Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Training Tuesday: Chicken Edition

With Thanksgiving in the middle of this last fortnight, our training schedule was significantly disrupted. Our travel plans also offered new opportunities for training that I don’t usually have. As a result, this update is not about relaxation, but rather about chickens.

Here’s a video of what we did:

This is why I both love and hate taking video of my training. On one hand, it’s fun to see where things are going well. On the other, it really exposes the flaws in my training. But then again, I do appreciate being able to pick apart those flaws so I can do it better next time.

I did three things well in this video. First, I put Maisy on a long line for (most of) the training. This helped prevent her from engaging in the behavior I was trying to eliminate. Second, I used very high value treats: tortilla chips. Maisy is a sucker for the crispy, carby goodness of chips, and I used that to my full advantage. Finally, I think my timing was pretty good. Although it’s hard to hear the clicker in the video, it seems like most of my clicks were well-timed.

I think the biggest thing I did wrong was not planning my training. I usually plan my sessions in some way, either on paper or in my head, but this one was completely unplanned. And it shows. There are lots of errors in this video, and I think they all resulted from a lack of planning.

I didn’t think about how I was going to approach the chickens with Maisy. I would have been better off doing some parallel walking instead of using a head-on approach which mimicked chasing. At the same time, walking parallel would have allowed me to keep a better distance away from them. It’s very clear that we started out too close to those exciting chickens, which made the task much harder for Maisy than it needed to be.

I also didn’t do a very good job of providing her with feedback. My rate of reinforcement could have been much higher if I’d spent a few minutes thinking about which behaviors were desirable. I was clicking Maisy only for turning away from the chickens to look at me when I should have also clicked for sustained focus, heeling, and offering behaviors such as sits and downs. Maisy really deserved to be paid better for her hard work.

Finally, I did a horrible job of adjusting the criteria, especially in the off-leash segment. Which, let’s be honest, I shouldn’t have even attempted. She was not ready to be off-leash, but she had done so well, and it was my last chance to work with Maisy on the chickens before we left. If I’d done some planning, I would have known she wasn’t ready. But even if she had been ready for it, I failed to adjust the rest of the criteria. When you make one part of the task harder, you should temporarily make the rest of your criteria easier. When I took her off-leash, I should have started further away, worked for shorter periods of time, and used a higher rate of reinforcement.

Despite my not-so-great training, Maisy really did a great job. Sometimes it amazes me that she learns anything at all with me as her trainer. Honestly, if I were to rename this blog, I think I’d call it “Shame About the Handler.” Maisy has a lot of potential, and I don’t have the skills needed to help her live up to it yet. Thankfully, Maisy doesn’t care about wasted potential. As long as I keep her in tennis balls and bully sticks, she’s thrilled to be my dog.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

You have one fabulous dog!!! But seriously don't be so hard on yourself. None of us are perfect and you are a very fast learner!

My only added input is that I would never have taken her off leash, even if you had been further away and had a higher rate of reinforcement. If I felt my dog was ready for the next step then I would have worked on fading out rewards, making behaving around chickens just what we do with the leash as backup to prevent self reinforcing. Only once Maisy seemed to make the choice on her own to stop chasing would I think about taking the leash off and moving further away. It would take longer than a weekend though :)

andrea said...

That was great :)
Given your time constraints I can see why you might feel you rushed things a bit .. (yah - you did a little ;))

impulse control is the story of my life with Sally as you know ... I often don't get a chance to plan it either but planning sure does help ....

life is a learning curve .. that's for sure
but there is no shame about you as a handler

Ninso said...

Thanks for posting the video and critique! That was really brave! It's really cool to see other trainers working. I have the exact same issues--as you read in my recent post!! I also have a reactive-to-everything dog (Elo) so I know how tough those issues are and how much planning and patience it takes to tackle them appropriately.

Crystal said...

Thanks for being so kind, guys. I'm ridiculously self-critical, and while it helps to evaluate myself, sometimes I think it gets in the way.

I really feel that it's important to be honest. I could have edited that video in a more flaterring light (and I certainly considered it!), but I think that being honest about my shortcomings helps make me a better person.

One of my biggest struggles is an overwhelming drive to be perfect (which is impossible) combined with a huge fear of failure. This results in not even trying- you can't fail if you don't try after all. And then I feel bad because I'm not training.

andrea said...

but don't forget even not training turns out to be training of a sort - so you might as well risk not being as good as you want and see what happens :)

Crystal said...

Andrea, I think I love you.