Thursday, October 26, 2006

Discrimination & Links in a Chain

I started a new game with Laev tonight. Well, it's not totally new; we did some discrimination work with Kathy Sdao in May. But this was with new objects, and despite my intentions we'd done nothing to continue the original discrimination work we'd started then.

I wanted to try some color discriminations, so I cut two pieces of construction paper and tacked one to the wall. Blue. Then I stood near the paper and Laev and waited. She moved around, happened to turn toward the wall, and I clicked. While she ran after the tossed treat, I recalled that I knew perfectly well I could shape her toward the target, but it was equally valid to tell her what to do for the sake of time, since the lesson here was not in shaping or targeting but in discrimination. So I placed my index finger on the blue rectangle and said, "Touch," and Laev did. I clicked, treated, and waited. Laev immediately went back and touched the blue again. I love quick dogs.

So I moved back a few steps and clicked for touching the blue rectangle on the wall. Laev recognized that I was asking for something new and tossed a few other behaviors at me (down, spin) on her way to the rectangle after chasing down her tossed treat. I ignored those -- I thought -- and clicked for the next nose touch. Laev returned, spun, and touched. Returned, spun, touched. Returned, spun, touched.

Have I mentioned that Laev chains faster than any critter I've known?

I was laughing aloud and trying to decide how important it was to get a clean touch for this. It's not a competition behavior, it's just a discrimination for my own pleasure and practice, but I decided that it was worth doing cleanly anyway. As Laev spun the next time, I held up a finger to attract her attention and gently interrupted. She looked at me, hesitated a second, and then touched. I clicked and treated. Then she snuck over to the rectangle and touched again, looking as if she thought she was testing the limits. "Ha! Betcha I can sneak this in without spinning!" I clicked and treated. She touched again, and from that point we had no more spins.

We did this a few more times, and then I decided to add the cue. I held up the other blue paper and Laev touched it with her nose. (It was, after all, a blue paper rectangle, just like the one she'd been touching.) No click. I withdrew it, waited briefly, and held it up again. Laev turned and touched the paper on the wall about 6 feet away. Click!

We did this for a few minutes, clicking for touches when the cue was offered (I held up the blue rectangle) and not clicking for touches when the cue was not offered (the second rectangle behind my back). Laev was appearing to understand the cue, but she's not solid yet; she goes instantly when the cue is offered, but she doesn't wait if the paper is behind my back.

Enough of that; time to do something else. Sits and downs out of motion -- success! She nailed each one. I'm so proud; sits out of motion were tough for so long. But she can do it completely, even as I continue forward at the same pace, without hand signals, without looking back, without hesitation. Good girl.

Then I took the dumbbell and set Laev in heel position. We tried our first full formal retrieve; we've done only bits and pieces before now. Laev learned to pick up the dumbbell for a click, and then she learned to bring it to my hand, and then I started associating a cue. Separately she's learned to sit (and remain sitting) and to come to front.

"Sit." I threw the dumbbell. Laev watched it but did not move -- I'd quietly hooked a finger through the loop of her martingale to block reinforcement in case she wanted to pursue it, but I never felt pressure. "Good girl. Take it." She ran to the dumbbell, picked it up, and returned. "Good girl!" I clicked before she came fully to front and showered her with praise and treats.

Repeat: "Sit." I threw the dumbbell. It bounced across the rubber matting and landed against the wall underneath two bumping chairs. I treated Laev for waiting quietly. "Take it." She ran across the room, crawled beneath the chairs, took the dumbbell, and ran back to me. I clicked as she was beginning to sit in front. "Whee!" She knows her job! She could put all the pieces together on her own, without additional help in the middle, and she understands how to pick up the dumbbell even though it's hard to reach, even though she had to wait because the sit was in effect. Good girl!

Here's what I learned tonight:
  • Use previously learned cues to build new behavior. It's natural for me to want to shape the new target, but there's nothing wrong with using something she already knows.

  • Use careful treat delivery. In theory I already know this, but I didn't apply it tonight. The first time I saw her offer another behavior on the way back from chasing a thrown treat, I should have started treating immediately beside the target. But I know Laev enjoys chasing her treats, so I allowed her to make mistakes, and I chained something I didn't want.

  • I'm going to need something sturdier than paper rectangles for Laev. Even tacked to a wall and receiving only relatively gentle nose touches, paper is not going to stand up. I'm going to need colored cardboard.

  • A behavior chain is only the sum of its parts. Well, yeah, obviously! but it was neat to see that even though we've practiced only pieces of the final product, it was enough for her to understand the final product.


My plan is to add colors to our discrimination. I don't know how much effort I'll really put into this (shapes, color names, objects?) but it should be fun and it can't hurt anything. :-)

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