Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guessing Games/Shaping Behavior

Shaping dog behaviors is a relatively new concept for me.  I had heard of "Shaping" on the 2x2 weave pole DVD by Susan Garrett, (where you wait for a dog to offer a behavior you are looking for, without any clues, then reward it), and I know there's at least one book out called Shaping Success, again by Susan Garrett, but I had never applied Shaping to anything but weave entries until I got the Papillon puppies.  Since I'm keeping them a few more weeks (until they are 12 weeks old) before advertising them for sale, I am looking for little games to play to test their intelligence.  I want to send them off with as good a foundation as I can. We sit on the kitchen floor each night while my dinner cooks and I come up with all sorts of little tests for them.

I started out just playing tug, teaching them to COME on command, enjoy being picked up, held, kissed, handled, bathed, pee and poop outside on grass, etc.  They got all that down the first week.  Now what?

So night before last, I set out an upside down cardboard box (like 4 6 packs of soda are stacked in), and rewarded them for getting on it. Simple. Both could participate simultaneously.

Playing the Guessing Game with Roku (2 lbs) and Jitsu (2.75 lbs)
Papillon littermates at 10 weeks of age,
The task was "sit in the bowl".
 Last night I upped the stakes. I set out a pottery bowl just big enough for one at a time to fit in, and sat on the floor beside it, about a foot away, my mouth stuffed with baked chicken breast.  Then I waited.  Roku and Jitsu know I have chicken in my mouth (from the night before) and that they are about to get a treat if the do something or other.  They try crawling up my chest, licking my face, running around like maniacs, jumping on the cardboard box.  Nothing produces a treat.  Finally Jitsu hops in the bowl, I immediately mark the behavior with YES, and deliver a TREAT.  She continues sitting in the bowl.  Nothing happens.  Finally she jumps out of the bowl.  Nothing happens.  Finally she jumps back in the bowl and voila, another YES, TREAT.  Out, in, out, in.  Jitsu catches onto this within 3 tries.

All this while Roku is running around trying other stuff.  Finally one time, Jitsu hops out and runs off, Roku immediately hops in.  YES, TREAT.  They get competitive.  Jitsu, the larger puppy, pushes Roku out, sits, YES, TREAT. Hops out and hops back in again before Roku gets another chance. YES, TREAT.

I am wondering how to even out the score when Roku offers another behavior I decide to treat for.  He walks around the bowl Jitsu is occupying, hugging the outer edge.  YES, TREAT.  He does it again.  YES, TREAT.  He catches onto this right away, goes around maybe 2 dozen times. Now I am rewarding a different behavior with each puppy.  Finally one time, Jitsu hops out, Roku hops in.  YES, TREAT.  Roku hops out, Jitsu hops in, YES, TREAT.  Roku walks around the bowl.  YES, TREAT.  Jitsu hops out, hops back in . . . . . . . . . this goes on for several minutes.  They are jacked up and ready to continue, but there were so many YES, TREATS, I ran out of chicken breast.  After the game is over, I manage to stage a few still shots of them sitting in the bowl.  Too cute!

Now I put the puppies away and bring in 3 year old Maxie.  We've never done Shaping, nor played the Guessing Game until the night before with the cardboard box.  I put down a bigger bowl, with a rim that tips if he stands on the edges.  Gotta make it more difficult for my trained dog, right? I sit beside it, my mouth full of chicken gizzards. He has no idea what I am doing or how to get a treat.  What will he do? He becomes very anxious, whining, wiggling, staring into my eyes, jumping in and out of the box (last night's trick), pawing at my legs, and offering his whole list of old tricks -- go around, roll over, down, wash your face.  After awhile he notices the bowl and begins offering behaviors.  2 feet in the bowl.  YES, TREAT.  He held that pose.  Nothing happened.  He laid down across the bowl.  Nothing.  He tried tipping the bowl.  Nothing. Retreat from the bowl, whine, wiggle, paw at me.  Nothing.

After trying last night's box trick a few times
 without last night's results, Maxie finally noticed,
 then sat in the bowl.  After his jackpot of treats,
he stubbornly wouldn't get out.  It took him awhile to notice
there were no more treats until he
got out and then sat back in.
Finally he hopped in the bowl and sat.  YES, JACKPOT OF TREATS.  He freezes.  No treat.  Out, In, Sit.  YES, TREAT.  After that, he had it.  Out, In, Sit, YES TREAT, over and over, until I finally ran out of gizzards.  He did not want the game to end. He was visibly proud of himself for figuring it out.  His eyes were sparkling.

I saw newborn puppies and mature dog filled with excitement and an intense desire to offer a smorgasboard of behaviors.  I saw them watching my eyes intently, as if asking "is this right, is this right", at 100% attention.

Alas, I saw 10 week old puppies figure this game out as quickly as a mature well trained dog. 
Alas, because I didn't know enough to do this with Maxie when he was a puppy, I'm right back where I started with FoohFooh, feeling I let him down. 
Alas, because whoever gets these puppies will not likely know much about training them to their full potential.  They will become bored little house pets.
Alas, because now I want to train a dog from a tiny puppy. 
Alas, because I don't want another dog.
Alas, it's time to put my big girl panties on again and deal with more guilt, which is why I reckon I am writing this article, in hopes that someone will read it and begin their puppies on Guessing Games right away.


First, I don't recommending doing this with 2 dogs at once.  My puppies weigh so little and take up so little space, it didn't matter much.  But with older, larger dogs, put the others away so you and the dog can give each other 100% attention.
The hardest part of this game is not giving any clues.  We are so used to leading.  To luring to teach a desired behavior.  Clicking, treating and praising to mark that lured behavior.  We are used to naming behaviors -- sit, down, stay, come, over, tunnel, etc.  We are used to signalling behaviors with our hands and bodies.  We are used to CONTROL.  We are not used to just sitting quietly and observing, waiting for the dog to offer a behavior.  It is very hard not to "help" the dog figure out what we want.  But once they understand the game, which might take a session or 2 of giving a clue or 2 (like tapping the box), or selecting a simple task at first (like D nudging your hand), guessing is exactly what stimulates and engages the dog to think.  This game is all about them GUESSING. About us WAITING.
You don't have to know the behavior you are looking for when the game begins.  You can just sit near your dog, give some signal that the game is about to begin.  You could say, "Hey, Maxie, want to play the Guessing Game?", and when they do something cool, YES TREAT, then stick to treating only that one behavior. Start with simple things, such as lying on a pillow, jumping into a box, touching a plate, etc., and increase complexity over the dog's life to discrimination skills such as touch the yellow pillow instead of the red or green pillow.  Touch something with your left paw only.  Go clockwise around the chair.  Fetch one particular toy out of a choice of 3. Stare at the ceiling.  Anything they might naturally offer on their own is good.  (I would not wait for a dog to bark who doesn't bark, or to fetch who doesn't fetch, for example.)

Clicker Training:
If you use a clicker to mark the behavior along with your YES, TREAT, you are doing Clicker Training at the same time, and can eventually fade out the YES.

I hadn't realized that my dog training had become a tad "stale", both for myself and my dogs until I experienced the HIGH of this game last night.  I am overwhelmed with these wee tiny babies' intelligence, enthusiasm, and willingness to work for treats. 

Perhaps we humans could play the "Guessing Game" with each other at parties to release some of our inhibitions.  Dog trainers should do this to each other to see the game from the dog's point of view.  Mothers should definitely play this with their babies, using praise and claps for treats.  Oh, I feel more guilt coming on.  Sorry, son.

Shaping Behavior:
After treating a behavior over and over, you can shape the behavior by adding a name to it, such that when you say "yellow pillow", the dog goes and gets on the yellow pillow, without a reward.  Weave, and they weave.  Crate up, and they crate up.  Bow, they bow.  Get in your bed, they do so. You can add hand signals. These have enormous value, of course, in dog training and control.

But that is NOT primarily what the Guessing Game is valuable for.  The Guessing Game is mostly about keeping the romance alive between dog and handler.  Long after your dog is perfectly shaped and trained to your liking, you can still have them play at offering new behaviors (ones that aren't particularly practical, are not part of daily life, will never earn them ribbons or titles).  You do it just because it's loads and loads of fun. And, you can do it indoors, on rainy days, from your TV chair.

Upwards and onward, keeping the romance in our canine relationships! 

A mesmerizing thought!  Is that the secret to being charasmatic? Keeping them guessing, being mysterious, not telling all, making it so people have to figure you out?  It's what they always do in the movies, crossed messages, not revealing all, to keep the plot convoluted and the viewer intrigued.

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