27 June 2008

Shaping a New Behavior

I have a new thing I want to teach Molly. Bending down to put her harness on her isn't comfortable for me, so I want to teach her to put her paws up on a chair to make it easier for me to put it on her. It is going to take a while to train and I'm not expecting her to be doing it reliably soon, but we have to start somewhere.

First, we need a chair and somewhere to train. I picked the living room because we train most often there. This one seemed like a good choice because it is light and handy. It also usually has a cushion on the seat, so if her nails scratch it a bit in training, no one will notice.

I took the cushion off. If I had left it on, Molly might start interacting with it instead. I thought it better to take a pure item.

You may notice the cable wrap on the chair legs. This chair used to be in the kitchen and we wrapped chair legs to prevent chewing when Molly was a puppy. We've never bothered to take it off.

I used a variety of treats. I had some shrimp left from a failed watch session earlier that I wanted to use. I'd mixed some kibble in the make them taste better. She wasn't eating the kibble reliably though. Then I also used some pieces of a sample bag of another kibble that we'd gotten. Mixing it up kept her guessing and interested in training--a little anyway.

At first Molly wasn't sure what to do and she wandered around a bit. So I put her leash on to keep her more restricted to the area around the chair. Then I sat and wait for behaviors to build on.

Shaping builds a behavior very slowly based on things the dog volunteers. If I wanted to, I could have held a treat up over the chair and lured her to climb on it, but I want to work on my shaping skills.

So when she lay down like this and didn't know what to do and kept looking out the window, I started clicking and treating for the slightest look closer to the chair. I needed her to learn that today things revolve around the chair. It took a while, but I did get her looking at the chair. Then she got a bit more interested and got up again.

So once she was up and moving around, I started clicking and treating for looking at the chair and being near the chair. This got her really doing. She'd look at the chair and I would click and treat. She even started touching the chair with her body sometimes and I clicked and treated that. She had a few close sniffs that were almost nose bops. I clicked those, too.

At one point she sniffed standing up with her head over the seat. I clicked and treated. After she'd done it a few times, I started clicking and treating only for interaction with the seat. My goal eventually is to get her higher with paws on seat.

After lots of clicking and treating for stretching herself over the seat, we quit for the day. It was a good session, probably about 10 minutes. I don't want to overdo it too much. We'll see how it goes next time.


Laura said...

This is a great description of shaping! I've played around a little with shaping with Sophie when she was younger, but I think I was just too impatient to have very much success. It's really neat to read (and see--the pictures are great) your progress. Ten minutes isn't very long and your next session was an immediate success--Molly is such a smarty!

Rebecca and Molly the Border Collie said...

Thank you from both of us. Shaping definitely takes a while. Molly hasn't done a lot of it before. I think people say that dogs tend to get better at it once they've done it more times--they learn that we want them to volunteer behaviors.