Epiphany = a sudden realization of great truth. I’ve had two this week.
I’ve been reading a book, Zoomility, and am using colored pens along with my highlighter, to say different things about why I highlight (it’s a take-off from an inductive Bible study I’m doing). By doing it this way, I am forced to slow down and give more thought to why I am highlighting a particular portion of the text and what it means to me – what I want to learn and remember from it.
(Epiphany #1) This week I was reading a section about least reinforcing stimulus (LRS) and was thinking about it. One of the training issues I’ve struggled with is trying to get a straight “front”. Gimme always angles her fanny to one side or the other – which I know is my fault and I’m sure I carefully, if unintentionally, shaped the angling behavior. I’ve also been trying to get her to come in closer. She is coming in close enough to not be faulted, but figuring on a behavior deteriorating under the stress/distraction at a trial… it could be close.
So the way LRS applies is the intentional application of 3 – 5 seconds on non-response. We always try to fix the dog’s mistakes, which unfortunately risks rewarding the behavior by paying attention to it. At the very least you create a dog who waits for you to give them the second cue before getting the behavior correct. In the case of a crooked front or one which isn’t close enough, my fix has been to take a step back. Over time it’s turned into me pushing my knees back, while not moving my feet (a nonverbal cue, eh).
I decided to use a small platform to give Gimme a physical target and one in which she feels when she’s not right, because she slips off the side. I was very conscious to do nothing if she wasn’t right. I also thought ahead about how and when I would reward her efforts. Assuming I am facing 12 o’clock… if her butt angles toward 1 o’clock, the treat comes from my right hand, which causes her to turn toward it, thus straightening her butt. If her butt angles toward 11 o’clock, the treat comes from my left hand, causing the same straightening. If she comes in straight, she gets treats from both hands. Note she gets a treat either way, whether she is straight or not, though she doesn’t actually get the crooked cookie until she has straightened some.
When she is close enough, she gets a treat spit out of my mouth, which just barely clears my body. If she is too far away, she has to move closer to catch it. So she quickly tended to come in closer. I was able to add the refinement where she got cookies from both hands if as she sat down from the catching, if she was straight.
Needless to say, it took very little for my little genius to figure out the pay differential. The difference was dramatic and in just two short sessions she was really working to be straight and close – taking responsibility for getting it right. You know this kid always works the angles…
(Epiphany #2) At nosework class Dorothy asked me how our trial went and what I learned. In the course of talking about it, I explained how frustrated Gimme got about not getting peanut butter when she thought she was supposed to and the disastrous consequences in containers.
Which led to Dorothy asking me, and discussing with the class, why I/we weren’t using our best motivators for nosework. (I always love how she uses examples from her own training too) An odor obedient dog is one who actively searches for and goes to source odor and odor obedience is only as strong as the association a dog has between odor and the reward for finding it. So… why wouldn’t a person use their dog’s highest value reward?
In my case, its been twofold. One, using peanut butter is time consuming. Gimme has to spend time licking the go toob and if she gets a blob, then she has to lick her leg to clear her mouth. This will cost us in nosework where placements are separated by just a few seconds. Two, I could use peanut butter cookies (as I do in agility), but if any crumbs drop on the floor, we’d be faulted. So, those are the reasons I had for not using peanut butter.
The next day I was thinking about it and pondered whether there were such a thing as peanut butter chips (like chocolate and butterscotch chips). A quick internet search and I discovered there are – they are made by the Reese’s division of Hershey’s. So today I checked my local grocery and found them. I tested Gimme when I got home. Given a choice between PB chips and garlic pork - chips won, paws down.
Gimme and I have already started working with them. I just did a quick session offering her two hands – one with odor and one with PB chips. She quickly learned mugging the hand with the PB chips got nothing, while paw-hold and multiple nose-bumps to the odor hand made PB chips land there. I was even able to really strengthen the concept by teasing her with the PB chips while she was doing the paw-hold/nose-bump to odor and she caught on to this distinction as well. Lo and behold, resisting the distraction/attraction of PB smell gets you PB chips. Who knew?
In class/training/practice I will mostly use peanut butter from the go toob (which isn’t going to result in a sugar high), because time isn’t a factor. I could even use PB cookies at those times because crumbs won’t cost me. But from time to time I’ll use the PB chips, so I can be practiced at using our highest value reward for a trial.
I’m really excited to see how Gimme’s nosework changes when she realizes she gets her all-time-favorite-number-one-highest-value goodie. She’s always been pretty solid at odor obedience, but I’ll be watching to see if it gets stronger. You know I’ll tell you when it does…