eileenanddogs

Month: September 2012

A New Resource, and our Rally Weekend

A New Resource, and our Rally Weekend

I have published a permanent page on my blog that collects all the posts and videos I have made that I have been told are useful for dog trainers to show their students.

It can be accessed here:

Video Examples for Teachers

but also is listed on the permanent menu above. I hope it is helpful. I will be adding more material as I develop it.

Our Weekend

For those of you who saw my last post on practicing Rally with Summer and attempting to reinforce appropriately, here are some pictures of how we spent our weekend. We trial very infrequently for a number of reasons, so it is a big deal for me when we do.

On Saturday we both worked hard but it wasn’t fun like it can be. I tried hard to make it easy and fun for her, but there were various stressors. We held it together in a difficult ring with an 88 and fourth place.

But on Sunday it was magic. We had a lovely run, stayed connected, and Summer stayed happy despite the difficult trial environment. I am pleased with the sequence of photos below that show her eagerly taking the jump, then beautifully collecting and checking in on her landing (fourth photo).

We scored a 98 and took first place. My unlikely competitive obedience dog and I.

Summer jump sequence 1
Summer jump sequence 2
Summer jump sequence 3
Summer jump sequence 4
Summer jump sequence 5
In the ring for awards
Accepting our blue ribbon
Letting the Treat Fit the Feat: Real World Application

Letting the Treat Fit the Feat: Real World Application

One upon a time there was an adolescent dog in an open admission shelter who had one day left.

And a woman who knew nothing about dog training, already had a smaller dog, and made an impulsive decision to go get the shelter dog. Some problems ensued.

That’s how a lot of people discover dog training, I think. And I suspect that I’m not the only one for whom that dog who started it all has a special place in the heart.

As a positive reinforcement trainer, I know that just about whatever a dog is physically capable of, you can train and put on cue. If you can figure out what is reinforcing to the dog, you can get reliable behavior. And you can even create new reinforcers by pairing them with ones the dog already has.

On the other hand.

In 1961 Keller and Marian Breland published a paper called The Misbehavior of Organisms. It was in part a response  to B. F. Skinner’s work The Behavior of Organisms. The Brelands outlined examples of training difficulties having to do with countering the natural, instinctive tendencies of animals.

I think of this when I look over my motley crew of dogs, noticing not only their individual quirks but how their personalities and interests might be related to their breeds (mixed in most cases). There are certain breeds of dogs that have been selectively bred for generations to thrive on work with humans. Herding dogs and retrievers come to mind. My dog Clara exhibits the tendencies I’m talking about. A strong valuing of almost any kind of activity with a human and a strong focus and attention span to work.

My dog Summer is different. She has an abundance of independent varmint dog genes. Her are some shots of her in her element.

I hadn’t put any of this together when I decided to go into competitive dog sports with her. Summer is a non-traditional obedience breed mix, putting it lightly. I’ve related part of my painful learning curve in the post, “Ant Sized Treats.” I talk about how I finally learned how to really motivate her with food. But I didn’t mention in that post the work I have put in on trying to use tug as a reinforcer.

Summer does like to tug. She will tug very heartily with me for a little while. And I have had a tiny bit of success using tug as a reinforcer. But only when there is no food in the picture. If we are already playing tug, I can ask for behaviors and reward them with tug. But if it is a “training session,” food trumps tug. (And playing in the hose trumps some food, even.) Problems like this with food and tug are perfectly solvable. Here is a nice video my friend Marge made teaching  Maple, a boxer puppy, how to enjoy multiple reinforcers in a session. So please let me be clear that this is my choice as a trainer not to pursue food and tug issues with Summer until they are solved. I’m sure it could be done. But I have four dogs and plenty of essentials to train. With Summer it would be uphill. Zani and Clara will both tug in the presence of food and vice versa, and I’ve done much less work with them on it.

What Summer loves to do is to carry off and dismember toys. Perform squeakerectomies, fuzz-ectomies and anything-that-sticks-out-ectomies. That is by far her favored part of the predatory sequence. Allowing this type of self-reinforcement (with the human out of the picture) is somewhat Frowned Upon by many of the sports dogs trainers. We are supposed to make sure that the dog plays with toys with us, not on her own, or certainly not extensively by herself.

But Summer is a beloved pet and I am fine with her tearing up toys on her own. So: how then should I handle the challenge in our upcoming AKC Rally Advanced trial where a dog must heel past distractions on the floor including food and toys? We have practiced a lot with food and have a protocol for that. So I wanted also to figure out a way to reward Summer with a toy in such a way that would 1) maintain the Zen behavior she has and build on it, 2) be fair to her, and 3) be truly reinforcing. Letting the Treat Fit the Feat, as I’ve written about previously.

For this dog, grabbing up a toy and whooping it up expecting her to tug with me would not be reinforcing, especially if I took the toy away before she could rip it up.

With help from the Training Levels list and my teacher I came up with the following plan:  In Rally context (recognizable to her), Summer never gets the treat off the floor or the toy off the floor, even after the run is over. She has to exercise Zen self control and for her, I can better accomplish it with giving her a treat that is separate from the one on the floor. She gets a great reward at the end of the run and it fits the challenge: big bite of some great food, or yes, a toy to shred, or both. Both come out of my pocket or outside of the Rally setup premises (mimicking what we will do in a trial). Summer already knows that routine: long behavior chain, then run to the crating area for something great.

I bought a bunch of very cheap stuffed toys so shredding could be part of the routine each time we practiced.

My plan was to finish the run, make a big deal about the food and toy, then leave her to her shredding. But the first day I implemented my new plan I found out something amazing. It turns out I AM part of Summer’s play with the toy. I gave her the toy, she was surprised, but immediately made it clear that she wanted me to sit with her while she pulled it apart. She simply didn’t want it unless I was there, too. I was touched almost to tears. This is my independent dog. This is after years of on and off work on my part to make playing with me fun, but then watching her continue to prefer to take the toy into a corner and shred it herself.  So she had her toy, I hung out with her and bragged on her for 5 or 10 minutes, and she was SO happy. The second day we had our routine down better and She. Started. Bringing. Me. The. Toy. Again, you’d have to know the history. But it turns out that all the other stuff I had done to get a toy fetch, rewarded with tugging, was too much pressure. When I gave her some time, she went back and forth between shredding it herself and bringing it to me to tug and handle together. I left my jaw on the floor somewhere that day. The whole experience also brought home to me that for her (in a household of four dogs), time alone with me is very special.

So we ended up having, rather than an instantaneous reinforcer (even a whole jar of baby food takes less than a minute for her to eat), but a reinforcement period. There are some tricks to that–some things the trainer chooses to offer are bound to be of lower value than others so there may be moments of disappointment–and perhaps I’ll write about that in another post. But I feel like spending several minutes with my attention entirely on my dog and what she would like to do was a Treat that Fit the Feat.

On the third day, I brought out the video recorder. What you will see in the video are excerpts from an 8 minute session that Summer and I had in the back yard. I set out the plates of distractions, we did rally practice for about four minutes, then we finished, I released her, and we ran to another part of the yard. I gave her two huge bites of pumpkin cake, then gave her a disposable toy. I hung out with her. She gutted the toy. We tugged a little. She never once turned around to check out the former distractions, but just hung out with me in a relaxed way. She was free to leave and choose a different reinforcing activity at any time. After a time we went together (not cued by me) and I picked up the plates (during this part you can see that she is still very interested in them), then went back and hung out some more and she solicited some petting.

This will probably look pretty low key to a lot of you.  Unless she is aroused about something, Summer is a pretty low energy dog. But check out the photos at the top again and compare them to her demeanor in the video. In the video Summer pays lovely attention to our work. After she is released, she doesn’t leave. We don’t see her patrolling the perimeter, digging, hunting turtles, or going up to the top of the porch to check out the neighbors, or any other favorite activity. She reacts not at all when a dog barks or the neighbors use their chain saw. She doesn’t take the toy off to a corner. She doesn’t prowl back to the plates. This is the most amazing thing. I mean, our Zen cue does not have anything like that duration. She is choosing to hang out with me over the chance to sniff and pilfer some stuff off the ground, which is always hugely enticing to her. (I would have picked up the plates if she had tried, as part of our rule structure. But the point is she didn’t even seem to think about them.)

So my hypervigilant dog chose, out of all the available reinforcers, to hang out with me in a relaxed way in a distraction filled area.

My miracle dog.

Addendum, 9/27/12

I realized after some discussion in the comments that I had not talked at all about the fact that in my video and in my practice lately, there is a delay between the behavior and the reinforcement period. As most of you probably know, in most cases a delay between behavior and reinforcement makes for ineffective training. The relationship between the two can break down, or never form in the first place. On the other hand, there is ample research about delayed reinforcement that shows that animals can learn to connect delayed reinforcers with the behavior. Sue Ailsby in the Training Levels and some other trainers have techniques to teach the dog about this connection.

With Summer I have followed Sue’s technique and am pretty sure that she does make the connection. I spent several weeks a year or two back going to Rally practice wherein I didn’t give any treats during the run, but afterwards we ran back to our crate area and she got a whole jar of baby food. Her performance and enthusiasm improved markedly during that period, evidence that she connected the great food treat with the rally sequence. We do the same thing for agility runs, and have a routine that even includes putting her leash back on before running for her goodies.

I don’t give training advice on this blog but I want to give a simple caution that if you have not taught your dog about delayed reinforcement, a period of food treats, play, and attention such as I show in the video would likely not be connected to a previous behavior chain. And frankly, I don’t think that by the end of my hanging out with Summer she was thinking, “This is all because I did my Rally moves so nicely!” But I think at the beginning she probably did experience the doggie equivalent of that. And if we are going to have fun and hang out together, it certainly doesn’t hurt to pair it with an activity that I want to have good associations for her.

Let the Treat Fit the Feat

Let the Treat Fit the Feat

I am taking Susan Friedman’s Living and Learning with Animals professional online course. Woo hoo! It is incredible. My brain is so happy with all the new stuff I am feeding it. And the sense of community created by how the class is run is incredible. One gets glimpses of How the World Could Be.

I’ve got training and learning and behavior on my mind even MORE than usual.

So the other day I was explaining to a friend why I was buying multiple cheap toys at the Dollar Store for Summer to shred. We are preparing to compete in AKC Rally Advanced, where one of the exercises is to ignore either food on the floor (no problem) or toys (possible problem) while heeling off leash. Summer’s biggest fun by far with toys has always been to dismember them. She is a very “doggie dog” and I am happy to oblige her since she does these silly competitions with me. I wanted to treat her with a toy she could shred after successfully ignoring one on the floor, and to be able to do this daily or so for a while.

Adolescent Summer in 2006 with a favorite toy

I realized as I was telling my friend about it that we have a phrase in English, “Let the punishment fit the crime.” And a resonating cultural tradition for that that goes way back. An eye for an eye…. But I was grasping around for the positive corollary for that expression and it wasn’t there. Where is the saying for letting the reinforcer fit the task?

Dr. Friedman refers to the global confusion about behavior, learning, reinforcement and punishment as the Cultural Fog. I realized I had blundered into a really good example of it.

Then it came to me. The next time you, your companion human, or your companion animal does something really spectacular:

“Let the treat fit the feat.”

Here’s a nice example of it. Marge Rogers is reinforcing her dog for recalling to her away from eating a plateful of tasty food. At 0:50 when she calls him and he comes quickly and immediately, she gives him really high value food, a piece at a time from her hands, which extends the duration of the reward experience. She is also praising him and giving him her undivided attention. She is telling Rounder that he has done something really spectacular.

Here’s another one. Could you imagine Summer giving this kind of enthusiasm for one piece of kibble?

Soon back to our regularly scheduled blog entries.

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Dogs Who Like to be Petted or Touched

Dogs Who Like to be Petted or Touched

Today I am offering more examples of dogs who enjoy being petted, or enjoy other types of human touch. (This is a followup to “Does Your Dog REALLY Want to Be Petted?”) And I’m encouraging humans again to figure out what their dog likes and doesn’t like. If your dog doesn’t like petting, maybe you can figure out an alternative behavior for yourself that both you and your dog can enjoy.

I am blessed with Clara, who thrives on touching and being touched, and has since she was a baby. Here she is at 12 weeks and 14 months. I am doing the “consent test” in both clips; stopping the petting and waiting to see if she solicits more. She generally answers with an emphatic Yes. There’s also a “stupid human” trick though, when I am continuing to ooh and ahh and pet her while she is squirming and obviously done with the whole thing. Oops.

Some dogs like other kinds of touch from humans. Here is my friend’s chihuahua, who blisses out when I gently, gently wobble her body back and forth.

And here is elderly Cricket, who really enjoys wiping her face all over any part of my body or clothing that she can reach. I think it makes her feel safe that she can control the touch this way, too. If I were to handle her the way I handle Clara, she would be desperately trying to escape.

In a previous post we saw Zani saying “No” to petting, but she enjoys lap time and snuggling up close.

Zani isn’t interested in being petted, but she likes to snuggle

I scoured YouTube one evening as well, and dug up videos of a few more dogs who seemed to enjoy petting (and saw dozens who didn’t). In many of these videos, the dog doesn’t enjoy every single thing the human does. But they appear to enjoy the petting and touching in general and ask for more. If you can find some more good ones–or think that any of these aren’t good examples, let me know. You can tell from the titles that these folks have all done something like a consent test, whether they knew it was called that or not. (In some of the videos, the people appear to have reinforced  demanding behavior from their dogs. That’s a subject for another day!)

If you are going to watch only one, watch the first one. It is especially moving. The Doberman in the movie is a rescued stray and is so obviously pleased with human touch and contact. (As of 9/16/12 he is available for adoption through Doberman Rescue of the Triad, covering Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and West Virginia in the U.S.)

Beamer – Rescue Doberman

Cutest dog ever: don’t stop petting me (rat terrier mix?)

My Pug will not let you stop petting him

Don’t stop petting the dog (labrador)

Pierre – CDC foster dog/” Don’t stop petting me!!!” (poodle/chihuahua mix)

Get Pet 101: Obsessive chocolate lab wants to be pet more

Thanks to Nancy S. for helping me look over these.

Discussions coming soon:

Thanks for reading!

Superstitious Behaviors in Dog Training

Superstitious Behaviors in Dog Training

Definition of a Superstitious Behavior: Accidentally or unintentionally reinforced behavior where a behavior is reinforced but the reinforcement occurred by random chance instead of in accordance with a specific contingency.   —From the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals glossary

My little black cat Arabella never brought me bad luck

I wrote when I started this blog that I was going to share my mistakes in the hopes of helping others learn. Here are some nice big embarrassing ones regarding superstitious behaviors, but at least they date mostly from my earlier training days. Hopefully you, or any beginning trainer, can benefit from the lessons I learned the hard way.

The Terminology

B.F. Skinner first described superstitious behaviors in experiments with pigeons in 1948. He set a feeding mechanism to trip at variable intervals that had nothing to do with the actions of the pigeons. The pigeons nonetheless started repeating behaviors that had been “accidentally” marked and reinforced by the feeder.

The term “superstitious behavior” now refers to any behavior that is accidentally reinforced. A couple of the behaviors in this post stretch the definition. But even if they aren’t technically superstitious, they are nonetheless accidental or at least poorly trained on my part.

Summer’s Nod

When one of my agility buddies encouraged me in 2008 to start using a clicker, I didn’t know that I should practice timing. I didn’t know that there were mechanical and observational skills involved. A clicker seemed like a fun thing and I had heard that dogs got motivated and enjoyed it. So I also didn’t know that it would be wise to start with a behavior that involved only gross motor movements.

Uh oh.

The very first behavior I actually got with a clicker was a head nod, even though I was trying to click for eye contact. I realized this after working on this a few weeks with Summer. Summer would move her head to look at me and I would click. I clicked the eye contact but apparently also clicked the nod.  Strangely, the nod drifted to the period after the click and before treat delivery. The sequence went: eye contact, click, head nod, treat. The nod, immediately preceding the food, accordingly got a ton of reinforcement. Even though she did learn (despite me) that I was trying to teach eye contact, the head nod remained.

Four years later, I still get little nods from Summer. Interestingly, she doesn’t offer it in shaping sessions. When it comes back, it returns in its old place between the marker and the treat when I have just clicked her for something else. This is an example of a superstitious behavior.  And it turns out that I am really good at creating those!

It has faded some over the years, but I found a couple of examples. Want to see?

Zani’s Weave Poles

The following is a behavior that would have been very difficult to teach, had I intended to do so.

In the course of teaching Zani agility weaves using the two by two method, I would tend to mark with a “yes” the moment she made the turn between the last poles. This was the moment I was absolutely sure she was going to complete the behavior correctly. That’s a natural time to mark. But early on in our training, she did a few little jumps through the last pair of poles. I marked, and you can see what happened.

But what is most fascinating is that she does it only when I am on her right side. When I am on her left, she doesn’t do her “jump thing” between the last poles. I speculate that since she is very spatially sensitive, she is less likely to hurl herself out of the weaves when I am close to where she will emerge. Or perhaps I just didn’t mark the exit as much when we practiced on that side.

Clara’s Circles

Those first two behaviors are pretty cute. This behavior of Clara’s that I accidentally reinforced is rather unfortunate.

Clara has always been pushy. When she was about three months old I started a training project of reinforcing her for walking a few feet away when I was interacting with another dog. I started off with the other dogs in crates and was very systematic about it. I drew lines on the floor for my own benefit so as to keep consistent criteria about Clara’s distance from the other dogs. We did lots and lots of sessions where she would walk away a few steps and reorient at some distance.

It would have been better if I had taught a default down or Go to Mat, or at least thrown the treat away from our immediate area. I ended up unintentionally reinforcing a circling behavior. She would walk a few steps away, turn and reorient at the desired distance. I marked the turn way too often, when what I wanted for her was just to back off. But the “backing off” was not a well-defined behavior, even with my lines on the floor. So I ended up clicking an observable behavior, and that was when she turned back to me. Dang.

What is so unfortunate about this is that the circling either morphed into a stress behavior or it was one already. Because I have seen a lot more of it ever since those sessions. Clara tends to do it when I don’t mark a behavior that she expects to be marked. She will immediately whirl around, usually counterclockwise, then often retreat to a mat.

It is impossible to tease apart how much of this is due to all that early reinforcement, and how much of it is a natural stress behavior for her. I do wish I hadn’t trained so many 180 and 270 degree turns when she was young. When I set out to teach her spinning as a trick, it was dead easy, but I gave that a second thought and decided not to use that trick.

Cricket, Too

I even taught superstitious behaviors with Cricket. I tried to train a paw lift as a “wave” trick, but then it started occurring in her “sit” position as a superstitious behavior. Once it started, I kept accidentally reinforcing it. She almost never put her left foot down when she sat for me again. I didn’t know enough at the time to fix the problem I had created.

The way I first taught the behavior was not great either. A friend had suggested holding a treat in my hand and clicking Cricket for pawing at it, then fading the hand and treat. Such a bad idea in so many ways. Reinforcing an enthusiastic digging terrier for pawing at my hand? Ouch.

How To Avoid Training Superstitious Behaviors

I wish I could give some succinct, pithy advice that could keep other newish trainers from doing this. When choosing what behaviors to teach and how to teach them,  it takes experience to learn to predict the ramifications.

Here are the best suggestions I have.

  • Answer a few questions. Is there a persistent extra behavior that is happening when I train this behavior? What’s going to happen if that extra behavior sticks around? How can I get rid of it? If I’m training a trick—might this extra behavior or the trick itself turn up where I don’t want it? Might it interfere with behaviors that are actually more important to train?
  • Video yourself. If you don’t have a teacher, you can learn a lot by recording your training sessions, and if you are brave, showing those recordings to online friends if you don’t have a teacher or local training buddy. People can give much better counsel if they actually see what you and the animal have been doing. Most of us humans could use a lot of work on our observation and description skills. Cameras do a lot better job for a lot of us.
  • Get expert advice. I didn’t have a teacher to ask when I taught most of the behaviors I’ve described here. A professional would have seen most of my mishaps in an instant and showed me how to head them off.

A Success!

One thing that I got right: I started training that “backing up the stairs or wall” trick that was going around a while back. Zani just loved it and started getting good at it. It was great for hind end awareness.

But then one day when we were practicing our two on, two off agility contacts, she overran them and happily backed up into position. That would be a fault in many agility venues. I immediately stopped training the trick. A more experienced or patient trainer could certainly have both behaviors, but sometimes I realize my limitations. The risk wasn’t worth it to me.

Here is one more superstitious behavior Clara and I collaborated on. This is an example of something that is cute when a puppy does it, but can get pretty tiresome in a grown dog. Of course it’s still cute, but who wants their fingers licked Every. Single. Time. They go to open a crate door?

OK folks, please tell me I’m not the only one who trains silly behaviors by accident. Does anybody want to say what they have done? Or are you all perfect?

(Here’s a link to a one minute video that shows all five behaviors, to make my humiliation complete.)

Many thanks to Joyce Loebig for suggestions that improved this post!

Coming Soon

Copyright 2012 Eileen Anderson

Lumping It: A Public Service Announcement

Lumping It: A Public Service Announcement

So maybe you are new to clicker training and you keep hearing people talking about lumping and how bad it is. Be a splitter, not a lumper, they say. You have a vague idea about it but maybe aren’t exactly sure what they mean except that lumping is bad.

Or maybe you are a teacher and you would like a really clear example of lumping vs splitting to show your students.

Do I have a video for you! Continue reading “Lumping It: A Public Service Announcement”

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