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Charlottesville's Professional Dog Grooming

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Archive for August, 2010

How creative is your pet?

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 by Jenna

“Reaching the Animal Mind” by Karen Pryor is an awesome training book is opening my eyes to just how creative animals can be. Karen has trained a variety of animals—dolphins, wolves, gorillas, etc She trained her fish to go through a hoop for food although one time she wasn’t ready with the treat to reward him. The fish dropped to the bottom of the tank, respiration doubled. She said she didn’t know a fish could get so upset! You can see it happen in this video.

A whistle marks a correct behavior for dolphins. After they hear the whistle, they get a treat. Typically, Karen uses this technique to convince an animal to repeat a behavior, or to move closer to the desired behavior so the treats are repeated. With Malia the dolphin, she decided to try a game now called Show Me Something New. So she would only whistle/treat a new behavior, thus encouraging Malia to be creative and explore new ways to earn her fish. The first few behaviors Malia came up with were normal things that dolphins do… waving fins, a tailslap, etc Eventually she ran out of those behaviors and began to branch out. She offered aerial flips and twirls, even a beautiful upside-down jump that Karen has never seen another dolphin do.

Then, there was Malia’s art project. The cement at the bottom of her tank was covered with a thin layer of silt. For her new behavior, she swam circles at the bottom of the pool and used the tip of her dorsal fin to make beautiful loops in the silt. Karen tried the Show Me Something New game with another dolphin. Hou did a few flips, spit, and nodded. He “was able to innovate, but Hou was not Malia. Malia, face it, was an artist.”

You can try the Something New game with your pet—not just dogs, if Karen can train a fish then cats can be trained too! A version of the game is called 101 Things to Do With a Box. Set a box on the floor and say ‘Yes!’ (or use a clicker, etc) and treat each time your pet does something new. Don’t cheat and give suggestions, just wait it out and see what happens.

If you’d like to know more about Karen’s style of training (clicker training, in the dog world), the best resource I’ve found is actually a free e-book called Mind to Mind: Training Levels. I do highly recommend “Reaching the Animal mind” for the psychology involved and hilarious anecdotes but “Mind to Mind” has more practical instructions.

Let us know what your pet comes up with!!

A Click to Learn

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 by Jenna

I’d heard of clicker training but couldn’t understand why a dog would care about a clicking noise. Still, it’s a method used by many people who train their dogs for complex tasks like agility and freestyle (doggie dancing) so I began to research it. The first thing I learned is that the clicker is not a remote control! It creates a marker sound (click!) that signals a correct behavior and a coming reward (rewards can be food, tug-o-war, praise, etc). Because it’s short and immediate, it can be precise. With treats alone, you might try to give your dog a treat for sitting but then he gets up to get the treat…so what he’s really being rewarded for is getting up. You can use a verbal marker like ‘Yes!’ but variations in tone and emotion, not to mention it being a word used outside of training, means this isn’t as clear to the dog as the sound a clicker makes.

The fascinating thing for me about this type of training is that it gets your dog’s brain working. Typically, I have trained my dogs to sit by luring them with a treat. But they’re not really thinking about sitting, they’re thinking about the food and happen to come into a sit position because I lift the food over their head. I’ve also tried pushing my dogs into position—it’s not harmful but it’s not getting them to think either. Using clicker training, I instead “shape” behavior by click+rewarding each step the dog makes toward the desired behavior. Once they’re doing the behavior consistently, you can begin adding a cue/command and gradually decrease the treats. If you’re lucky, you can also “capture” a behavior. For example, a sit. Even wild puppies eventually sit down for a break…there’s your chance to click+reward. Once your dog realizes that his actions make you give him a reward, he might even start “throwing” behaviors at you to see what he can earn!

You can see an example of teaching a Great Dane to go to bed in this video.

For more about clicker training (and an entertaining read about a crazy Border Collie), check out “Shaping Success” by Susan Garrett.


Some other training tips to keep in mind:

-“Charge” your marker at the start of each session by clicking/rewarding for nothing

-Keep training sessions short and fun (timing depends on the dog)

-Avoid corrections (ie if your dog lays down instead of sitting let the lack of click/reward show that it’s not what you wanted)

-Aim for success—keep your reward criteria easy enough that your dog is earning a treat 70% of the time

-Vary rewards (sometimes no reward, sometimes a great reward)

-Heighten the criteria for rewards to be earned

-Use jackpots (lots of treats/really good toy) for breakthroughs

-End on a high note even if it means going back to a much simpler behavior