you hide. If she clearly isn't keeping an eye on you, hide. Hide behind trees, bushes, or stumps, or lay down in a depression in the ground or in tall grass. When she finds you, say her name and give her a treat and a hug. This isn't really formally associated with a recall, so much as it strengthens her desire to be with you and certainly encourages her to keep an eye on you. After awhile you won't be able to hide, because your dog will watch you so carefully.
  • If you call your dog and she doesn't come, then do not repeat the cue. Instead casually pick up the long line and walk your hands up the line until you are within 6 feet of your dog (allowing the other 24 feet of line to drag on the ground behind you). Then start training, to get your dog focused on you again. Train check ins, loose leash walking, eye contact game, on leash recalls, sits, downs - whatever your dog knows. Walk for short while holding the line and gradually playing out more and more line. Practice a few more recalls and then casually drop the line and continue as if nothing has changed.
  • When you are able to arrange play dates with suitable dogs, do recalls there too. Give your dog a cookie and send him back to play with playmates.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Putting Behaviors on Cue

Reward based trainers only add cues and verbal releases to behaviors when we are 80% certain the dog will do the behavior in the form we want it. If you put a cue on a lesser version and then teach a better way to do it, when you cue for the behavior, the dog won't know which you want. If you have already put a cue on a lesser version, then put a new cue on the improved version.

Clicker trainers use the term "cue" instead of the traditional obedience term "command" as a contrast between positive reward based training and compulsion training. A "cue" is a signal to the dog to do something to earn reinforcement; while a "command" is an order or directive, with an implied "or else" to it.

Usually the dog has already picked up a subtle hand/body cue and we are only adding a verbal cue. The cue is a word that you will use consistently to tell the dog that this is the time to perform the behavior. It helps if the cue is something easy for you to remember.

  • The cue word must be short and used consistently. It need not be related to what the dog is to do. For instance, you could use "howdo" for a handshake instead of the usual "shake" cue. In this case the cue could be used in part of a sentence, such as "How do you do", making your dog look very smart.
  • The cue should have a distinctive sound that is unlike other cues. For instance, "down" and "bow" sound a lot alike.
  • You cannot have more than one behavior for one cue, but...
  • You can have more than one cue for a behavior. So you could teach multiple cues for a behavior, maybe in other languages, to show that your dog is "multi-lingual".
  • An easier way to accomplish this is to teach your dog to respond to a very subtle hand/body cues... and then he only needs to know that one cue and you can have any number of languages that he "knows" without additional training.
  • Also teaching hand/body cues allows you to let a child or another person have the illusion that they are getting the dog to do something, while you are actually cueing the dog.
  • The verbal release cue is used to tell the dog that he is finished for the moment and can move out of the position. We want to tell the dog when he is finished rather than let him decide for himself. Choose a word that you don’t use much in casual conversation, such as "OKAY" or "FREE" said in a bright, cheery voice.
How to put behavior "on cue"

In this process I say "between 5 and 30 times" repeatedly. In the beginning when you add cues to behaviors, you will need to do it 30 times. Then as you add cues to more and more behaviors, your dog will understand the process and it will take less and less repeating. You can add additional cues by saying the new cue before saying the old cue.

Gimme here: I was taught in class to go to my matt and lay down when my person said "matt". One day the instructor asked if I could be a demo dog. I love to show off, so my person said "yes", but she didn’t know exactly what the demo would be. First we showed the class that I knew "matt". Then our instructor played a doorbell sound on her computer right before my person said the cue. The third time this happened, I headed right for the matt, because I knew what was coming next. I’m very smart. I’m just saying.
  • Begin by saying the cue just as your dog does the behavior. ONLY SAY THE CUE ONE TIME! After you have used the cue in this way between 5 and 30 times, then -
  • Start saying the cue as your dog starts the behavior. After you have used the cue in this way between 5 and 30 times, then –
  • Now start saying the cue just before your dog starts the behavior. After you have used the cue in this way between 5 and 30 times, it is time to test your dog to see that she knows the cue.
To test, give the cue before your dog is thinking of doing the behavior and if she does the behavior within a couple seconds, then you know she understands that hearing the cue means it’s her chance to win a treat. If not, repeat the process of attaching the cue.

Targeting - Details to Teach Basics

It's a good idea to teach a full set of basic targeting behaviors. I explain in detail here how to teach hand target (touch), foot target (target), and race to target (go). Not all of these steps will be necessary for every dog. Likewise, you may not need to train to the full level of detail I have described, based on your needs and goals.

Remember, you can also teach your dog to nose target and follow a target stick, anti-target, and to target other body parts, such as her paw on your foot. Foot targeting is the beginning of teaching your dog how to play flyball. It can also be a great way to exercise your dog.

Teaching target to your hand – touch

Extend your hand in front of your dog's face a couple of inches away and click/treat for any interest. Most dogs will start with a full touch to investigate what you may have in that hand, if not click/treat for any interest from a glance to a head turn. Click whatever you get and continue from there until you are getting full repeated touches with your hand directly in front of your dog.

If your dog shows no interest then you can squeeze a small bit of food between your fingers to stimulate interest; this is not preferred, as you will then have to fade the food.

When your dog is repeatedly touching your hand held right in front of her nose, work through the following:

  • move hand farther away in small increments until your dog has to stretch to touch it. click/treat for any effort to stretch out and touch the hand and gradually shape for more.
  • other positions, such as to either side or up and down from your dog's head, requiring greater head movement to touch your hand.
  • different positions of your hand (be sure to use either and/or both hands) and the dog relative to your body, i.e. not always with the dog in front of you or an outstretched hand in front of you or on one side.
  • work for multiple touches before click/treat (don't always make this harder and harder, rather vary randomly)
Now gradually encourage your dog to follow your hand, first one step, then more steps.
  • in the hand following phase your dog need not actually touch your hand, but rather actively follow/chase your hand, but not jumping to touch it.
  • gradually move your hand up from in front of the dog to a position comfortable for you to maintain while moving normally
  • gradually extend the distance the dog must move before the click/treat
  • either leaving your dog on a sit/wait or having someone restrain your dog, move away then call your dog and extend just one hand and click/treat for the dog orienting to and following the extended hand.
  • work toward having the dog looking for, finding/orienting on and following whichever hand is extended regardless of where you are, how far, or your relative position to the dog
Teach your dog to follow one hand and then switch to another smoothly
  • with your dog coming in to one hand held at the front of the body, slide the other hand in to join it, then move the second hand out away from you while smoothly fading the first hand up the front of your body. your dog must follow the second hand - do this repeatedly switching from either hand to the other and back again
  • practice this same maneuver with your dog coming from either side and from behind - this will require you to rotate your body so that the dog ends up on the other side of you
Teaching send to plastic target - "target"
Use a plastic margarine lid as your target. Hold it in front of your dog's face a couple of inches away and click/treat for any interest. Depending on your dog "any interest" may be anything from a glance toward the target through a full touch. Click whatever you get and continue from there until you are getting full repeated touches.

When your dog is repeatedly touching the target held directly in front, move it slightly further until he has to stretch to touch it, work through the following:
  • move target father away in small increments until your dog has to stretch to touch it. click/treat for any effort to stretch out and touch the target and gradually shape for more.
  • other positions, such as to either side or up and down from your dog's head, requiring greater degrees of head turn to touch target.
  • focus on holding the target below your dog's head moving closer to the ground. as you move the target to the ground, the dog may switch to paw touches, this is perfectly acceptable
  • different positions of target and the dog relative to your body, i.e. not always with the dog and target hand in front of you, on one side or with the dog facing toward you as it touches
Now move target to the ground and encourage your dog to turn away from you and touch the target, first one step, then more steps.
  • the best way to increase distance is to gradually take small steps back and away while your dog is turned away from you and going toward the target.
  • don't let your dog fake you out and start abbreviating the send to the target
  • if your dog starts running around the target to face back to you before touching, reduce the distance and/or use barriers to prevent a turn before touching.
Then teach your dog to go over or through an obstacle to get to the target
  • start by sending your dog between two jump standards to get to the target, then place a bar on the ground between the jump standards, gradually step up to a low jump, "go"
  • send to the target through short tunnels, "go tunnel"
  • place the target on a pause table, "go table"

With your dog at your side, place a piece of food on the target, making sure he knows it is there, then walk away. get ready with more treats in your outside hand, encourage your dog with "are you ready?" and send him to the target, racing him and then while telling him what a good dog he is, continue by placing the extra treats on the target one by one (never be a "one cookie wonder") -- and while feeding the treats onto the target, discreetly take your dog by collar or tab leash
  • if your dog leaves the target without waiting for the other treats, bring him back and show him the other treats he missed and then quickly continue dropping treats on the target while he's eating the others.
  • then go back and try again, if necessary put a drag line on your dog so you can limit his options by stepping on the line, though carefully - this is not intended as a punisher, only to limit options and help your dog succeed
This can be a good way to exercise your dog. You can set up several targets and stand between them. Then send your dog to a target by pointing at it (you'll need to teach this direction). When he touches the target you click, then he runs back to you for the treat. Then send the dog to one of the other targets or the same one again - keeping it random. If the dog goes to a target you didn't direct, he just doesn't get a click/treat. As you add distance, your dog will be running back and forth at your direction and getting both mental and physical exercise.  Start with just 3 feet and gradually shape to 20 feet.

Teaching race to plastic target - "go"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Conditions to Train Through

We are using the sit behavior to discuss the concept of generalization, discrimination, criteria and conditions as it applies to dog training.  Dogs can have their own funny ideas about what sit means - many dogs have the idea that sit only applies in front of the owner looking up at them. (see "direction" below).
  • Distraction - we train in a distraction free environment, but if the dog's behavior is ever going to be useful, we need him to be able to do it in the presence of distraction.
  • Destination (location) - initially we train at home in a safe and familiar place. If you want your dog to be able do what you've taught at other places so you can take him along and not have him act like a heathen, then you must train in unfamiliar locations.
  • Direction - dogs discriminate naturally, thus they make assumptions about things that we don't even notice and never intended - direction is one of those. A dog may learn only to sit facing one direction (south) or only facing the owner from in front. This happens when we fall into unconscious training patterns.
  • Duress - no one performs as well under stress as they do in a peaceful environment. However, we all need to be able to maintain an acceptable level of performance despite stress. I don't suggest that you intentionally put your dog in a state of stress to train, but do take advantage of stressful situations to gently teach your dog that performing despite stress is a good thing that he can do.

Criteria for Behaviors

We are using the sit behavior to discuss the concept of generalization, discrimination, criteria and conditions as it applies to dog training.  Dogs can have their own funny ideas about what sit means - many dogs have the idea that sit only applies in front of the owner looking up at them. (see "direction" under conditions)
  • Distinct (criteria of the behavior) - Depending on your goals, you may have different criteria for how the sit is actually done. Those who train for competitive obedience goals want the dog to sit squarely with his weight evenly balanced front to back, side to side. They also want the dog to perform the sit by tucking their bum up under them, not rocking back into a sit. Sloppy sits and rock back sits are probably okay for most pet dogs.
  • Dispatch (speed) - The time it takes the dog to respond to your cue is also important. If your dog always sits when cued, but it takes him 3 minutes to respond, this is going to be frustrating, to say the least.
  • Distance - When you teach sit, you want your dog to sit in response to your cue regardless of how far away you are from the dog.
  • Duration - Ideally you want the dog to remain seated until you tell him to do something else. A sit is not particularly useful if the dog sits and immediately pops up and runs off.
  • Delay (time between giving the cue and beginning of the behavior) - This can be really evident in a stay or wait type behavior. If you give the cue and then don't leave immediately, does your dog understand that the cue still applies? This kind of understanding has to be specifically trained for.
  • Determination (commitment/confidence) – When your dog has determination, he is committed and confident in the behavior. Its as if the dog views any other factors as part of a game that he's determined to win. This is the end result of challenge proofing (as opposed to correction proofing), his attitude will be cheeky, cocky even, gritting his teeth and saying, "No-no-no, you can't fool me."
In clicker training we only work on one criterion at a time. To begin with we would teach the dog "how" to sit and not expect the dog to sit far away or hold it for a long time and response can be slow. As we introduce the other criteria one at a time, we know that the already learned criteria may slip. Such as when working on speedy sits, we will still accept and reward a few sloppy sits. We gradually increase the dog's understanding to include in its understanding for sit all of the criteria we need and want.

After we have trained the dog to perform the behavior reliably as far as the distinct criteria, then and only then do we add a cue.  Just like the old Zenith television advertisements, "the quality goes in before the name goes on".  If you put the cue on a behavior before the distinct criteria are reliable, your dog most likely won't know exactly how to perform the behavior, even though it seems he does.  Then under stress or during distraction, he'll revert to some other form of the behavior.  So don't add the name until the quality is there.

If you have already named a substandard behavior, the best approach is to give the quality behavior a new cue.  For instance if you gave the cue "sit" to a sloppy puppy sit and now you've decided you want to do rally or obedience.  Train the dog to give you the balanced sit you want and give it a new name, such as "platz", "perch", or "squat"

Getting to Generalized Behavior

Dogs do not "generalize" well. We often think our dogs should automatically understand things because they seem so smart. Their smartness is a product of their ability to "discriminate" so well; dogs are master discriminators.

Generalize means the dog will do the behavior in any setting. So while your dog has learned to sit in the kitchen facing north, he may not understand that he's also to sit in the living room facing east.  Many dogs get punished for "not behaving" when they really don't understand what to do because they haven't learned to generalize yet.  In teaching your dog to generalize behaviors, if you change any one of the conditions the others will suffer... so it is important to plan ahead and work each of them into your training program. The more you train the different conditions and the more you teach generalizing to your dog, the faster he will learn to generalize each time around. People are good at generalizing.

Discriminate refers to a dog's ability to detect little cues about what is going to happen next. For instance, you put on running shoes and your dog gets excited because he realizes the possibility exists that he's going with you.  Put on your church clothes and he becomes subdued because he knows you are leaving and he is not going.  Carefully assess the patterns of things you do before doing other things (such as gathering dog towels and dog shampoo before giving your dog a bath) and you will be able to detect the clues your dog picked up a long time ago. Dogs are better discriminators than people.

When we talk of generalization there are multiple conditions that affect your dog's ability to perform. The conditions are distraction, destination (location), direction, and duress. Until your dog is specifically taught, he will not have generalized a behavior to be performed under these conditions.

There are also criteria that are part of a dog's performance and they can be affected by conditions. The criteria are distance, duration, dispatch (speed), distinct (criteria of the behavior), delay (time between giving the cue and beginning of the behavior) and determination (the dog's level of commitment and confidence regarding the behavior).

As you train your dog, when you change or introduce any of these D's, you should be prepared for a decrease in the dog's ability in respect to the other D's.  In discussing the ten D's, I will use the "sit" behavior as an example. I will discuss behavior criteria first since that is normally how training is done.


At home you have taught a good sit, its on cue, and you feel it is rock solid.  Your dog will promptly sit on cue, hold it for 2 minutes with you 30 feet away, despite your neighbor playing ball with his kids -- pretty solid performance.  But now you take your dog to a shopping center and discover he is slow to sit (dispatch has decreased), you can only get 5 feet away (distance), the stay may fall apart at 30 seconds (duration). Why? Because you have changed a condition the dog was comfortable with (destination) and added distractions that your dog has not trained for.

So being a savvy trainer and with all the great things you’ve learned here, you reduce your expectation in all the criteria D's while your dog learns to cope with new condition D's of location and distraction and then slowly work up from there. After a few good sessions, you are back to prompt sits on cue, held for 2 minutes with you 30 feet away, despite all the distractions.

Then some klutzy bozo tips over a shopping cart behind your dog just a few feet away and scares him.  This is duress and the whole behavior seems to fall apart. Or someone walks by with a big dog that barks or behaves aggressively, or some person in a flapping raincoat and hat acts weird, or a truck backfires nearby -- each of these could add a new element of duress.

It could equally be that your dog was already afraid of something -- say a certain breed of dog that roughed him up at a tender age and you need to be sure your dog would be able to hold the stay around that breed when you encounter them.  Again you will need to set up a training session (or several depending on the level of duress) to regain your previous level of performance.

Each dog is an individual and will have individual challenges.  Carefully assess your training as it goes along and you will identify those things that require extra attention to help your dog be all she can be.

Gimme here:  In my position as Empress of the Cosmos, it is my job to watch everything.  I am very busy keeping an eye on the whole world.  This is often in  conflict with all the fun training games I play with my person.  We play our training games in many different places several times a week.  My person knows that with practice, I will be able to keep the Cosmos safely controlled in the pad of my paw, while also winning at our training games.  I get better every time we play.

So, in summary, there are 10 D's - distance, duration, dispatch (speed), distinct (criteria of the behavior), delay, determination, distraction, destination (location), direction, and duress. Change or introduce any one and the others will suffer, so plan ahead and you can work each of them into your training program without losing ground.

Leave It

If you haven't already, teach your dog Doggy Zen before proceeding with Leave It.   You may want to wait until you have taught the other self-control exercises listed in Teaching Self-Control and especially the Mine vs. Yours game.  If you are ready to proceed with Leave It...
  • Just as you did in Doggy Zen, present your hand to the dog with a treat in it.  Lower your hand toward the floor, and in several different directions. Repeat the sequence you used in Doggy Zen (closed fist, open palm, increasing time and waiting for a release), and then move to another room, outside--wherever you can.
  • Dogs must learn to "generalize" the behavior. Just because he knows how to "leave it" in the kitchen facing north does not mean he will understand to do it in the bedroom facing east. So you back up a few steps, re-teach the behavior in each new environment, setting up for success. This usually only takes a couple of clicks to get the brain in gear in a new environment.
  • You will be adding the cue "leave it", said in a neutral voice.  Don't yell the cue, just say it calmly as if you expect your dog to do it.  Say it nicely, just as you might say, "Thank you". If you yell the cue, you are adding an additional stress factor and actually making it harder for your dog to do as you've cued.  Say it in a neutral tone, only giving him information so that he can make a choice.
  • After you have worked through all the positions and locations, you are ready to take it to another level.  Sitting right in front of your dog, put a treat on the floor, but leave your hand near the treat.  You must be ready to put your palm over the treat. Most chow hounds think "free meal" and dive in, but you don't want your dog to get the treat because it becomes a very strong "variable" reinforcement.
  • Make sure that you have a better treat to give your dog - something incredible like bits of steak or something equally tantalizing, and one pile of so-so treats, like kibl. We are teaching that turning down food, dead animals, or whatever, will cause you to give something GREAT!
  • When your dog is effectively ignoring treats on the floor, you start saying the cue words "leave it" and give treats from your great stash.
  • You will want to up the ante and walk your dog by the treats (first on leash, later off leash), and say "leave it" before you get to the treats on the floor. Be careful: do not tighten up on the leash involuntarily and make 'leave it' a punisher. The dog needs to make a choice, and make the choice you want him to make. He will, if the reinforcement is strong enough.
  • Practice this in all kinds of settings and with all kinds of distractions, making sure your dog always succeeds (i.e. no variable reinforcements for diving on food or distractions) and that your reinforcement is always better.
Gimme here: When we are training, my person leaves a bowl of scrumptious treats on a chair or the end table and sometimes on the floor.  I could get to them before she could stop me, but I know I'm not supposed to help myself.  I get lots of treats for playing training games with my person and I like doing that.  She's very generous when I do well.  Sometimes I even get treats just because I'm so cute.  Which you can clearly see is very cute indeed. 
  • Practice doing this with food on the floor while you are training and teach your dog to ignore the food while you heel by or give various cues, such as sit. If you have no formal competition desires, you can then release your dog to clean up the food or the floor with "yours", otherwise you should clean it up yourself.  Cleaning up makes a great "job" for an older, retired dog.
  • Remember the reinforcement you use could be a rousing game of fetch or tug as a reward, or any other things your dog really loves, once the concept is learned. Therefore, it doesn't always have to be just food. We use food in the initial training because it is convenient -- it's not the only reinforcer available to you.

Doggy Zen

The first part of this exercise is named "Doggie-Zen" because in order to get the treat, your dog must give up the treat. Remember "You have to give it up to get it, Grasshopper". This will eventually turn into a reliable "Leave It" for those times that your dog finds something less than desirable that you want him/her to drop and leave behind, such as questionable food, dead animals, etc.
  • Present a smelly treat to your dog in your CLOSED fist. Be prepared to WAIT, and let your dog figure this out. Your dog will sniff, lick, and maybe even paw at or nibble on your hand – from your dog's point of view, you obviously need to open that hand! What’s wrong with you?
  • If your dog is very persistent, you may need to take your hand away.  So, if your hand is "mugged" or your dog is lunging/leaping toward your hand (or otherwise hurting you), calmly pull your hand up well out of reach, and wait.  Don't jerk your hand away, that only encourages your dog to leap for it.  Make no eye contact, don't say anything -- no scolding, no nothing. Just ignore your dog until the unwanted behavior stops. Then bring the hand back in front of your dog.
  • Watch closely, because you want to click the instant your dog backs off or looks away from the treats. At that moment, click and give your dog the treat. At first, the slightest glance away should earn a click and a treat. Gradually raise the criteria and wait for longer and more obvious glances away.
  • As your dog gets better at resisting his impulses, you make the game harder and then teach your dog to give up a treat in your open palm. The idea is that your dog learns to wait for a cue that they can have the treat before taking it. Gradually increase the difficulty by opening your hand and increasing the time your dog must wait before taking the treat. If he dives for it, simply close your fist around the treat again.
  • Once your dog is reliably waiting for the release cue, move on to "leave it" training.

Teaching Self-control

Teaching our dogs self-control in the face of distractions and food is important. It makes living with dogs easier, teaches them to resist their impulses and is an important part of the growing up process. It also teaches them to be gentle in the way they take treats and can keep the dog from being accused of biting someone, when they are really just trying to steal a sandwich. Self-control around food can even protect your dog from accidental or intentional poisoning.

We also want to teach our dogs a specific "leave it" exercise to really cement the idea that not all food is theirs for the grabbing. This exercise flies in the face of your dog's natural heritage as the consummate scavenger.

Gimme here:  When we were walking in the woods, I found a dead bird and ate it.  That worried my person because the bird could have been poisoned and I might have gotten sick.  So to keep me safe, my person taught me "leave it".  

Months later we had a chance to see just how well I had learned the lesson.  We were walking in the woods and I found a really cool dead animal and I wanted to eat it too, but my person said, "Gimme, leave it" and kept on walking.  So I dropped it and ran after her.  She gave me a LOT of good treats, almost all the treats she had with her I think.  They were really yummy.  When we came back by the dead thing, I only glanced at it and then pranced along with my person and got even more treats.  Being smart is a good thing.  I'm just saying.

Dogs teach self-control between each other very quickly. You'll start teaching self-control during the proofing part of the eye contact game. Make sure you use food in proofing so your dog learns to maintain or re-commit to eye contact in the face of food distraction. This same process of proofing is added to recall, sits, downs and loose leash walking.

There are many exercises that you can teach your dog to help them learn self control and many of them will also make your dog safer. Some ideas include:
  • waiting for a release to eat meals after you set the dish down (starting by the dog showing calm self-control as you put food in the dish while its on the counter… and gradually requiring the same calm self-control as you set the dish down on the floor)
  • waiting for release to go through any door (house door, crate door or car door) whether coming or going
  • "mine" vs. "yours" game

101 Things to do With a Box

The purpose of this game is to get your dog thinking and trying new things. Use free-shaping to reward any interaction with the box and build from there.  There are no wrong answers.  The goal is for your dog to have the experience of being creative, and getting rewarded for it.  "101 Things to do With a Box" is a great confidence building opportunity.

Start off clicking looking at the box, then move on to touching the box, etc. Click the same behavior a few times till your dog understands what he's getting clicked for. You know your dog understands when he immediately does the same thing he did before and expects that click afterwards.

Once your dog understands that, for instance, touching the box with his paw is earning the click, then delay the click for a stronger behavior, such as pawing two times or knocking the box over. Get as creative as you want with this, with a large enough box you could teach your dog to sit, stand or lay down inside of it.

You can also use other objects, as long as they are safe for the dog.  This exercise might lead to some cute trick idea.  I played this game with Lucy, my nearly blind dog.  We used an empty shampoo bottle (plastic) instead of the box.  Lucy learned to knock over the bottles and I put it on the cue "bang bang". 

Then after making a cardboard "fence" for the front of a box, we had our Annie Oakley trick.  I dressed in a cowgirl outfit, complete with holster and pistol.  I set up our fence and put several small plastic bottles along the top.  We had a skit where I'd pretend to shoot the bottle targets and each time I said "bang bang", Lucy ran out and knocked one of them off.  Sometimes she'd miss or not hit hard enough, so I'd missed the target.  Mostly she hit them.  Sometimes it took awhile for her to decide which one to knock off - that bullet took the scenic route.  And then there were the times it ricocheted off the wall and knocked a second bottle off the fence.  No matter how it went, it was always funny and generated a lot of laughter. 

Gimme here:  I've told you before how much I love free shaping.  I'm very clever so I come up with lots of very creative ideas.  My person made a cardboard cube with spotted paper and she wanted me to roll it across the floor with my nose.  We eventually got there, but not before I showed her my own clever ideas.  I showed her I could:
  • ski across the carpet with both front feet on it
  • pounce on it with both front feet
  • stand on it with both front feet
  • bat it across the room with my foot
  • put both feet on it and do a forehand pivot
  • step on with one back foot
  • try to step on it with both back feet
  • kick it with a back foot
  • dig at it with my front feet
  • roll on my back and flip it into the air like a ball of yarn (like a kitty, only much cuter)
  • stand over it and spin around it with no feet on it
  • roll on my back and hug it with both front feet

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What is Success?

Define realistic goals for the dog's behavior/skills and remember, it must be something the dog is physically, mentally and emotionally capable of achieving.  In order to achieve success you must:
  • Picture - decide what constitutes success for you and your dog, stated as a realistic and obtainable goal. You must have a clear picture of what that behavior/skill should look like and a plan for getting there. In addition you must have a clear idea of what the desired rate of correct performance needs to be - 80% rule for training, higher for the final behavior.
  • Physical - communicate to the dog what you want. This includes the ability to manipulate objects and the timing to convey precisely what behaviors you will reinforce.
  • Plan - break down tasks into individual pieces and those pieces further broken down into simplest criteria that enables the dog to succeed and have a high rate of reinforcement.
    80% Rule --
    Eighty percent is a good standard of success for training most dog behaviors. To establish and maintain an 80% success rate in training you must break down each piece of the behavior into the smallest elements or criteria that permits your dog to succeed in a steady progression and with a high rate of reinforcement. If behaviors break down or fall apart as they get more complex, it is a sure sign that the foundation behaviors were not sufficiently and solidly understood by the dog. Each step is an important part of the journey to success, none can be omitted.

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Nail Trimming

    Carefully desensitizing your dog to handling of the feet and the manipulation required to trim excess nail length makes things go easier for dog and owner alike.  Not trimming nails will cause the nails to grow so long that the toe cannot function properly and will twist to the side - this may lead to arthritis and/or pain in a dog's feet.

    Just because your dog allows you to handle his feet does not mean he'll accept the particular way you handle the feet, with clippers in hand. These are two very different things in a dog's mind. You must desensitize the dog to the specific way you hold and manipulate the foot and toes to trim nails.  A detailed desensitization plan is presented in the blog entry "Modeling to Get Behaviors".

    When using the clicker, or any other marker, to teach your dog to let you handle his feet and trim nails, many people try to click AS they are cutting. Click ends the behavior and the dog is correct if they jerk the foot away. Jerking the foot away increases the chance that you will hurt the dog (creating more anxiety) if the jerk happens while you are still cutting or about to cut. I recommend that you "click" a second or two after you make each cut to make it clear to your dog that calmly letting you continue to hold the foot is the behavior that is being reinforced.

    Your dog's nails have a hard outer surface that surrounds and protects a pain sensitive blood vessel inside. Surrounding the blood vessel is a transition area that is also pain sensitive, but will not bleed if cut. If the nails are already long, the blood vessel has grown longer too. Trimming the hard outer shell and getting as close as possible to the transition area on more than one side will cause the blood vessel to pull back over time and allow you to get shorter nails. The best nail trimmer for this process is the red handled nail trimmers with the thinner blade.

    As you trim nails, listen to the sound the cut makes.  If there is a crisp clipping sound, you are in the hard outer nail and not close to the pain sensitive areas.  If you hear a slicing sound, you are closer to or in pain sensitive areas.  This sound is more evident when trimming the nails of larger dogs.

                                                              Yellow = hard nail
                                                              Pink    = pain sensitive blood vessel which
                   can bleed profusely when cut into.
    White  = pain sensitive transition area,
                   will not bleed
    Blue    = first cut
    Green = second cut

    Modeling to Get Behaviors

    Modeling (or molding) involves physical manipulation of the dog into a position or place. It can be effective for simple behaviors with some dogs.  It is especially useful to gently teach the dog to accept touch on all parts of their body.

    One drawback is that many dogs seem to resent being physically manipulated into position or are uncomfortable with being touched or held in certain ways. There is also a natural occurrence of resistance against pressure (called thigmotaxis) that happens with all mammals. Other dogs never seem to get the concept of doing a behavior independently, having learned to simply let you "do stuff" to them. If the behavior you want involves something the dog is unsure of, modeling may increase their anxiety since it has a component of compulsion (force).

    You start by gently guiding the dog into position and as they accept the position click/treat. Then gradually decrease the pressure required to a very light touch. Over time you will fade the touch to a hand signal which you will have incorporated consistently before the touch, so that the dog recognizes that it comes before and sees that as a cue to do the behavior.

    I don't find modeling to be very useful for teaching tricks (though you could use an element of modeling to fine tune a portion of a trick), therefore, I've never developed a list of trick possibilities for modeling.

    For an example of modeling, lets say you want to teach your dog to let you handle her feet (in preparation for doing her nails).  The process is simple and progresses carefully with a click/treat for several repetitions of each of the following increments:

              ·  reach hand toward foot
              ·  touch toe gently with finger tip
              ·  touch toe with slight hold of touch
              ·  touch toe with more pressure
              ·  touch side of toe
              ·  touch back of foot
              ·  touch back of foot with gentle pressure
              ·  lift foot ever so gently so its "light" on the ground
              ·  lift foot more
              ·  lift foot and pause before clicking
              ·  lift foot and add duration to the hold
              ·  lift/hold foot and gently touch a toe with the other hand
              ·  lift/hold foot and gently manipulate a toe with the other hand
              ·  lift/hold foot and manipulate toe as if to clip the nail

    You would need to repeat this process in its entirety, while holding the clippers in the other hand.  You will need to insert these steps after "lift foot and add duration to the hold".

              ·  reach toward foot with hand holding the clippers
              ·  reach toward foot and touch clippers to nail
              ·  tap clippers on the nail
              ·  hold foot and gently manipulate a toe while touching nail with clippers
              ·  hold foot and mock clipping the nail
    Gimme here:  Even though I had my nails done often when I was a tiny puppy, when I first got my person, I didn't think she should do them.  I didn't know if she knew what she was doing and that worried me.  She waited until she had time for us to go through this whole process.  When I was sure she was well trained in trimming nails, then I didn't have to worry anymore.  Besides there were at least a hundred yummy treats to eat while she was learning, so that made it like a special spa treatment.  What more could a pretty spottie girl deserve...
    Its important to build in a bit of delay between the mock clipping of the nail and the clicking.  Remember, click ends the behavior, so you don't want your dog to think the behavior is over and jerk his foot away, getting ouched in the process.  Usually by the time I get to this point, I can no longer hold the clicker and the clippers and go through the motions.  So I set the clicker down on a stable surface.  Then after I do the behavior and while still holding the foot, I use a finger to click the clicker.  This pretty clearly reinforces for the dog the idea of letting me continue to hold the paw after the manipulation/clipping.

    Targeting to Get Behaviors

    Targeting works well to get your dog to move somewhere away from you or when a behavior involves a specific place. Your dog can be taught to target a margarine lid, target stick, your hand, his leash or his bed (or anything for that matter).

    Targeting is often a component of other methods to get the behavior (and vice versa) and in a sense is what is happening (hand targeting) when you move away from food luring. Keep in mind that transitioning the human to a standing/upright position can be difficult with some lured behaviors, so using a target stick can be helpful. Almost any trick taught by luring can be taught by targeting – once you create a target fiend in your dog.

    Gimme here:  My person and I invented something special using targeting and then free shaping.  I have a piece of wood that I learned to target with my front feet.  Then my person used my favorite free shaping to teach me to spin in a circle while keeping my feet on the wood target.  She calls it a forehand pivot.  I'm very good at it and people say I have a sophisticated awareness of my back feet.  That may be true, but I just like doing it because its fun.

    Anti-target is teaching the dog to move away (or move a body part away) from the anti-target end of the target stick and gives you a whole range of movements you can teach your dog.  Its especially useful for freestyle and many tricks.  The anti-target end is usually painted a different color (white) than the target end (blue or yellow).  [note: these colors are easiest for dogs of all breeds to see.]

    I start by teaching each of the targeting base behaviors so I have them in place when I need one.  You will notice right away that some dogs are nose dogs and some are paw dogs.  That means they prefer to touch with either their nose or foot.  It is a useful exercise to make sure your dog has both nose touch and foot touch behaviors among his targeting basics.  For instance: foot touch a margarine lid, nose touch a target stick, nose touch your hand, nose touch his leash, foot and then bumm touch to his bed.

    Your dog can target and follow your hand (medium to large dogs) or a target stick (smaller dogs) to learn to walk alongside you. You can teach your dog to rest his head in your hand during a veterinary exam (starts as a luring exercise). Targeting, or going to lay on his bed, is a good behavior to teach in place of rude door behavior or begging during dinner.  You may want to keep the target as part of the behavior, so plan ahead.  You may need to take that bed with you when you travel (or you could teach the same behavior to different bedding that you indicate by a cue).  Usually you will need to fade the target during moving behaviors.

    To teach your dog to nose target your hand or target stick, click/treat every time your dog turns to look at your outstretched hand or the target stick. Then gradually increase the behavior until he follows your hand or the target stick.

    When you start working on the dog walking alongside you, first your hand will be at nose level, then you will fade your target hand to a position near your waist as if you were holding the leash.  In the case of a target stick you fade it by sliding it up your arm so that less and less of the stick is visible in your hand.  If you use a target stick a lot, it can be helpful to make several in different lengths (36", 24" and 12" are helpful sizes).  Make sure your target stick has a rounded end so your dog isn't put off by nose touching an abrupt edge.

    For the bed example, you might click/treat every time your dog turns to look toward the bed. Then gradually increase the behavior until he goes to and lays down on the bed.  Did you notice the free-shaping element there?  Be sure to use small increments as you shape to the end behavior. In the end you must decide what cues to use. You can put it on that verbal cue "go to bed", as well as teaching that the sound of the doorbell is the cue to go to bed.

    Plan ahead to decide what cue you want to end up with, so that you are taking a direct route fading-wise and don’t create more work for yourself and your dog.

    Teaching Anti-target
    Teach your dog the anti-target concept in advance as another targeting basic.  First teach your dog that touching the anti-target end does not "count" as a clickable behavior. Hold the stick parallel to the ground by the middle with both the target and anti-target ends available. The dog must target the correct end to get a click/treat.  Then holding the stick by the target end (blue or yellow bulb) gently touch your dog in the flank area and click for any movement away. This is a gentle tickle – not a poke in the side.

    If your dog attempts to target the anti-target end, you have multiple options:
    • lift the stick away and use a shorter leash to control the head while reaching around to tickle the side
    • repeatedly allow the dog to touch the target end without reward and wait for the unrewarded behavior to extinguish
    • go back and repeat the exercise that teaches the dog to target only the bulb end of the stick
    Teach the dog with gentle touches to the front feet to move the feet away at the approach of the anti-target end. Add touches to other body parts, always click/treating when the dog moves away.  From time to time, go back to targeting the target end to make sure the dog doesn’t lose that behavior and to solidify the difference in the two ends.

    Target a Trick
    I recommend using targeting to teach your dog a trick.  That is a good way to practice a training method so you can relax and enjoy the process, before you use targeting for something important.  Remember, "important" is a human point of view; its all tricks to your dog.  Speaking of tricks, here's a list of possible tricks for targeting:

    around you
    over or under an obstacle
    onto an obstacle
    weave under the legs - stationary
    weave through legs walking
    low crawl (butt stays down)
    high crawl (butt up like bow)
    ballerina (stand up)
    sit up and beg
    left and right
    chin in your hands – a freestyle ending

    Here's a list of possible tricks for anti-targeting:

    side passes in front of you
    side passes beside you and with you
    side passes beside you and away
    pivot on forehand
    pivot on hindquarters
    backing up
    move straight toward you while you back up
    backwards (pivoting) leg weaves
    trot in place

    Remember:  You are limited only by your own creativity.

    Free Shaping to Get Behaviors

    Free shaping is almost an advanced form of "capturing" and works well for behaviors the dog does not offer or do naturally as a complete behavior. It develops your dog's creativity and confidence and makes learning into a cool game for the dog.  It also develops very sophisticated body awareness. The drawback is that it requires more patience on the part of the trainer. Also, some crossover dogs (dogs that were initially trained by compulsion methods) may not offer behaviors or may be slow to learn to initiate during the training process.

    Gimme here:  I especially love free shaping.  I'm very clever and its a fun game to figure out what my person wants.  She recently taught me 5 different tricks this way.  I can step backwards putting my back feet into a box, get up on a plastic tub and sit, lay on my back with my feet in the air, put my head under a chair, and push a cube across the floor with my nose.  My person says we are going to work these tricks through all six stages of learning and then I'll be even smarter than I am now.  I'm really smart already, so I'll be awesomely brilliant after we are done.  I'm just saying.

    You start by clicking/treating the barest hint of the behavior you want to end up with, and then concentrate on taking small steps closer to your goal.  I find it helpful to imagine the whole form as a video tape and then watching the tape frame-by-frame. Each frame of the video tape represents one possible increment of the shaping process.

    For example, you might free shape a left spin.  The process could be to click/treat when:

              ·  your dog just looks to the left
              ·  when he turns his head to the left
              ·  when he turns his head further left
              ·  when he turns it far enough to shift his weight leftward
              ·  when he turns enough to take a step to the left
              ·  a head turn and two steps
              ·  a head turn and three steps
              ·  gradually a turn in a complete circle
              ·  two circles
              ·  faster circles

    Years ago I taught my nearly blind dog Lucy to ride her skateboard.  Because of her visual handicap, if she was going to be comfortable doing this trick, I had to be very careful.  It turned out to be a useful exercise to teach me to increment the process in fine detail.   Here is the process I used.

    Because I wanted her to be very confident of the skateboard in preparation for its later movement, I first started with a board on the ground (without wheels). I clicked/treated for the following steps (for a dog less confident in offering, I would have used even smaller steps):

              ·  looking toward the board
              ·  stepping toward the board
              ·  nose touch or sniffing the board (since I eventually wanted her 

                  feet on the board I didn’t accept too many of these nose bops,
                  just enough to confirm for her that the board was in fact the deal)
              ·  stepping around and over the board
              ·  accidentally stepping on the board
              ·  pawing at the board
              ·  standing on the board with one foot
              ·  standing on the board with both feet (in hindsight, when the board
                  was up on wheels it was wobbly when she stepped on either end,
                  so I wished I’d shaped standing in a specific place on the board)

    Once the wheels were added the free shaping continues to encourage standing on a board that is no longer flat on the ground and I’d be prepared to "start over" if need be. I set the board up on bricks so it wouldn’t move under her feet. I clicked and treated as follows:

              ·  looking toward the board
              ·  stepping over the board
              ·  pawing at the board
              ·  standing on the board with one foot
              ·  standing on the board with both feet – to encourage her to stay
                  on, I stayed nearby & quickly delivered treats while her feet
                  were still on it

    To get started with the board moving, I wrapped lots of rags around the wheels (held in place with rubber bands) so that it would only move a tiny bit. I clicked and treated as needed to get her back to confidently standing on the board. Then the steps were:

              ·  standing on the board for longer periods of time
              ·  pushing the board with her feet and hopping off – initially I clicked
                  even if she hopped off when it moved so she didn’t feel pressured
                  to do something that was uncomfortable, then upped the ante
              ·  pushing on the board and staying with both feet on as it moves

    The next step was to free shape her interaction until she put her two front feet on the board and pushed it across the room without getting off. To get her confidently to that sort of control, I set up the training to increment movement is small bites that weren’t scary. The plan was:

              ·  to do the skateboard on a lumpy comforter that didn’t let it move
                  much or too quickly
              ·  skateboard on carpet between rolled towels that formed wheel
                  chocks so it only moved six inches, then eight inches, then one
                  foot, two feet, several feet, across the room
              ·  skateboard on towels over linoleum – again between rolled towels
                  that formed wheel chocks to restrict forward movement
              ·  then skateboard on plain linoleum with rolled towel chocks

    The critical part of this learning process is that the increments be so fine that the dog gets LOTS of reinforcement and has plenty of motivation to stay in the game. In the case of the skateboard, or anything that has the potential to be scary... it is crucial to set things up so that the steps are so small that you never risk frightening the dog.

    Although this sounds like a really involved process, it goes much faster than you might think. Lucy, a very savvy free shaping dog, got through all the board flat on the floor part of the process in one 8 minute session. The next session the wheels were added and we had two 6 minute sessions with rags around the wheels – partly because of trying to get her to get to the center of the board for less wobbly riding. Then one session for each of the remaining four steps.  So just 7 short session and this with a visually handicapped dog.

    Although I wrote this out for your benefit, I usually don’t do that much pre-planning for most of my free shaping sessions, although I have a mental picture of how I expect the process to go. As a training exercise for yourself, you could write out a plan for a trick and see how close reality follows your plan.

    The other part of free shaping that is important is to consider those times when using bits and pieces of other ways to get the behavior might be useful. For instance, since I initially let Lucy step anywhere on the board, to help her get the idea of stepping on the middle of the board, I used a yellow post-it note to attract her attention.  In hindsight (or if I hit a snag in her skateboard training and decided to back up) it could have been a valuable approach to teach her to target a post-it note on the floor, then move it to the board. Never be afraid to experiment or combine methods.  In reality most training is some combination of the five methods anyway.

    Remember, if marine mammal specialists can free shape a multi-ton walrus (with the capability of easily maiming or killing its handlers) to present its flipper through safety bars for a blood draws, then you can free shape just about anything your dog is physically capable of doing.

    Because the trick possibilities with free shaping are practically limitless, I'm not giving you a list of trick ideas. Keep it fun, keep it safe...

    Remember: You are limited only by your own creativity.