Sunday, April 1, 2012

Teaching the Burnout Babies Sit

Well, we're home from today's adoption event, and while plenty of older dogs got some interest -- which was fantastic, as adult and adolescent dogs generally have a much tougher time landing permanent homes -- neither of the Burnout Babies found their forever families this afternoon. So they are back here with us, squatting in the puppy pen for another week, and since we've got them a little longer than anticipated, I'm continuing with the puppy program.

Today, after another two sessions each, they progressed to a (weak) verbal cue on Sit.

After the second session, the Burnout Babies were both responding to an empty hand target, which I was able to fade into a hand signal that same session. In the third session, I preceded the hand signal with a verbal cue. Over time, this teaches the dog to anticipate the hand signal from the verbal cue alone -- in effect, the dog learns that the verbal cue is a prompt to do the Sit behavior. (This is much much faster than the old method I was using, which was to do the verbal cue and hand signal at the same time. Verbal cue followed by hand signal is literally twice as fast as doing them simultaneously.)

Here's Cerise on her third session of learning Sit:

At this stage, the verbal cue is meaningless to her, but she responds to the hand signal readily.

At 0:20, she spits out the treat. These are moderately high-value treats (Wellness WellBites jerky treats), but Cerise just isn't a very food-motivated dog. Thus, for the fourth session, I adjusted and used a toy motivator instead of food rewards.

In the fourth session, the Burnout Babies went to a straight verbal cue:

It takes her a few seconds to respond to the prompt, but eventually she does so correctly. This time, instead of a food reward (which wouldn't be very rewarding to her), I let her play a quick game of tug with an old sock. This is also why I'm not using the marker word "Yes!" or a click, since those sounds only signal food rewards.

(NB: I do not recommend using your socks as tug toys routinely, unless you want to teach your dog that all your socks are in fact dog toys and fair game for destruction. I'm doing so in this clip only because I had no other toys available -- the Burnout Babies had chewed up or peed all over everything else I could give them -- and this particular sock had been living in the dog-toy drawer for over a year, since I had been using it to muffle the clicker for a previous sound-sensitive dog. So this sock smelled like a dog toy rather than a normal article of clothing, and I judged it would not be too confusing to the puppies.)

So that's where we are on Sit. The Burnout Babies have learned to respond to a verbal cue (which is the point at which most pet owners would probably be willing to say "this dog knows Sit"), but it's not especially strong and I doubt it would stand up to much distraction. We'll work on improving speed, reliability, and concentration in whatever time we have left.

We also started baby steps toward a recall. Here's one of the beginning exercises:

(As a preface to the exercise, note how distracted Razz is by itchy mange in the beginning. I have to tap her shoulder to get her attention and make her stop scratching. These puppies are really fighting an uphill battle to concentrate on anything other than how miserable they are right now, and I try to adjust my expectations accordingly.)

In this clip, I tossed a piece of kibble away so that Razz would chase it and give me some distance. If she'd been willing to eat the kibble and return, we could have played Kibble Toss, as I did with Jackie, and the opportunity to chase after a new piece of kibble would have been enough reward to keep her returning to me and then running away again.

However, while Razz is ordinarily fairly food-motivated, we did this session only an hour or so after the puppies had dinner, so she was pretty full and not that interested in eating more plain kibble. She chases it down, but it's obvious that this isn't much of a reward for her right now.

I had better food in store to use as a reward if she came back to me, but she ignored my initial calls because sniffing the floor was more interesting to her. That's okay; we don't have much of a relationship yet and I wouldn't expect her to come back to me instantly. Getting up and moving drew her curiosity, and at that point she comes back and earns a click. And that's fine! At this stage, you want to set the dog up for success, so do whatever it takes to make her come back, or even look back in your direction. Wave a tug sock around, make weird noises, tap your fingers on the floor, dance around. Whatever it takes to get some kind of beginning you can build on.

And then reward that return. And do it again. And again.

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