We’re still here! (New posts coming soon.)

Well it’s been a busy few months and Tesla and I have been neglectful in our blogging.

We’ve been busy with the holidays (exhausting for all!)2014-01-01 23.05.13

graduation from Beginning Agility class (fun for all!),

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and Tesla getting spayed (nerve-wracking for me, fairly smooth-sailing for Tesla). 2014-01-21 17.11.47

Fortunately, we’ve been more conscientious about our training and our “Play Dead with Style” trick has progressed. We’ll be posting our progress as well as introducing a new trick next week.

Until then, Happy Training!

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Play Dead with Style — Progress so far

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!

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New Trick Tuesday: Play Dead — with style!

Tesla WavingSo far in previous posts, we’ve worked on some sports, chores, and musical skills, as well as some acting poses like play dead and take a bow.

For our new trick, I will be working on chaining 3 separate behaviors into a play dead sequence. First, I’ll ask her to start by limping, then I’ll work on capturing a “cheater” play dead that she sometimes offers instead of her actual Play Dead in which she rolls just her front half to the side, keeping her back end in the sphinx position. So far I haven’t reinforced that, but I’ve thought it cute enough to capture and name, and I think this is the place to do it. Finally, I’ll ask her to go into the full “Dead” pose, fully on her side like she learned previously. And of course, she should end with a bow.

Ultimately, I would like to use the cue “Action!” to indicate that Tesla should complete all 3 behaviors without additional intermediate cues. At this point, I’m not sure if back-chaining (that is, working on the sequence from the last behavior first) is the best method, or if straight chaining (first behavior, then second, and so on) would be better, but I will update as we practice.

As always, Happy Training!

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Tesla plays the xylophone (sort of…)

After a few crazy weeks Tesla and I are back to report on our training progress. Agility training and practice has been keeping us busy, as we are both learning new skills and timing. (Tesla picks it up quite a bit more quickly than I do, of course.) Though I have to think she believes we trainers are a little nuts regarding those blasted weave poles. I suspect she wonders why on earth she she should weave in and out of those poles when running straight by is sooooooo much faster!

At any rate, we did have a few more training sessions with the xylophone. In all, we’ve worked for about 28 minutes across 4 training sessions. The results of the first two sessions were described in the previous post. Here is where we stand now.

After I detached the mallet, it was relatively straight-forward to shape mallet placement and add some distance. The following videos are excerpts from our training sessions. Given that our total training time has been less than 30 minutes and spread out pretty sporadically, I think she’s doing pretty well. I did add a cue “go play” earlier than I typically would with a new behavior, but Tesla seems to need extra encouragement on behaviors that are relatively stationary, and encouraging her to try something or (continue doing something) helps her avoid getting overly frustrated and quitting early. As we continue work on the behavior, I will add more “mallet hits” to create a longer song, and then change the cue to something different.

Here is part 2.

Of course, despite the fact that she recently celebrated her first birthday, she’s still quite the puppy and gets distracted frequently, as you can see in the following video. I have to say, she’s the first dog I’ve had that takes note of passing aircraft.  She’s lucky she’s cute.

New Trick Tuesday is back, and will be posted later tonight!

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