|I have embarked on a very interesting (to me anyway) project. In anticipation of my upcoming cross country flight, I have opted to do some new training with Luca. Our only difficulty on last year's flights arose because Luca likes to spread himself out, and doesn't always like sharing his body's space with my feet.
Therefore, I have chosen to teach him to curl up in a VERY small space.
Since both Moon ( Aussie, age 5) and Luca (GSD age 2 1/2 ) learn quickly but differently I have opted to present the same task to each of them, and see what evolves.
The first stage of the skill is to interact with a laundry basket, initially being clicked and treated for any interaction what so ever, and then gradually upping my criteria for reinforcement. Eventually I hoped to build up to their putting their whole body inside the basket. This is not a difficult physical challenge to 50 lb Moon, but for Luca's 80 lb bulk it is a major challenge indeed and I expected it to take him longer to figure out.
I recently took a look at Samantha's website and read again her wonderful posts on teaching large breed dogs to perceive and use their hind ends consciously. Luca tends to forget he has a hind end, so getting him to put back feet into the laundry basket meant having him discover that he had hind feet.
I started out with the intention to work with both dogs in exactly the same way, i.e. free shaping in silence except for the sound of the clicker. It was also my intention to keep body language cues to an absolute minimum. I had just reread Jean Donaldson's story about Clever Hans, the horse who "learned to count". As it turned out, Hans could count only in the presence of his trainer(s) who unwittingly lifted an eye brow each time Clever Hans was asked to respond, and would lower his eyebrow when the response was to end.
I have videotaped each of my sessions with the dogs and the laundry basket. I was vaguely aware during my first session with Luca, that I would subtly move a hand or a finger in the direction of the laundry basket if his attention wavered. Try as I might to control my movements, I found it virtually impossible not to prompt Luca with these tentative cues. Since he was taught to hand target (perhaps the first skill he learned at 8 weeks of age, in his first training session) he is acutely tuned in to my hands, and thus receives a lot of information from the slightest movements. Luca also frustrates easily and resorts to default behaviors, pawing and mouthing an object he is trying to figure out. His frustration driven default behavior can overwhelm his attention to the task, and can be mitigated by a subtle hand-cue that redirects him to the task at hand.
Moon, on the other hand does not frustrate easily, and can contain his demonstrations of frustrations to vocalizations while still maintaining his focus on the task at hand. I found it much easier to wait Moon out, offer no cues, and simply free shape his learning of the task.
Both my dogs have highly developed attention spans, so what might have been 3 or 4 short training sessions with another dog, evolved into 10-12 minute sessions with my guys.
At the end of the second session, Moon was climbing into the basket and lying down in the basket without cues other that c/t for the completed behavior, roughly 4 times in 1 minute.
In lessons 1 and 2 with Luca, I saw lots of voluntary interaction with the basket, and lots of frustration. Capturing his hind feet in the basket took exquisite timing (not something I often have) with the clicker. He would freely put his front feet in the basket, and would offer that behavior consistently enough that I began upping the criteria trying to get him to put a back foot in too. What I got was him hopping out and as his front feet lifted out of the basket, one back foot might graze the lip of the basket or set down momentarily as he passed over it. Enough captures of the accidental touch with a back foot, led to his seeming to notice and try to isolate what he had done that got him a c/t. By the end of the second session, he gone from standing inside the basket to sitting with his butt perched on the edge of the basket. With a bit of encouragement (my hand motioning him forward) he managed to tuck his butt under himself and actually sit in the basket.
After the third repetition we stopped for the day with a jackpot of treats and some ear rubs.
Lesson 3 with Luca, started with lots of his frustrated default behavior, as if he didn't remember at all where we had left off. Ultimately, I stopped the session for a moment or two and had him do a relaxed down. Then we started again and he was much more focused, only reverting to his default mouthing of the basket and raking at it with his feet when he got really frustrated. Early in the session he actually got a toe momentarily caught in the basket, and yelped. He was undaunted, but I let him back up to earlier successes c/t for a single front foot in the basket and building up again from there.
He quickly curbed his frustration and began sitting in the basket with his butt tucked well under him for several repetitions. Then he ducked his head toward his front feet. I think he might have been looking for a treat crumb, but I took the opportunity to c/t for his head position anyway. He then started offering me head tucks for c/t. He offered me at least 4 head tucks (nice thing about having this on video tape, I can actually go back and study my variable rates of reinforcement and how fluent the behavior has actually become.) before I decided to up the criteria. I simply lured him to follow my hand (with treats in it) as I lowered it toward his front feet (luring). He easily slid into a down and received a click, verbal praise, and a jackpot of treats. I then waited for him to offer me the next set of behaviors. He tried sitting in the basket, and I waited, then he offered me a down in the basket and got another jackpot c/t. After four repetitions we stopped for the day.
One thing I noticed watching the video is that I remembered to treat in position. I clicked for the down and treated immediately, but then, since I had treated him while he was still in position, I continued to give him more treats while maintained his position. This is the first step toward building duration.
I have reached my initial goal behavior much faster than I would have guessed with both dogs. Nothing is yet on cue, nor have I taken the behavior on the road, in fact we have only done it in one room with no distractions. I will not progress toward adding distractions until I have the dog(s) offering me the behavior of lying down in the basket as their default response when presented with the basket.
I also want to teach Luca to turn himself around in a confined space. Ive noticed that he has faced the same direction each time he lay down in the basket. In fact if he started to lie day in the other direction, he seemed unable to curl himself up and voluntarily stood up and repositioned himself.
I have found that the configurations of different airplanes give us different amounts of space to work with and other options for positioning as well. So I want him to know how to curl up in either direction. Turn his body 180 degrees in a confined space, and back into a confined space. Given the speed with which he has managed to cram himself into the basket (three lessons) I am hopeful that we may have all this down and on cue by January.
Im curious why I decided to lure with Luca. I didnt plan it, it just happened, and I didnt do it at all with Moon. I think it has to do with my respecting the differences between the two dogs, their maturity, and their abilities to tolerate frustration. I am not a purest. I dont think there is anything inherently wrong with luring, but having set my original goal at training the task to both dogs in the same way, I am wondering why I let the process evolve differently.
I would love to hear from others about the choices you make about free shaping and luring.
Videotaping is a marvelous tool. I have watched the tapes over and over and learn something new each time. With the camera on a tripod and a remote control to start and stop it whenever I choose to, I am loving the adventure. Ive never been great at keeping training journals, and tend to fly by the seat of my pants. Having a complete visual and auditory record of the training sessions is valuable beyond imagining.