This past weekend I attended a seminar taught by Alexandra Kurland. The emphasis was on clicker training with horses, but most of the material covered and lessons learned could be applied to any animal. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with my friend’s POA, Glasswing. This little pony did an excellent job. I, on the other hand, seemed to fumble a bit more. Even though I’ve been clicker training for a number of years and have used clicker work a small bit with my own horses, I still felt like a complete amateur at this clinic. The amount of information one has to remember is overwhelming at times; where to hold your hands, how to walk smoothly via the Tai Chi walk, breathing, where is your horse and what is she doing? Whew. But when it all comes together, Magic. We walked in sync; Glasswing aware of my subtle movements and I of hers.
Over the weekend, I made some great new friends and had a more balanced walk and self carriage. Alexandra is a wonderful teacher and it was a great pleasure to work with her. I will definitely be heading to the barn more often to see what behaviors my horses and I can play with. I’ll also be able to add some new ideas to my dog classes as well. There is so much information that can be communicated through a lead line or a leash that is important for people to feel and see the difference between having a light, loose, relaxed feel and a heavy, tight, anxious feel.
During Bella’s visit, I decided to do some free shaping with her. This is the first time Bella has done this sort of exercise. Free-shaping is done by marking the behaviors you want when the dog offers something. Through approximations, you’re able to shape the dog’s behavior into an end behavior, what ever you choose that to be. For this game, I want Bella to interact with the box I put down (derived from the 101 Things You Can Do With a Box game). At first if she shows any interest in the box, such as, looking at it, I will “click” her for it and follow the click up with a food reward. Keeping up a high rate of reinforcement is key otherwise the dog may loose interest or get frustrated because they don’t clearly understand what is going on. Any interaction with the box gets a click, once Bella starts interacting with the box more consistently, then I can start gradually increasing the criteria, by withholding the Click until she gives me something more. My goal for the first session is to get her thinking and interacting with the box. During the second session, my goal is to get her to put both front paws into the box.
At first, Bella is fairly focused on me, so I drop a few food lures in and around the box and click her when she is going towards or into box. I only use lures for a the first few attempts, so that I don’t create a dog that is only interacting with the box because they know treats are in there. Bella quickly learns that interacting with the box is what gets her the Click and Reward.
The first video is from day 1 and we only work for a short amount of time. I don’t want to exhaust her and I want to keep it fun. You’ll notice in the first video I click her if her paw touches the box too, even if she’s looking at me. Any interaction with the box, even if by accident, is marked and rewarded. The second day we’re able to go for a few more minutes. She retains what she learned from the day before (latent learning), so she catches on more quickly and I’m able to raise the criteria at a faster rate. We meet our goal in the end!!! Smart puppy!
Free-shaping is a fun way to get your dog to start thinking and working for you in a fun manner! It is great mental stimulation for them and can be a wonderful way to exercise your dog on rainy days! Doing these games together also builds a stronger, healthier bond between human and dog.