eileenanddogs

Month: July 2012

A Little Heavy on the Body English

A Little Heavy on the Body English

Part 3 of  Dogs Notice Everything (The Missed Cue)

This is really the opposite of a missed cue. The dogs are understanding the cues beautifully, but these are cues I’m consciously trying not to give!

Around the time I made the Missed Cue videos, I got very interested in cue discrimination in general and worked on teaching Summer and Zani the difference between the verbal cues for Crate and Go to Mat. Since it is so easy to teach these with hand and body cues, my dogs didn’t really know the verbals, although I used them regularly. So I took a stab at teaching the discrimination and made a video of our progress. The methods in the movie are not bad, but my test of the results leaves quite a bit to desired.

In the spirit of the blog, I present the embarrassing part of the video, where I attempt to test Zani’s knowledge of the verbal cues. The whole point is to refrain from giving any physical indication of which item I want them to go, and I fail utterly at this.

To complete my embarrassment, I’ve turned off the sound for this short clip. Even a human can tell which behavior I am cuing by my body language every time. I not only fix my gaze on the object, but I turn my body slightly in that direction. And dogs are probably 10 times better at noticing those things than we are.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been the whole focus and point of the training!

Does Your Dog REALLY Understand a Verbal Cue?

In case you want to test whether your dogs know a verbal cue, here’s Donna Hill of Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs showing how to do it correctly.

I’m making a goal for myself to teach some cues well enough to pass this test. The first step by itself,  teaching the dog to respond while I am out of sight, could be a challenge. This skill has to be taught gradually as well. Since my dogs can respond to some cues at a distance I’m hoping we have a good start on this.

Anybody else aware of cuing their dog without knowing it? It’s so easy to do. Want to share?

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2012 Eileen Anderson

Fixing What I Broke

Fixing What I Broke

Part 2 of Dogs Notice Everything.

The three “Missed Cue” videos were among the first videos I posted publicly wherein I tried to illuminate an aspect of dog training.

Imagine my surprise when, after showing how Zani and Summer didn’t understand their “Go to Mat” cue at a certain distance from the mat, people started asking me how I would fix that.

Oh dear. I was so proud of myself for showing the world the result of this disconnect between dogs’ and humans’ perceptions. Now people wanted me to fix it?

Let me say again: I’m not a professional trainer. I am not qualified to teach people how to train their dogs or to diagnose or treat behavior problems. But these were my dogs (and this was my mistake!). I thought about it, and decided I would feel OK about posting a solution. I could show what worked for us.

I consulted Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels (the old version) and saw where she recommended moving the mat around from the very beginning. I hadn’t followed the directions, tending to stick the mat in one place and sending the dog to it from various positions. Sue wrote:

When you finally get the mat far enough away from you that she’s not going to hit it naturally, she might go looking for it (EE HAH), or you might have to switch from waiting to shaping.

— Old Training Levels, Level 2 Distance

Well, if I had done that from the beginning I never could have made the “Missed Cue” video. But going back and retraining it was fun for both Summer and myself.

Find the Mat

In the “solution” video I moved the mat farther and farther from Summer so that part of the behavior became looking for it. I put it some strange places as well; draped over a step and on top of the couch. After a couple of days’ practice of this (covered in the 3 minute video) I tested her in the original setup with the mat at the end of the hall, and actually slightly out of sight into a bedroom. She found it and ran to it confidently, going much farther than the point at which the behavior had previously fallen apart.

As usual, we didn’t do perfectly though. I did the exercise with Zani as well, and I have an unexplainable “outtake” at the end of the video where she comes up with a pretty strange alternative to finding the mat.

By the way, my dogs are free to move after I mark the behavior with a click or a yes. But since I treat so much in position in mat and other duration behaviors, they tend to stay there. That’s why you see me doing various things to re-set the dogs in these videos.

The Missed Cue: Generalization

This is the video where Zani failed to generalize the “going around” behavior from a pole lamp to a short plastic box. Or rather, I failed to help her generalize it.  Since the video was short, I included a suggested way to retrain the behavior, where I took a third object, a fire extinguisher, which has a vertical profile, and cued her to go around that as a transition between the dissimilar objects. She ran to the fire extinguisher, offered a couple of behaviors towards it, then tried going around. The second time I gave the cue she responded quickly. Looking back now, I would do this differently. I took a risk using the cue. It is usually not recommended to use the cue unless and until the dog is very solid on the behavior. What I would do today, and what I am doing with puppy Clara as she learns this behavior, is re-shape the behavior each time I introduce a new object in the beginning, and not use the cue until she is offering it regularly. That way I don’t “dilute” the meaning of the cue. As Sue Ailsby says, “Remind, review, reteach.”

Here is a short video of Clara “re-learning” the go around behavior on a new object for her. It only took a few clicks for her to get it. Let me reiterate that this is a re-shaping, not the initial shaping of the behavior. If I recall, that took about 5 minutes and many more approximations, and of course she wasn’t doing it with such ease at the end of that session. I will do the re-shaping on various objects in several environments before I use the cue “cold” on a new thing.

Clara Re-Learning Go Around

Here are two short examples of how well you can generalize the “go around” behavior (called “Distance” in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels) if you use the reteach method and are very thorough, as my friend lynnherself is.

Going Around a Car

Going Around a Building (holding a leash!)

We’ve already had one very nice description of how another trainer solved the distance problem with Go to Mat. How about the rest of you? Have you solved this kind of problem? Do you want to share that in a comment or a video?

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2013

Dogs Notice Everything

Dogs Notice Everything

There is a purple bathmat on the floor with a small piece of kibble next to it. We can see the head and shoulders of a sand-colored dog, who is looking warily at the treat with her body language pulling backwards.
Conflicting Cues: Clara can’t figure out how to get past the treat on the floor to get to her mat.

I am fascinated by how dogs perceive the world.

Dog experts and ethologists have been telling us for a while that dogs discriminate beautifully, but generalize poorly.

What this means in our training lives is that dogs notice all the little things that we, as trainers, tend to do the same every time. Humans fall into patterns easily and we randomize with difficulty.  Dogs notice the patterns. When I teach my dog to run a few feet to go around something and return, I usually use a lamp pole or fire extinguisher. So when I get out one of those items, it’s obvious to her what we are going to practice. It is _so_ obvious in fact, that uttering the verbal cue as she performs the behavior is probably just so much background noise to her. At the beginning stages of learning the behavior, this works to our advantage. I can get her to do the behavior just from context. But later, as we teach the verbal cue, it’s our job as trainers to vary everything else possible.

I can vary a lot of things with the “go around” behavior. These include the following.

  • the object
  • where I stand
  • the direction of travel
  • the distance to the object
  • the room we practice in
  • the presence of my other dogs

And you know what? I can vary all that, and even then she probably doesn’t know the cue. I left out a big factor. She has been watching my body language the whole time. Just try to teach a dog to go around something without clueing them into that with your body. (OK you herding people, I know you all have to do it all the time.) Sometimes we have to take the extreme measure of getting out of sight of our dogs to know whether they know the cue.

The dog starts to understand that it is all about that little sound we were making after we winnow out the contextual cues. Some breeds are better than this than others, and experienced dogs learn it faster. But none of us trainers can afford to skip generalization.

There has been quite a bit written on reasons a dog might not respond to a cue. Here are three nice blog posts about it:

Three Reasons Why Your Dog Isn’t Responding  by Eric Brad at Life as a Human.

The Disappearing Sit by Kevin Myers at DogLovers Digest.

“He Blew Me Off!” by Nicole Wilde at Wilde About Dogs.

Sue Ailsby in her Training Levels books approaches generalization in the best way I have seen in any book or system. She includes explicit instructions on generalizing in every behavior in the Levels. (Full disclosure: I helped edit the book.)

Sue writes in her colorful way about asking her service dog Stitch for a favorite behavior (spin to the right) in a new context:

I was THREE FEET from where I always ask her for this behaviour, holding a dish which was empty instead of full, and I was facing north instead of east. She wasn’t “blowing me off” or “giving me the paw.” She truly had no idea what I was asking her for. Those 3 little tiny differences changed what she saw so much that the behaviour seemed completely different to her.

— Training Levels: Steps to Success, Vol. 1, p. 226

Once you are in on it, the difference between dogs’ and humans’ perceptions is fun. But this disconnect can be bad news for some unlucky dogs. Force-based trainers seem to glory in the idea that when this communication breakdown happens, their dog is indeed “giving them the paw.” I have heard this expression uttered more than once in complete earnest.

Burch and Bailey wrote in “How Dogs Learn,”:

Well-intended owners sign up for classes at their local obedience school, only to get instruction on heeling and figure-8s…….Obedience instructors who run classes designed around formal exercises think their training will ultimately result in a well-behaved dog at home. They firmly believe the behaviors taught in class will generalize to the home. But the majority of obedience class dropouts in a 1991 study told us they quit obedience classes because they saw no changes in their dog’s behavior at home. This suggests that training is not generalizing the way some trainers think it is.

— How Dogs Learn, Mary Burch and Jon Bailey, 1999, p 78-79

The world of dog training schools and classes has doubtless improved since 1991. But at every obedience trial I have ever attended, I have seen handlers in states of rage or at least confusion at their dogs’ surprise inability to perform. Even if you attribute the dogs’ problems to “stress,” where did the stress come from? Changes in the dog’s usual training environment. Changes that in addition to differences in the visual environment involve strange dogs, strange people, new noises, a road trip, etc.

I have seen the furious trainer phenomenon once too many times. So I made a series of videos showing my dogs confounded by small changes in the environment, the props, and in one case, the effect of a previous reinforcement history.

In other words, I set them up to fail.

I admit it; I experiment on my dogs. I push the envelope at times. But just so you don’t think I am a complete meanie: in the videos, they have already succeeded and been rewarded several times. After they fail, I give them an opportunity to perform an alternative behavior and get rewarded again. So from their point of view, this is a normal training session with an imperfect trainer where one time they fail to get the behavior and fail to get the reward. The only difference is that this time, for once, I actually had a clue it was coming.

The Missed Cue

In the Missed Cue video, I move my dogs farther and farther from their mat in a boring hallway and cue them to go to it. And then we see it. Here the respond confidently to my verbal cue. A few inches away, they respond to it in utter bewilderment.  Some viewers have pointed out that in addition to the difference in distance, the dogs fail when the starting place is near the end of the hall with an open door next to them. So yes, it may have been more than just the inches. But think how different that is from how our minds work. The same word doesn’t compute when suddenly there is a familiar bedroom door to our left?

Missed Cue: Paw Touch

In the paw touch video, I let Summer practice her paw whack, a favorite behavior, on several objects, including a little basket lying upside down. Then I turn the basket over. Summer, who learned to fetch in 17 shaping sessions using that same little basket, is helpless in the face of that history. She fetches the basket proudly and prances around with it. Her discrimination is so fine that she reacts differently to the same small object depending on whether it is right side up or upside down.

The Missed Cue: Generalization

The generalization video shows Zani going around some objects. I flummox her by substituting a short plastic box for the pole lamp we had been using. She interacts with the box with a variety of behaviors, then checks back with me for further instruction. I then substitute a fire extinguisher, which is a vertical object like the pole lamp. This time she figures it out. (Nowadays I would have handled that a little differently. Stay tuned for the next blog entry for more about that.)

By the way, I know there are times when dogs understand our cues and do something else. But I believe that happens a lot less frequently than many trainers think. And when it does happen: that’s just a different training challenge.

I would love to hear from you readers about times your dogs surprised you by not understanding a cue. I hope to get some replies down below. Also if you have a video that would be great. Submit it on YouTube as a response to one of mine. (Send me an email if you don’t know how to do this.) Wouldn’t it be educational to have a whole string of these?

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2013 Eileen Anderson

Addendum, 8/22/12

There is a new Missed Cue video in the series. Attack of the Zen Field.

Welcome!

Welcome!

A woman with her back partially to the camera is sitting on a lawn. There is a wooden fence in the background. Three dogs are lying down nearby, all looking into her eyes.
Eileen and Dogs

The following movie of training bloopers is meant to set the tone of this blog. I am not a professional trainer. I am a passionate, committed amateur with three great dogs.

Link to the blooper movie.

I practice scientifically informed humane training and use Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy as a guide. I have watched my dogs blossom as I have studied learning theory and dog body language and sought to apply what I have learned. And I’ve actually trained my dogs, though it’s generally easier to cruise the Yahoo groups for the evening. Like others though, I have found that I learn more by training for 10 minutes than I usually do in an hour or two reading arguments about dog training. Who’d have thought it?

I want to share what I have learned and help others take the plunge.

What can I, an amateur who has trained fewer than ten dogs, offer the Internet world? For the past six years I have read voraciously, discussed sometimes fiercely, and immersed myself in all things dog training. But  even though I’m pretty well informed, there is a big disconnect in what I think I know and what I find out I can do. I sometimes choose techniques that look great on paper, then wonder why my dogs aren’t acting like the paper ones. A mistake I make frequently is not to think through the ramifications of a single behavior or problem solving technique I may attempt. Or I choose the newest popular technique when I actually could have done something more obvious and a lot easier.

The mistakes I make may be so specific to my situation that rather than helping anyone, they may just provide a good laugh. That’s OK. But perhaps we can analyze the type of mistake and the larger picture, and I can help save some other dogs and their people some grief. I’m willing to show you what worked and what didn’t, the results of my sometimes bad timing, and discuss why I made the choices I did.

It’s not all about my mistakes, of course. I love the moments when the dog and I suddenly understand each other, or when a dog turns a corner emotionally about something. They are such marvelous creatures and I hope to share the glimpses of their lovely little minds and souls as they share them with me.

My wonderful dogs. RIP Cricket, who passed 5/31/13.

My day to day training focuses on polite pet behaviors, agility, socializing my feral puppy, and surviving in a multi-dog household with the additional challenge of some extremely incompatible dogs.  My particular interests within training are how dogs discriminate and generalize, the uses of classical conditioning for pet dogs, and reading dog body language. Believe me, I have plenty of footage to share along those lines. I practice Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels and will be sharing videos and commentary about our progress through them as well.

Most of all I hope you will write me back. Have you ever learned from someone else’s mistakes? Do you think it is possible? Let’s find out.

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

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