eileenanddogs

Month: August 2021

Planning the Tricks for Our Novice Master’s Title

Planning the Tricks for Our Novice Master’s Title

This is not actually how you play the “Roll out the carpet” game

For Clara’s Novice Masters Trick Dog title through Do More With Your Dog, we need 15 more tricks to add to the 15 we’ve already done. I’ve picked an assortment. Some she already knows fluently, some we can resurrect from old training, and some are completely new. Likewise, my criteria will vary a bit. She can already do paws up on a wall; we’ll get it once and that’ll be enough. It’s something I’ll fade out as she gets older. But Peekaboo/center position, where she stands under me and pokes her head out between my legs, is something I want to get fluent and strong.

Trick Selection

Here’s the list of what we are going to work on, with commentary.

  • Balance beam (walk on an elevated plank). This should be straightforward. I have a sturdy agility teeter that she has actually walked while it moves. Walking a steady plank should be easy.
  • Balance cookie on nose. I’m thinking of this as a fun challenge. I hate the “leave-it” videos where dogs have treats all over them and look miserable. I realize this is just one treat on the nose, but it’s a new thing for Clara. I broke out the boiled chicken today. She may have only a dog biscuit on her face, but she’ll get chicken for her efforts. And we’ll break it off if I can’t make it enjoyable for her.
    Update: We’ve done one session of this. I used some flat, large kibble to start with instead of a dog biscuit. I aimed to start by putting the kibble on top of her head, but she thought that was too weird when I reached up there with food. Instead, I started by putting it on her front legs, using our “leave-it” cue. She got that right away. I paid with mozzarella cheese, which she seemed to think was a more than fair deal. Sometimes she got the kibble, too, if it fell off, which was OK with me. Toward the end, I switched to putting the kibble on the top of her head and she did fine with about five reps of that.
  • Crawl. We have worked on this before, but I find it a challenging behavior, so it might take us a while to meet criteria. (This image is from 3 1/2 years ago.)
  • Disc rollers. New behavior. I’ll need to get some rollable disks. The only ones I have are soft rubber and not suitable.
  • Doggy pushups (sit/down). This was an earlier failure. We are practicing. We’ve got this easily if I reinforce each position. But I want to build some confidence and extend the behavior to all six iterations on one treat if we can. I rarely ask for multiples, and I’d like to get her more used to the idea.
  • Focus. This is eye contact for six seconds. When we used to do the Training Levels, she got up to 20. Shouldn’t be too hard.
  • Front (go from heel position to sitting in front of me). This will be new for her, but with my rally and obedience background, I’m pretty clear on how to teach it. It looks like they allow the backward step, as in rally novice (AKC).
  • Memory game (indicate where a treat was placed under one of three containers). Should be fun.
  • Muffin tin game. Also fun. Hardly any criteria—remove items to get to the goodies.
  • Paws in a box. We’ve never done this, but she can do a tucked sit on a small elevated platform, so this shouldn’t be too hard.
  • Peekaboo/center position. I am excited about this one. I want her to get it very solid so I can cue her to do it on walks. So I will go slowly and work to keep my training clean. Like mat training, I want to reinforce strongly both getting into position and staying in position.
  • Platform jump (jump between two platforms of equal height). This is easy for her; I just need to get my two platforms the same height. I think I can take the height of the Klimb down to get it close to the Kato board.
We had one trial with the yoga mat. Video next time!
  • Roll out the carpet. We started this. It’s completely new for her, even though it’s such a baby trick. First, I put treats in a bath mat and let her at it. She was initially a little tentative and looking for instruction from me. But got the idea pretty soon that when she pushed with her nose, a treat appeared, whether it was one that was already in there or one I tossed. The challenge will be to get her to use her nose exclusively since she likes to use her feet.
  • Stand. We’ve been working on this on and off for years. I have to remember what I started using as my verbal and hand signal!
  • Target disk (nose touch to a disk). This will be simple if I hold it in my hand, more challenging if it’s on the floor (the rules give you a choice). I have taught her a paw touch to a disk on the floor and it’s actually on stimulus control. I don’t want to risk messing that up. In this case, I am going to take the easier route and hold the disk for the nose touch and let that be part of the cue. I rarely work on stimulus control and I don’t want to lose what we have with the paw touch. (To clarify: it’s perfectly possible to get both things, but I am running up against my own limitations. Plenty of these tricks will challenge us, so I don’t mind taking the easier way on this one.)
  • Target stick. We are working on the new stick. This is an easy and fluent behavior for her; I just need to get it transferred to the longer stick with the ball on the end.
One-year-old Clara checking out a stink bug
  • Wall stand (paws up on the wall). We’ve done this before. We’ll do a one-and-done.
  • Weenie bobbing. This is new for her, but she loves water and puts her head under naturally, so I don’t foresee a problem.
  • Which hand holds the treat? This will be new for us. Since closed hand is an old signal for “leave it,” this might get interesting.

You may notice that there are more than 15 here. I need a little insurance in case some don’t work out!

Head Cock: Already a Mega-Blooper

I’m also planning for some of the hard ones on the list (we aren’t stopping at 30 when there are 61 tricks on the list!). One of the novice tricks seems like it will be very difficult for Clara: cocking her head. Zani was the queen of this charming behavior, but I have never seen Clara do it in her whole life. I will try shaping it, but it will be tough.

I’m trying to do the planning and problem-solving myself in this project, but on this trick, I might need to bring in some reinforcements. Hmm, which trainer friend shall I hit up?

We had a practice session where I tested the waters about capturing/shaping head movement. I marked and treated for any kind of movement of the head in any direction. This seemed a safe enough thing to do for one session. Unbeknownst to non-observant me, something was going on with another part of her body. This movie first zooms in on her head, where you can see that I was doing a halfway decent job of marking head movement. Then it zooms out and you can see the other movement I was capturing. Oops.

We also had some amusing developments when I started using the yoga mat for the carpet roll, as you can see from the featured photo at the top. I’ll post some yoga mat footage next time since it’s cute.

Clara is enjoying this so much and that makes me very happy.

Related Post

Clara’s Notice Trick Title: 15 Tricks, 4 Informative Fails

Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson

Clara’s Novice Trick Title: 15 Tricks, 4 Informative Fails

Clara’s Novice Trick Title: 15 Tricks, 4 Informative Fails

To keep us both on our toes, I am starting to teach 10-year-old Clara every trick I can get my hands on that is safe for her and that she enjoys. Going to grab some online titles on the way (these are judged via video). Titles are reinforcing to me and often the requirements jolt me out of my training ruts.

These posts will be both here on Eileenanddogs and on my new blog: Teaching My Old Dog New Tricks. For now, my plans are that it will be the same material. If you don’t want to have to search for these among all the different topics on this blog, go to the new one because the tricks posts will be the only ones on there. There’s also a little intro that also gives a little more background about why I embarked on this project.

We started with our novice trick title for Do More With Your Dog. For this first go-round, I picked things Clara already knew and could do fluently. Hey, I wanted a little immediate reinforcement! But also, I was honest about it. When it turned out I was wrong about the fluency and she struggled with puppy pushups and a new target stick, we saved those for later. I could have gotten the behaviors well enough to pass the criteria for the test, but passing at all costs is not my goal. I want to do some good training. I don’t have to have everything on verbal cue (thank goodness) or stimulus control, but I want a modicum of understanding of the behavior. And the failures (see below) are so instructive about the flaws in my training.

I do aim to get better cue recognition along the way. I’ll be working on duration (with myself—Clara does whatever I ask of her!) as well.

A large part of my motivation is that Clara needs more enrichment in her life. Throughout these 10 years, I’ve learned that playing training games is one of her very favorite things. So here we go with every trick I can get my hands on.

Here’s the first batch.

Clara is virtually always this happy when training. This video earned Clara her Novice Trick Dog title with Do More With Your Dog. Thank you to Kit Azevedo for judging our video.

Training Errors

So far, the behaviors are mostly kindergarten behaviors—it feels like a stretch to refer to them as tricks. But a couple of them took some skill. The things I thought we could do that we couldn’t are far more interesting! Here’s a list of the things you can see on the following “Informative Failures” video. I’ll discuss them below after the video.

1. I make her break her stay on a cot by saying her name in a way that resembles our recall cue.

2. I forget to release her from her cot, she stays 60 seconds, and I don’t notice or reinforce.

3. We fail puppy push-ups.

4. We fall apart when I use a new target stick

5. (Not on video.) I cue her to jump, she takes me literally, and jumps into the jump instead of over it.

The following video is not quite funny enough to qualify as a blooper video, although I found some things amusing. But then, I always laugh a lot when we work together.

Reasons for Errors

The reasons for the “errors” that Clara made (I’m using scare quotes because they are not really her errors) are so clear to me. They are due to matching law effects and reinforcement history, both schedules of reinforcement and patterning on my part.

1. Breaking her stay when I say her name. People warn against using a dog’s name as a recall cue, and this is the reason. But it’s not usually a problem for us. I use a special tone and inflection for her recall cue (you hear it later in the video). It’s different from my normal way of speaking to her, but when she was staying on her cot, I inflected her name just enough to make her come to me. My bad.

2. Staying on her cot because I forget to release her. This isn’t a mistake at all, it’s a lovely success, except it would have been nice of me to reinforce her after that great stay while I was walking all around and setting things up. But no, I jumped right into cueing the next behavior.

3. Puppy push-ups. Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The puppy pushups chain consists of repeating the behaviors of sit, down, sit, down, sit, down, on cue. What half-way trained dog can’t do this? Answer: a dog whose trainer has been emphasizing stand on and off for the past two years and tends to ask her for a pattern of sit, down, sit, stand. My pattern overruled her recognition of the verbal cues. Not to mention that I usually reinforce 1:1 and I was asking for six without working up to it. Doh!

We could have pushed through this on the spot and gotten the requisite number of correct repetitions, but I’m choosing to go back and do some remedial work. I worked hard for that stand, but I don’t want it to overrule another behavior I ask for! And getting the verbal cues for sit, down, and stand distinct seems like a great idea!

One of these things is not like the others

4. The new target stick and “three-fers.” Clara has a strong nose-targeting behavior. She can target my hand, my foot, a target stick, a piece of tape on a wall, a cabinet or door. So what happened here? The first problem was reinforcement history. We have been practicing a directed retrieve for months now, so putting her mouth on something is right at the top of her “behaviors to offer” list. The second problem was that the target stick was much longer than the two others I usually use, so the visuals were wrong. The end was much farther from my hand. You can see her repeatedly targeting the place on the long stick that corresponds to the length of the sticks she is used to. Also, the end of the target stick was a round object that must look delectable to a dog who loves balls. But that doesn’t account for most of the errors. If those had been the only problems, we would have gotten 70–90% correct touches within a few minutes.

My biggest mistake was to start asking for three-fers. I’m stealing Sue Ailsby’s term of “two-fers,” that is, to ask for two reps of a behavior before marking and reinforcing. We’ve done plenty of that along with higher numbers of reps as well. The trick requirements for the video asked for three nose targets in different positions, so I absentmindedly started asking for them as a chain. <Insert record scratch sound effect.> Clara’s success rate because of the other problems was already too low. When I started asking for three touches for one reinforcer, i.e., not marking and reinforcing the first two, I put the targeting behavior on extinction. It wasn’t paying off, so she started trying a bunch of other stuff. This is a classic side effect of extinction: getting more variety in the behavior. It’s a side effect we sometimes gently and carefully use in shaping. But here it must have been frustrating. She couldn’t figure out the game we were playing because I changed too many variables. She’s such a good sport.

You can see in the video that there are three clean touches in a row at least once. But that was not representative of our performance, which had a low percentage of right responses for this simple behavior. So I’m going back to the drawing board on this one, just like puppy pushups.

5. Bar jump. This is not on the video, because some mistakes are too awful even for me to show. Even though Summer and Zani were titled agility dogs, the cue “jump” to them was background chatter. To them, the cue was being pointed toward an actual jump combined with my body language. But Clara learned the verbal cue “jump” back when we were working on the Training Levels. I use it occasionally, cueing her to jump over a narrow flower bed in front of the house when on leash.

So I forgot which dog I had. I lined Clara up before the bar jump, cued “Jump” and she jumped right where she was, doing exactly as I asked, and landed on the jump. This was especially bad because it’s a homemade jump with bars that don’t come off. She could have broken a leg by catching it between the two horizontal bars. She didn’t do that, and she didn’t injure herself in any way. But that horrifying scare was punishing for me. I don’t think I’ll get mixed up about that again.

It’s ironic that I am weak at teaching verbal cues, but I somehow taught a good one for “jump.”

Final Words

One of the reasons I’m writing up these details is that there are still people, many many people, who blame errors on the dog. That is like a different world to me now. How can I unlearn what I have learned about reinforcement history and the matching law? When I see Clara’s “mistakes,” I am looking at a map of my own training habits and flaws. Look at Clara in the videos. She wants to perform behaviors for food and fun. Her attention is riveted on me. She is eager. There is no reason on earth she would deliberately make a mistake, as some people claim their dogs are doing when being “disobedient.”

She is obedient to the laws of learning, as we all are. And the most important thing is that she loves these games, even with my warty training. As I improve my skills, she’ll enjoy this activity even more.

Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson

How to Tone Down That Plastic Dog Collar Click (and Why)

How to Tone Down That Plastic Dog Collar Click (and Why)

bright colored fabric dog collar with plastic snap

Plastic collar clicks are loud! And we often snap them right next to our dogs’ ears. I realized I habitually dampen the sound with my hands; this practice undoubtedly came from my experiences with little Zani, who was clinically sound phobic. During bad periods, she would startle at any kind of sudden noise.

I imagine I’m by far not the only one who does this. But in case there are dog owners who haven’t worked this out, here’s a kind thing you can do for your dogs. If you use collars or harnesses with plastic snap buckles, you can use your hands to damp the sound of the click when you snap the collar closed.

I wanted to know just how loud the snap might be and how much quieter I could get it. I ran a seat-of-the-pants experiment with a good mic and a sound analysis app. The click was about 83 decibels at its peak frequency, undamped. (That’s just one measurement; the intensity of the sound will vary with the type of collar, the flexibility of the plastic, the distance from the ear, and many other factors.) Eighty-three dB is not normally in the painful range for humans (or likely dogs), but since the snap is an impulse noise, it can be shocking to the ears at that level. One study with rats showed that a sudden sound can evoke the startle response if it is between 80–90 dB (Ladd et al, 2000). Bingo.

If you hold a plastic buckle three inches from your ear and snap it together, you will feel an uncomfortable sudden blast of sound pressure in your ear. I’m guessing it doesn’t feel great to dogs, either.

This plot represents that sound. It has frequency on the x-axis and sound pressure level (roughly the same as volume) on the y-axis. More about the plots at the end of the post.

Sound pressure level graph with frequency on the x axis showing the SPL of the peak of the collar noise at 83.2 dB
83 dB—and note the sharp peak

How to Dampen the Sound and How Much That Can Help

Many of you have probably figured out, either analytically or subconsciously, to hold the pieces of the buckle a certain way to reduce that loud click.

But I bet you haven’t seen how much it helps if you dampen the snap with your hands.

If you simply press the two parts of the snap collar together, they click loudly.

plastic dog collar snap about to be clicked
Loud click (83 dB) is about to happen

But if you use your fingers to dampen the sound, you can lower the intensity substantially. Not all collars have the same design, but I got an optimal reduction of the sound when I fit my fingers into the curves of the receptacle as shown in the next image. I not only damped the vibrations; I could slow the progress of the plastic prongs. I was able to ease them over the internal part that makes them snap (you can see that in the movie). You can also get a decent reduction in the sound if you hold the flat parts or put your whole fist around that side of the buckle, but though it will be quieter, the snap will still be sharp.

Fingers pressing on the receptacle portion of a plastic collar buckle so as to dampen the sound
Nice quiet click: 54 dB

The damped click is about 54 dB, 29 dB lower.

Sound pressure level graph with frequency on the x axis showing the SPL of the peak of the collar noise at 54.2 dB
54 dB and no sharp peak; this is a thud, not a click

In the weird world of logarithmic scales, that translates to the loud click being almost 1,000 times louder than the damped one. See the note at the bottom of the post if you are interested in more detail about the math behind these diagrams.

Here’s a quick video showing how I optimally damped the click of the collar.

Be careful with damping, though. I did pinch my thumb once and got a blood blister.

Woman's hand with closeup of small blood blister on thumb

Some people with sensitive dogs avoid snappy collars and harnesses entirely. I find them handy enough that I do use them but take care to keep my dogs’ ears (even my non-sensitive dog) from being clobbered by the sound. I hope the points in this post weren’t painfully obvious to every dog guardian already.

What things do you do to improve your dog’s sound environment?

Related Posts

Sciencey Addendum

The diagrams I use above to show the comparative sound pressure levels in decibels (dB) are in the form of a Fast Fourier Transform. (Believe it or not, the previous link is one of the more understandable explanations of the FFT.) What the FFT does is transform a signal, in this case a sound, from the time domain to the frequency domain. In these diagrams, the FFT is showing the sound pressure level (roughly speaking, the volume) at its different component frequencies. There are at least three interesting things about the diagrams.

First, you can “see” that the undamped click is much sharper. Check out the sharp peak on the plot. That’s a click. The damped sound is more like a thud. It’s quieter but also spread out farther over a range of frequencies. That makes the sound less startling.

Second, the sound pressure level stays high in the frequencies above the peak in the undamped version. The overtones and other contributing high frequencies are free to do their loud thing. You can see in the damped version that I pretty much killed those higher frequencies with my fingers. What nice news for dogs, who hear these high frequencies better than we do.

Third, those two other “humps” to the left of the peak frequency in the damped diagram are interesting! But I can’t explain them, except that I changed the contour of the sound by slowing down the plastic prongs as they passed over the internal clasp. But I’d like to know more about what’s going on. It’s possible the lowest hump is now the fundamental frequency. I’ll do it again one of these days and check out the center frequencies of the other humps and see if I learn anything interesting.

References

Ladd, C. O., Plotsky, P. M., & Davis, M. (2000). Startle response. George Fink. Encyclopedia of Stress. (ed), 3.

Copyright 2021 Eileen Anderson

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