Tag: stimulus control

How I Taught My Dog to Sleep Later in the Morning

How I Taught My Dog to Sleep Later in the Morning

A white dog with reddish-brown ears and speckles lies asleep in a curved position on a colorful blanket
Lewis sleeps in

When Lewis first came, he had just spent 10 critical weeks of his puppyhood living in a vet’s office. He grew up keeping clinic hours. He was ready to get up in the morning between 5:00 and 6:00 AM.

Groan. Now, I’ve been both an early bird and a night owl, and sometimes, unfortunately, both. My current hours lean more toward the night owl. But the switch to getting up early was not the problem. The problem, and it was a big one, was that on Lewis’ schedule, I lost my morning work time.

My normal schedule for the past few years has been to get up sometime between 7:00 and 9:00 AM, then work in bed for a couple of hours before I take dogs out and do “getting up” chores. And suddenly my morning work time, my prime time, was gone. Because when I first got eight-month-old Lewis, we sure weren’t going back to bed after we got up.

There’s a Fix for This

I knew there was a fix for this problem; I had even recommended it to some of the desperate people posting about their morning woes on social media. “My dog gets me up at 5!” or “My dog is getting up earlier and earlier!” But I had some immediate panic. What the hell? I couldn’t do my work?

Then I reminded myself of the training plan and talked to Marge Rogers about it. It took every ounce of willpower I had, but I did it. I taught him to get up much later, and in general, to wait until I was ready to get up.

The Fix

This plan is for an adult or late adolescent dog who has no problem sleeping through the night without having to get up to eliminate. If you have a young puppy, you’ll be on their schedule for a while. In that case, don’t try this as I have written it. Lewis had already learned to sleep through the night, so we didn’t have to work around house training at the same time.

The concept is simple: it starts with getting up earlier than your dog.

This seems counterintuitive at first. It’s tough to convince yourself to get up earlier as a step toward the goal of getting up later. But it makes sense in the long run. Here are the steps I took, written out as instructions.

  1. For 3–5 days, record the time your dog gets you up in the morning. Include workdays and non-workdays in your record-keeping.
  2. Using the information you got, get up earlier than your dog, consistently, every day. If they’ve been getting you up at 5:30 AM, get up at 5:10 AM. Whatever it takes to beat them to it.
  3. Keep this up for a week or more at that oh-so-early time. You are teaching them a new cue for getting up or “dogs are active now.” Lewis’ previous cue, I assume, was the staff arriving at the vet clinic, and that was probably at a consistent time. He internalized that time of day as “time to get up.” I wanted his new cue to be me getting dressed. Not the time he got accustomed to before, and not just me stirring around (details about this part in “My Personal Challenge” below).
  4. Once they’ve learned the routine, write out a schedule to gradually and SLOWLY push the new ritual later. First in perhaps 5-minute intervals, then maybe 10-minute intervals some days. Not more than that, and not every day. Keep some days the same, or even get up earlier again. You are adding duration, and just as when you train a stay, bounce around a little. Don’t create a schedule that gets inexorably longer with no breaks.
  5. Now implement your schedule for changing the time. Be ready to adjust the schedule in case you have made the time change too fast. Again, this is like teaching a duration behavior.
  6. If you mess up one morning, and your dog gets up before you do, get up immediately. Don’t give them a chance to bug you. Also, do not succumb to the temptation to coax them back to bed. It probably won’t work. What will probably happen is that they will fidget and bug you, and you will finally cave and reinforce a long sequence of bugging. Cave instantly and you won’t teach duration behavior. If this happens, backtrack your schedule and get up earlier again.
  7. Be fair. This is for an adult dog, but don’t ask them to stay in bed for 12 hours. If you stay in bed in the morning, give them a chance for a late-night potty. Or teach them, as an offshoot to this plan, to go outside for a potty in the morning and go back to bed. And obviously, if your dog is in distress, drop the schedule and get up with them.
  8. Gradually adjust the schedule until you have one that is to your liking.
A tan dog with a black muzzle has her head propped up on the corner of a laptop while she sleeps on a bed. There is a white dog sleeping back-to-back with her.
Clara shows her cute teeth while snoozing on the laptop

If you have already reinforced your dog for nudging you, poking you, running around the room, rattling something, barking at you, or for any other behavior by getting up and starting your day, this will be a harder process. I’m not mocking anybody; I’ve done it all. It’s a hard cycle to escape. You can use the plan above as a jumping off point, but you will probably need to stretch it over a longer period and change the time in smaller increments. I was fortunate to start as soon as Lewis arrived, and that helped a bunch.

Also, I wrote this as step-by-step instructions, but such a plan doesn’t have “if” branches for all the ways things can get off track. There are plenty, and I can’t address (or even think of) all the individual issues. For instance, I didn’t go into detail about shifting the cue to something other than the human getting up, but I described below some of what I did. Non-pro trainers like me might need to consult expert help. But I hope this plain version will be useful for some people.

My Personal Challenge

My situation had a specific challenge. Because of my work habits, I needed to wake up but not get up. I needed the cue for dogs getting up to be a couple of hours after I got up. So once I taught Lewis the initial predictors that it would be time to get up, I tweaked them. I taught him I was going to stir around a little, then come back to bed and work, and dogs weren’t getting up yet.

Two dogs lie on a bed. One is tan with black ears, muzzle, and tail, and is stretched out. The other is white dog with reddish-brown ears and speckles. He is curled up but his eyes are open and he is alert.
The dogs wait while I do morning chores

Once I got him staying in bed until 8:00 or so, I started quietly, with as little fuss as possible, getting my laptop out at 7:30 and working for a half hour before doing the full “we’re getting up now” routine. I didn’t even turn my light on, which was probably bad for my eyes, staring into a back-lit computer. But I needed to decouple “Eileen wakes up and does stuff” from “we all get up.” And I did this while keeping the getting up time steady. I only added duration again after he was used to this addition.

He also learned my alarm going off was not a cue for us all to get up. He doesn’t even stir now when my alarm goes off. And he learned that Nothing Interesting for Dogs happens while I’m in the shower, so that was another way I could extend my morning activities before it was time for dogs to get up.

The Hard Part

Keep in mind: Lewis’ arrival in my life diminished my ability to work to about one hour a day at first (if I was lucky). I was desperate to work, getting behind, and starving for some focused time for myself. I had to absolutely force myself to hold to my pre-planned time of getting up before him. It was so tempting, while I was on a roll with some work and he was sound asleep, to tell myself I could cheat a little and work longer. But I didn’t do it. There’s that human tendency to push our luck until the dog does something “wrong,” then we can correct it. That sequence of events doesn’t work here! This is an example of a situation where it’s essential to minimize errors.

Despite the temptations, I held to my schedule. I knew I had to put up with diminished morning work time to create a permanent change in his behavior. I played the long game, and I won.

This is another example of the ways I have limited choices for a younger dog to give them more freedom in the long run. Clara enjoys our mornings in bed, but also can jump off the bed and look at me, and we’ll get up when she wants to instead.

The Science

What was the mechanism of this behavior change? Did I punish Lewis’ behavior of getting up before me? Did I put it on extinction? I think neither. I changed the antecedents. I established stimulus control for getting up out of bed in the morning. He still got up in response to an external cue; I just taught him a new one.

Getting up in the morning is followed by a whole crowd of potential reinforcers. He still has access to all those and also seems to enjoy lounging in the bed while I work.

Epilogue

The morning after I wrote the bulk of this post, Lewis hopped off the bed at 7:30, at least two hours before the dogs usually stir now. I instantly turned on my light, got ready to get up, but also invited him back up on the bed for a snuggle. He loves to do that after Clara, who has priority and seniority, has gotten off the bed. We had our snuggle, then I got up “first.” He settled down and waited while I did my getting up stuff and got dressed (that’s exactly what he’s doing in the photo above). He has practiced our system enough now that an occasional glitch doesn’t hurt anything. But mostly, he dozes through the morning as he waits for me to start the day.

Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

Oops! I Trained the Better Than Perfect Recall!

Oops! I Trained the Better Than Perfect Recall!

What if your dog’s recall is so good that she comes before you call her?

The little movie featured in this post shows the myriad ways a smart dog can mess up your plans.

small black dog running to come when called, to a recall

The Original Goal: Film That Recall!

This post brings together a lot of ideas I like to explore. Among them are cues, offered behaviors, and stimulus control. And like many of my posts, this one features an unintended consequence. I’ll explain.

Continue reading “Oops! I Trained the Better Than Perfect Recall!”
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:

Continue reading “Stimulus Control, Or Why Are There Seven Shoes on the Table?”
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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Copyright 2014 Eileen Anderson
Updated 2018

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