Displaying items by tag: learning
When learning how to train your own service dog, there is much theory to be learned.
In order to successfully train your service dog, you need to transfer that theory into practice. Some people can do it easily, while others are okay and still others understand the theory but struggle with putting it into practice.
First, identify where your area of weakness is.
It helps if you practice all three steps like any other skill.
Get help from a family member, friend or professional trainer to help you think through all the considerations needed for your specific dog and situation. They can also help you make a plan to implement the theory.
Then demonstrate what what you need to do. (Learning by observation is a key skill for humans too.)
First, let's look at the practical training skills, also called "training mechanics".
Choose a Theory and a Behavior
Let's start with applying the concept of "capturing". Capturing is a great way to teach a dog what any behavior he already does naturally is called. First we get him to do it repeatedly and predictably, then we add the cue.
Choose a really simple behavior like sit or down for your dog. Your dog knows how to sit, we are just getting him to do it and adding a name to it so he knows that we are asking for it.
This experience is for you, not your dog so don't worry too much about how well he already does or does not do the behavior, just that he is willing to work with you.
Next, using the same behavior, plan a training session.
Where are you going to do the training. Why?
What equipment will you need? (reinforcers, props, etc.)
What training mechanic are you going to be working on (for you, not the dog)?
Exactly what will it look like?
What specific criterion are you looking for in this set of 10 repetitions?
How will you know he meets your criterion?
When will you mark? Before the dogs does it, while he is doing it? After he has done it?
What treat will you use? What value? What shape and texture(this can affect how far it rolls if you toss it)
Where will you move the treat to once you take it in your hand. In front of you? At your side?
Where will you release it to? His mouth? Drop it on the floor? If the latter, how far will the dog have to move to get it?
How will that line him up for the next repetition? It helps if for you to be very clear on where you are putting your treat (use a piece of tape to make where you want to place it or a bowl to toss or drop it into or put tape on the ground where you will toss it to.)
What will the next repetition look like? Dog stops chewing and lifts head or eyes to make contact with my eyes.
Great! If you have answered all these questions before you train, now you have a specific plan!
Do it! Hands-on Practice!
Practice the skill without your dog in the room. Put him into a crate or in the other room with a door or baby gate to stop him from getting to you.
Either use a stuffed dog or use a surrogate dog (a pillow works just fine!).
Set up the equipment (including a camera to film the session).
Set up the fake dog where you would place your real dog. Consider if the flooring material may affect a dog's ability to do the behavior (In this case is it slippery or grippy?)
Stand where you would stand if the dog was real.
Do a training session exactly as you would if your real dog were there. Do 10 repetitions in a nice even flow.
Record your session and afterward watch your body movements.
How did it feel? Did the process get smoother each time you did it?
Repeat the training session several times, each time paying attention to only one mechanical skill.
Where are you holding your treat delivery hand while you want for the click? This is called your "Home position". Keeping your hand there will prevent you from reaching for the treat before you click.
What is your criterion?
When will you click?
Where will you release the treat?
Here is a video showing me capturing eye contact from Jessie as an example to see what you are aiming for. The session is just 30 seconds long but is a good example to observe what I am doing rather than what the dog is doing.
Just watch the first 43 seconds. Do not do it yet with your dog. Just watch what I am doing in the video.
Now the theory. What training concept were you using? (Capturing)
Describe what you did.
Describe why you did it.
Was it successful?
What would you change the next time?
Now I want you to try it with your dog.
Keep everything else the same, just remove the fake dog and add your live dog to the set up.
What other behaviors might you use capturing to teach your dog the name of a behavior they already do?
For each behavior, what environment or situation does your dog tend to do it in? How could you set that situation up to increase the chances he will do the behavior again?
Is this process similar to other parts of the theory you already know? Such as classical conditioning? In what way?
The Beginnings of a New Skill!
Just like any other skill, doing it will feel awkward at first. Just like driving a car or learning a musical instrument, with practice you will likely feel more comfortable and be able to do it without thinking about it as you do it. The more practice you have doing the correct training mechanics, planning and applying the theory, the easier it will come to be.
Rather than asking others how you might solve your dog's problems, if you gain the ability to apply the theory, you will be able to solve them yourself.
If you are still having trouble with any of these three parts of the training process, then reach out and get some help.
We are available to do one hour web cam sessions or three 30 minute sessions to walk you through the process (scroll down the link for the one hour session). If you are clear on what you want to learn, we can help you get there!
Shaping: The Most Powerful Use of the Clicker
With dogs, shaping can change a dog’s physical behaviors and emotional reactions.
It can even be applied towards changing behaviors and emtions to environments, other dogs, people, animals etc. Control Unleashed by Leslie McDevitt is an awesome training program that shapes your dog feel more relaxed and focused in any setting by shaping a variety of criteria such as stress levels, focus, physical barriers, dog activity levels etc. When they all come together, they result in a calm, focussed dog that is ready to work.
What is Shaping in a Clicker Training context?
Before we can answer that we must understand the three ways of getting behavior.
You can get a behavior by using a treat or toy in smelling distance of your dog and moving it from place to place. Your dog will follow it if he is interested in food. For example, luring a dog from a sit into a down you hold the treat at his nose and draw it down and back between his front legs. Hold it there and his front legs will slide forward so he can reach the treat. Or luring him a round an object or over a jump. Tha danger with this method is that the dog may become too focussed on the lure and not paying attention to what he is doing and/or he may not do the ebahvior without the reawrd. It can be a handy way to jumpstart of behavior if it is needed, as long as the lure is phased out quickly and a hand cue replaces it. Targeting is a form of luring.
2. Capturing a behavior.
Capturing makes use of behaviors that dogs commonly do. The dog lays down and you click the instant his elbows hit the ground. I think it helps to think of it as taking a picture of a specific behavior (sit, down, scratch nose with paw, look at you, bow on front legs etc). If the click was a camera, you would have a photo of your dog doing the particular behavior when you clicked. Thsi works well for capturing any compete behaviors a dog naturally does: sit, down, yawn, cover his nose etc. Capturing is also an integral part of shaping. Practice this first and it will help you with your timing for shaping.
3. Shaping a Behavior
The dog learns to play a game of "Guess what my trainer wants me to do?" The dog offers various behaviors until he gets a click and reward that says "Yes, you are on the right track!" Yes, most dogs enjoy being shaped especially if their trainer is good at it too!
Think of shaping as capturing a series of behaviors that lead to a final behavior. For our photo analogy, you take video footage of a behavior, a down, and then select out 10 still photos in that sequence that lead to the final behavior. Each of those intermediate behaviors gets captured and rewarded before the dog gets to the final behavior you want.
For example from a sit to a sphynx down, here are the 10 photo stills you would see (and the behaviors you will capture):
Dog is sitting.
The dog leans forward a little. Click/Treat (C/t).
Then he lowers his head a half inch. C/t.
Lowers head 2 inches, C/t.
Lowers head 6 inches.C/t.
Touches nose to ground C/t.
Shifts weight off front legs, C/t.
Shifts front feet forward.C/t.
Pushes front legs forward a little. C/t.
Pushes front legs out in front alot. C/t.
Places elbows on ground. Jackpot reward!
When you are shaping, your job is to capture your dog doing each of these between and mark the exact moment that he does them- in a progressive order so he can successfully complete the down.
Tip: The important thing is that you click when the dog is moving, not when he is still.
You will need to anticipate his behavior a little as well as observe his behavior closely. Your dog doesn't know you want him to go down, he only knows that if he keeps offering behaviors in the direction of a down, he gets rewarded. A light bulb may go on in his head and he offers exactly what you want. He then may offer several previous behaviors, then the behavior again just to test to see if THAT was what you really wanted.
You need to be aware that he may skip some steps, combine behaviors, add some extra ones in or do something other than what you thought he would do, and you need to be prepared for all these possibilities. That's what makes it so powerful! This irregularity in what the dog offers is what allows you to capture some simple offered behaviors and shape them into really unique and useful finished behaviors!
Shaping is the most powerful use of the click and treat training technique. Your dog remembers the new behavior because he has physically worked his way through it step by step.
Here’s a Human Example:
When you follow someone else in a car to their home where you have never been before, can you find your way back at a later date? Do you even know where you are?
Contrast that with navigating your own way to their house. Could you find your way there again?
In the first example, you are so busy just following the other car that you are missing important landmarks, maybe street names and not able to see the bigger picture of where you are going. When you navigate on your own, you are not only noticing but are actively using the landmarks and have a broader understanding of where you are going.
Dogs Shape Us all the Time!
Our dogs know shaping is powerful because they use it on us all the time! How do you think your dog ended up on your lap while you type on the computer?
With no comfy dog beds in sight, the behavior likely started by him noticing one hand on your lap and him coming over to investigate it. A simple nose touch and he gets a scratch on the head. After a few times of that, the chin is cautiously placed on your lap. That too gets a warm hand tousling his silky fur. Next, he ventures a paw up on the chair and waits to see what reaction he gets. A gentle push off reinforces that (he IS getting touched) so he tries it again. Now he’s standing with both paws on the chair edge and his bright eyes are staring into yours. A slight push with his back legs is all he needs to get all four feet standing in your lap and it’s a short step to settling in and becoming a lap warmer. So, can you turn the tables and shape your dog to what you want him to?
Benefits of Shaping
Using shaping instead of luring or targeting allows your dog to explore new behaviors in little steps (he gets rewarded at each step in the development of the new behavior) and he is actually thinking about his behavior instead of just following a lure or target.
Another benefit is that shaping is often physically easier on the human. The trainer gets to stand or sit still. No more running with the dog back and forth luring him into place (and getting dizzy in the meantime. etc) to get the repetitions needed for him to learn the new behavior. Instead, he learns how to interact with an object or place and also learns to work at a distance from you.
Once both of you have some experience with shaping, you will be able to take him to a new environment and teach him a complicated behavior in a much shorter period of time than it would take with traditional methods. One trainer attended a Rally Obedience trail and noticed that because of the small size of the field, and the fact that the fencing was presented right in front of the dogs at the end of the course, dogs were moving out of heel position and away from their handlers because they didn’t want to run face into that fence.
One shaping savvy competitor noticed this and took 5 minutes to take her dog aside, clicked/treated him to interact safely with the fence, and quickly reshaped a heel almost right into the fence. Hers was the only dog in that trial that successfully qualified that course!
Another trainer (Sue Ailsby) used shaping to teach her dog the basic skills of some pretty complicated behaviors such as fly ball, search and rescue etc during a conference. Everyone was astounded at how quickly her dog learned. It was simply a factor of her and her dog having good teamwork skills, having some previous knoweldge of basic behaviors and using shaping to get the desired behaviors!
Dogs Enjoy Being Shaped
Once they understand how to play, and have several behaviors to offer you, dogs love the shaping game and willingly offer new behaviors. “Will THIS get me a click? How about this? Maybe this!” By marking and rewarding the tiny increments that lead to the final behavior, your dog more quickly understands what is being asked of him, just as you succumbed to his sitting on your lap.
The Challenge of Shaping
Here’s the tough parts of shaping and why some people balk at it or take a long time to get around to learning how to use it:
Shaping can be a conceptually difficult thing for trainers to understand and learn. There are few people willing to show you how to do it and so most people are self-taught.
You must be willing to develop your observation skills to see really subtle behaviors. Most people like to group things into pieces to help them understand (called lumping behaviors). With shaping, you need to think in smaller pieces (called splitting behaviors).
The saying “Yard by Yard Life is Hard, Inch by Inch, It’s a Cinch” is so very true in shaping! If your dog does not understand a chunk of a behavior (lump), you must break it down into its simpler form (split) so he can successfully achieve each of say 4 steps instead of one bigger one. Or that same behavior might need to be divided into 10 steps instead of 4. (finer splitting)
Once you understand shaping, you can apply it to teach other dogs, animals and even people how to learn a new behavior or reshape an existing one. A very useful skill!
See the next blog post on this topic: Object-based Shaping!
Using Free Shaping to Teach a New Behavior
Free shaping allows the dog to offer behaviors, no matter how small, toward a final behavior. The trainer captures them by clicking and treating at the exact moment the behavior occurs. There is no luring and no cuing. It is a silent process with only the clicker and treats doing the talking.
It sometimes helps the human part of the partnership to use a visual marker to measure increments of behavior. Pieces of tape on the ground, a pattern on a floor mat, chalk marks on a wall, a string marking a height, a watch timer in seconds etc.
For this type of shaping, it is really important to define your final objective, and brainstorm the step by step process your dog will likely do to get there.
You can click ANY behavior that is the slightest bit towards the final behavior you want to see. A glance downwards, a head dip both start towards a down. An ear flick in your direction, a neck muscle twitch, a slight head turn, an eye blink, an eye closed, the twitch of a leg muscle prior to actually moving, the dip of a bum, etc. The finer behavior you can click, the more aware your dog will be of both his body and what behavior he is offering and what you are paying for.
Once your dog has some shaping experience, you can select for bigger behaviors as you know that if you wait for them, the dog will offer it if she doesn't get clicked immediately. You can also go for some of the subtle or difficult behaviors.
* Shaping takes a lot of concentration so you should choose a reward that motivates your dog to concentrate on you, but not be overexcited about getting the treat. Soft treats that can be eaten quickly allow him to get back to the shaping game quickly. Crumbly ones slow the process by distracting him.
*Always start shaping a new behavior in a quiet environment with no distractions. Even experienced shaping dogs need to have some quiet space to learn.
*Start new dogs by free shaping behaviors they already know on cue. Sit, down, spin etc. You will find they retain the behavior better and will be quick to offer it as part of a different shaping process at a later date.
*Use wait time to your advantage: Waiting for a repeat of a behavior before clicking usually causes results in an increase in the behavior out of frustration (waiting for a second nose push will result in the second nose push that is harder or longer, asking for two grabs of a stick will prompt the second grab to be longer or harder, waiting for a second paw touch with result in a scratch with the nails or a larger paw swipe, waiting for a second bark may get you a louder bark.)
*The first few times of free shaping, help your dog by making his task easy as possible. Start with a narrow channel to get a straight back up, a small space to get eye contact, create a limited area for you dog to move so the choices are fewer, place an object in his way so he has to move around it to do the desired behavior etc. Be creative!
* Slowly build up the number of clicks you do with your dog between breaks. Start with 10, take a one minute break. Then do another 10, give a break. Do another 10 and quit. Build up number of clicks per training session slowly as your dog develops his attention span and shows that he is enjoying the sessions and is eager to offer more behaviors.
* To speed shaping OF very complicated behaviors, you may want to train similar behaviors that will help your dog to more quickly get the idea of what you want. For example, alternate playing a game of pivot back feet around a phone book with sessions of eye contact helps your dog to more quickly learn that he must move his back legs to swing his bum around to your left and into heel position (called a swing finish). This is called crossing over behaviors, and your dog will blend the two behaviors.
* Watch for signs of frustration at a particular step. These may include scratching, stretching, yawning, sniffing the ground, barking, easily distracted, laying down when it's not appropriate, refusal to offer more behaviors etc.
* Stop a training session while your dog is still eagerly offering behaviors and is having fun. If he gets too frustrated, s/he will stop playing the game, walk away, stop offering behaviors or get too physical with you, demand the treats etc. Use a cue such as “game over” to indicate he is done.
* Have fun with shaping!
Some Behaviors That Lend Themselves to Free Shaping:
Standing in front of you facing you close in
Loose Leash Walking
Come (all the way to you in a sit position and you hold the collar)
Pulling off socks (shape a gentler and gentler approach with teeth)
Shaping a positive reaction to another dog, or child or fearful situation.
Shaping a calm behavior on a mat while stimulating things are going on around you.
Free-shaping can also be using with object-based shaping.
Don’t forget that you can also shape just part of a behavior and then chain it with several others to create a new behavior.
See also our post on Object-based shaping.