Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shaping success, a heavy puppy!

4 months 3 weeks old

Well, we continue to have some great training sessions. This operant conditioning stuff (in this case, clicker training) really is a marvelous thing. For a long while now Knightley has NOT liked going into his crate. Our usual technique for the first two odd months we had him was to throw some food into the crate and hope that he follows it, them slam the door quickly behind him. Sometimes you'd be too slow and then a wrestling match would ensue. Not exactly ideal, and not something I would recommend! Not really positive training either. Not encouraging respect of his leaders either.... So I knew something had to be done.

Included in Sue Ailsby's Training Levels is a cue to get your dog to go into their crate happily. So I set about training Knightley, keeping in mind we had two months of bad 'getting in crate' memories to work through. It actually went fairly easily, although I guess I did cheat a bit, but will leave you to make your mind up on that! At first I started with traditional shaping, but Knightley and I have had little success with shaping without a fairly large amount of luring also thrown in. So I clicked for looking at it, walking towards it etc. Instead of 'trying to control the click', Knightley tends to be very wooden in these circumstances, but I persisted - making sure that in order to receive his treat he had to enter the crate and take it through the wire (this is the maybe cheating part!). I then threw another treat outside the crate, to 'reset' his position again. Treating at the corner at the very back turned very naturally into a hand signal of pointing directly at the back of the crate, and he slowly got used to that - he knew it meant 'put your head, then your feet, then your whole body in the crate and then suddenly a treat will appear at the place where she is pointing at!' When he was going fully inside before the c/t through the back bars, I added the 'crate' cue.

'Crate' is going well now. I am adding criteria again, working on it without the cue, asking for a down inside the crate before c/t... and I have stopped the treating through the bars. It has served its purpose. For several weeks now, I have Knightley wait until he is released when I open the crate, so at least I don't have to train that part of the crate behaviour. I always make sure I give him a really good pat before I release him, so that I help him see the crate as a good place. I am also feeding him the second half of his meals in there (the first half I use in a training session).

Onto the rather more interesting shaping exercise. This is more an Assistance Dog behaviour, although it could be occasionally useful for pets, and I thought I may as well teach it while he is young as it is simple and behaviours learnt young tend to be retained particularly well. It's the 'under' skill, where you can point at an object such as a chair or table and tell the dog to get under it. I did this as almost purely a shaping exercise, and didn't use any help from books or online. Firstly I moved a chair into the middle of the room, so it was nicely obvious for Knightley. The seat of the chair was only slightly shorter than his back, not so much that he would have to crawl under.

I started by throwing 10 or so treats directly under the chair, so he would realise it was the chair we were going to be working with today. Then came for him the part we are struggling with in shaping. First he tried 'watch me', staring at me very hard trying to get a treat, but I just looked at the chair, then he waved his paw at me as we have been doing quite a lot of hand shakes and high-fives, then a down, staring at me..... then frustration set in as I was just looking at the chair. He started his silly barking problem. I cued quiet, and then move around in a half circle around the chair. I found this to be the key to keep him from getting overly frustrated in the early shaping stages. When he would glance away from me, and happen to glance at the chair, I quickly click/treated. After a while, I did another round of 10 treats under the chair, and then he was definitely looking at the chair, as I slowly moved around it to stop him going into downs etc. I got a few looks with the head really close, almost under the seat, and those got jackpotted (lots of treats), and we continued. Looking from far away became not good enough, and I was only clicking for his head under, or at least close to the chair. This upped his frustration again, just as he thought he had figured out the game!

He started sticking his whole head under the seat, so when I treated, I did a couple actually under the chair, using them to lure him in a bit. If he stayed under the chair after the treat, he got another c/t (click/treat). After about 4 in a row, I would throw the next treat out from the chair, and he would have to figure it out again. This technique really seemed to help. When he was under the chair, he seemed to know that this was exactly what I wanted, and even sometimes went into a down - which is what I want as a finished behaviour, for which he got a jackpot. We finished our first session here.

Second session I started with 10 treats under the chair to re-orient his attention on the chair. He remembered well though. His head under quickly became half his body under, the front half. Sometimes he'd go into a down but because they kind of move backwards when they go down, only his forelegs and head would end up under the chair. I c/t'd because it was fairly good, and threw the treat in front of him so he would crawl forward to get it and be more evenly spaced under the chair. Then when he started doing it of his own accord, jackpot. He was catching on quickly in this second session.... the overnight sleep had helped set the brain patterns. I then started introducing a cue. The instant he actually got under the chair, I said 'under!' in a upbeat voice, very quickly followed by c/t as usual. Rinse and repeat many times. Then I started saying 'under!' when it looked like he was on his way under the chair. By the end of the session I tried out the cue a couple of times, with moderate success.... I had to say it more than once. Still, a great session, showing great focus. I was very proud of my puppy.

Third session was working on getting a down every time, so I removed the 'under' cue from the equation as I worked on it. I lured the down, only clicking for the behaviour after I had done the luring. Then gave a jackpot. Did give a treat for an under with no down, but a very very small one. Big treats for every down. After it was looking good, I reintroduced the 'under' cue.... and that is where we are up to now!

Weighed Knightley yesterday, and he has put on a LOT of weight recently. He is very nearly 20kg (44lbs), possibly due to the fact I have been feeding him a bit more. He was really on the skinny side, and is still slim.... but did need his food increasing. He's put on quite a bit since his last weigh in, so I think it's time to ease back on the food. He's now on pure Canidae All Life Stages, after a long swap from Nutro Natural Choice Large Puppy. He really likes the Canidae, and I can use just his kibble meals to train with. He has come a long way from the puppy who would only eat roast chicken!!!

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