Using a Training Plan to Retrain Summer’s “Target”
In our last episode, I shared how I messed up Summer’s hand (and object) targeting behavior six ways from Sunday. Now I will share the process of retraining it.
When you follow directions from a book, such as the Training Levels, a lot of the planning is done for you. So I get a little lazy about training plans. I can just check little boxes off in the books. (A reminder: I acquired all these errors when I was brand new at training and using a mishmash of methods. Wish I’d known about the Levels earlier.) But it’s a good idea to always have a plan, and collect data on what you are doing. Since I now need to do a unique retraining plan suited exactly to my dog and her needs, I am going to make a plan and share it, then share how well it works.
Training plans can be as simple or as detailed as the situation demands. For this situation, where I am trying to get rid of several superstitious behaviors that often follow my cue for hand target, I am going to make a thorough plan, and share it here.
Here are two posts about training plans, both by great trainers.
- Training Plans –Melissa Alexander
- How to Write a Training Plan–Part 1 — Laura VanArendonk Baugh
- How to Write a Training Plan–Part 2 — Laura VanArendonk Baugh
I combined parts of both of these to design the categories for my plan. I also made a record-keeping spreadsheet in Google Docs, loosely based on Melissa Alexander’s. Hers is accessible through her post above.
My Training Plan
- Goal: a clean touch of Summer’s nose to my hand, followed by her generalizing that to similar touches to different objects. I want verbal cue recognition (will do tests with objects, see below). But she doesn’t have to wait for a verbal if I do the hand signal.
- Description: A clean clear touch of nose to hand or object. She can be in any position that will allow her to reach the hand or object. It doesn’t have to be a hard touch, just definite touch of nose. No drivebys, and no just whiskers. No teeth, no open mouth. Minimal paw lifts. I define minimal as: her paw can lift about an inch higher than normal if she is walking or trotting to the target. Getting her mouth closed and preventing paw whacks are essential. A little leftover paw action is OK with me.
- Methods: Capture the touch, then shape a firmer touch if necessary. I want to make the picture as different as possible for Summer from the very beginning, including changing the hand signal and verbal cue. I will follow the progression in Level 1 Target in the Training Levels. I will start with me seated. Use Sue Ailsby’s hand position (see “new position” above). Start off with my left hand rather than right, which I have used more often for hand targets before. I’ll drop treats rather than handing them to her (encourages mouth/hand contact) or throwing them (builds excitement).
- Cue: Verbal. In the case of hand touch, presentation of hand. Cue discrimination: the ability to distinguish from Sit and Down on verbal alone. For this I will use a standalone object, since the presentation of the hand will always be more salient than the verbal. When to start with the cue: TBD.
- Sessions: Up to three sessions per day of 10 treats.
- Criteria for advancement: In the early stages of the hand touch, 95% or above. This is because my goal is to clean out the old superstitious behaviors. Also I have observed that Summer doesn’t mind lots of repetition. Later I will build in her looking me in the eyes before I will give the cue. This is because of her habit of staring at the food or my food hand.
- Duration? Not for this project.
- Distance? 15 feet to object, or about that much if chasing me.
- Distractions? Maybe near the end. Put down a mat for her to go by as she goes to touch an object.
- Position: Hand touch from all different directions. Object touch from different positions. I will limit to objects already in her sight, i.e., she doesn’t have to turn around to find it. However, I plan to “try it cold” by cuing a Touch when she is not expecting it and when there is an obvious object to touch.
- Where: Start in my den. Do other rooms in house, back porch, back yard. Possibly go on to front porch.
- Reliability: I want 95% free from superstitious behaviors. Response to cue itself 80-90%.
- Comments and caveats: Since we have an ongoing issue with staring at food, I will chain in eye contact after she is getting some fluency. She is more likely to do the undesired behaviors if she is excited and moving fast, so I will start with her standing still. Observation: she is quite likely to offer an undesired behavior after failing to meet criteria and doing a light touch on the first one, instead of offering a firmer touch. I will need to be creative and use positioning to avoid errors. Also I stated earlier that I don’t want to use negative punishment at all if possible. That means I don’t want to rely on pulling the target away from her if she is approaching it with her paw or an open mouth. I want to prevent those things from happening to begin with. I want to tell her through reinforcement what is working.
- Future: Duration. Mix up Zen and target. Learn to distinguish target cue from retrieve cue.
The difference between my old and new hand positions for target:
Notes about Future Steps
In the Training Levels, what follows the hand touch is:
- Foot touch: (Dog’s nose to human foot) Probably no problems here.
- Wooden object: I’ll need to prevent teeth touches and grabbing by using a large, flat object, as described in the Levels (p 187) Need to watch for feet movement. How to discourage? Careful height of object. Experiment with stationary vs moving.
- Plastic object: ditto.
- Metal object: ditto.
- Spot on wall: I’ll have to modify the instructions: I won’t use a post-it note or painter’s tape. (Watch the Targeting Mishaps movie to see why.) I’ll draw or paint a target on a piece of poster board with non toxic paint. Start by holding the board. Shape touching the spot. When that is solid, get it onto the wall.
We have practiced all of the above behaviors before, but many incorrectly because of superstitious behaviors.
Session 1. I’ll sit in a chair. Treats on my right on a desk. Proffer left hand in position described by Sue. Correct iterations marked by Yes and drop (don’t throw) treat.
Link to video for email subscribers.
My Notes after the First Two Sessions
Wow, real life comes crashing in. So Summer did one touch/sniff, then the very next one she took all my fingers in her mouth. (A “bite” but very inhibited. Her teeth didn’t close.) I wasn’t ready for that at all. I was in the middle of saying “Yes” but aborted it. I was so surprised I just got up and turned off one of the cameras and took a break. In the meantime Summer heard me say most of “Yes” and was sniffing around looking for her treat, which I had made a split second decision about and didn’t give her.
Dang! An important goal for me is no negative punishment, but abruptly getting up and stopping a training session can be a big dose of that….
But the video taught me a lot. Both the times (yes, it happened again) Summer took my fingers in her mouth, I had presented my hand kind of flat. Must have looked like I was handing her a treat.
Besides the position of the hand, I need to make its presentation a little clearer (I don’t need to leave it halfway out there). Make it very clear: on/off. I’m still struggling a little with the hand position; that’s part of why I am so stiff. Also I’m trying to keep my body very quiet. A couple times I was too slow and she was already moving forward when I presented my hand.
I’m really really glad I counted reps and successes. I would have overestimated our success rate otherwise.
Also, I chose to go with 10 treats rather than 10 total iterations. 10 treats means 10 correct responses, but puts no limit on incorrect responses. Sometimes not advisable at the beginning. But even looking at the video I had a hard time deciding what “counted” as an iteration or not, so I’m glad I wasn’t trying to count while training.
Third and Fourth Sessions
We have already had our third and fourth sessions, although they’re not included in the movie. Our success rate got better and went up to 10 correct out of 13 both times, which comes to 77%. I tried to loosen up a little and move in Session 4 but I immediately got an open mouth from Summer. I’ll need to continue to be very conservative since movement on my part has typically triggered mouthiness on hers. There’s always a fine line between getting the behavior and not wedding it to a certain setup. I’ll do some other things to introduce some variety.
Here is my training tracker document. I’ll keep it up to date and publicly accessible.
Thanks for reading.
Now that it’s done, here is the whole series:
- Part 1: 6 Ways I Messed Up My Dog’s Targeting
- Part 2: Using a Training Plan to Retrain Summer’s Target
- Part 3: Summer Punches It!
Also coming up: