Friday, October 25, 2013

Florence (Dori) and the Shell Game

Well, Dori (formerly Florence) will be leaving us to go home late this afternoon, so I guess I'd better write up her progress on the Shell Game even though we didn't quite finish the trick. She came really close, though!

The Shell Game is a scent discrimination trick in which the dog is presented with a set of "shells" (Kyra Sundance recommends, and I use, overturned flowerpots because they're heavy enough to withstand a paw touch without being easily knocked over, and the drainage hole allows the scent to escape easily) and must choose the shell that's hiding a food treat via sniffing out the reward instead of seeing it. The dog indicates the correct shell with a paw touch and then you-the-person lifts up the shell so the dog can get the food.

I think it's a fairly difficult trick for a dog with (almost) no prior training to tackle, which is why I was impressed that Dori made it as far as she did and not at all surprised that she didn't quite finish it. There are a lot of component pieces here: the paw touch, the scent work, understanding that the paw touch is used to indicate the correct shell, stimulus control in waiting for the person to lift the shell instead of just knocking it over directly, etc.

The first step was to introduce Dori to the concept that a paw touch to the shell would result in her getting the treat that she knew to be hidden under the shell.

At this stage, I was showing her the treat because I didn't want there to be any mystery about where the treat was, only what she had to do to get it. She caught on quickly; she was offering hesitant paw touches by the end of the first session and more confident ones in the second session (the one I videotaped).

Once she was giving quick and assertive paw touches, I moved on to the second stage.

The next step was for Dori to learn to choose between multiple pots and indicate the correct one with a paw touch. Again, I let her see the treat instead of hiding it, because the goal of this stage was for her to learn to choose, and adding the "find" component would have been too much at once.

Again, she picked it up quickly, and was confidently indicating the correct pot by the end of the first session on that step. I switched up pots almost (but not quite!) every round to avoid teaching her that one or the other was always going to be the "treat pot," and also to avoid pattern training.

The third step was to hide the treat so that Dori had to sniff it out instead of seeing it dropped.

Here's where she started to run into a little more trouble (not surprisingly, since a lot of dogs have trouble making the transition from "see the treat dropped" to "sniff out the treat without seeing it"). To make things easier, I rubbed the treat around the pot's drainage hole before dropping it in, leaving a VERY strong scent signature to point the way. If she didn't get it immediately (as in the second repetition on this video), I'd repeat it with a different type of treat to make the scent signature even stronger and more distinctive. She always caught on at that point.

That's as far as we got with the trick before running out of time. I think she would have finished it in another three or four days, probably -- I've said it before, but Dori is a bright little dog and has a good work ethic, so it's very easy to teach her things -- since at this point all we needed to do was strengthen her confidence in sniffing out the treat, improve stimulus control on the paw touch (on some sessions, Dori would just hit all the pots without trying to sniff at them, under the theory that if she banged them all, she would get the right one faster than if she spent time sniffing out the correct one), and add a third empty pot.

The final version, had we gotten there, would have looked something like this:

But far more important than finishing the Shell Game is going home, and that's where Dori is headed in just a few more hours.

She'll go home with a mixed repertoire of pet behaviors (decent leash manners [mostly, except when another dog passes or, for some reason, occasionally a bicyclist after dark], a very strong Sit default behavior, and a pretty good start on housebreaking), foundational sport behaviors (eye contact/offered attention, beginning Front [which I just spent one session on to see if I could get a close, straight competition Front with Dori in five minutes or less. answer: yes. why can't I do this with MY dogs?!], nose touch), and the Shell Game.

I took her out to a soccer field yesterday just to see how she did with an untrained recall. We've spent exactly zero time practicing recalls, so this was purely a test of Dori's innate affiliativeness. It's also the only video I was able to make, because once I called her back, she would not leave long enough for me to set up a second attempt, so welp. Here it is in all its harsh overshadowed glory:

And that's it for our time with this fluffy girl. Her bags are packed and she's ready to go. I'm SO happy for her going home and excited to hear about her future adventures. She is a lucky, lucky dog to have gone from a trash pile in rural North Carolina to the wonderful new life that awaits.

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