Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Training Tuesday: CC and DB

Click! Good Trainer!
Last time, I admitted that I hadn’t done any of the counter-conditioning that the veterinary behaviorist and I agreed I should do with Maisy. Thankfully, no one can shame me this time, because I’ve been working diligently for the last two weeks.

I chose to focus on the noises the cats make because Maisy seems to think that her official job title is “Kitty Cop.” She takes it so seriously that she will often jump while napping in order to do some police work. Eventually, I hope to decrease some of her resource guarding with the cats, too, but I decided to start with the easier stuff first.

The first few days, I used the clicker, mostly because it is such a strongly conditioned secondary reinforcer that it can pierce her consciousness when my voice can’t. The process went like this: a cat would do something “naughty” (for example, scratching the cat tree), and I clicked. I tried to click before she dive-bombed the cat, not after she’d already started moving towards them. If I wasn’t fast enough, I simply didn’t click. I don’t want her to think that I want her to rush at them, after all! This wasn’t easy- there was only a split second in which to mark the behavior I wanted- but I was successful most of the time.

Once she figured out that staying near me resulted in treats, even when the kitties were naughty, I switched to a verbal marker/praise. Not only is it easier to use (after all, I don’t just sit around with a clicker in my hand), it is less arousing, and (I think) less reinforcing if my timing is off.

The hardest part right now is to catch as many opportunities as possible (sometimes I’m distracted, or napping, or otherwise engaged in life). As a result, my counter-conditioning efforts aren’t as consistent as I’d like, and our progress is a bit slow. Even so, I would say that about half the time she’s either looking at me instead of dive-bombing the cat, or she’s interrupting the dive-bomb to come to me. I’m pretty happy about this!

The Dumbbell
I’ve continued to work with Maisy and her dumbbell. Shortly after I posted about it last, I received an email from Canis Clicker Training about teaching the retrieve. How fortuitous! They agreed with all of you who said that the hardest part is teaching the duration on the hold. According to them, the trick is to click when the dog’s teeth is around the dumbbell, and not when the dog is curling his tongue to spit it out. However, since it’s difficult to see inside the dog’s mouth, they recommended gently pulling on the dumbbell and clicking when the dog grips on to it in order to get a nice, firm hold.

So that’s what I’ve been doing:

I’ve been starting off each training session with a simple grab. Then I move on to lightly tugging the dumbbell, gradually making the tugging a bit firmer, and with a bit more duration. I was actually surprised by how quickly she grasped the concept- it only took a day or two until she seemed to understand that she needed to hold onto the dumbbell. After she got that, I started letting go of the dumbbell for just a split second before taking it and gently tugging again. This took a bit longer- she seemed to think that she should give it to me when I reached for it- but again, she’s figured it out.

In this session, I’m working on moving my hand successively further away before grabbing the dumbbell again. This adds both distraction and duration to the hold. You can see that when I moved my hand too far away, she failed. I’ve been trying not to let her fail more than twice in a row before making the task easier again. (She actually did great in the session after this- no failures at all!- but of course, I didn’t have the video running then.)

I’m glad I took video of this session. I’m pleased with my rate of reinforcement. Even though she is distracted by the door mysteriously opening about 30 seconds in (cat, I assume), she got seven clicks and treats in 60 seconds. It also made me question if I’m holding the dumbbell too high. I guess it doesn’t matter much- I’m hoping to have her pick the dumbbell up off the ground soon- but it might have been affecting our progress. Any thoughts?

I’ve been kind of screwing around with free shaping lately, just for fun. One day, I started out trying to shape a spin, but instead ended up with her sidestepping to the right. That’s kind of neat, so I think I’ll keep playing with it.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about how my body affects Maisy. Both of us are highly dependent on body positioning and movement- shoulder movements for heeling, leaning backwards on fronts, etc. I’m trying to figure out how much of this is desirable and helpful, and how much of it is impeding our progress. Certainly, if we ever return to the competition ring, it will be nice to have subtle, legal ways to cue her. However, the trade off seems to be that she pays very little attention to my words. Sometimes, I get the feeling that’s she’s guessing, even on the basics like sit or down. More on this soon…


Elephant said...

door mysteriously opening

Yes, that was the cat.

Ninso said...

Congrats on your breakthrough with the DB! Now that you mention it, I've heard of the tugging method before. Makes good sense.

I'm interested in your take on Masie's lack of verbal proficiency. My border collies--ok the one that can hear--is highly attuned to verbal commands and very quickly associates a command with an action. Only takes a few repetitions. My deaf BC does the same with arbitrary signs that have no relation to the behaviors (e.g., pointing to my ear for bark vs. a downward motion with the hand for down).

My cattle dog mix, on the other hand, is the same as Maisy. Highly dependent on context and when the context is taken away, appears to mainly guess, even with things he knows well at other times, like sit and down, but especially with tricks. We've been working on discriminating just 4 commands for weeks with no real progress and since I shaped everything with him, he doesn't have any hand signals. I'm thinking about going back and teaching him some. You can read my post "elo doesn't know any words" if you're interested in my experience with this.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I think Maisy looks fantastic Crystal! Congratulations! I really think that she's so close to really getting it and being able to leap up in time. I've used that tugging method with a few of the dogs at work but Maisy doesn't seem to have that backwards movement the dogs I've worked with get, much nicer!

Nice job with the cat work, I wouldn't have been able to shame you though. I did a little bit of work with Vito and arrival sounds but not consistently.

I think all dogs are heavily effected by our body movements. It's what agility handling is based on afterall! Some dogs do learn verbals quickly in spite of it, but I think it's hard for most dogs to learn verbal only cues. In the obedience ring though you need to get rid of all that extra body speak, you might not get docked points in the A ring, but when you get into B handlers get docked for things they weren't aware of doing. I have personally gotten docked for apparently moving my head up when I cued a retrieve, for not swinging my arms enough, and some other thing I did on heeling a while ago that I can't remember. So for obedience I try and clean up all my cues, for tricks I could care less! It's nice to have somebody watch me and tell me what extra cues I'm giving, plus practicing them in different contexts such as on the floor, back turned, etc.

Crystal said...

Ninso, I think there are (at least) two things at play with Maisy's lack of verbal proficiency: 1. We started out with lure-reward training, so from the very beginning, paying attention to my body movements was reinforcing, and 2. I talk with my hands. It was so bad when I was younger that my friends made fun of me.

And then, like Laura points out, dogs are just better at physical cues anyway. And I haven't cared enough to train any different way. Laura's comment that she's gotten penalized in the obedience ring for very subtle things is interesting... I've only done rally, and there, it doesn't matter.

I'll need to think about this more. Laura, any tips on cleaning up the body language?

Ninso said...

And immediately after posting this Elo decides to make a liar out of me and respond correctly to 85% of cues! Maybe we are making a little progress after all!!

I agree that dogs are higly sensitive to our body positions, but I think Elo's issues are more profound. Its not a matter of subtle body cues I'm not aware of. Its like, he can only respond correctly when he's in the exact spot in the house where he learned a command and when I'm standing in the exact position I was when I taught him the cue. E.g., I could get a "wave" when he was sitting on the rug and I was leaning against the wall. And only in that position. And if I am trying to cycle through multiple cues he "knows" he will get really confused after a few repetions. So I'm trying to proof his verbals by starting with just 4 commands and having him do those 4 in different rooms, with me standing, sitting, leaning, squatting, sitting on the couch. Very slow going. It seems to help if I keep him very calm and wait for eye contact between each cue.

I've never had to do anything like this with the border collies. In our first ob class, our instructor tried to tell me Lok probably didn't really know "down" and bet me he wouldn't respond with me hidden behind a barrier--he did, first try. But elo can't even generalize to me shifting my weight or to a slightly different spot in the same room!!

Crystal said...

Yay, Elo! I'm glad to hear that, because it gives me hope when I start working with Maisy on this.

Yesterday, my friend and I were trying to figure out why Maisy didn't respond to her sit hand signal as well as to mine. I'm not sure we ever quite figured it out, thought I think it has something to do with the angle at which we each hold our palms.

It's interesting how different your two dogs sound. Sounds like Lok can generalize things much faster/better than Elo can?

Ninso said...

Lok generalizes automatically. I've honestly never worked on generalizing his commands at all and never had a need to. He's maybe not as quick as Elo to learn a behavior, but once he knows what behavior is wanted, all I have to do is pair the verbal with it 2-3 times and he's got it for good in pretty much any situation. I really think it's a border collie thing, because I've heard the same from most BC people. These dogs are bred to work on verbal/auditory commands.

Elo, OTOH, is great at learning behaviors and a lot more confident and creative about offering behaviors, but just terrible about learning verbals--butI think there is more in play than body language. I can tell Elo "get off the bed" from the other room and he does it instantly--obviously not getting any physical signals from me since he can't see me. However, I'm guessing it's more a combination of A)he's on the bed, and B) my tone of voice than the actual words I'm saying. I bet I could say "Elo, you know you're not supposed to be up there" and he'd respond just the same. Similarly, when I tell Elo "drop" usually it's because he has something in his mouth, and sometimes I'm reaching for that something. And he will always do it whether I say drop, give, or some variation on the theme--there is the context: A)thing in mouth, B) command given.

But when "training" it's just me, him, and the treats in the middle of the living room and there is no context to distinguish one word from another. That's when he really has a hard time.

Maybe the difference in response to you and your friend had nothing to do with the way you both were signaling? I know my dogs don't respond as well to anyone as they do to me. Other people aren't "the boss" and/or don't have the reward history I do with them, so IMO other people aren't as "relevant" to my dogs as I am.

Crystal said...

I agree that Maisy doesn't respond as well to others as she does to me in general, however, with this friend, there's a long reward history in this particular context, and Maisy responds to her down signal very quickly. Is it just that they've practiced down a lot, so she's figured out what Robin's down signal looks like? Is the down signal easier to replicate? Is she just guessing and the down is her default? WHO KNOWS!!! But it's interesting to think about. :)

Along the same lines, I've found that the way a word is said makes a difference to Maisy. She doesn't seem to understand that the same word, said in two different tones/pitches, means the same thing. I've noticed this with sit, for example (the pitch needs to go up at the end of the word vs. down).

Ninso said...

Interesting about the sits and downs. Another thing to think about might be the angle the dog is viewing the signal from. Is your friend the same height as you? What the signal looks like to the dog is something I've had to pay attention to more with Jun (my deafie) as I can't use any verbals to help her interpret it. Sometimes if signals look similar to her she will get confused.

I've started to notice the same thing about pitch/tone with Elo! It is crazy hard to figure out which pitch/tone they respond best to and even harder to remember to USE the right one for each command!

Crystal said...

We're close to the same height, but usually we're both sitting. I'll have to think about that more, though. We also have fairly different skin tones... I wonder if that affects things somehow. Contrast or shadows or something?

elegy said...

I've tried to encourage Luce to tug with the dumbbell but she gets terribly upset about it, which is so not Luce. The hardest part of the retrieve for her was learning that she could sit with something in her mouth.

Crystal said...

The tugging is working amazingly well! Yesterday, she was picking it up off the floor, and then allowing me to tug on the dumbbell gently. Once in awhile, she even offers a sit while she's holding it!

Tegan said...

Okay, I will try to make this my last comment because I realise I'm getting into your older posts now!

But I find it very interesting that you think that your voice is less arousing than the clicker. This is something I haven't thought about before. Do you have any further thoughts in this matter? Or links?

I'm just thinking that this might shed some lights on why I get a psycho-dog when I'm clicker training, but a pretty awesome dog otherwise.

Crystal said...

Feel free to comment on older posts- they get emailed to me, so I'll still see them! :)

Regarding voice vs. clicker and arousal levels: I think there are at least two things at work. First, anticipation. A clicker savvy dog knows that she's going to be earning treats, and that's exciting. Second, MAYBE it's about the way the click is processed in the brain. Karen Pryor's book "Reaching the Animal Brain" has information about how the click is processed differently from marker words- it goes through a different part of the brain.

If I have time next week, I'll look it up, and if there's anything applicable, maybe I'll write a post about it. :)

Tegan said...

Cheers for your reply. This is the third recommendation for "Reaching the Animal Brain" I've had this week! So I think I need to make an order. Thanks! :)

(And sure, I'll comment on your other posts. ;) )

Crystal said...

I highly recommend it. It's a great book, and is the one that sparked my husband's interest in training.

(Only comment if you want. :))