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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Changing methods without changing methods

Silva Trkman has a quote I like

"If I didn’t get him, you would never hear for my name. Everything I know, I owe it to him. Thank you Aiken. Thank you for being such a trouble dog. When people ask what makes me so good, I always tell that if you want to be good, you need a bad dog. So bad, that nobody could help you. That’s when you have to think. And that’s when you learn. Thank you Aiken for making me think."




This is how I feel about Chili. Hes such a bad dog genetically. This is the dog I know, KNOW deep in my heart would have been either beaten or euthanized by now. Hes hair trigger, hes high energy, hes desructive, he eats things, hes reactive to dogs, people and anything that moves, makes noise, or is novel. Hes a piece o' work.

at least he was.

Now, hes becoming less of a mess, and more brilliant. His reactivity is almost nonexistant in many contexts now. He knows more behaviors on cue than the other four dogs combined. He plays appropriately with strange dogs. He communcates fairly, and when the other dog is rude, he is restrained in his responses. He communciates well with us, he figures things out, he follow instructions well.

Hes not perfect, but no dog is. But he has made impressive progress in the year and a half hes existed.

Dogs like Chili, I have seen people say...that positive methods can't help them. Or that positive methods actually MAKE IT WORSE. Or som' will even say, positive methods work on som' dogs, just not others with his problems.

I have a more than decent understanding of behavior and learning theory. Som'thing that the average owner lacks. I was able to put methods into action with the complete understanding of why and how they work, and with realisitic expectations.

And yet, I still had failures. Is it the method? Is it me? Is he one of those mythical dogs that R+ can't help?

While I was able to countercondition him to the point he could be on leash in public. Around emense distraction, we still struggled with barrier aggression in the yard and at the park.

So when he'd take off like a bullet, and aggress...I'd call him back to me and reward. After all, I needed a solid recall if he was going to behave this way. What if he was off leash and did this (never has, but just in case) I knew I was possibly rewarding the reaction, but I figured I'd clean it up later, Oi vey.

So then, many months in, and hundreds of bold and reactions in, I realized I had created a behavior chain, while many dogs may not figure out that the reaction causes the recall that causes the cookie...Chili, true to him, figured it out. I don't know how fast, but Iam sure way faster than I did. He bolted in the backyard, and I didn't really feel Like it that day, so I didn't call him back....he stood at the fence and barked/looked at me....barked/looked at me... and then he became frustrated like he does when hes anticipating a click, and doesn't get one. I said "shit!" to myself.

so then I began to think. Like silva...think damn it think.

So I decided I'd start to call him BEFORE he'd get to the fence and only reward those, that way I was stopping the reaction at a lower level.

For som' reason this seemed to make the behavior worse...long past any chance of it being an extinction burst. In fact he began to blow off the recalls if the item was som'thing particularly good (like bikes, ooooh he hates bikes)

I then thought, about tethering him to me, and rewarding non reactions.

I decided this was very impractical, tho probably my best bet. At this point in my mind I dabbled with the thought of using P+ on this, and just getting rid of the behavior that way. But In the end I decided not to, that that was a cop out, and that positive reinforcement CAN work, I just hadn't thought hard enough yet.

I tried premack for a while, releasing him to chase the trigger as a reward. It seemed to amp him up more, to the point he couldn't focus on my AT ALL. I nixed the idea.

We then introduced som' removal. My first attempt to punish the behavior. When he'd react, we scoop him up and put him inside for a few minutes. This worked VERY well...until he learned in less than five reps of this, that he needed to flee from us while he was reacting, and hes fast. Very fast. A combo of teethering and removal would probably have worked well...but once again, not practical

Then one day, it happened.

He went to the fence, and did not react yet (trigger was far away) and instead of calling him to me, I simply marked him with a yes.

This was a test. I mean, he was over thirty feet away, would he understand he needed to return to me for his reinforcer? In hindsight I know the answer is yes, but I had never marked a dog at a distance.

When I marked him, he came running to me. And after I fed him, another strange thing happened. He waited. He did not immediately try and reingage the trigger.

I released him with an "ok" and then pointed and told him "go see" (his cue to walk away from me) to my amazement he went back to the fence, looked at the trigger in silence, looked at me, and then sat.

I marked and released again. We did a few more reps, and then he decided he was bored with the trigger and wandered off.

We practiced the next day, and the day after...we took the behavior to the dog park, by the entrance gates, and had ZERO outbursts. I was flabbergasted.

so far, so good.

so I guess my point is, I failed, not the methods, and there are many methods within the positive umbrella. I have learned alot from this dog, and I hope he continues to challenge me.


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