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

7 thoughts on “Fixing What I Broke

  1. Looks like the dogs really enjoyed your solution of finding the mat. In watching Zani I wonder if she got carried away with the “find” vs the “go to” being a Beagle mix. But what impressed me the most was the “quiet dogs looking on.” I’d like to know how you accomplished that! Mine love to learn, but I find it a real challenge to keep one calm while I work with the other.

    1. Ha. Quiet dogs: You were nice enough not to mention the almost constant whining from off camera during Clara’s shaping video, thanks to Zani. But the quiet little dog getting a treat during the other video was Cricket. And I did actually train that quiet. Before I learned about training I used to encourage a barking frenzy when I gave my terriers their meals. In addition Cricket was a demand barker in general. I decided I didn’t want Cricket to get her biggest treat of the day after that kind of behavior. In 2009 I used the method where whenever she started to bark during supper preparation, I would very obviously stop preparation and go sit down. I also treated for quiet as much as I could. After I got quiet meal preparation I extended it to other situations. Even now, Cricket knows if she waits quietly while I train the other dogs, she’ll get treats as well.

      1. Eileen I really admire your patience and dedication (I bet you have really quick learners too). I need to get a handle on getting them to calm down so I can train. It was no problem when I just had one, but they love the “clicky game” so much and my Taffy is such an emotional over the top dog that things quickly get out of hand, so I pretty much stopped trying to teach any thing new. I feel really bad about this because they both (especially Taffy LOVE to learn) and I know that the more structure she has the better she will be able to control her emotions. I have to say the you have inspired me to pick up my clicker and give it another go, thanks!

        1. Hi Marjorie,
          Thanks for your kind words and I’m really glad you are planning to train again. Most dogs love it so much. I was looking for some resources about training multiple dogs that I recalled seeing. I think the ones I remember are not public, but here’s a good video by Kikopup on training a dog to settle while the other dog works.

          But you’ve inspired me, too. I generally crate the non working dogs or put them behind a baby gate, and I haven’t actually trained them to the level where they will stay on a mat while I work with another. I really need to do it anyway, so I’ll start with my dogs and film it along the way and plan to make another demo video. I’ll follow some excellent directions I’ve seen and perhaps get the writer to let me post them here. Don’t expect the video for a while, though. Clara in particular is excitable and pushy so this will be a challenge for us, too.

  2. Thanks for the info Eileen, I’m looking forward to getting started again and I’ll be interested in seeing how you make out as well.

  3. I love the idea of finding the mat, I never would have thought of that one!

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