I like talking about my dog almost as much as my horses, so here’s a Cersei update.
Yesterday, I taught her paw. She knows touch as “put your nose on something,” but I wanted a different cue for “put your paw on something.” Took a little work to get the first paw, but after that I just reinforced the hell out of the behavior for about 20 clicks, then added the verbal cue and kept reinforcing it.
Teaching a behavior that she doesn’t already kind of know is new to me. You’re supposed to first capture/encourage the behavior in whatever way seems best. Click, reward, repeat – many times. After she’ll offer the behavior, start saying/doing the cue while she does it, then right before she does it. She needs a lot of reinforcement at first – you want to seem like a doggie slot machine. Once you get the behavior on cue, you can refine it or increase duration.
Anyway, she already knew or was strongly inclined to naturally perform her previous tricks. I taught her to sit the classic way – treat in hand, move hand over head til butt goes down, give treat. Can’t remember how I taught her to settle (lay down), but probably just from telling her “settle” right after she’d done it. And every time she rolls on her back it’s sooooo cute we just shriek about how she’s crazy!! But she’s a mouthy dog, not a pawing dog, so getting her to put a paw on the target was new for both of us!
Today we worked on paw again – including pawing the dreaded nail dremel, which is much less dreaded these days – and broke up the routine with her other tricks. Then I decided to try free-shaping a behavior. She was laying down, about at my 8 o’clock, facing the area right in front of me (where the target had been). I waited til she happened to look away from me, to her left, and clicked. She got really excited – and immediately looked left again, to see if that magical click would happen again! It did! Wonder of wonders! We repeated that a few times.
Then one of the cats (Bond, the evil fluffy one) snuck in the kitchen. Graham hissed and the cat ran out and Graham shot him with the Nerf revolver. The cat ran away to sulk and Cersei got up to investigate the Nerf cartridge – so I clicked her for touching it. She thought that was pretty exciting, so she walked back and forth between the Nerf and me, getting treats and going to touch it again. We finished with a settle and a jackpot. End on a positive note!
I was excited that I free-shaped a behavior, even though it was really small. It’s a harder thing to teach (requires better timing), and it’s a little harder for some dogs to learn that way. There’s a bunch of different directions I could take “turn your head to the left” – just off the top of my head, I could teach her to spin on command, or I could teach her to turn left and head away from me. (The latter would be really useful if she loses sight of a ball but I know where it is; it’s a valuable retriever skill.)
And I was really happy I got her to target something that wasn’t within arm’s reach of me. Dogs (and horses, for that matter) don’t generalize well, and she’d previously only touched things I had very near me. If I got her touching a cardboard box, then shoved the box five feet away from me, she’d get confused and “lose” her ability to touch it. Walking away and touching the Nerf and walking back to me was a breakthrough