Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Right, Wrong and the Animals Stuck in Between

Here it is folks. More talk about animals and their ability (lack thereof??) to tell right from wrong.

Read article here.

It's not that I don't think animals are capable of emotions, please don't get me wrong. I think it traps us humans in to thinking that the animal is now responsible and is capable of correct decision making without our teachings. This is dangerous to say the least. It’s because of this that we think our animals “know” that peeing in the living room is wrong and they feel guilty because of it. That theory then causes us to feel justified with the use of punishment – the animal knows they were wrong and therefore they understand the negative consequences.

It’s dangerous and flawed. Instead of putting the responsibility on our animals, we should put it on us. We are the only being that we can truly, 100% change.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Little Girl's Training Update

B and I are working on "Put 'Em Up!" I point my finger gun at her and she puts her two front paws up in the air.

We started out targeting to get her jumping and putting her paws in the air. Shaping played an enormous role in this behavior - we started out with what resembled a shark attack out of water. LOL! She was constantly biting the end of the target, so we had to ditch that quickly. I knew she was good at high five so I figured if I stood up and asked for a high-five but held my hand out of reach, she might still try to give me a high-five. BINGO! I C/T until the behavior started to resemble her stretching up in the air.

Next, I had to change the hand signal. In order to do that, I started whipping my hand out from behind my back, still giving her the flat palm used for High-Five. When she was reliably responding to that cue, I would flash the flat palm (expecting the behavior) then VERY QUICKLY flash the new hand signal, the pointed gun. Each time, I would give her the cue she knows and then the new cue. That way, she's performing the behavior as the gun is pointed at her. The timing had to be sharp, but it worked marvelously!

Then came the verbal cue. When she was reliably responding to the "quick draw" hand signal, I inserted "Put Em Up!" This took place beautifully - I credit B mostly because she too damn smart!

I made a huge error the next time around: I was just sitting around and pointed the gun at her and said "Put Em Up!" I got nothin'. I tried again with no verbal cue. Nothin'. What's the difference? I was sitting!! B started to get so angry at me because she had no idea what I was asking! She started to grumble and howl at Okay, okay!!! I'm sorry!!

Now, we're working on me asking her to sit, stay...then I walk away and quick draw shouting "Put em up!" and she pops up with paws in the air.

wish us luck!


Big Girl's Training Update

S's latest training goal is to open and close drawers and cupboards in the kitchen. While this may sound simple to us humans, there are a lot of important steps to get to that goal.

First, I taught S to target a piece of tape. Then, I placed that tape on the drawers and cupboards and had her target them all. Instead of sticking to just one drawer, I moved around a lot between drawers and cabinets because I wanted to try generalizing earlier on. This seems to work for her - once she was consistently target the items, I waited for her to actually close them by slamming them shut. In a sense, the sound of the drawer/cabinet slamming became the conditioned reinforcer and I no longer needed the click. That way, she was sure to actually "close it" every time and none of this half-ass stuff she likes to do.

It's coming along beautifully; however, since I am human AND the teacher, I made a mistake. I didn't write down my goals specifically and therefore suffered a bit of muddled instruction. I wasn't clear on what I wanted her to do because, let's face it: I didn't even know what I wanted her to do! The issue was: how am I going to get her to open it when I can barely open the door without her slamming it shut on me!? So we stumbled a bit. She got frustrated with me and whined an awful lot but after I cleared it all up and got my act together, we were back on track.

Where we stand
She knows the cue "Close it" and executes it when I am standing in a neutral location for cabinets. If I should stand more to a certain side, she aligns herself with me and then pushes the door. In the absence of a cue, that is her cue to "open" (no cue yet) and only closes on cue. She is learning to reposition herself in order to push the door closed, which was a HUGE hurdle for us both. Originally, she tried opening the door with her nose and pushing it until it almost split off the hinges. LOL - oopsie!! With the drawer closing, I can be standing anywhere within 3 feet and she understands what I'm asking her.

Where we're going next
I will begin to distance myself from the drawers and place myself in different locations, issuing the cue and expecting her to perform the same behavior as before. I have a feeling opening the drawers is going to be very different from opening the cabinets, so I am going to try and introduce that before I put in the cue to open cabinets. That way, when the cue goes in, it blankets the two behaviors. With the opening/closing: "Close it" is still on cue and she's beginning to understand that if I haven't asked for a "close it", then she needs to push from the other side in order to "open it". We'll see if we're ready for that cue, but I think we'll focus on her understanding the two sides to the cabinet.

The most difficult thing to remember when teaching your dog complicated cues: They don't know spoken words. So, even though the difference between open and closed make perfect sense to us, to them it's just another detail we have to tell them to pay attention to.

Keep you posted!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Said It Perfectly...

I'm a huge fan of Best Friends Animal Society after I caught wind of what they did to help rehabilitate some the Michael Vick pitties. Since then, I've loyally tuned in to their show: Dogtown. Their trainers are intelligent, patient and kind and follow the same teachings as myself and so many other trainers out there.

Often, we trainers discuss how we should refer to ourselves. Are we positive-based? Well, that could also mean "positive punishment" which is a technical term for training by introducing punishment to get rid of a behavior. But that's not what I do, so I don't want to be confused with the people who use those techniques.

Well, Best Friends hits the nail on the head in this article. They refer to it as "relationship-based" training. That's exactly what we do - we build the strong relationship that is required to make any progress in a dog's training. If the dog doesn't trust you, you won't get anything out of him. If you have no relationship with the dog, you won't understand him when he tries to tell you he's not ready to train today.

So, read up and enjoy~!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Go Lay Down

See the video here:

It's been a while since I've done a training video. This weekend, I decided to introduce "Go Lay Down" to B the way we've been doing it in Canine Building Blocks.

The steps are:
1. Lay down a mat
2. As soon as, and every time, your dog pays any kind of attention to that mat, C/T
3. Begin shaping the type of "lay down" you want

(You'll have to ignore the fact that I'm in my And S also wanted some screen time, so she decided to jump in there at one point.)

B loves to see how much, or how little, she can get away with. In fact, I think this is one of the things that shows dogs have a sense of humor. I see it as a form of sarcasm, which I just adore. Instead of putting all of her body on the towel, she will try to get away with her butt hanging off. So you'll see that I withold some clicks because of that. B also LOVES chasing the treat. It's just something I've learned. I've noticed she comes back much faster if there's a little chase involved. I have no behavioral science degree and some trainers might argue that this isn't following correct procedure, but B is a wild child and if I can let her get away with that while at the same time producing excellent results, well, I'm going to.

Looking at the video with a trainer's eye, I notice that I do at least one thing that should be nipped in the bud. Can you spot it? I sometimes cue her with my hands! I wave my hand or point towards the mat - and not even on a consistent basis! Perhaps by watching the video, you can see how unnecessary that is. B already knows what she's doing...she's been doing it fairly consistently. So it's the dumb human in me that feels I have to point. It's a wicked habit but even something so small can slow the process. If B gets the idea that she needs to wait for my hand cue, then I could have a dog who's Lay Down digresses! It's obvious she's better off without my hand cue!

Also worth noting is that I choose to move around to change things up. The first time I move positions, this throws her for a loop. She tries to lay down in front of me, not on the mat. These kinds of behaviors are expected - just don't reinforce them and be patient! Watch how she figures out, without me saying anything, that lying down in front of me wasn't the point of the exercise. It's that mat I'm interested in!

Remember, give your dog credit. They're MUCH smarter than you think they are. Let them exercise their brains. Just as you would instruct a school age child to "Sound it out...." when reading, wait out a dog that is showing signs of understanding what you are asking of them.

Oh yeah, don't knock me for the intro. So, I asked her to sit and she laid down. Yes, I should have waited for the appropriate response. But, as I'm sure you can tell, what I meant by "sit" was "stop grabbing the damn towel and let me throw it down already!!!" Therefore, her laying down was an acceptable response. ;)

Happy Training!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Those 3 Small Words

The most recent edition of APDT Chronicle includes an article written by renowned behaviorist and author Patricia McConnell, PhD. The article, entitled The Emotional Life of You and Your Dog: A Glass Half Empty or a Glass Half Full?, covers a highly debatable subject within the science world: do dogs have feelings and what are they?

The feelings discusses within the article are fear, anger, happiness, seeking and love. I've chosen to add my two cents to the latter.

Do dogs love? I know as a dog owner, I would sure love to know that my dogs love me back. I know that my own love for them goes deeper than my heart can contain. It literally aches when I imagine how much I care for them. For humans, love is huge. We love to be loved and love to love. But is that so for our furry companions?

It’s argued that love has no position in a dog's day to day survival – they don’t need love to procreate, that’s mechanical. What kind of survival tactic is loving? If anything, we humans can identify with love being more painful than it is life-saving.

I argue that dogs DO love using an example from my own life.

I have a very set routine when I get ready in the morning. Every morning, B joins me in the bathroom on her pillow I’ve designated as her resting spot while I “put my face on.” She follows me from the kitchen to the bathroom and curls up on her pillow in the corner and drifts off to puppy sleep. Anytime I leave the room, she wakes up and if I’m gone too long, she comes to find me. Keep in mind, she gets nothing from me as far as food/treats. Most mornings, sad to say, I’m too much in a hurry to give her more than a rub on the ears. But she sticks with me still. I like to believe that it’s because being around me is rewarding enough. Just being in the same room together gives her great comfort…the kind of comfort that leads to deep, jerky, chasing-whitetailed-deer dreams. Isn’t this a form of love? Wanting to be with someone...just because it feels good? I know this isn’t a strong argument for such a controversial debate. But for me, it makes my heart happy.

Dogs are social animals. They would rather be with someone they like than no one at all. So, naturally, when you spend time with someone you begin to form a relationship. If I was someone B didn’t particularly care for, I don’t see it worth her time to get up from her cozy spot on the bed with the rest of the family. She chooses to spend her mornings with me before I leave. She then moves to her chair in the living room and waits there until I return (moving through the house looking for mischief at steady intervals throughout the day).

I like to think that this is because I’m important to her. And not just because I’m the provider of her resources, but because she truly loves me.