Distractions as cues, day 19: 1m, off leash!

Session 1: breakfast on a 1m rope:

Whee! Success on a 1m rope this morning!

I used to say I may shape a recall rather than just a reorientation once I have a naked dog. However – this may not be necessary because Game now stops and reorients as soon as she notices the kibble pile! She doesn’t approach it and then wait for me to mark, but stops very close to me, and pretty far from the pile. There may be no need to shape a recall if she keeps stopping so close to me!

Session 2: off-leash dinner

Off leash success! Game approached the kibble more closely this time, but I suspect it was not because there was no rope, but because the callejon looks different than usual (there’s a large gate behind my camera that is usually closed, but was open, making things look different). Game may have been distracted by/interested in this different picture and have noticed the kibble later than usual. So this isn’t something I worry about. I’ll be raising criteria to a naked dog tomorrow morning!

Distractions as cues, day 18: 3m, 2m …

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

I cut about a meter off the rope, and got the same beautiful result. Will cut another meter by tonight. (Why? Dragging something may be a factor for Game, even if the weight of the biothane leash wasn’t. I will soon no longer be able to step on the leash, but Game gets to practice the familiar behavior with only a small increase in criteria.

My goal behavior here is to work up to a naked dog (she’s naked most of the time) – no collar. Then, if I feel like I’d like to take this further, I might shape her to come further back before my click by delaying the click more and more. Or I might end there – it depends on how I feel about my training schedule and how busy I am.

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

Success at 2 meters!

Btw, what Game is looking at here after finishing her kibble are the people talking on the patio ahead and to her left, not the cat.

If things keep going as well as they have been going, I’ll have an off-leash dog by tomorrow night!

Distractions as cues, day 17: a rope

Session 1, breakfast in location 2 (5m rope):

I don’t know how much of a role the weight of the long line plays in our success. So rather than taking it right off after letting it drag, I’m going to cut it down over the next couple of sessions until I have an off-leash dog.

The first step in this direction was to get some cheap rope – it’s the same length as my biothane line. I don’t want to cut up my biothane line because it’s the only one I have right now, and they are hard to come by here.

In today’s breakfast session, I am starting out with the rope the same length as the biothane line and dragging. This rope is much lighter than the biothane line – so in case the weight mattered in our success, I want to be able to step on the rope and stop Game – so I start out with a long enough rope.

I didn’t have to step on the rope! Yay! Before today’s dinner session, I’ll cut off a piece: raising criteria fast but in small increments.

Session 2, dinner in location 2 (4m rope):

I cut off a meter, and still got a nice response. Tomorrow morning, I’ll cut another meter.

By the way, I know she cues off the kibble and not the location in general beause this is a location we walk past between 4 and 6 times a day (need to in order to get back to or out of my place). She only shows the behavior during our training sessions. On the other occasions, she’ll go straight to the fence she can stick her head through to see if the intermittent cat is there (unless she sees or suspects the intermittent cat on the left)!

Distractions as cues, day 16: are the results replicable?

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

They sure are! You go, Game! Switching from a recall cue to the long line made all the difference! The kibble pile is back to its original size, and there are no cats around – and I get the same behavior!

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

After learning that I can replicate the result in this morning’s session, I’m raising criteria. No need to stay at this stage; she’s got this! I drop the long line and let it drag (when this learner understands something, I can raise criteria fast, but need to keep the increments small). From now on, I’m also making sure I have more than just one hot dog on me in case Game would like to offer another check in after the first one. No need to always release to the pile of kibble right away, since it is lower value than my hot dogs.

Distractions as cues, day 15: a new Game plan

After pondering my behavior chain, I’ve decided to take out the recall cue and try to break the chain: I switched the very fluent recall cue out for the less fluent long line (reaching the end of the long line is also a cue to reorient/return, but I haven’t used the long line in forever). So I let Game approach the familiar kibble pile, did not say anything (she reached the end of the line and hesitated), clicked the reorientation and reinforced with a hot dog from my hand, followed by a release to the kibble pile.

Two things may happen going forwards: I might get a new behavior chain of run to the end of the line to get clicked and come back, eat a hot dog and then the kibble. OR Game may start hesitating before reaching the end of the line. That’s what I’m hoping for: prediction (cue transfer) based on reaching the end of the line. We’ll see. I’m just experimenting here, and I don’t know what is going to happen.

I’m also considering doing some marker cue work around my outside kibble pile, and CU Give Me A Break (GMAB) with high value treats around the pile of kibble … but only a few long-leash-stop sessions further down the line. First, I want to see what effect the long line is going to have – or not have! – on Game.

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

WOW! I did not feel the leash tighten the way it did in the morning! Which is a little bit crazy; I’m suspicious of this working so fast and exactly the way I hoped it would. Reviewing my video, the leash looks less loose than it felt. I am going to stay at this stage for at least one more session to see if I can replicate the result.

Reasons I’m suspicious here:

(1) the intermittent cat must have been around, because Game stops eating to look for the cat. She may already have been smelling the cat when we approached our kibble pile. And animals are already a cue for her to stop. So I may be seeing her response to the presence of a cat, not her response to a pile of kibble. Cats trump kibble. (I can’t see the cat, but Game either smells them or thinks she sees them. If she didn’t, she would not stop eating mid-kibble.)

(2) The kibble pile is smaller than usual because I’ve already worked on a bunch of unrelated things today, and this is all that’s left of Game’s dinner.

(3) I changed kibble – not on purpose, but I ran out, and couldn’t get my usual brand. So this is a different brand of kibble and may be lower value than my original pile. I don’t think it is lower value, given how enthusiastically Game has been working for it today and yesterday. But then again – who knows. Game loves to work, so kibble offered to her within a training session she enjoys may have a different value than kibble found on the street. (While the behavior of eating food found in the street is pretty high on her list of priorities, working with me is usually even higher. It wasn’t when she was a puppy and adolescent, but it is now that she is an adult.)

(The breakfast kibble in this session was the same as the dinner kibble. The reinforcer from my hand is still an entire hot dog. When she reoriented a second time, I would have rewarded again, but I only had that one hot dog on me.)

In any case – tomorrow morning, I’ll repeat and see what happens!

Distractions as cues, day 14: a break from the distractions-as-cues project, and remedial marker cue work

Today, while still thinking about how I wanted to change my distraction-as-cue strategy and considering various options, I did some remedial marker cue work rather than using the kibble pile as a distraction. Since I’ve already mixed marker cues into these sessions, I might as well use today’s day off the distracion-as-cue project to clean up the strength of my markers! (The cut in the middle of this video is when I get up for a kibble refill). Tomorrow – back to distractions as cues!

My rule of thumb for this learner is to change strategies if I don’t see results in about a week. I’ve been more stubborn with my original approach, and stuck with it longer than I normally would, because it worked so fast and so well indoors. This reinforcement history on my part caused me to try once more yeserday, for example. Had I not seen the results in the first location, or if this was my first location, this would likely have shaved 2-3 days off the time I spent on this approach.

It’s good to stay aware of our own tendencies in this respect! Do you tend to abandon strategies too early, before giving them time to work, or do you tend to stick to the same approach for a long time, even in the absence of tangible results?

It’s not only that every human trainer has their own tendencies in this respect – so does every learner we work with. Knowing both our learner and ourselves well is what gives us the best results. In real life, getting to know a new learner takes time. But we can meet them with an awareness of our own tendencies – that’s half the battle dance party!

Distractions as cues, day 13: more whole hot dogs, and time to change the Game plan

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

She actually didn’t eat any kibble even though my recall happened late – she just touched it and then turned on a dime right as I called. I waited till the last millisecond to call her this morning, hoping she’d choose to do an auto-return! But … not yet. Let’s see what tonight holds in store for us!

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

A relatively slow approach the first time (trotting rather than running). However, this doesn’t necessarily mean anything. We’ve had an active day of hiking and training. No auto-return – so we will change gears!

I might take a day off this project as I think up the next strategy I want to use (and ponder where I want to take this behavior, and whether I want to keep working on it). I’ll keep you updated! Btw, what I say in the end is that Game just had a street meal, not a straight meal. No straight meals for anyone – streetfood only! This little town has the best Quesadillas I’ve had in all of Mexico!

Distractions as cues, day 11

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

This video is a bit grainy because I had to turn the brightness way up – it’s early today and still dawn out.

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

Nothing much to remark except the speed: trotting rather than running towards the kibble. (And yes, I have two sweaters, not just one.)

Wanna work on this or similar behaviors with your own dog? Join me in Out and About at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy!

Distractions as cues, day 10

I just realized I published my write up for day #10 before day #9. So I’m switching around the order these posts will appear on my blog so future readers don’t get confused! Day #9 – the one I skipped! – can be found here.

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

This time, Game started hesitating before reaching me when I called her: she is starting to expect the “okay” release to happen! This is excellent information: I want her to keep thinking “Come all the way back” thoughts after her recall. So next time, I won’t immediately release with “Okay,” but do a tossed “Get it” or click hot dog. The positives: Game is continuing to approach the kibble in a trot rather than a flat-out run. Thoughtfulness is what I expect to happen before the cue transfer.

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

It’s raining men! Hallelujah!

I’m doing two “Get it” hot dog tosses to ensure Game keeps coming all the way back after my recall cue.

If the above video doesn’t work in your country due to copyright issues, here is the same video without the song:

Unless I’ve got something interesting to say after releasing Game to the kibble, I’ll cut my future videos once she gets there to keep my videos fast and easy to watch!

If you want to work on this or similar behaviors with your own dogs, join me in Out and About at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy! Or check out any of our other classes! Game and I are having fun in Nicole Wiebusch’s Heeling class at Gold this term! The plan was to also follow Sara Brueske’s Bomb Proof Behaviors at Bronze … but we’ll have to catch up with this one during the break! This term is a good reminder for me that when I’m teaching, podcasating, writing daily blog posts and house hunting, there really is only one class I can keep up with as a participant. Otherwise, I’d have to skip my daily long nature walks – and they are non negotiable. I need my off-leash time!

Distractions as cues, day 9

Session 1, breakfast in location 2:

I love that Game watches me and waits for my release to the kibble cue – even though I’m a little slow to release this morning! Good girl!

Session 2, dinner in location 2:

In fact, unlike I say in this video, there IS progress to report, and I see it more clearly as I’m watching this video back: not only is Game going around the corner more slowly than in earlier sessions – she is trotting (rather than running) the entire time now! And you can see that while her nose points towards the goal (the pile of kibble), the ears are up and back: she is expecting me to call her and actively listening for it! This is not a dog barreling towards a pile of kibble! She’s getting slower and more thoughtful! Love my bestest girl!

Wanna work on this or similar behaviors with your own dog? Join me in Out and About at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy! Registration is still open, and we’re having lots of fun in class!