I have been accused of being OCD. I didn’t like that, but maybe it fits. Just a bit. I do know I tend to go with logic. A lot. I was raised by an engineer; what can I say? (That’s not to say I can’t be quite emotional, too.)
What does this have to do with clicker training? Well, one guideline is to not move on in your training plan until the learner is at about 80% fluent in knowing the task. This is before you try to add a cue, for example, or for raising criteria.
In my very logical mind where I sometimes get stuck, it’s easiest to figure out the 80% if I do ten trials each time I work on a behavior. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work for the animal. They try to tell me they’re uncomfortable, but I don’t always listen very well. Then the training seems to get stuck.
I have one horse where I have to stop or change things or take a short break every three to five reps, especially if I’m working on something that he finds difficult. He doesn’t like to have his feet picked up, for instance, so we’ve been shaping that at liberty. He has the freedom not only to not pick up his feet but he can also “vote with his feet” by leaving.
His opinion on having someone else pick up his feet for him to be so aversive that he would just plant those feet and there was nothing you could do short of beating him to get him to pick a foot up. But through shaping at liberty and WAITING FOR HIM to shift his weight, marking and reinforcing that, we’ve progressed to my bending over be a cue for him to lift a foot. It’s even gotten to the point that he willingly picks up his feet for the farrier when she asks in a traditional way.
I was really struggling with him until I realized that while he really, really, really wanted to interact with me and play the CT game, he also didn’t like being “drilled”. I had to shift my training routine and rhythm to changing feet every five reps instead of every ten. Just changing feet was a big shift for me! After I dropped my reps to only five from ten, things went much, much faster and Ollie stayed with me longer.
Now, back to the dog! Poor Sophie! You’d think that if Ollie taught me something I’d be able to transfer it to the dog. Not so. (Please understand that Sophie’s background is that for six years she was run over in her previous home by a motorized wheelchair on a daily basis. I’m sure that she was “forced” to endure nail trims, too. That’s another one of our projects.)
Note to self: I really must pay more attention to the dog’s body language when I train. I pay attention to the horses’ body language, why am I ignoring the signs that Sophie is giving me that she doesn’t like what we’re doing? Would it be so hard to just do a couple of reps instead of ten?
I already realized that Sophie can’t do a sit up and beg (Sit Pretty) pose; but, on our first attempt, I still tried to get her to do it too many times. Ten is way too many! I was still stuck on “do ten”. I dropped it to three. Now I only ask for two but I make sure that she’s sitting properly before asking for the sit up and beg position. If her hips aren’t just right, she simply can’t do it.
Now on to a couple of other behaviors that she finds difficult: Mouth exams and “Leave It”. Doing too many “Leave It” reps is just torture. There are studies to show that dogs (and other animals including humans) have only so much will power and then things break down. Only do maybe ten. No more. And no repeated sessions on that one!
The mouth exam is the real reason I’m writing this post. Sophie doesn’t like having her head touched except in certain circumstances. Preferably if I just hang my hand down and she can come up under it if she wants the contact. Otherwise, it’s “Keep your hands to yourself, woman!”
I knew going in that she doesn’t like having her head touched and I figured that she wouldn’t like having her mouth handled either. She didn’t even really want to do a nose touch. She’d turn her head away after a couple of nose touches. I’d withdraw my hand, wait a couple of seconds, and then bring my hand out for targeting again. This seemed to work.
I switched to holding my hand in an upside-down U in front over and slightly over her muzzle, but not touching her. My plan is to let her touch me.
It has only taken me a week or two to notice that she can tolerate only a couple of these before turning her head away from the task. I am such a slow human! What I’ve done until now is, when she turns her head away, I drop my hand and turn away also. Then I wait a few seconds (three to five) and, if she has turned her head back to me, I present my hand again. This has worked alright so far.
My plan is to now only present my hand this way a couple of times and then we’re done. Or maybe move to a different spot. I’ll try different things to see what works best. But I’m also going to look for a signal from her that she’s ready to do this behavior in another rep.
Peggy Hogan and I call this a “ready signal”. We try to find a behavior that the animal offers just before they offer the desired behavior. It might be an ear flick, it might be coming back to us, it might be a certain look.
Dr. Susan Friedman is not sure that it would be proper to call this a “mand”. But here’s a lovely quote from her regarding this kind of training: “A dialogue, by definition, takes two communicators! Monologue training is when we to something to a learner; dialogue training is when we do something with a learner. Of course the benefit is that both actors are empowered to control their own outcomes, trainer and learner. Reciprocal influence. Essential. Everyone using their behavior for effect, just as it has evolved to be – a tool for effect.”
I need to learn to listen better. In First Nations traditions, you have be holding the “talking stick” before speaking. In that way everyone takes turns and no one interrupts. In the absence of holding a physical symbol of having permission to speak, we need to look for another symbol or signal.
Do you have a “talking stick”? Do you let your learner have it?