Thursday, April 5, 2012

Winding Down the Burnout Babies

The Burnout Babies are nearing the end of their time here.

Tomorrow they'll head out for another adoption event, this time at PetSmart. Hopefully they'll find their forever families... but even if they don't, they'll be packing up their tiny suitcases and heading elsewhere. I committed to pulling two other puppies before fostering the Burnout Babies; Razz and Cerise came to stay with us as short-termers only because I had a two-week window between Jackie and these guys, and figured that two weeks in foster care was better than nothing. But now the two weeks are up, and the new pups are coming, and that means the Burnout Babies have got to move on, just as they've finally started to settle in.

I spent a lot of time designing new distraction games for these guys. As they recover from mange, they're getting more energetic, which means they need a constant supply of new things to investigate/chew on/destroy to keep themselves occupied. All their meals come stuffed into one toy or another: kibble goes into a Kong wobble pin for dispensing or is hidden in paper balls to be torn up, dog stew is served in frozen "popsicle" blocks, and peanut butter comes in empty paper towel tubes so the puppies can shred the cardboard to earn their prize.

They also get the occasional half-cooked chicken foot, which is small enough to fit into puppy mouths and lasts them a good 15-20 minutes as a chew toy. The Burnout Babies love chicken feet. Given half a chance, Razz will steal Cerise's and hoard both of them in her secret ninja hideout, chewing chicken toes contentedly while her sister cries in the puppy pen.

Training-wise, they have conquered Sit.

Here's Razz doing indoor drills (Sit --> move --> Sit --> move --> Sit) to increase response speed and reinforce the verbal cue. The quicker she follows me and Sits, the quicker she can do it again and earn another treat. Rapid-fire repetitions are one way of increasing speed and reliability in a fairly short time.

She anticipates me once at 0:20, but at this stage that's a pretty good problem to have. Sit is becoming the Burnout Babies' default behavior; they are learning to offer it whenever they want something and don't know what else to do. They're showing signs of (very slightly) improved self-control, and this definitely beats the "jump up and down and yowl at the top of your lungs" behavior they offered before. Not that they've quit yowling, alas.

Outdoor drills this morning:

This is the first time I put the Burnout Babies together and asked them both to Sit. In almost all the previous clips, they are separated: I work with one puppy in the kitchen while the other waits (and usually wails) in the puppy pen. Only at this relatively late stage, when they're being proofed to a bunch of other distractions including sticks, leaves, winds, and car alarms, is it reasonable for me to ask each puppy to focus while the other is in the picture -- and even then, about half the time they got distracted playing with one another instead of listening to me.

When that happened, I would gently separate them again and ask them to focus briefly. One successful repetition and they were clicked, treated, and allowed to play -- so that playing with each other became part of the reward for a successful response. After a few repetitions, their focus improved greatly, but I still wouldn't expect them to get it right the first time at this stage.

I post all these clips of the Burnout Babies practicing Sit not because it's so interesting to watch them put their butts on the ground over and over again (although I suppose it might be of interest to know their current state of training if you're thinking of adopting one of these guys), but to show the progression of teaching and proofing a relatively simple behavior. As basic as Sit is, it took over a week of work before these puppies could reasonably be considered to "know" it... and they still need a good bit of proofing before they'll be reliable in new environments.

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