09 June 2008

Practing Shoe Removal

One of Molly's everyday jobs is helping me take off my shoes. She's done it for a while, but I change what shoes I wear a lot and some, like my cowboy boots, are really hard to take off. With all these variations and challenges and because she took on the job quickly out of need instead of having been trained slowly for it, Molly talks a lot when she does the job. This talking makes it unacceptable for me to use this task in public and it is just generally bad manners and annoying. When I really need something I can't always be picky, but it's time I started cleaning this up--she should have enough practice under her belt to be able to do the job quietly now.

So today I'm putting levels training aside and instead I'm focusing on trying to teach her that it's a better idea to be quiet when helping me with my shoes. I've done this before with socks pretty successfully. I knew I'd need to train this soon, so when I bought a new pair of hiking boots about a month ago, I saved the worn out pair for just this purpose. I stripped the laces out so they'd be easier work. When we get beyond that point, I can switch to the new ones. This way she can take them off hundreds and thousands of times in practice and I don't care what happens to them. I can throw them for thousands of retrieves, too. They're also cleaned off so I'm not bringing any dirt or into the living room when I come in to a comfortable spot to train.

One thing I've learned working with Molly is that she needs a reward or she gets noisier or starts throwing oddball behaviors at me. So instead of cutting down on the rewards, I need to give more or higher value rewards for the preferred behavior but still give something for the basic behavior.

Another thing I've learned is to put the clicker under my big toe. That way I can use one hand for treating and the other for managing items. It makes life a lot easier. I don't know how easily it works for other people, but I can move my big toe quite independently, so I just rest my foot on the floor and only hold up my big toe. Then I push it down when I want a click. I have no problems doing multiple quick clicks or whatever I need.

For my first short training session, at around 7 am, I worked with kibble. I wanted to make sure she got a good base of her quality food before I started mixing in other stuff. We worked through probably about half of a daily ration. DH had given her some before he left for work, too, so she'd eaten already.

My initial goal was to make sure she knew to go for the heel area of the boot. So I spent a few moments shaping that. Clicking for attention to the boot, then attention to the sole, then the heel area. She pretty much knew that anyway, but it is good to refresh. I'd never really shaped the job initially. She only had on the job training a day I came in from outside and couldn't do it so kept pointing and saying "PULL" and praising her and encouraging. Then I switched it onto the "boot" command (for both shoes and boots becuase I htink the word is most unique in sound).

Once that was worked out, I started working on the noise issue. I hung the boot heel up (I often don't have a chair when she needs to take my shoes off, so stand up with my foot lifted behind me) off my hand. She was barking and grumbling as soon as she started to take it, so I had to back up. Could she approach the boot without making noise?

I clicked and treated that for a while. I tried to catch her before she made noise, even if it meant she was just looking at the boot. Mostly I could get her to before she opened her mouth without making noise. Unfortunately I wasn't really making progress and it was time for a break. Plus she'd gotten a good bit of kibble and I didn't want her so full she wouldn't eat more for hours.

We took a second session around 9:30. This time I skipped kibble completely and broke out a can of shrimp. She loves shrimp. For a lower value treat, I used the cut up Frolic, a lower quality softer dog food that she likes. In addition to the boot, I got out a pill bottle that she can retrieve quietly. I was ready with another tactic.

I wanted to get Molly handling the boot quietly even if she wasn't taking it off me. This is what I'd done with socks before. If I first started her doing the basic retrieve behavior that she is good at with another object and giving her high value treats for silent retrieves, I can swap in the boot. If she is really noisy, she gets a low value treat. If she is only a little noisy, she gets a couple low value treats. No noise is a high value treat. If she is low value a few time, I swap back to the easier item. Slowly I should be able to build up the difficult until she is removing the boot from my foot. How long it will take is up to Molly, but it's a good positive way to do it and it doesn't make it impossible for me to keep letting her do the job in the mean time when I need it--I just have to reward with the appropriate value of treats depending on her noise level.

So I started with the boot first. She made noise. I gave her a low value treat. I threw the bottle. She was quiet. Shrimp. Bottle. Shrimp. Bottle. Shrimp. Bottle. Shrimp. Boot. Frolic. Boot. Frolic. Bottle. Shrimp. Boot. Shrimp. Boot. Frolic. Bottle. Shrimp. And so it continues. We worked for probably about 5 minutes. I'm not good at looking at the clock. Instead I watch Molly. I want to stop while she is still enjoying it but not so soon that she doesn't get the chance to learn the pattern. When she stayed stuck for a while, I threw in more items she was good with and also pants that she isn't, so she could see that it wasn't just boots=frolic and bottle=shrimp and the exceptions were me being crazy. That helped a lot. I also try to stop on something she does well if I can, preferably with a jackpot, even if it means I have to stop on the bottle.

We didn't get beyond retrieve successfully in this session though. I even tried having her pull the bottle off a finger then put the boot in the same position. She still didn't have quiet and the boot associated enough yet.

We took a third session around 12:30. Another 10 minutes approximately. Things really started clicking. It didn't take long to start getting noiseless retrieves, but it just wasn't working for that next step--pulling the boot off my finger. Then something clicked in my head--when she retrieved, she grabbed the flaps at the top of the boot. She has to grab the heel to pull off.

So I went back to shaping just the grab portion. I held the boot with the heel towards her. I took a big handful of Frolic and started shoving them in her mouth and clicking like mad as her mouth opened near the heel and she didn't make noise. It worked!

She started being able to touch the heel without talking. Then as soon as she made heel contact and started to pull, I used my thumb to gently shove the boot off my finger. YES! She "pulled" the boot off without making noise. Clickity-click-click-click. Lots of frolic and a shrimp. I didn't want to mix tasks yet, so I gathered up the boot from the floor and repeated a few times.

After several successful retreats, I had Molly also pick up and give me the boot. SUCCESS! I gave her a shrimp jackpot and a Molly pet and praise party. Then I took her outside to her fence in the yard that she loves for more petting and to let her have a good break.

When she came in again, the boot was lying on the floor where I'd dropped it to throw the party. She looked at the boot and up at me and back a few times. So I said "take." She quietly picked up the boot and brought it across the living room to where I lay on the sofa. Then she handed it to me without making a sound. Frolic jackpot.

So that's 3 sessions already today--a pretty intensive training. I'm not sure we'll do more. It depends how we feel. If we do anything, it will probably be refresher stuff instead of something as intense as what we've been doing with shoes.

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