Tag: offering behaviors

Stimulus Control, Or Why Are There Seven Shoes on the Table?

Stimulus Control, Or Why Are There Seven Shoes on the Table?

retrieving items over and over indicates lack of stimulus control
What happens when you don’t have retrieve on stimulus control?

This is an update of a post published on December 16, 2013.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very good at stimulus control. I’ve included in this post a great video from when Clara was younger that demonstrates that embarrassingly well.

Stimulus control in training is all about response to cues, and goes like this. Given a behavior:

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Stimulus Control, Or Lack Thereof

Stimulus Control, Or Lack Thereof

 

retrieving items over and over indicates lack of stimulus control
What happens when you don’t have retrieve on stimulus control?

This post was updated and republished on January 31, 2019.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very good at stimulus control. I’ve included in this post a great video from when Clara was younger that demonstrates that really, really well.

Stimulus control in training is all about response to cues, and goes like this:

  1. The behavior occurs immediately when the cue is given.
  2. The behavior never occurs in the absence of the cue.
  3. The behavior never occurs in response to some other cue.
  4. No other behavior occurs in response to this cue.

Pride, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, sitting pretty
Pride, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, sitting pretty on cue

This means, for example, if I have trained the behavior, “Sit pretty,”:

  1. When I say, “Sit pretty,” the dog immediately sits up with his front feet in the air.
  2. He doesn’t ever do that unless I cue it.
  3. He doesn’t do it if I cue something else like down or stand.
  4. He doesn’t down or stand when I say, “Sit pretty.”

Most everybody’s first question is about #2. If this were a natural dog behavior like lying down, he would still do it at other times, right? Sure. And although I’ve seen some discussions about that, I don’t know in what situations it would be a “violation” of stimulus control for the dog to lie down without a cue from a human. The common answer is to append “in a training session” to the above rules. But how do we expect a dog to draw a line between “training session” and “not a training session”? And aren’t we training for real life? Do we say that behaviors like sit and down are never on true stimulus control? Probably.

You may choose not to reinforce downs that you don’t cue, but they are reinforcing to a dog who wants to rest and relax. We can’t help that.

For most trainers, there is a period where we are teaching cue recognition and stimulus control where we do not reinforce uncued behaviors. After that is taught, though, we may change the rules a bit in real life.

There are behaviors for which one needs strict stimulus control. I have a friend with a service dog. “Gigi” has a special setup so she can do the equivalent of calling 911 if my friend falls down. Falling is actually the cue. My friend needs absolute stimulus control on this behavior because it is completely not cool if Gigi “offers” hitting the call box at any other time.

My dogs are not like Gigi. Or more to the point, I am not as skilled a trainer as my friend.

Lack of Stimulus Control

Three dogs bored
Even a gate doesn’t stop them from offering eye contact

If you put aside Rule #2 and reinforce your dogs for uncued behaviors, you get dogs who offer behaviors frequently.

One of the stereotypes of clicker trained dogs is that they offer behaviors all the time.  Dogs trained with positive reinforcement tend to do stuff. And they’ll go wild with offering stuff if their people reinforce it. But it doesn’t have to be that way all the time. You can have a dog who is a virtuoso shaper and completely unafraid to offer behaviors, but who has also learned when that pays off and when it doesn’t.

We can set up some environmental cues and change our own behavior to let a dog know when we don’t want a bunch of offered behavior.

I do have those crazy behavior-offering dogs. If my dogs come running up to me in the yard for no reason to check in—I like that! They’ll usually get something from me. If I walk through a room and someone is lying nicely on a mat, they’ll get a treat.

I also reinforce offered eye contact. It usually comes along for the ride with other behaviors. Reinforcing this in real life means I have dogs who sit and stare at me.

I am OK with the results of this, but some people wouldn’t be. If you are regularly going to reinforce uncued behaviors, then you’d best be willing to do so even when it’s inconvenient. Because it’s just not fair to change the rules on your dog without warning.  If you do that, you can put behaviors into extinction. This is unpleasant for the dog and doesn’t serve our overall training goals well.

My dogs are good at chilling since one of the offered behaviors I reinforce is lying down with relaxed muscles. This is nicely incompatible with trying a bunch of stuff to get my attention. I don’t mind tossing a treat around every 10 minutes while I’m working at the computer. But if we are really out of sync and they are tuning up to bug me to death, I just use management. I get behind a gate.

One of these days I may set up a cue for “The Bar is Closed.” There are a couple of situations in which I never reinforce my dogs and they have learned that perfectly.

In the following movie, the bar was definitely open. I was reinforcing Clara’s offered retrieves, and you can see the amusing outcome.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

About the Behavior in the Movie

Clara brought me this rusty nail

I’ve reinforced Clara for “trading” since she was tiny. But she started it. She always had a tendency to bring me things. I liked that, so I reinforced it. Still do. It means when she has something dangerous, I can immediately get it from her with no stress. This is a good thing since everything goes in her mouth.  She was an outrageous chewer when younger, so I managed very tightly about this then.

When Cricket was alive, Clara was limited to only half the house most of the time. Clara was just under 2 years old when Cricket died in May 2013, and it seemed appropriate to open things up a bit after that. It went very well. About the worst thing that happened was that Clara snitched napkins off the table to chew up. I was careful where I put food, so she didn’t develop a counter-surfing habit. She did have certain items of my clothing—a hat in particular—that she kept a constant eye out for. But almost everything she picked up other than napkins she brought straight to me. She still does this, “busting” herself for picking up contraband.

There are good reasons to do the opposite, by the way. Some people teach a default “Leave It.” What if there is someone in your household who is prone to dropping pills or leaving sharp tools around? Then reinforcing a dog for picking random things up in her mouth and bringing them to you is not a good idea. But it has been a good choice for us, I think. You can see the rusty nail Clara brought me above. If she hadn’t, she would have been chewing on it in the yard.

By the way, the movie shows pretty impressive distance behavior. Clara was bringing items to me clear from the back of the house!

Does your dog have any behaviors on good stimulus control? Or any behaviors with an embarrassing lack of stimulus control, as mine do?

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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 Baby Safe Dog Training 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!

Continue reading “Madeline’s 1,000 Treat Challenge”

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