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Tag: go to mat

Places! Mat Training for Multiple Dogs

Places! Mat Training for Multiple Dogs

Assigned mats!
Assigned mats! Sorry about your front legs, Summer, but I clearly haven’t been firm enough about “on the mat” criteria, have I?

I recently got a new reader with multiple dogs (Seven of them! Hi Donna!) who was very complimentary about my posts on that topic. I respond very well to positive reinforcement, so here is another “multiple dogs” post.

The previous post I am most proud of discusses our work on individual releases. They come in so handy! And thinking about it made me realize I’ve never written about our specific mat training for the kitchen. Perhaps it may be helpful for some others. It has been very useful to me.

Last year as I was struggling along with pushy Clara, I decided to create “Assigned Seats” in the kitchen. I train all my dogs to get on mats and stay there, both on cue and as an offered behavior. I generally have mats strategically placed all around the house (i.e. strewn around). Most of the time it is “finders, keepers” for who gets what mat. But I wanted to get Clara out of the way of the other dogs and decided to teach them each to get on a particular mat when in the kitchen.

I bought Clara a special elevated bed, and she liked it right off, which was great. It’s a little less convenient to jump off of than just a mat on the floor, so it helped with the stay as well as designating exactly where her place was. Summer and Zani got to go in their long-term preferred places in front. Later Clara chewed up one of the four plastic legs of the bed, so it is propped on three, but she still likes it. I’ll get another bed one of these days.

I actually wrote a training plan for the behavior, and mostly followed it, although the dogs all progressed faster than I expected.

I chose a unique cue for the behavior since it wasn’t just go to mat, it was go to a particular mat. My cue was “Places!” in a singsong tone. Here’s the training plan.

Training Plan for Places in the Kitchen

Behavior: Dogs get and stay on assigned mats in kitchen on verbal cue until released. Goal duration 15 minutes.

 The point of this behavior: Give each dog an assigned place, with Clara positioned so she can’t harass the other dogs or resource guard me. Work up duration methodically and in a disciplined way with a new cue. I haven’t been methodical enough with their generic go to mat cue.

Steps

  1. Use high value treats. Shape each dog, separately, onto their assigned place without other mats or dogs in the room.
  2. Practice repetitions.
  3. Teach them the new cue for going to this specific place: “Places!”
  4. Work each dog, separately, up to a 5 minute stay at their place, including moderate kitchen distractions.
  5. Switch to a different physical mat in the same place so the dog knows it is the place, not the mat, that is assigned. Remove cue if necessary to reshape the behavior.
  6. Take cue off. Add the other dogs’ mats into the room and reshape the behavior, only rewarding when they get onto their own place. Move myself and the dog around the room for different approaches.
  7. Put the cue back on when they are very solid about ignoring the other mats: 80-90%.
  8. Run a test with each pair of the three dogs. See how well they can perform their behavior with one other dog in the room. Decide if anyone needs more practice by herself. Do repetitions.
  9. When everyone is at about the same level, practice going to place with each pair with the cue.
  10. Also have one dog in there already and send another in on cue.
  11. Practice duration up to 5 minutes with each pair.
  12. Run a test with all 3 dogs together. Decide if any individual needs more practice at a lower level or if any pair is a problem.
  13. Repeat Steps 8-11 with all three dogs.
  14. Work behavior duration up to 15 minutes with period between treats up to 5 minutes.

Possible distractions besides the usual body  movements: walk into main kitchen area. Stand still looking at them. Open fridge, drawers, cabinets. Sit on floor. Stand staring into space. Sit down at the table. Drop food. Put things on the floor. Keep back turned. Leave kitchen. Treat another dog. Pet another dog. Act like I’m done training (without release).

Here is the finished behavior.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

By now duration is not an issue. They are often there for 40 minutes or more while I cook. Clara is so good about staying on her place that if I throw her a treat without releasing, and the throw is bad, she just stays on her bed and watches Summer break her stay to go running after it. (Obviously, I reinforce Clara heavily for staying put!)

Oh by the way, I love having behaviors that are cued by actions and situations rather than verbal cues, and I have experimented over the years with having my walking into the work area of the kitchen be a cue for everyone to get on their mats. It often happens that way, but it is not a strong cue since I tend to walk in and out so much. So if I am going to be in the work area for any length of time and they want to be in the kitchen, I use the verbal cue.

Gratuitous adorable picture of baby Clara on on mat
Gratuitous adorable picture of baby Clara on a mat

I do have to be vigilant, because if I forget, Clara will start drifting forward and get on one of the front mats instead. But the good news is that she will yield if she is on another dog’s mat if that dog approaches. You can see her do that in a couple of the takes in the movie.  (Yay Clara! I never thought I would see the day!)

Watching the movie made me a little concerned about Clara’s running to Summer’s mat first, even though she yielded. With a little experimentation, though, I found out that the only time she doesn’t run straight to her bed is when I call them all in from the front room (when they run in from the right). I did that for a little variety in the video, but never in real life. We can just go back to Step 6 and practice that approach to get a fluent response.

But there’s always Summer’s scooching forward and stretching the definition of “on the mat,” isn’t there? I’m never quite done, even when I think I am!

Any other multiple dogs tips out there?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

The Right Word: Reducing Errors in Verbal Cue Discrimination

The Right Word: Reducing Errors in Verbal Cue Discrimination

Sable colored dog leaps off a pink mat towards her female handler's outstretched hand
Summer releases on the correct cues

I’m an auditory person. I grew up in a whole family of musicians. I love language and sound and music of all sorts. For the first half of my life I lived almost exclusively in the company of musicians, and in the second half I have few musician friends. This second half has made me conscious of the ways we musicians are different!

At work, I’m the one who gets asked to check the voice mail when we can’t understand the name. When there is a strange noise, eyes turn to me for identification of it. I can almost always tell if someone can’t hear me well, and I can immediately tell if someone is not listening to me (these are very different!). I can also ignore visual stimuli very well if I am listening to someone or something. (With regard to visual skills, I’ve been told someone could come in and rearrange the furniture in my house and I wouldn’t notice….)

So naturally I am interested in my dogs’ perceptions of sound and verbal cues. Frequent readers will know that I am honest about my limitations and frailties as a trainer, so I think you all will believe me when I say that ironically I seem to have three dogs in training who all have rather low aptitude for verbal cues. I.e., it’s probably not just my limitations in this case. So we all have to work extra hard on words.

Verbal cue discrimination training, where you teach a dog to respond only to the correct word,  can be stressful for any dog. If not done with care, the dog can have a very high error rate, which is discouraging to many dogs. So I gave a lot of thought about how I could reduce that error rate.

In A Secret for Training Two Dogs I described my strategies for teaching one of my dogs to stay on a mat while I trained another. I briefly discussed my methods for releases. I have chosen to use each dog’s name, spoken in a certain tone, as an individual release. Dr. Patricia McConnell demonstrates this method in “Examples of Wait with Multiple Dogs.”  This post covers how I went about teaching the discrimination of each dog releasing only on her own cue.

Does She Know the Cue At All?

Most of us at some point discover that our dogs don’t know their verbal cues nearly as well as we think they do. Here’s an experiment for those who have puppies or inexperienced dogs and haven’t worked on this before. Try this if your dog is familiar with Sit and Down, but not Stand.

Cue your dog to sit. Then look at her just like you are giving her a real cue (be as convincing as you can) and say “(Your dog’s name), Purple.” Or some other word that doesn’t sound a bit like “Down” or any other cue she knows. Most dogs will promptly lie down.

It usually turns out that your dog  didn’t really know the word, “Down.” She didn’t need to, since whenever you have said something to her when she is sitting, you meant for her to down. So you can say anything and she will do it.

The transition from responding whenever “human-says-a-word” to learning to listen to the verbals can be difficult and stressful. That’s why I decided to apply the principles of reduced error learning.

Reduced Error Learning

I don’t use the term “errorless learning” because it is both impossible in real life situations and sets a depressingly high standard for most people (and also, I have to add, the most well known studies involved lab animals that were food deprived. I just don’t want to be associated with that). I wrote about this in Errorless Learning II. I have adopted Susan Friedman’s terminology of “reduced error learning” because I think it’s more realistic.

The original concept as promoted by Skinner is great. I do absolutely follow the practices of this kind of learning, which I would describe as “setting your dog up to succeed and to reduce stress in learning, including with creative manipulation of the training environment and props.”

An example of this is the process of  making the right choice easier at first during an olfactory discrimination, such as the cups game. If you are teaching your dog to foot target the inverted cup that covers a smelly treat, first you start with only that one cup. Encourage her to use her nose to smell the cup and treat. Let her repeatedly practice touching the cup with the  treat under it. Lift the cup and give her the treat each time.

To start the discrimination, you introduce a second cup without a treat, but you introduce it way over to the side where the dog can’t reach it. You gradually move it closer and closer while the dog is still touching the correct cup. In this way you have made the correct choice easy and the incorrect choice hard, and the dog is gaining a reinforcement history for touching the cup with the treat. Only after this process would you start mixing the cups up.

The opposite of this process would be to put out multiple cups with only one with a treat under it, and mix them up each time the dog gives a try. Even if your dog knew a foot target, there would be no clue as to which cup to touch. And even if it seems like it would be obvious for them to touch only the smelly cup, well, I’m here to tell you that my hound couldn’t do it, even when I made it much easier than a bunch of mixed up cups. With several cups, the failure rate is apt to be so high that many dogs will quit after a few attempts. This is the difficulty with trial and error learning.

Applying Reduced Error Learning to Cue Discrimination

Verbal cue discrimination means you teach your dog to respond only to the correct verbal cue and not other words. The way this is generally done is to repeat the cue for one behavior several times, and reinforce correct responses. (If you are not getting correct responses, you aren’t ready to work on cue discrimination.) After about four of these, say a completely different word instead. If the dog doesn’t do the behavior (yay!), or hesitates, quickly mark and reinforce.

Note that this is harder for the dog than firing off a bunch of different cues the dog knows. Because in this exercise the dog must be discriminating enough and confident enough to do nothing if the word is not a real cue. Plus, in so many situations we reinforce clicker dogs for guessing. The first time you practice this it can be like pulling the rug out from under the dog’s feet.

So how can we reduce stress and errors? In addition to choosing words to begin with that were very different from the correct cue word, I also chose to use at first a different tone of voice and/or volume for the cue. I took pains to make the non-cues as far away in the auditory sense as they could be from real cues.

Sand colored dog with black muzzle and tail stays on a pink mat, relaxed and with her mouth open, as her female handler says a nonsense word. She is supposed to stay unless she hears her personal release word.
Clara correctly stays on her mat when I chirp out a nonsense word

 

The Process

Since the whole point of individual releases is that one dog comes and the other/s stay put, I practiced with each dog by herself, going through the following steps to insure that she learned to respond to her own release cue and not the other dogs’.

Special note:  I heavily reinforce my dogs for being on their mats, and I don’t require them to move when I give the general release cue, “OK.” Because of this I incorporated a hand target and/or other body language at first to encourage them to move, then faded it. Others would probably not need to do this.

  1. With the dog on her mat, I called her with her release word followed by invitation to hand target or other body language that invited her to move.
  2. Then I called her with her release word without a hand target.
  3. Then I said a word that was very different from the dog’s release word and in a different tone (I blurted it out, high and squeaky). I reinforced her for not moving. If she got up, I quietly escorted her back to the mat, walking side by side with her to avoid using body pressure. (This hardly happened at all, which was one of my goals.) If the dog did get up, I made the non-cue word even more nonsensical. Quieter. Or perhaps I turned away. Anything I could think of to make it less cue-like. Once she started getting it: lather, rinse, repeat.
  4. I started interspersing the dog’s release word. I reinforced when she came, and for the other words, I reinforced when she stayed. If she stayed for her own release word, I beckoned her a little. If she came for another word, I quietly escorted her back to the mat as described above.
  5. I gradually worked into using a normal tone of voice for the non release words. I continued to reinforce for correct behavior/s, staying or releasing appropriately.
  6. The final step was to work in the other dogs’ release words to make sure the subject dog wouldn’t release on them. At this point I was saying all the words exactly the same way without helping the dog. The goal was that she released for her own and was steady for the others.

Link to video for email subscribers.

Outcome

This method worked very well for Clara and Zani. Clara in particular got it very fast, and I loved how she lay there very relaxed on the mat while I said the other dogs’ release words.

Summer had the hardest time. She alone started offering other behaviors for the non-cue words.  That meant that the first few times I used a non-cue word, I had to withhold reinforcement or else reinforce a random behavior performed on the mat. In most cases she tried her “rewind” trick, a backwards inchworm move. I figured out to reinforce very fast, before she was able to move, and we got through it.

But then after I got her to stay still on the mat through the non-cue words, she lost confidence about coming on her own release word. She was not getting the difference.

I did some extra sessions with Summer. After I reviewed the video I realized what the problem was. My squeaky cues were actually prodding her to action. She is a bit sound sensitive and I think they stressed her out a tiny bit. In any case she responded by trying something, anything. So I did the obvious, and instead of squeaky blurty non-cues, I said very quiet ones. That did the trick. I was able to raise the volume almost immediately, and she is catching up to the other dogs.

I’m getting close to my goal of having all my dogs present and unfettered while I train one, with the others reinforced for their self control on their mats!

Thanks for reading! Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

A Secret for Training Two Dogs

A Secret for Training Two Dogs

Tan and black dog lying down on a lavender mat
Clara on her mat during a difficult distraction

I think this is as close as I’ll ever come to a “how-to” blog. Here is my usual disclaimer: I am not a professional trainer and I have trained only my own dogs.

But there is a secret to training a dog to lie quietly on a mat, chair, or platform, unrestrained, while another dog is trained. I didn’t invent it. Sue Ailsby told it to me. I’m going to tell you the secret and discuss it conceptually. Once you get the concept, it all falls into place.

I will also put what I’m saying into practice and demo with my own dogs.

First, here’s what my dogs knew how to do before we started. I think these are the basic necessities.

Prerequisites

  1. The dog already knows how to stay on a mat or other station for 5 minutes while being reinforced.
  2. She can stay with some moderate distractions. Here are some examples. You can walk 20 feet away and back again. You can trot by her or jump up and down. You can drop a treat a few feet away. You can toss one away from her (like you were tossing it to another dog). You can walk right by her with a  toy in your hand. The dog must already have experience with distractions, because another dog in the room who will eventually get a lot of your attention is a huge distraction.
  3. You either have cues that are specific to each dog, or you can work something out as a way to get Dog A to stay while Dog B comes with you, and a way to release Dog A without releasing Dog B. Frankly though, they can learn part of this as you go along. I include some suggestions.
  4. She knows the other dog and neither is aggressive or overly obnoxious towards the other.

Here is what Sue Ailsby said that made it all fall into place for me.  Sue said that when you start, you need to concentrate on the dog who is learning to wait on the mat. Sounds obvious, right? But lots of people who go about this task the first time, including myself, do it exactly backwards. We start taking the active dog through her paces, and throw a treat to the dog on the mat every once in a while. This often does not work.

The other thing Sue said was to treat the dogs separately. Some people say to give the mat dog a treat every time the active dog earns one at first. Then thin the reinforcement down so that you give the mat dog a treat only sometimes when the other dog earns one.  (Emily Larlham does this in her excellent video on the subject.)

Sue recommends instead that each dog gets treats tied to what they are doing, so that the dog on the mat learns very clearly that she is getting reinforced for doing her job and it is not tied to what the other dog is doing. Sue’s method is a little harder for the human, but I think is very clear for the dogs. Each gets treated separately. (In reality, they frequently get treated in tandem, but I make a conscious effort to break the pattern as well.)

Dogs who live in households with other dogs learn very quickly that they don’t always get a treat when their sister does, and I think this is a good thing. So I like Sue’s method myself.

Cricket and Zani on mats in the kitchen. Good stuff tends to happen there!
Cricket and Zani on mats in the kitchen. Good stuff tends to happen there!

Showing the Dog She Is the Center of the Training

Here is how to apply what Sue said. We want to do everything we can to show the mat dog that she is the center of the training.

So first, ask yourself, when starting a training session with my dog, how does she know? Here is my own list.

  • I get out treats. A camera perhaps. (My dogs get very happy when they see me carry around the camera tripod.)
  • I often look in my Training Levels checkoff list binder.
  • I may gather some gear and props. A leash. A target object.
  • I take the dog I’m going to train by herself to a particular place. I have about 5 places in my house where I commonly train. If there are other dogs there, I crate them.
  • I look at that dog, talk to that dog, and generally orient my body towards that dog
  • I reinforce that dog. It if is a new or difficult behavior, I reinforce heavily.
  • I release the dog frequently or at least periodically (mini releases with the click; longer ones when we take a little break or set up for a new behavior)

All these things are what tell the dog that she is being trained. So to apply Sue’s recommendation,  I am going to get the “mat dog” to do all of these things, then bring in the active dog as a distraction.

How I Proceeded

  • I got out the treats as described above
  • I took Zani alone into my front room alone and cued to get her on mat.
  • I did a little mat training with some of the distractions I listed above.
  • Then I let Summer, the distraction dog, into the room but stayed focused on Zani and kept the treats coming.
  • When I started to do a few more things with Summer, I spoke quietly to her, trying to be as clear as possible that I was speaking to her alone.
  • I often turned my back on Zani to cue a behavior for Summer, then turned back to Zani and treated her.
  • With my back turned, sometimes I gave hand signals to Summer that Zani couldn’t see.
  • I started with Summer doing very easy, calm behaviors with minimal movement. I worked up to more movement, but kept a variety.
  • During our second session I did short duration behaviors with Summer, releasing her with “OK,” which is also Zani’s release word. I continued to be careful to speak directly but quietly to Summer. I treated Zani for staying every time I released Summer.
  • I did my best to be considerate of Summer, the active dog, who was probably getting less attention than normal when we train.

Releases

I started this project without having a completely clean system of releases for individual dogs. Ideally, I suppose I would have had that in place. There are several ways to go about this. Patricia McConnell, PhD, the eminent animal behaviorist, reported that her border collies could never learn individual releases from stays of the type, “Luke, OK,” because each dog would release on the “OK.” She instead taught them to release individually on a singsong call of their name (here’s her video demonstration). However, some people do direct separate cues to their dogs using their names. Emily Larlham who recommends this video as a prerequisite to her training multiple dogs video, demonstrates her dogs responding to individually directed cues, and she releases them separately in the latter video.

I have had moderate success with directing individual cues to my dogs without formally training that, just incorporating some habits into our day to day living. Like Dr. McConnell, I use a special version of their names to invite one to come with me and for the others to wait. But I actually think that teaching a dog to wait on a mat in the area while another is trained is a way of teaching the kind of differentiated individual response we are talking about. For me, there is some tolerance for error in that situation, as long as I don’t apply any penalty for a dog releasing when I intended the cue for another. It is neither as crucial nor as difficult as when you have a group of dogs all waiting to be cued to do the same exciting thing, such as go out the door.

Videos

The first video shows parts of Zani’s very first two sessions of staying on the mat while another dog is worked. I chose Summer according to my guideline #4 above. Clara could possibly be obnoxious to Zani if Clara is the working dog. We’ll work up to that.

Video link for email subscribers

The second video shows Clara doing what is for her a very advanced version. (I taught her the basics when she was about a year old.) She is staying on her mat while I work up to a pretty rowdy game of tug with Zani. She gets up one time when I accidentally say “OK” while tugging with Zani (I say it twice! Knock head on wall!). But she corrects herself immediately. Her head is clearer than mine!

Video link for email subscribers

What’s Next?

You probably noticed I didn’t switch the dogs back and forth. I plan to do that after each of my three dogs in training can successfully stay on their mat while I work either of the other two.

Sable dog on a mat on a sidewalk
Summer very pleased to be on her mat at an outdoor restaurant

The cool thing, though, is that once you can switch dogs back and forth fluently, Mr. Premack can come to visit (the Premack principle states that behaviors can reinforce other behaviors) and we won’t have to keep that high rate of reinforcement for the dog on the mat. Her major reinforcement for staying quietly on the mat will be the chance to be the working dog. I already take turns with my dogs in almost all training sessions; the major difference will be that they are now closed into crates or the next room. Soon they’ll be right there where the action is. It sounds like win/win to me.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

Update: I later successfully taught individual release cues. You can read about that in the following posts

Thanks for reading! 

Copyright 2013 Eileen Anderson

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Halfway Through Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge: Clara is Relaxing!

Halfway Through Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge: Clara is Relaxing!

Wait ’til you see this! Clara and I are halfway through our 1000 treats for Madeline Clark Gabriel’s  1,000 Treat Challenge and I couldn’t be more pleased with our progress.

The behavior I chose for Clara’s 1000 treats and structured training is Relax from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels, Level 2.  As of this writing, we have had 14 sessions over 22 days, and used up 450 treats.

Clara is pretty relaxed!
Clara is pretty relaxed!

Sorry for the drab colors in the photos; I’ll do better for our grand finale when we hit 1000 treats.

If you haven’t seen the previous posts, here is the first one where I started the project, and here is my update after one week in. Or at the very least you might want to watch my “before” video.

To review my goals:

  • Clara can lie down on a mat and immediately be still without trying a bunch of behaviors first.
  • She will be moderately relaxed (not expecting a puddle of floppy dog yet). But no more quivering on the knife edge of expectancy. Things to look for: relaxation of facial muscles, especially in forehead. Slower respiration. Quiet tail. A shifted hip, if it is maintained that way and not just quickly offered.
  • Clara can maintain this moderately relaxed state on her mat for one minute.
  • Optional but hopefully: she can do this without staring at me.

We missed several days in the last couple of weeks, first because Clara had an acute GI problem (she’s fine now), then because I wasn’t feeling well and was too grumpy for these long sessions. But I am extremely pleased with our progress.

In the video this time I show a series of stills extracted from the video about a minute apart, and you can actually see Clara melting down into relaxation in time lapse. I am frankly amazed! Even while the session was going on I didn’t know we were doing that well! She settles down within 10 seconds of our beginning the session (no more throwing behaviors), and she is also cooling it with the eye contact. She is still looking at me, but is much more relaxed about it as far as I can tell (I’m making a point to not return eye contact).

Sometime in the last handful of sessions, Clara has started to get it about relaxing.

By the way, I don’t show it in the video, but Summer, in the crate, is getting some treats too. Having here right there may make it a little harder for Clara, but when we’re going through these periods where she is getting the lion’s share of my attention, I just have to do something for my other dogs.

I’m not going to film again until we get to 1000 treats. Since we have achieved my initial goals I am adding three more:

  • I would like the momentary excitement when she gets a treat to lessen.
  • I would like to see her brow unfurrow. That’s the last visible tightness in her body.
  • And while we’re at it, I would love it if she would close her eyes. I think it’s within our reach.
A little love fest after the session
A little love fest after the session

Here are some other folks who are writing about or filming the challenge:

If anybody else is blogging/filming, leave a comment and I’ll link to you here.

Coming up soon:

Eileenanddogs on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/eileenanddogs

Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge: Starting Week 2

Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge: Starting Week 2

Clara on mat after one week of relaxation training
Clara on mat after one week of relaxation training

We are now starting Week 2 of Madeline Clark Gabriel’s  1,000 Treat Challenge.

If you are late to the party, be sure and read my original post, or at least watch my “before” video.

The behavior I chose for Clara is Relax from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels, Level 2.  As of this writing, we have had 10 sessions over 7 days, and used up 285 treats. We’re making great progress.

To review my goals from last time:

  • Clara can lie down on a mat and immediately be still without trying a bunch of behaviors first.
  • She will be moderately relaxed (not expecting a puddle of floppy dog yet). But no more quivering on the knife edge of expectancy. Things to look for: relaxation of facial muscles, especially in forehead. Slower respiration. Quiet tail. A shifted hip, if it is maintained that way and not just quickly offered.
  • Clara can maintain this moderately relaxed state on her mat for one minute.
  • Optional but hopefully: she can do this without staring at me.

Here, one week in, we have all but the first. Our biggest hurdle is the very beginning when she first gets on the mat. Reinforced habits of attention die hard! But I think her progress is great.

To answer a reader’s question: I should have mentioned this the first time. What am I doing while this is going on? I have my head slightly averted and am looking off into the distance. I’m breathing evenly, have slightly droopy eyes, and I try to make slow, relaxed movements when I do move. I am not looking back at her. It looked like it in the first video since she stared at my face the whole time but honest, I have not looked into her eyes even once!

Speaking of staring at the face, here is a really nice resource for teaching relaxation on a mat that starts off with a way to get the dog to look down instead of looking at you. The beginning part didn’t work for me since Clara turned into the Wild Gobbler (I just couldn’t get those treats down slowly and calmly enough and it triggered the whole throwing behaviors thing again), but the rest of it is similar to what we are doing.  It is a really nice protocol. Nan Arthur of Whole Dog Training’s Relax on a Mat.

Interesting results of our training are leaking into real life. Now when Clara notices me watching her, she slows her tail, which is cute. As I show in the movie, she can now take a relaxed position in her crate, even when another dog is doing some active training right next to her. Also, she is definitely less aroused immediately after a session. I was going to film how quickly she goes from zero to 60 after being released, but today for the first time she didn’t do it! She just stood up, mugged my face a couple of times (losing that behavior would be too much to ask at this point), then solicited some petting. Yeah!

We still have a long way to go. I know Clara is not relaxed. She is lying quietly on her side. But what a start! And now I think we’re approaching the part where she gets bored to death, and I can watch for little relaxations. I’m already able to watch her more, now that she isn’t staring at me all the time. My job this week will be to start noticing all the little things. What are her tells? Since she’s got a short coat and bare belly it’s easy to watch her breathing. I’ve gotten a few sighs, and some slowdowns of her breath. I have noticed small relaxations in her back haunches. Sometimes her tail, instead of stopping stiffly, relaxes a bit. Maybe you good observers out there can give me some hints.

Here are some other folks who are writing about or filming the challenge:

If anybody else is blogging/filming (this means you, Liz; we want to see a little sight hound!) , leave a comment and I’ll link to you here.

Coming up soon:

Eileenanddogs on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/eileenanddogs

Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge

Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge

Madeline Clark Gabriel of Dogs and Babies has a brilliant idea. She proposes to set aside 1,000 treats and train one behavior with planning and intent. I love this because I tend to be a little unfocused in training and pass out treats for good behaviors, cute behaviors, behaviors I vaguely like, etc. Madeline points out that a great thing about this Challenge is that it will be helpful to people (like me) who are profligate with their treats, and also to folks who are dubious about the whole food thing and tend to be stingy. What if every trainer took 1,000 treats, really concentrated, and spent them wisely on one behavior? I think the results would be wonderful!

Before anybody panics, 1,000 treats is not really a lot. (And nobody is making you do this challenge. I’m a nerd and I think it sounds fun, so I’m doing it!)  If you treat your dog for 50 reps of something every day (which you could do in three minutes if you chose the right behavior), you’ll get to 1,000 before two weeks are up. Depending on the size of your dog and the size of the treats, it might even be less than the amount of food they eat in one day.

Here are the steps, directly quoted from Madeline:

  1. Choose a behavior or skill you want your dog to perform better/differently
  2. Set aside 1,000 treats
  3. Over the course of two weeks, spend your 1,000 treats to practice and reinforce progress

Be sure and look at her picture of the bag of 1,000 treats. It is not as many as you think.

My Choice

Three things synchronized for me and I knew immediately how I would use my 1,000 treats. Clara is going to learn to relax.

OK, quit laughing. Maybe not completely. Relax, um, better-than-she-does-now.

Clara (8 months old) is not relaxed
Clara (8 months old in this photo) is not relaxed

As it happens, that behavior is coming right up in the Training Levels, Level 2. As it also happens, I had a lesson with my teacher just last weekend where she showed me how she would teach it to Clara. So it was the perfect storm. It was needed, I already got some instruction, and now I have some additional motivation.

This video shows what I would like to be able to do eventually, although I think it’s a little beyond this batch of treats. Watch how Reyna the young German Shepherd can go from tugging to collapsing into a puddle of dog on the floor on cue. Wow.

Goals

My goals at the end of the 1,000 treats are:

  • Clara can lie down on a mat and immediately be still without trying a bunch of behaviors first.
  • She will be moderately relaxed (not expecting a puddle of floppy dog yet). But no more quivering on the knife edge of expectancy. Things to look for: relaxation of facial muscles, especially in forehead. Slower respiration. Quiet tail. A shifted hip, if it is maintained that way and not just quickly offered.
  • Clara can maintain this moderately relaxed state on her mat for one minute.
  • Optional but hopefully: she can do this without staring at me.

These are modest. Notice I am not going for total relaxation. I don’t know if we can get there in this amount of time. Also, she can already lie on her mat for a minute, or 10 minutes, so it’s not about mat duration. But I want the quiet part to be much more automatic than it is now, and for her to begin to understand that that’s what we are going for, not just a stay. And I want to be able to sit right in front of her and not have her turn into a whirling dervish of offering behaviors.

Clara used to know how to relax!
Clara used to know how to relax!

Method

My teacher did a session with us over the weekend. Because I have tried halfheartedly to teach this previously and reinforced different relaxed positions, I ended up with a dog who flops around throwing her head down, spinning  around, lying on her back waving her legs in the air, etc. Really. It’s on the video. So my teacher, after working with Clara, suggested the following guidelines for us:

  • mark and reinforce her for stillness; the relaxation will follow
  • do not mark immediately after she moves, even if it is to a more “relaxed” position (because of what I have done before)
  • don’t worry if she is offering lots of eye contact for now
  • OK to mark as her tail slows

I would urge folks, though, to read Sue’s section on relaxation, because my plan is tailor made for my dog, and designed with the booboos I have already made in mind. Sue talks about capturing the moment when the “puppet string breaks” and the dog sinks just a little bit more into relaxation. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that after I have let Clara know that flopping into different “relaxed looking positions” is not what I want.

“Before”

Here is our “before” video, which shows the beginning and end of her third relaxation session, and includes some puppy footage including an excellent start when she was a baby, then one of my ill fated attempts from about six months ago.

I am pleased that at the end of the recent session, while not relaxed, her body is quiet. She is in a “sphinx down” with her head erect and she is staring at me, but she is still and I think her facial muscles are more relaxed than at the beginning. (This is actually what is featured above in the video preview.) And I got her tail to stop wagging! This is huge!

During parts of the session she lay on her side, but since I deliberately didn’t reinforce right away she didn’t stick with it and so returned to the sphinx down.

I hope to have a very different video to show in two weeks or so. I am not sure whether I will finish the 1,000 treats in two weeks, since with a duration behavior my rate of reinforcement will be dropping as I go along. But I’ll try to show what things look like after two weeks, and also at the end of the 1,000 treats if they don’t coincide.

Who else is in? Be sure and look at Madeline’s suggestions for behaviors.  My choice of a behavior is slightly oddball, but what else is new for me?

Thanks for reading, and I hope some of the rest of you give this a try. I think it will be highly rewarding, both for the dogs and the humans!

Coming up soon:

Eileenanddogs on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/eileenanddogs

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Eileen is seated on a short stool and Clara is lying on the floor. They are looking into each other's eyes. There are some training props on the floor.Up to this point, all of my Missed Cue videos have been set up. After I discover or suspect a hole in my dogs’ training I set them up in a situation in which I’m guessing they will fail, and record it as a teaching exercise. (I discuss why I don’t think this is a mean thing to do in the original post about missed cues: Dogs Notice Everything.)

But this one was not set up. It was during a normal training session. I thought I had the bases covered. And I had the camera running.

The behavior we were working on was Level 2 Go to Mat, Step 3 from the Training Levels books: Dog goes 5 feet to the mat and lies down. Clara has been getting on mats and being reinforced for that since the day she arrived. She can go to a mat on a verbal or hand signal from at least 20 feet away. She can stay on it for extended periods (20-30 minutes). She has a verbal cue, a hand signal, and two environmental cues to go to mat. She can do it when I run in circles around her, when the other dogs are excited, and in many other challenging situations.  So I really thought we had this covered. But when we are working on the Levels, we never skip steps. We train every step as if we’ve never done it before. You’d be amazed what we find out by doing that.

I was amazed today. We got to the Comeafter.  The Comeafter in this Step is to add a distraction. In the book, Sue talks about taking care in picking our distraction. And I thought I was being careful. I picked putting some food on the floor as our distraction. This is old hat for Clara. She has training sessions with plates of food on the floor, can do recalls past food, etc. She has very close to a default Zen during training. And this was only a 5 foot trip to the mat.

What could possibly go wrong?

(There is a synopsis of the following video at the bottom of this post.)

I managed to do exactly what Sue warns about in the book if you make a poor choice of distraction. I made Clara so crazy she wouldn’t go to the mat.

This problem is different from those shown in all the other Missed Cue videos. They involve generalization issues with behaviors for which the dog knows the cue in some environments/situations but not in others. This one is more like the conflict of two cues, one verbal, the other environmental. Clara certainly appears to understand what I am asking her to do and just can’t figure out how to reconcile it with other strong default instructions.

The more I think about it, the more understandable Clara’s behavior is as she shies away from the food and won’t/can’t go to the mat. We teach Zen by reinforcing the dog for moving away from the treat. That is a definable behavior, as opposed to “not eating the treat.”  And when we train it, most of us like to see the dog getting very distant from the treats, and we reinforce accordingly.

So how can I re-train this? Clara needs to know that she can pass close by the treats as long as she doesn’t eat them.

Also, why, in the second go round, does she not take the straight path I have made for her to go to the mat? She wouldn’t have to come within 2 feet of the treats. Anyone care to speculate about that? That part I don’t understand. I do note that in both cases she seemed to feel “safer” from the treats when I was standing near her.

I know we are not the only ones this has happened to. Sue has at least one photograph in the Levels book showing one a dog shrinking away from a treat on the floor. And Sharon Wachsler, a great service dog trainer, came up with a name for the thing that she modestly mentions lots of us have noticed: the Zen field. The Zen field is the invisible area around the treat that only the dog knows the boundaries of. Sharon is the only trainer I know though who deliberately manipulates the field during training: taking treats in and out of the field and extending the field by adding treats within it and changing its shape.

I am hereby asking for suggestions on how to retrain Clara to get closer to the treats, and not freak when she is asked to walk close by them.  In other words, we need to shrink the Zen field but retain its potency. Seriously, we need some suggestions. I have only one idea and it is very mundane. I bet some of you can come up with some clever ideas. I’ll choose whichever suggested method seems to fit Clara’s and my skill level the best and video the progress and results.

Discussions coming soon:

Synopsis of the embedded video 

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Scene 1: We see Clara having a training session with Eileen. Clara is practicing dropping a piece of knotted rope into a bowl, and there is a plate of treats close by on the floor.

Scent 2: We see Eileen calling Clara, who runs full speed past a plate of treats to Eileen.

Scene 3: We see Clara running to her mat with Eileen, but plopping down and staying without a verbal cue as Eileen continues running by and going out the back door.

Scene 4: We see Clara going to her mat and lying down on verbal cue from two different directions.

Scene 5: We see Eileen put some treats on the floor next to a mat, then verbally cue Clara to go to the mat. Clara looks at the treats and scoots a bit sideways away from the mat. She looks away, then looks back at the treats several times. Eileen changes her own position closer to the treats and cues mat again, and Clara slowly goes around and get on the mat, sniffing it as she does so.

Scene 6: A silly repeat of Clara shying away from the treats with animated flames coming from the treats and the music from the shower scene in Psycho.

Scene 7: Eileen again places treats on the floor near the mat, but this time on the other side, leaving Clara a clear path to the mat. When Eileen cues mat, Clara again slips off to the side and puffs with her mouth and circles around. Eileen encourages her to come to the other side (actually closer to the treats). Clara eagerly comes that way, then stops very short when she gets close to the treats. Finally Eileen puts her foot over the treats and Clara goes by and gets on the mat. Eileen is chatting reassuringly to Clara throughout this.

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

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