Friday, January 27, 2012

Portland Clicker Expo Day 1

Today was the first day of the Portland, OR Clicker Expo and I was really excited to see what was in store for me! I had a little taste of what was to come when Crystal went last year and posted about her experience. I got all registered first thing and then started going through my goody bag. Inside were a bunch of raffle tickets. The goal for the tickets are that you reward people basically for acts of "goodness" that are really defined by you. Kind of like you're clicking them. You can give someone a ticket for introducing themselves to you. You can give someone a ticket for the way they were mindful of their dog's needs during a lecture. Or in my case, you can reward someone for the fact that they brought their frenchie to the expo! It's all up to you and it really helps to inspire a positive attitude where everyone is going around looking for something good to reward. I love it! The tickets are good for a drawing for a basket at the end of each day.

As I was going through my registration packet and reading over the welcome material, I read a passage that I absolutely love and wish it was something that the general pet population would take to heart when out and about with their respective dogs. "Does your dog always want to rush up to other dogs and try to play? You may think your dog is being friendly, but to other dogs that behavior is incredibly rude. Your dog may be getting in the face of another dog that has worked long and hard to gain self-control in that situation. If someone's dog snaps or snarls at your dog, it is your fault, not theirs." This was also reiterated by Karen Pryor herself in her opening address. This is so incredibly true and I really appreciate that they emphasize this at the expo!

As I started typing up my experience from the talks, I realized that these posts could easily become incredibly long and/or take a matter of weeks to get all the way through. So in an effort to minimize this and create posts that don't make the reader feel like they are going through a long drawn out novel, I will do my best to summarize each day in one post and make them relatively brief. However, this is me that we're talking about here.;0)

After the opening session it was time to get down to business and go to the talks or labs of your choosing. The first talk that I chose to go to was "Oops! What to do When Mistakes Happen" by Ken Ramirez. First and foremost, Ken is a fantastic speaker! He completely filled up his two hour time slot and held my attention the whole time. No small feat considering that I was already starting to get a little hungry at the beginning of his talk. In order to talk about how he handles mistakes in training, he first had to give a little background on the various methods that trainers utilize. The first he talked about was a no reward marker (NRM). This is pretty much what it sounds like. The trainer uses a marker to indicate that the animal being trained has gotten it wrong. Something as simple as an Oops! Part of the problem with this method is that the animal can get frustrated at not moving forward and this can lead to a negative training experience.

The next "method" is the delta signal. This is essentially a warning before a negative stimulus happens. He likened it to his mother telling him to clean up his room multiple times with no effect. It wasn't until she used his full name that he knew she meant business. It was the use of his full name that was the delta signal that if he didn't do as he was told there was going to be a negative stimulus coming his way. One of the down sides to this method is that the delta signal can end up becoming the new cue for the behavior.

Following this is the time out method. Scientifically speaking, this is a negative punisher. This too can create frustration in the animal being trained. Time outs must be very well timed lest you punish the wrong behavior. Additionally, the time out doesn't actually teach the animal what behavior you WANT.

Next up was negative reinforcement. This is a subject that many people are not fully clear about. Negative reinforcement is using the removal (negative since you are taking something away) or avoidance of an aversive to increase a behavior. An example of this would be teaching a horse to neck rein. The aversive would be the pressure of the reins on the horses neck. The horse learns that they are to move away from the pressure. When they do so, the pressure, and thus the negative stimulus, is released and they are therefore rewarded for their behavior. Negative reinforcement does not always mean something that is abusive.

Ken's preferred method of dealing with mistakes in training is by using a least reinforcing scenario/stimulus (LRS). You are taking an inappropriate behavior and dealing with it in a way that isn't frustrating to the animal and keeps them wanting to work. His preference is to use a 3 to 5 second neutral response. He had some great video clips (he actually had really great clips throughout his talk) to demonstrate exactly what he was talking about. For example, if the animal in question doesn't respond to a sit command, he would pause for 3 to 5 seconds and then move on to something that the animal will reliable do, so that he can reinforce that. The animal doesn't get rewarded for the inappropriate behavior, but the trainer and animal continue moving forward to other more reinforcing and reliable behaviors so that the animal realizes that they will only get reinforced for correct behaviors.

He then went on to discuss some alternate response training. This topic he plans to cover more thoroughly tomorrow during his talk on aggression. The notes I took on this topic were very basic.

After Ken's talk I went to a lab (workshop) with Michele Pouliot titled "Crosstrain! Teach Your Dog the Skills Critical for All Canine Sports." This lab focused on using the platform to teach a solid understanding of position to the dog. This position could be whatever you need it to be depending on what discipline you were interested in. The two most common examples were obedience and freestyle. I got a LOT of really great ideas from this lab that I can't wait to try out with the dogs!! It also added a few more items to my list of "must have" training tools. I have a feeling that list is never going to get much shorter.;0)

The strongest advantage to the platform is that it is a well defined space for the dog to be on. Once the dog learns to go onto the platform, there isn't a lot of room for them to futz around on. The platform essentially doesn't allow for crooked sits. You are able to constantly reward the dog in perfect position. The platform also allows the handler to be in the goal position so that the dog not only learns what position they're supposed to be in, but what the handler looks like when they're in that position. Too often while we're training, we're correcting the dogs position, which throws us out of the stance that we should be in. The dog learns that ideal position for them involves us being twisted into some shape. When we're in the correct position, the picture changes for the dog, so they change their positioning in order to get their picture of you back the way they were rewarded in. If that sentence made any sense!

She also emphasized magnetizing the platform. You build up so much reinforcement for the platform that the dog is practically climbing on it as you're putting it down. They're excited to get on there and into the position that they KNOW they'll get rewarded for. From there you start using the verbal or physical commands that you want the dog to know and it's a piece of cake for them to associate the correct position with the command!

Following Michele's lab I wen to "Shaping Procedures for the Agility Trainer" by Eva Bertilsson and Emelie Johnson Vegh. I have their agility book and just recently started reading, so I can already tell that a lot of what they went over in their talk will be reinforced in the book. Their talk, by far, was the hardest for me to wrap my head around. I am going to try my best to summarize what they were talking about, but I know that it won't be half as good a job as they did. And hopefully it will come out at least moderately clear!

First and foremost, you must understand that these two ladies are the masters at breaking things down. This is part of the reason why it took me a little bit to fully catch on to what they were describing, since I tend to have difficulties breaking things down into smaller steps. Not only do they break things down into smaller steps, but they break them down into MINUSCULE steps! Seriously! The best example I can give is that before you want a specific behavior, figure out where you want your dogs head facing and reinforce that. If you have a behavior in which you want the dog moving forward, like you do for agility, then you wan their nose pointing forward. So reinforce that, and only that. Because you want the dogs nose pointing forward, you don't want them looking any where else lest they add that into the behavior. This particular example was much clearer to me when they showed a video clip of this exact thing. The reinforcement was so rapid that the dog didn't have a chance to look any where else. Therefore the ONLY behavior that was getting rewarded was this position.

Obviously as part of this shaping process, the reward is very important. How you give it, where you give, how frequent, and even what it is, will effect the end goal. There was a fair bit of description on this, which was best illustrated by the nose forward position. Rewards given rapidly to the dog in this position did not allow for any of what they call "garbage behavior."

They continued to further break things down in a sort of mind boggling circle. In essence, the taking of the reward is a behavior in and of itself that also must be trained. You don't start into a training session with a picky dog and a treat that they've never had before. If you present them with something unknown, they may take the time to sniff the treat and taste it. At that point, what you originally were trying to reward is not what's actually getting rewarded.

To further screw with my mind, the method that they used to explain all of this involved starting at the end. You start when the reward ends. Just the reward ending can be a cue for another behavior. You give the dog a cue, they execute the behavior, you reward, then they stare at you to figure out what comes next. The end of the reward you just gave is what's cuing them to stare at you and wait for what's coming next. This is something that I TOTALLY never thought about like that before. They're talk was basically filled up with little brain benders like that. I just wasn't used to thinking like that and it took me a little bit to wrap my brain around it.

That's really as much as I'm going to attempt to describe from their talk. I'm really afraid that I'll butcher anything more that I haven't already! Their talk was great and I definitely recommend that if you get the chance to hear them speak, you should.

I also gained some ideas for ways that I can go about getting Ruthie used to and ready for the tunnel (I'm a bad trainer and have not done any work with trying to get her to go into the tunnel since she very adamantly told me that she's not a fan). It's little things that I just hadn't thought about. I'll talk more about them as I actually start to implement them with the Mighty Midget. I also learned a little Swedish from the talk! It turns out the the word slut means the end!LOL That was a pretty funny moment when at the end of one of their video clips the word SLUT popped up in big bold letters!

Phew! I made it through and hopefully anyone still reading this did as well! Tomorrow is another day and I'm looking forward to it. Now to figure out what to do with these poor neglected pooches of mine....


K-Koira said...

Of all of the sessions at Clicker Expo, the platform training was the one I was most interested in. I would be very interested in hearing more about it, especially if you have notes about the specifics of training it and transitioning away from platforms.

Lindsay said...

I'm putting together a post on that that I will post after this weekend!

Ximena said...

YES, I LOVE platforms. Totally a life-changer in terms of training. Definitely way better than using barriers and extremely easy to fade. Totally an obscure topic though, ya know, you never hear about it unless it's from Michele -- she's got dvd's and books about it but I swear she's the only one who has ever done anything remotely about it. I'm surprised it's not more well-known because it's such a simple thing, ya know.

Crystal Thompson said...

Ooh, I wish I went this year. I love Ken Ramirez. And the tagging tickets. And there is so much to learn!

Amy / Layla the Malamute said...

That sounds awesome!! I had never heard of the clicker expo, but I might have to look into it for the future.

I especially like the first theory from Karen Pryor's part. That's a big point with Malamutes - they're still so very pack-minded (they think more like wolves than dogs) that a lot of dog behaviors are considered extremely rude to them, so they react with a snap/roll/etc.

Looking forward to hearing more - that ticket idea was great! Hope you won something :)

Mary Hunter said...

Very cool, loved reading your report!

I'm a bit jealous, though!! :)
I've been the past two years, but won't get to go this year.

Ken is amazing, I'm glad you were able to go his talk. And I really like MIchele Pouliot, too. I went to a lecture of hers where she talked some about platforms two years ago and it was pretty interesting. I would have loved to see the lab.

Thanks for the summary. You did a really nice job highlighting each of the talks and picking out some of the interesting points to write about.

Have fun during the rest of the weekend!