Tesla is coming along nicely on our planned behavior chain, despite my rather sporadic training sessions with her. (I haven’t been tracking number and times of sessions, but I estimate about 2-3 sessions for each step at about 2-3 minutes/session.) Here is where we are currently:
Step 1: The Limp
This was one of Tesla’s earlier tricks that I posted about here. I went through several different attempts to acquire the behavior, but it’s since become one of her favorite “go to” behaviors when she isn’t sure what behavior will earn the click. I added a hand signal (a “come here” type movement with my index finger), and she will easily go 7-10 steps with me.
I think that will suffice for the chain we’re working on in the current trick, but ultimately I would like to shape it so that she will do it at a greater distance from myself. (Currently, she will most often approach me and THEN limp rather than limping to me.) One way I’m considering trying this is by using the “One thing harder, Other things easier” approach and reward her for simply raising a paw at a distance from me, then 1 step, then 2 steps and so on. Another method I’m toying with is teaching her to limp to a target, like a post-it or plastic lid. We may do both, as time permits.
Step 2: Capturing the “wounded” pose
I mentioned that Tesla sometimes does what I call a “cheater” Play Dead by shifting her front half to the side but maintaining the sphinx position in her back legs. (In training classes, I see dogs learning the down often try a “cheater” down as they are learning to see if maybe they can get a reward for going almost, but not quite, down.)
I hadn’t rewarded this when I cued Play Dead, but decided to capture it as part of this trick. Here’s what it looks like:
I’ve begun to add the cue “Awww!” with my head tilted, as I think it will fit with the overall sequence of behaviors.
Step 3: Play Dead
Tesla got the hang of this pretty well earlier in training, as seen here. I had used the cue of a gun-shaped finger point, but for this sequence, I’m trying to decide on a different, more suitable cue. I’m working with “Awww” to cue the wounded pose then “It looks pretty bad…” to cue the Play Dead, but changing/adding a cue is pretty straight-forward, so I reserve the right to adapt. (To change a cue, I find it easiest to use the pattern New Cue -> Old Cue -> Behavior -> Reward. If the “Old Cue” is well learned, the dog usually learns to anticipate it after the “New Cue” within just a few repetitions, and “Old Cue” can be faded out, leaving New Cue -> Behavior -> Reward.)
Over the next few training sessions, I’ll be working on chaining these behaviors together. In working on this, I’ve come to realize that a forward chain (Limp, then Wounded, then Dead) seems more intuitive. Some behavior chains are more easily taught with back-chaining, which involves teaching the last step first, then the second to last, then the one before that, and so on, so that by the time you reach the first behavior in the chain, the rest of the chain has already been rewarded in sequence. I think that could work here, but it wasn’t what made the most sense as we worked.
Next up will (hopefully) be the completed sequence. Then off to Hollywood! (Or maybe Broadway?)
As always, Happy Training!