Using a Training Plan to Retrain Summer’s “Target”

Summer's new hand touch

Summer’s new hand target

In our last episode, I shared how I messed up Summer’s hand (and object) targeting behavior six ways from Sunday. Now I will share the process of retraining it.

When you follow directions from a book, such as the Training Levels, a lot of the planning is done for you. So I get a little lazy about training plans. I can just check little boxes off in the books.  (A reminder: I  acquired all these errors when I was brand new at training and using a mishmash of methods. Wish I’d known about the Levels earlier.)   But it’s a good idea to always have a plan, and collect data on what you are doing. Since I now need to do a unique retraining plan suited exactly to my dog and her needs, I am going to make a plan and share it, then share how well it works.

Training Plans

Training plans can be as simple or as detailed as the situation demands. For this situation, where I am trying to get rid of several superstitious behaviors that often follow my cue for hand target, I am going to make a thorough plan, and share it here.

Here are two posts about training plans, both by great trainers.

I combined parts of both of these to design the categories for my plan. I also made a record-keeping spreadsheet in Google Docs, loosely based on Melissa Alexander’s. Hers is accessible through her post above.

My Training Plan

  • Goal: a clean touch of Summer’s nose to my hand, followed by her generalizing that to similar touches to different objects. I want verbal cue recognition (will do tests with objects, see below).  But she doesn’t have to wait for a verbal if I do the hand signal.
  • Description:  A clean clear touch of nose to hand or object. She can be in any position that will allow her to reach the hand or object. It doesn’t have to be a hard touch, just definite touch of nose. No drivebys, and no just whiskers. No teeth, no open mouth. Minimal paw lifts. I define minimal as: her paw can lift about an inch higher than normal if she is walking or trotting to the target. Getting her mouth closed and preventing paw whacks are essential. A little leftover paw action is OK with me.
  • Methods: Capture the touch, then shape a firmer touch if necessary. I want to make the picture as different as possible for Summer from the very beginning, including changing the hand signal and verbal cue. I will follow the progression in Level 1 Target in the Training Levels. I will start with me seated. Use Sue Ailsby’s hand position (see “new position” above). Start off with my left hand rather than right, which I have used more often for hand targets before. I’ll drop treats rather than handing them to her (encourages mouth/hand contact) or throwing them (builds excitement).
  • Cue: Verbal. In the case of hand touch, presentation of hand.  Cue discrimination: the ability to distinguish from Sit and Down on verbal alone. For this I will use a standalone object, since the presentation of the hand will always be more salient than the verbal. When to start with the cue: TBD.
  • Sessions: Up to three sessions per day of 10 treats.
  • Criteria for advancement: In the early stages of the hand touch, 95% or above. This is because my goal is to clean out the old superstitious behaviors. Also I have observed that Summer doesn’t mind lots of repetition. Later I will build in her looking me in the eyes before I will give the cue. This is because of her habit of staring at the food or my food hand.
  • Duration? Not for this project.
  • Distance? 15 feet to object, or about that much if chasing me.
  • Distractions? Maybe near the end. Put down a mat for her to go by as she goes to touch an object.
  • Position: Hand touch from all different directions. Object touch from different positions. I will limit to objects already in her sight, i.e., she doesn’t have to turn around to find it. However, I plan to “try it cold” by cuing a Touch when she is not expecting it and when there is an obvious object to touch.
  • Where: Start in my den. Do other rooms in house, back porch, back yard. Possibly go on to front porch.
  • Reliability: I want 95% free from superstitious behaviors. Response to cue itself 80-90%.
  • Comments and caveats: Since we have an ongoing issue with staring at food, I will chain in eye contact after she is getting some fluency.  She is more likely to do the undesired behaviors if she is excited and moving fast, so I will start with her standing still. Observation: she is quite likely to offer an undesired behavior after failing to meet criteria and doing a light touch on the first one, instead of offering a firmer touch. I will need to be creative and use positioning to avoid errors. Also I stated earlier that I don’t want to use negative punishment at all if possible. That means I don’t want to rely on pulling the target away from her if she is approaching it with her paw or an open mouth. I want to prevent those things from happening to begin with. I want to tell her through reinforcement what is working.
  • Future:  Duration. Mix up Zen and target. Learn to distinguish target cue from retrieve cue.

The difference between my old and new hand positions for target:

Notes about Future Steps

In the Training Levels, what follows the hand touch is:

  • Foot touch:  (Dog’s nose to human foot) Probably no problems here.
  • Wooden object: I’ll need to prevent teeth touches and grabbing by using a large, flat object, as described in the Levels (p 187) Need to watch for feet movement. How to discourage? Careful height of object. Experiment with stationary vs moving.
  • Plastic object: ditto.
  • Metal object: ditto.
  • Spot on wall: I’ll have to modify the instructions: I won’t use a post-it note or painter’s tape. (Watch the Targeting Mishaps movie to see why.)  I’ll draw or paint a target on a piece of poster board with non toxic paint. Start by holding the board. Shape touching the spot. When that is solid, get it onto the wall.

We have practiced all of the above behaviors before, but many incorrectly because of superstitious behaviors.

Session Planning

Session 1. I’ll sit in a chair. Treats on my right on a desk. Proffer left hand in position described by Sue. Correct iterations marked by Yes and drop (don’t throw) treat.

Link to video for email subscribers.

My Notes after the First Two Sessions

Wow, real life comes crashing in. So Summer did one touch/sniff, then the very next one she took all my fingers in her mouth. (A “bite” but very inhibited. Her teeth didn’t close.) I wasn’t ready for that at all. I was in the middle of saying “Yes” but aborted it. I was so surprised I just got up and turned off one of the cameras and took a break. In the meantime Summer heard me say most of “Yes” and was sniffing around looking for her treat, which I had made a split second decision about and didn’t give her.

Dang! An important goal for me is no negative punishment, but abruptly getting up and stopping a training session can be a big dose of that….

But the video taught me a lot. Both the times (yes, it happened again) Summer took my fingers in her mouth, I had presented my hand kind of flat. Must have looked like I was handing her a treat.

Besides the position of the hand, I need to make its presentation a little clearer (I don’t need to leave it halfway out there). Make it very clear: on/off. I’m still struggling a little with the hand position; that’s part of why I am so stiff. Also I’m trying to keep my body very quiet. A couple times I was too slow and she was already moving forward when I presented my hand.

I’m really really glad I counted reps and successes. I would have overestimated our success rate otherwise.

Also, I chose to go with 10 treats rather than 10 total iterations. 10 treats means 10 correct responses, but puts no limit on incorrect responses. Sometimes not advisable at the beginning. But even looking at the video I had a hard time deciding what “counted” as an iteration or not, so I’m glad I wasn’t trying to count while training.

Third and Fourth Sessions

We have already had our third and fourth sessions, although they’re not included in the movie. Our success rate got better and went up to 10 correct out of 13 both times, which comes to 77%. I tried to loosen up a little and move in Session 4 but I immediately got an open mouth from Summer. I’ll need to continue to be very conservative since movement on my part has typically triggered mouthiness on hers. There’s always a fine line between getting the behavior and not wedding it to a certain setup. I’ll do some other things to introduce some variety.

Here is my training tracker document. I’ll keep it up to date and publicly accessible.

Thanks for reading.

Now that it’s done, here is the whole series:

Also coming up:

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek.Eileen Anderson on Google+
This entry was posted in Clicker, Cues, Dog training hints, Examples for Teachers, Positive Reinforcement, Training philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Using a Training Plan to Retrain Summer’s “Target”

  1. consider delivering the treat at your target hand. Proper placement of the reinforcement will speed your progress (per Bob Bailey).

    • Thanks for the tip! I’ll have to think how that fits with my other goals. I actually did that treat delivery method for many months with her when taking Susan Garrett’s Recaller’s class. It definitely helps with drive-bys but I’m not sure what effect it would have on the open mouth problem. I’ll review and see if it helps with my current situation. Thanks again. I had forgotten about that.

  2. Love your thoughtful planning Eileen! It is amazing how difficult such a simple behavior can be sometimes! I’m curious. Did you consider a hand position that looks a little different from being handed a treat such as two fingers together or a fist? I’m currently working with a puppy, trying to teach him hands and arms are for licking (not biting), Zen, and hand targeting–all more or less at once. I’ve been really having to think about the visual cues for each too, so he doesn’t get confused. Getting a verbal cue on the touch quickly will be helpful.

    • Hi Sarah! Puppies are such a challenge that way! You do need everything at once.

      I’m nearing a decision point about the hand position. It is indeed confusing her at times with its resemblance to holding a treat. It was a great cure for the drive bys. The touches I get are so much better than before. But the mouthing is alive and well.

      I’ll either need to change (again!) or improve my responses/add a criterion. I have accidentally reinforced two teeth touches and kept that alive. Dang. Also I have been accepting touches with an open mouth if she touches completely with her nose. I think I’d better get that mouth closed as a high priority, whatever I do next. So funny, since she is SO not a mouthy dog. All that retrieve hold paid off (right now not in the best way!)

  3. Ha ha! I can’t wait to hear how you figure it out! Does she have any sustained nose targets or chin targets? That could shift from the excited, open-mouth bop thing. Hey, I’ve started my own blog documenting my work with that puppy if you are interested. http://www.zdogsblog.com. Keep up the great work!

    • Summer doesn’t have any duration targets. I used to be lucky to get minimal contact at all! I’m regrouping at the moment! I’ll come check your blog out. That oughta be fun!

  4. Helen says:

    I wonder if you would have more success if you just rested your target arm on your lap and left the target hand there for her to touch. Movement encouraging her to mouth wouldn’t be an issue at all then, I think. You also wouldn’t have to worry about presenting the target hand too late. Of course the downside would be that presenting your target hand couldn’t become a physical cue for the behavior.

  5. lindsey says:

    Hello, I would like to ask why you recommend targeting on the ends of fingers? I ask because we use fists for the sea lions I work with, and I use the flat palm, like you did previously, for my dog. Just wondered what the benefits of the tips were?
    Thanks. I love your blog!

    • Hi Lindsey,
      I am using the end of finger touch to change the picture for Summer, not as a general recommendation. Sue Ailsby recommends it in the Training Levels. The benefits in that situation are to make the fingers enticing to a dog who has started by learning Zen/Leave It. The position does look like a treat is being held.

      Anyway, Summer learned with a palm touch, and had problems both with very light to nonexistent touches, and then with bites when I went on to objects.

      In retrospect, I think a fist would have been a good choice. But even though I’m still getting some teeth touches (HUGE reinforcement history for that), I love the firm nose touches I’m getting so I’m going to stick with the fingers for now.

      Glad you enjoy the blog! I just followed yours as well. Very cool!

  6. Pingback: 6 Ways I Messed Up My Dog’s Targeting | eileenanddogs

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