There are a couple of things I’ve recently been trying to train Sophie to do. One is scratching sand paper to trim her nails (here) and another one that’s newer is getting her to stand with each front foot on a balance pod. It’s been a bit of a struggle and I only have myself to blame.
During my last Chicken Workshop with Bob Bailey and Parvene Farhoody, I realized that I’m a “desperation clicker”. I’ll click just about anything just to keep the animal in the game. I do this even though I know how the Matching Law is in effect and how that law is going to bite me hard in the backside.
What’s the Matching Law, you ask? Here it is: “The relative frequency of responding closely approximates the relative frequency of reinforcement.” Herrnstein, 1963. When applied to training, it means: Reinforcing unwanted behavior reduces the power of the reinforcement for wanted behavior. “Bad” reinforcement weakens the power of “good” reinforcement. (Bailey & Farhoody) It’s bit like playing “One for Me, Ten for You”. It’s going to take a LOT of “ones for me” to make up for the “tens for you”. You don’t get what you want; you get what you click.
This means that the more you click anything that is remotely close to what you want, the more likely you are to get THAT behavior and not be able to move on toward getting what you actually want.
Combine that with being a “desperation” clicker (I’ll click that garbage because it keeps the animal in the game!), the more I get stuck in my training.
Why am I a desperation clicker? Probably because I don’t want to use extinction, even if Bob Bailey says extinction is my friend! I know it frustrates the animal. Some animals tolerate it fairly well and some don’t. When I pause, even for just a couple of seconds, Sophie sits down. She’s obviously frustrated and bewildered. She doesn’t know what to do and the clicking and reinforcing suddenly stopped. Offer some behavior, dammit! Then I get frustrated, obviously.
For the pod exercise I clearly had to make some changes. First I noticed that if I tried to do more than one short session in a day, the quality of the behavior deteriorated in the second and third sessions, even when I gave fairly long breaks. Okay, only one training session a day then! And make it short!
Second, try extinction anyway, you chicken! If Sophie sat down, I waited a couple more seconds and then threw a treat into the hallway so that she had to get up to get the treat, then come back at the pods in a way that set her up for another try. Or I’d throw a couple of treats onto her bed and quit for the day.
I also added in a separate training session of “101 Things to do with a Box”, although I don’t play it quite the way Karen Pryor does. She clicks and reinforces a particular behavior only once. I see something I like and start shaping. But I don’t stay on that particular shaping plan for the whole session. I give a few clicks and treats and then throw a treat in some direction so that Sophie has to go get it and then come back. I might throw it to the opposite side of the box she had been on or maybe I reposition the box by the time she gets back. I think this exercise has helped her be more willing to offer behavior and not give up quite so easily. I keep these sessions short as well.
And on the nail trimming exercise. I used to do three sets of ten reps each before switching sides (feet). Now I only do one set of ten reps and then switch feet. I do the different feet in different locations – the right front in one location and the left front in another location.
In both cases (the nail trimming and the pod standing), I’ve now seen significant improvement. She’s better about knowing which foot is in which location. But she’s remarkably better about the pods! I can’t believe (well, actually, yes I can!) how much more clear she is about what the job is – put the left front on the left pod and the right front on the right pod.
I get the left front on the left pod and I CT. I might have to do this twice and feed forward to get the right front involved. Then I might have to work a little (one or two reps) to get the right front on the pod. These little bits are what I have to clean up now. But this is a HUGE improvement over where I was just a few days ago.
Here a short video I took today, one of five. Normally I would have trained only one short session, but I tried to keep each session really short and I’m amazed that she was willing to give it a go for six short sessions! But look at the results! 😀