I’m naming this post iteration 6.1/1/2-2.0/3.B because in the course of this post, you’ll see me develop my plan to a more nuanced degree that differs from iteration 5 – so I’ll call it iteration 6. We’ll be working on levels 1 (long line, no barrier), 2-2.0 (line dragging/back tie as opposed to the original meaning of my 2nd level, which is barrier/helper) and 3 (unprotected distraction, off leash dog) with our now intermediate food distraction: kibble (B). I know my “iteration” categories are long and crazy – no need to keep them straight if you’re reading along. They are mostly just for myself.
August 30, 2023 – session 1: Dead Poultry Park
I started on a long line. Chai knew it was a set-up – and she definitely knew she was on a long line because on the way to the distraction, she reached the end twice. That said, she recalled beautifully on a loose line:
45 minutes later, I took what I thought was a reasonable next step. I was confident because we had done SO well on that loose long line recall. I didn’t let her drag the long line but went straight to off leash!
Session 2: other side of Dead Poultry Park. Off leash!
Again, Chai knew this was a set-up. See her do that double take? It was my spontaneous “AY!” and the second “Schnee!” that got her to come – not the first one, that’s for sure. I’m not calling it a success. I was tempted to repeat right away or soon after, according to what I thought in the moment and say into the camera. BUT I was smart enough to not do that but head home to think some more how to best set us up for success! On the walk home, I came up with what I believe is a better plan than what I said into the camera … but watch the video first! More below!
Instead of sticking to the plan I made in the end of this video – repeat on a long line, then long line dragging, then off leash – I’ll try and find an even higher value reinforcer. What if instead of cream cheese, Chai got a taco for mid-level distractions and above? I know she likes stuff with seasoning, and as far as I have seen over the last several weeks, her stomach is now at a point where she can eat small amounts of most food items and be okay. A single taco recall a day should be fine.
Before I do this, I’ll test whether tacos really are higher value than cream cheese (I think they are but there’s no guarantee). In order to test this, I will pit a taco against cream cheese. I will randomize which item goes left and right, make sure both contrast well with the ground and attempt to use the food item Chai doesn’t choose to lure her away from the one she does choose. Stay tuned! So tomorrow there will be no taco recalls, just a reinforcer test. (I don’t want to feed her more than one taco a day for stomach reasons.)
If the taco is higher value, I will follow the plan I made in the video (long line, long line dragging, off leash), but always reward with a taco. By the time we reach off leash status, Chai hopefully trusts that she will get something amazing if she comes back.
September 1, 2023: reinforcer tests don’t lie! The taco wins!
September 2, 2023: a recall fail(ish). My bad!
Location 1 (we are starting the count over): Toy Play Plaza
I set up smartly so Chai didn’t know we were approaching a set-up and started with the first condition: Chai on a long line, kibble distraction, surprise taco reinforcer. The tacos de birria stand was closed today, so instead, I got a taco de bistec con salsa roja.
Recall reward, ready to go!
I set up with a hidden tripod, kibble on a paper napkin to increase contrast to the ground and then got Chai from the car on a long line and walked right towards the distraction.
I wanted to be sure she saw and smelled it before calling, and since she didn’t know it was a set-up, I made the mistake of letting her get too close. Yep, that’s exactly what my students will often do! By the time the last syllable of “Schneeeeeeeee” had come out of my mouth, Chai reached the kibble and grabbed a mouthful before I tightened the leash. Since we have lots of giving in to leash pressure practice under our harness, she responded to the pressure cue. But unfortunately, at this point, she had already eaten a mouthful of kibble. She happily finished off the taco (until a very alarm-barky dog showed up – you can’t see Chai’s body language change behind the bushes but she clearly felt uncomfortable). She finished the taco anyways because – ¡TACOS! – and then was eager to go back and finish the kibble as well.
Once again, Chai has proven to be a smart, smart Border Collie! She 100% knows when a distraction is or isn’t accessible. I hope that once I have convinced her that if she recalls in the face of a medium or high value distraction, she will ALWAYS get an even higher value reinforcer AND the distraction, she will still choose to recall – even if on occasion, like today, I don’t stop her soon enough in the early stages.
Notes for the next session:
+ Repeat the same session in the same location with a call-no-later-than-here marker for myself!
September 4, 2023: recall on a loose long line!
Location: Toy Play Plaza
We repeated the exact same set-up – today with another taco de birria because the taco de birria folks are back during the week! – in the exact same location. Chai did not see me set up and my tripod was hidden in the shrubbery, but she knew what was going on because we were approaching the same spot from the same angle. This may be part of the reason she was successful today: zero latency on a loose long line!
I don’t mind if the repeat location helped: I want to get as many successful reps under Chai’s harness as possible. Every success – even if she knows it is a set-up – will help her understanding that she is going to receive both the AMAZING reinforcer and the distraction. I hope the weight of the taco reinforcer to eventually help her choose to recall every single time – even off leash, even when the distraction is better than kibble. And every taco Chai collects is putting force behind her recall! C: 1 – distraction: 0!
Notes for next session:
+ Same location, a little closer to sidewalk, long line dragging so I can step on it (make longer with rope?); mark the latest spot to call.
September 5, 2023: a recall oops!
Location: Toy Play Plaza
I called later than planned and didn’t step on the long line … oh well! It happens. We learn from it and move on with our lives!
This session wasn’t all bad, either: while Chai ate some kibble, she then did recall (with latency) on a long line after all. Good puppy making up for the slack in my training!
Notes for the next session:
- Set myself up for success: tether the long line to a sturdy object and make sure it will stop Chai before she reaches the kibble. If the human (in this case I) isn’t reliable, outsource long-line-stopping to a sturdy object (if there’s one thing you can always rely on, it is a sturdy object).
- Decide up front when I will call (at a specific point where the long line is still loose) and mark that spot.
- Since this really is hard for Chai: going forwards, every second formal recall will be easy, distraction-free and rewarded with a taco. I want to put more torque behind that behavior!
- Repeat all three kibble steps (long line, dragging or back tie, off leash) just like this in 3 locations. No shortcuts!
September 6, 2023: an easy recall and a TACO!
As by the plan I made yesterday, today, I just waited for a good moment (Chai had been sniffing and lifted her head to look at me – then I called), used her formal recall cue, ran away as part of my reinforcement strategy and then fed a taco! We’ll be charging up that cue like there is no tomorrow!
You’ll see me first restrain Game a little so Chai gets the majority of the taco and then I let her dig in as well. A little sibling rivalry may up the distraction value more (neither of my dogs guard food from each other in this kind of scenario; otherwise, I would not do this).
As of point 3 above: after today’s easy taco-rewarded recall, the next one gets to be a distraction one again!
September 7, 2023: back tie recall. It needs a repeat but the set-up works well!
Location: Toy Play Plaza
Today, I used a longer rope (since my long line is only 5 meters) and back-tied Chai so I wouldn’t have to worry about stepping on the line in time. I attached one end of the back tie to the car and made sure my kibble distraction – in its usual spot – was out of reach even on a fully extended rope.
I paid attention to when I’d have to call to make sure Chai had a chance to recall on a loose leash after noticing the distraction.
I followed my plan to a T and called the exact moment I had planned to. Chai did not respond on a loose leash but hit the end of the long line and immediately came back – tongue click, taco and praise – “okay” release to the kibble (I untied the other side of the backtie while Chai had her taco to make sure she could reach the kibble after my release.)
Notes for the next-but-one session (not the next one since that one will be an easy taco one!):
- Repeat just like today.
- Make sure I say, “Okay” before Chai starts moving towards the kibble after I’ve handed her the taco.
September 9, 2023: an easy taco recall at Los Dinamos!
Location: Los Dinamos
My friend recorded this recall for me. I wish they had held the camera in Chai’s direction rather than mine so you could see her turn on a dime! In any case, this was an easy surprise recall for Chai: she didn’t know I was going to call her and I didn’t have the taco on me, but in the backpack that we ran to together! I waited for her to look in my direction before calling and running. Superpuppy!
September 11, 2023: another back-tie attempt
Location 1: Toy Play Plaza
I was going to repeat the EXACT same set-up as last time, but my car was blocked in by another car, so I couldn’t use it as a back-tie attachment. We walked to Toy Play Plaza and improvised. The sidewalk I’m setting up on in this video is the one right before the row of bushes on the other side of which I usually have the distraction. However, since I couldn’t tie the rope to my car today, I had to change the location and our angle of approach. This time, the distraction is on the sidewalk and we are coming around the corner, out of the park.
I’m surprised that Chai did NOT seem to know it was a set-up even though I had tethered her out of sight when setting up. (The reason I suspect she doesn’t know is that she takes her time approaching the distraction and slows down to sniff around the lamp post.)
The second observation I made today is that I truly believe Chai thought she was off leash: I had hooked the back tie to her harness before taking off the regular leash with my usual announcement (“Leash off”). I had used the regular leash for tethering. The regular leash is, just like my pink long line, heavy enough that Chai probably feels it and knows she’s not “free.” The yellow rope, on the other hand, is extremely light. I don’t think Chai realized she was wearing it before hitting the end.
I can’t wait to find out what will happen next time, when I back-tie her to the car again and put the distraction back in its usual location (which is only about 5 meters from the spot on the sidewalk you can see in this video).
Today’s recall reinforcer: the first one of these three tacos de bistec with piña, aguacate y habanero.
Points for me: I called Chai when she reached the spot I had predetermined to call and I said “Okay” early – when she was still busy with the taco. (You can’t hear the “okay” in the video because I’m not saying it loud enough for the camera mic to pick up.)
Notes for the next two sessions:
+ Next session will be an easy (distraction-free) taco recall anywhere.
+ For the session after, I’ll go back to Toy Play Plaza and repeat that same set-up. Remember to “okay” release before Chai releases herself to the kibble!
September 12, 2023: an easy taco recall at Dead Poultry Park
Our next recall will be a back-tied one at Toy Play Plaza again! Let’s find out if it’s true that three time’s a charm!
September 13, 2023: a back tie recall success!! 3 IS a charm!
Location 1/3: Toy Play Plaza
There are several elements I am happy with in this video. The first and obvious one is that Chai recalled before hitting the back tie. YAAAAAAAAAY!!!!
The second is that I stuck to my criterion of when to call, and the third one is that I got the “Okay” release in before Chai started moving towards the kibble.
She did not finish her taco this time. (Good thing it was the last one of 3 – I’ll get a different kind next.) I suspect the habanero may have been a bit much. Chai has skillfully opened every single little plastic bag of salsa people have dropped that I’ve seen her find and slurped down the salsa, spicy or not – but maybe there is a certain degree of spicyness she’s not a fan of and this particular taco may have had too much salsa in it. Or maybe it’s the piña? In any case, I’ll go back to our tried and true tacos the birria!
Notes for the next session:
+ Taco de birria
+ Easy, distraction-free recall
+ Why not do it in the exact same location we usually have distractions set up?
I also just had an idea for the next session after – splitting things down even more finely: what if for the first off leash recall, I put just the paper kitchen towel (visual target) in its usual location – without kibble or with brown cardboard scraps (looking like kibble) on it? Let’s do this, really splitting things down as finely as we possibly can!
Thursday, September 14, 2023
It’s easy-taco-recall day … for a change in the exact same location I did the last two distraction ones on a back tie. Look at how well Chai does!
Since she offers a check-in, I use it as a start button to call her. Not required – never a bad thing if you happen to get reorientation and can mark it with a recall cue though!
August 15, 2023: recall away from an empty visual target in its usual location
Two lessons for next time:
- Get the reinforcer out faster so Chai isn’t tempted to turn around and go for the target/distraction in between responding to her recall cue and receiving her reinforcer (this is what happened today).
- Say “Okay” earlier so she only starts moving towards the target/distraction after I’ve given the release cue.
September 16, 2023: SUCCESS!!!
Off leash, unprotected intermediate distraction (kibble), SUCCESSFUL RECALL!!! Wooohoooooo! Go Chai and C!
We’re going out with a bang: this is likely the last recall session before I head to NYC and Austria (without Chai).
Here’s the plan – we will keep going as soon as I’m back en la ciudad que lo tiene todo (according to a billboard near me):
- Next recall: easy taco recall (whenever possible, get tacos from the stand across the street from the community center).
- Repeat long line/kibble, back tie/kibble, off leash with empty visual target (if the location calls for one), off leash/kibble in 2 more locations.
- Intersperse all distraction recalls with an easy taco recall and always release Chai to the distraction after the recall.
- Then, go through 3 locations, using all the same splitting steps, with a high-value distraction (chicken or liver). If it turns out to be necessary, test out what Chai prefers and, if it’s not a taco, switch to a different and even higher value street food reinforcer.