Monday, October 31, 2011

Titan learns "touch"

This is a nifty exercise that can be used to send a dog out to a place to "touch" something.  I actually separate this from "place" which, for my dogs, means to go to a location with their feet/body and not 'touch" with the nose.  This relay game can be used for the foundation of the send-away.  It also begins to show the dog how to follow your directions to go to a location, such as the blind search, because you eventually call the dog and then send them on.

Using the "Manners Minder" contact toy is another idea I stole from Debbie Zappia.  I ordered mine through and they have a base and an expandable rod with red bulb tip that is placed in the base.  They wobble when touched, which causes to create more interest by the dog.  Unless the dog happens to be my Marco, who knocked the whole thing over with his tail over and over!  You can expand the rod depending on the size of the dog.

Initially, of course, we need to communicate to the dog that touching this oddity is what we desire. If the dog has experience with clicker training, this will move quickly.  If not, it is still easily taught.  As with any other behavior, we reward AT the source of the behavior.  Feed, feed, feed at the bulb. When the feeding stops, the dog will likely try and figure out what behavior earned the reward.  Don't expect too much-- he is trying to make sense of what happened!  If he so much as glances at the bulb, mark and feed, feed, feed, at the source.  There is no command given until the dog is freely moving to touch the bulb.

When the MM (manners minder) is "out of play", meaning that you are re-loading treats or taking a break, or simply finished, pick it up.  If you want to create curiousity and possessiveness, clasp it to your chest as if it was the most precious thing and what dog wouldn't want it?  You can ask "look what I have?"... "want it?"... and then place it down dramatically.  The dog will likely move to it out of curiousity and when it makes contact, mark and reward at the source of the behavior (the bulb).   For the more reluctant dog, don't be afraid to snatch it up and carry it away again.  If you find it necessary to do that more than a couple times, the dog probably doesn't understand what the whole point of this gadget is and you will need to slow down and help the dog make contact so it can be rewarded.  You can tap the bulb, or even start by rewarding (at the source) if the dog looks that direction.

Now, for the dog who understands clickers, they may think that what you are shaping is the glance or the head turn and stop there.  if this happens, just raise your criteria and wait it out a little for the dog to try to figure out what brings reward.  How we react to the dog's attempts (how much or little we demand) will depend on their level of understanding how to drive our behavior!

Once the dog knows the behavior and we have added the command "touch", we can begin to send the dog to the MM from different distances and directions.  After that, we can stand in between the two and call the dog back and forth with "here".... "touch" as he step in that direction with our arm extended, just as we would do in the blind search.  The dog learns that where the handler directs, he will find reward and he already knows the final respose (touch) that is required there.

At the end of the lesson, you have a dog who, instead of wandering away, looking for treats or attention elsewhere, stays focused on the handler and asks, "Dad/Mom, what are we doing next?"