June 16, 2023: mall adventures!
Before it got too, too hot, I experimented with Shade’s ideas of using either two targets or no target to encourage Chai to come back to me when tugging. The link above shows our two attempts. We’re not there yet and may have to keep experimenting – but we are having fun! What better morning exercise than a good game of tug?
Friday is indoors mall adventure day! For the time being, every Friday, Chai and I walk there and then adventure our way through the mall.
Magic hands and R-
On the way there, we came across a scary construction site. Magic hands and negative reinforcement (distance) for the win!
Next stop: the elevator!
Chai did so well on the elevator today! A little bit insecure (maybe because we went on it soon after the construction corridor which had already used up some of her bravery – but once again, she entered voluntarily and stayed quiet throughout the ride (there are some signs of nervousness in her body language, but nothing big). If things are no harder than this, I will just go with repetition: once a week, we’ll ride this elevator until it’s a total walk in the park for Chai!
I also carried Chai up and down an escalator – her very first escalator experience!
On the way home, she waited patiently as I ordered and waited for tortas to go and then again outside a corner convenience store.
Left: waiting at an electronics store; right: foot-on-leash down cue as I’m ordering tortas.
On the way to the mall, I used the magic hands trick twice: once to walk across a manhole cover with holes in it and through a construction site, and once to walk past a trash can full of dog poop bags that were flapping in the wind a little. On the way back, she walked past the poop bags can without issues. The construction site had changed – there was no heavy machinery going – so we looped around it on the other side of the street. It was getting WAY too hot (over 30°C) to keep training.
I thought I’d use the heat to my advantage and work on the manners context in a new street, but Chai’s brain was as heat fried as my own and we went back to sleddog context after a futile attempt.
Tip: if something doesn’t work – don’t force it. Take a break and come back to it another time. (Especially if your city/country is experiencing a heat wave.)
Chai thinks Zane’s empty Corona can makes an excellent toy: yumm, metal!
June 17, 2023: Chapultepec fun and some hands-near-toy practice!
Alan, his girlfriend Vane and I took Kiba and Chai to Chapultepec today. They had a blast (and so did we, the humans!) Here’s a video, set to a song that is sad, but REALLY good – and it happened to be just the right length!
Left: spikey plants! Right: Alan is carrying a tired Kiba! I’m still working on this trick (Chai allowing me to pick her up this way). Thanks for the idea, Alan!
Chai at the busy swimming spot. May and June are the warmest – and June is really kicking our asses this year! Needless to say, the dog swimming spot is busy on the weekends!
Our beautiful girls: left – looking regal, right – being themselves!
We also took a two-ball video for Shade!
And here is Chai … trying to swim-fetch in the cutest way imaginable!
Because we are overachievers these days, we also played another round of the hands-near-toy game with a new element: let go of the toy upon food marker. (I already knew Chai could do that part, but I believe it was in Shade’s lectures.) Mostly, we went back to hands-near-toys.
June 18, 2023: be careful what you optimize for and a second bout of adolescence!
I’ve already told you that the other day, Chai started paying more attention to her environment – such as the goings-on outside the window. I’ve interrupted window-looking with scatters so far. However, I accidentally taught my dog to race to the window to look out in order to get more scatters (of course!) She’d keep putting her paws up on the window and then looking at me: “Treat me already!” Not the behavior chain I was going for!
So as of today, I’m implementing a more nuanced training plan.
Background details that will help you understand why I am choosing this particular plan for this particular dog:
+ I don’t mind window shopping. Unless a dog is clearly hyper-stressed by it (most dogs are not), that is the one advantage an apartment life has over a yard life: you get to see things going on outside anytime you get bored. The reason I’m adding this is that some trainers do not want their dogs to look out windows at all, assuming that window shopping by itself necessarily triggers stress.
However, I do not want to teach Chai to bark at everything she sees – quite the opposite. That’s again because I live in an apartment and I don’t want my neighbors to be disturbed by my barking dog.
+ Randomize praise (and the occasional scatter) throughout the day when I’m home and Chai is NOT looking out the window but doing anything else I like – for example chill on the couch.
+ If I spot precursor behaviors to barking (e.g. lips or ears tensing up while looking out the window or staring at the door) – cue a scatter to prevent barking.
+ If I miss precursor behaviors and Chai barks, pick her up and give her a 2-minute time-out in her luxury kennel aka the bathroom.
I didn’t get to video any instances of barking, but in the first video below, you’ll see how fast window-lookingturned into a strong behavior because I had reinforced it with scatters. To soften the blow of extinction, I’ll still praise/pet/engage when she comes over after looking out the window – I just don’t treat. (Yes, Chai likes praise and attention – but I highly doubt that they are strong enough to maintain the looking-out-of-windows behavior).
What I accidentally optimized for was more looking-out-the-window rather than less barking. That’s the tricky part about gamifying or training anything: you don’t necessarily get exactly what you want by pushing a certain lever!
Stop on a regular basis, take a step back, look at the changes you’ve seen and ask yourself: if I was an observer and didn’t know the goal behavior – what would I believe was being optimized here? Sometimes, you’ll find that what you are optimizing for is exactly what you planned. Other times – not so much! That’s okay as long as you keep an eye on it. It doesn’t mean your training plan was “bad” if the results are unexpected: dogs are individuals, and sometimes, what we want to happen … doesn’t! Even if it might have worked with a different dog!
In the video below, you see the result of my original strategy (pre-emptive scatters during nightly window-shopping incidents): I have created a window-shopping addict who will look out the window and then ask to be paid all day long! This is in the morning. Chai went from only-at-night to all-the-time in 2 days. In the video, I talk to her now and then, but don’t give her more attention than that. If she came over, I’d pet her. No treats since in this video, Chai is not concerned about the environment – she simply wants scatters!
The video below shows when I DO feed: this is a compilation of moments I recognized precursor behaviors or precursor stimuli to barking. (Yes, I agree – Game looks extremely annoyed at the state of the world in this video! She can’t even be bothered to get up and collect her part of the scatters.)
… and our goal, of course: rest and relaxation inside while I work; occasionally wandering around or looking out the window without feeling barky or otherwise overly aroused!
Home alone practice: don’t let it slide!
Chai stayed home all by herself while Zane, Game and I all went out to Mexico City’s bike Sunday.
Hello again, adolescence!
I took Chai to Casa Bruna with me for some do-nothing practice. She was able to chill out beautifully for 45 minutes, but then a Border Collie she knows (tricolor puppy Juana) showed up at the next table over, and that was too much: Chai wanted to greet and started barking when I didn’t let her.
We are definitely having another bout of adolescence! Hanging out at Fresa Parque after Casa Bruna, Chai finally got to play with Juanita and an adolescent ACD. She was having a harder time responding to her informal pup-pup-pup recalls today than usual – another sign that both calm days and listening skills overall are getting more difficult in our second wave of adolescence!
Urban art clue #3: it is NOT in Condesa.