Today was the final day of the Clicker Expo. So sad! I decided to start the morning off with a talk by the KONG representative titled "It's Fun to Have Fun But You Have to Know How." This was a shorter presentation lasting only 45 minutes. I went just out of curiosity to see what he had to say. The representative himself is an interesting guy because he works a lot of law enforcement officers and search and rescue teams from a training and behavior standpoint. So throughout his talk he would put in little stories, pictures, and videos of his work in these fields. He talked about using various puzzle types toys like the KONG to mentally stimulate your dog and the advantages of this. He also talked about the correct way for your dog to chew the KONGs and make them last longer. And finally he showed a new addition to the KONG family that is due out in February or March.
Following that talk I went to "Smart Reinforcement" with Ken Ramirez. This talk was basically about how to use reinforcement effectively to maintain behavior. He started by going over the basics of reinforcement. How precision marking and timing are incredibly important to gaining the correct behavior. Additionally, immediate delivery of reinforcement aids in cementing the behavior. When you're working with multiple animals, stationing them makes reinforcement clear and clean. He also brought up the issue of fairness when working with multiple animals. Even though you may be only working with one animal at a time while the others are say, on down stays. Those animals on the down stays are working the entire time that you're working with the "active" animal. They deserve reinforcement for this just as much as the animal getting directly worked with.
Novel reinforcers can be effective at making an event memorable, though you have to be careful that it's not in a negative way. When you use something that you've never used before you run the risk of the animal being afraid of it, not liking it, or spending time figuring out what it is. At that point it's not a positive reinforcer. Know your dog and choose wisely.
He went over primary reinforcers versus secondary reinforcers. A primary reinforcer is inherently reinforcing because it satisfies a biological need. The perfect example of this is food. Secondary reinforcers acquire their reinforcing value through association with a primary reinforcer. The perfect example here are clickers. You pair them with food so that the click becomes reinforcing.
A few other reinforcers were briefly touched on. These were the keep going signal, tertiary reinforcers, reinforcement substitutes, and conditioned reinforcer. Ken's favorite out of these are the reinforcement substitutes.
Reinforcement substitutes are trained just like a behavior in order to build up the value of them with the dog. Their success is dependent on a few things. It depends on what kind of a reinforcement history you've built up for them. It's dependent on what kind of a relationship you have with your dog. How you implement them. What kind of training and observational skills you have. And their effectiveness is also dependent on how you introduce them.
Following this he went into reinforcement schedules. While there are many nit picky ways to break them down, generally speaking they fall into two categories. It's either reinforcement given continuously as in treat after treat after treat for every behavior. Or it's given on a variable schedule.
The advantages most often touted for variable rates of reinforcement are that they have the potential to strengthen behavior. And that you are able to get behaviors of longer duration. The primary disadvantage is that it can lead to the animal becoming frustrated.
Ken prefers to use variable reinforcement instead of a variable schedule. He uses a mixture of primary and secondary reinforcers. All throughout his emphasis was on knowing your dog and knowing what will work and what won't.
After Ken's talk I was eagerly anticipating "Hold It, Get It, Bring It, Give It!" with Michele Pouliot. And you guessed it, this talk was all about the dumbbell retrieve!!! Oy vey, the dumbbell is going to be the exercise that does me in yet. After listening to Michele's talk, I am excited to try out her method and see if we can get beyond the spots that I'm stuck at primarily with the danes (Ruthie only got introduced to the dumbbell last night). Throughout her talk she used a TON of great video clips that perfectly illustrated what she was talking about.
Before you start into a training plan, you need to clearly define what your retrieve goals are. These are going to be somewhat dependent on the sport or use you want for this behavior. If you're doing this for a service dog, your requirements are going to be slightly different than those of someone who is training this for the competition obedience ring.
Your first step along the way is to create a LOVE for the article. You are clicking for interaction with the article and using a rapid rate of reinforcement. You can start with something as simple as the dog just looking at the dumbbell when you produce it (you're offering the dumbbell from an upright position while holding on to it). The most common result of this stage is the dog nose touching the dumbbell. However, you don't want to stay at nose touching for too long or else it becomes more difficult to move on to the next step.
The next step is to get a mouth behavior on the dumbbell. You are clicking for the dog opening their mouth towards the dumbbell even if it's just lip movement. That's still opening the mouth and moving in the correct direction. As with the first step, you don't want to stay at lipping or teeth bumping the dumbbell too long or else it will be more difficult to mover forward.
Step 3 is open mouth behavior on the dumbbell. Closely behind that is step 4, duration hold. Here you are withholding clicks to create duration of the hold. If you are stalling out at this point, then you move to Michele's second option which is to place the dumbbell on the floor and start from the beginning to get the dog to pick it up. You are clicking when the dog picks up the dumbbell. If at any point the dog drops the dumbbell, they don't get the click until they pick it back up.
Step 5 is a hands off the dumbbell hold duration. You are clicking for the dog holding the dumbbell without your hands on it. Up to this point (unless you were using the alternate method) you've been holding on to one of the bells.
From here you start placing the dumbbell on the ground with your hand still on it and the dog has to pick it up and finish delivering it to hand. Gradually you move your hand away until you are standing fully upright and the dog is picking it up and bringing it to you.
Once the dog is solid at this point you employ the use of a helper who will hold your dog. You place the dumbbell in between yourself and your dog and have the helper release the dog. The dog picks up the dumbbell and delivers it to hand. From there you gradually move to an actual retrieve where you throw the dumbbell and do the real retrieve. Michele's advice was once you have the hold you're pretty much golden.
The important part of the dumbbell retrieve (and the part that I know I haven't and won't do a good job explaining) is that your hands on the dumbbell are the cue for the hold. The rest of the exercise is just running out, grabbing the dumbbell, and bringing it back. You are training the dog to hold while your hands are on the bells after they've retrieved it. This helps to negate the behaviors where the dog spits the dumbbell out once it comes back or drops it as soon as your hands start coming towards the dumbbell itself.
After Michele's great talk I decided to go to the "Training With Play" lab with Kay Laurence. OMG! Her lab was fantastic!! It makes me wish that I had caught some of her other labs/talks! I really didn't have any expectations going into the lab as to what I was going to see, but apparently other people did because the room was totally packed! As the title implies, the lab was all about using play in your training and using it effectively.
The basis here is that the tug is the reinforcer. You get a behavior, click, and the dog gets the toy. The toy can also help you get the dog to offer some behaviors depending on how you use it. The primary toys used were a tug and a whip it toy (which is one of those toys attached to the end of a lunge line thingies). Of course, when using a toy, you need to have a reliable out command. As part of this, she recommended (and did a great job of demonstrating with dogs that she's never worked with before) that you use your body posture to signal to the dog when it's time to release. While the dog is tugging you're not making eye contact. You're making sure to maintain constant pressure on the toy to avoid rebiting and gradually moving up towards your hand. And your body isn't fully facing them. When you're wanting them to out the toy, you face them in a calm manner and stop playing WITH them. If they're not outing the toy, you simply put your hand into the collar under their chin and apply slight pressure. This is only so that the dog can't continue to self reinforce, it is not a collar correction. And then you wait. It's up to the dog to let go of the toy. Gradually the dogs pick up on the body cues. And while they may not immediately out the toy at first, gradually it builds up to a point where you starting to move your arm in the direction of the collar is the cue to drop. And then you fade from there so that your body cues are what they're picking up on.
She did all sorts of things with the five dogs participating and it's kind of difficult to relay absolutely everything that was going on. It's something that is way more effective to just watch her work with a dog.
When she was using the whip it toy, she emphasized that the toy must behave like prey in order for it to be interesting for the dog. It also won't be interesting if you constantly keep the toy well out of reach of the dog. The prey is more interesting when they are within an inch or two of capturing it. It builds their need to get it.
You can use the whip it toy to reinforce stays by pretending it's a bird. For this you are moving the toy in an arc over the dogs head rather rapidly. After having to constantly switch direction to keep an eye on the toy, the dog will eventually just stop and stand still. Boom, there's your stand stay! Click, and reinforce with the toy, letting the dog catch the toy.
By using toys as a training reinforcer, the behaviors you are eliciting are kill behaviors. By doing this you are not going to have the dog offering up a roll over behavior. You're going to get things like chase, stay, sit, down, etc.
Building up the dog's need for the tug toy can take some time and creativity on your part. Some dogs may really not be that interested in actual toys. A terrier in the lab wasn't interested in the toy at all, but loved to catch rabbits and vermin when it was out and about and had done so on a few occasions. Kay's advice was to find a fresh kill (road kill) and put a toy in a bag with the kill so that it would absorb the smell. This could then be exciting to the dog because it smelled like something that it really would like to chase and kill. Gradually you build up value for the toy itself.
Like I said, there was a whole lot more going on, but it was difficult to take notes on absolutely everything. Should you get the chance to watch Kay in action, I totally recommend it!
And that brought the 2012 Portland Clicker Expo to a close. There plenty of other talks and labs that I wanted to go to, but I since I can only be in one place at one time, that just wasn't possible. In the closing talk, they did release the January dates and location of the 2013 Clicker Expo and are still working on the March one. Next January it will be in San Francisco and unless the other location is more appealing I plan on attending. There's still so much to learn and this Expo has really helped to fuel my desire to learn more about training in general. I'm very lucky this year in that I'm already signed up for a couple of training seminars that I'm really looking forward to. The more you learn, the more possibilities there are! I have so many things rolling around in my head that I want to try out and work on with the dogs now! I need to start creating weekly training plans so that I can be as effective as possible with my time while also making sure that I'm able to fit everything in. Here's to 2012 being a great training year!!