Monday, March 21, 2011

Training with Astro

This Sunday just gone, we started a new training course with Urban Dog Training called Clicks and Tricks.

Clicks and Tricks is a bit of a fun training course where we use positive re-enforcement and shaping to teach our dog some new tricks, and to let the dog develop some new tricks for themselves by offering movements and behaviours.  The movements and behaviours that we find desirable are rewarded with an unambiguous click from a clicker, and are rewarded with food.

We've been using a clicker with Astro since we started Advanced Puppy Training with Astro about 5 or 6 weeks ago.  It's great for conveying a positive "yes!", for when he does things that we want to re-enforce, and is always accompanied by a high value food reward.  Whilst Astro is used to my "yes!" and Annikas' "yes!", he's not used to it from other people.  However, one clicker sounds much the same as any other clicker, and will allow relative strangers like our dog trainer to convey a job well done without Astro getting confused by the different sound in their voice.  And once again, each click must also be accompanied by food, if it's going to stick.

In training, our trainer Paul, was able to simply look at something, and have their dog Stevie interact with it in some manner.  For each movement or interaction that Stevie offered, he was rewarded with a click and some food.  Paul started Stevie down a path of interacting with a dropped key, with initial sniffing, then pawing and an end goal of picking the key up and returning it.  Stevie is a pretty smart dog, but even that would take more time than we had available in our 5 minute demonstration.  Nonetheless, he also had Stevie jumping up on to a bench and interacting with his crate.

Our homework is to have Astro interact with a box of some description, and then to bring that box in the next week and give a demonstration of what has been learned.

So last night, we had a little training session, interacting with our laundry basket.   Ideally, I'd love to teach Astro to put things in the basket, or move the empty basket around.  Astro loves taking off with socks!

Just by looking at the basket, and appropriately rewarding Astro, he got to a point where he was pawing the basket for rewards. Getting him to put things in the basket is a big task, so I'm going to be happy with a paw, nosing it around, and even jumping in.  The great thing about the exercise is that all these things will be behaviours that he has offered, instead of me showing how it's done or luring him.

And just to mix it up a bit, we also tried the same game with his new bean bag.  It's a bit full of beans at the moment, even though we've only put 2 out of the 3 bags of beans in it, but I'm sitting on it when Astro is in bed to compress them.  Anyway, we'd eventually like the bean bag to be Astros preferred place to sit inside, when we're watching TV and having some quiet time.  Very quickly, Astro offered jumping up on to the bean bag, and lay down on it.  Awesome!

After a few goes of that, I moved on to a netball that we'd got for him.  It's a cheap Crazy Clarks netball that's made from basketball material, so it's probably a bit harsh on his nose.  So far, he hasn't paid it a lot of attention.  However, it didn't take long for Astro to offer a paw on the ball to move it around.

Training sessions should be short, to keep the dogs attention.  I probably went for a bit longer than was needed, so after a quick revisit to all the toys we'd played with, I put the remainder of his reward food (chicken and capsicum) in his crate, but left the door open on it.

Astro has improved his behaviour in his crate, but I'd like it to be a place where he will hang out voluntarily.  Offering food in the crate will associate it with being a good place to be, not just the place where he has naps and sleeps at night.  To this end, every time I take him out for a bathroom break, I'll be putting 4 or 5 bits of kibble in his crate with him, when he goes back in, and I'll be making sure to let him in through the front door on the crate, instead of the roof.

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