Sunday, November 18, 2012

Running Dog Walk Training: Modification One

I still have other material on other subjects related our foundation training to write about, but, in the meantime, I added a modification to my running dog walk training set-up in order to help with one of the problems I've been having that wrote about in my last post. The issue is that Hokey often comes off the side of the plank as she runs toward a remote controlled treat dispenser placed several feet from the end. A friend of mine (thanks Ivette!) suggested using a hoop at the contact end that could act as a visual aid to keep her running straight on the plank all the way to the end. I do have a hoop, but thought that maybe just a couple of upright posts connected by a short stabilization bar (in this case, roughly 16") might be enough to do the trick.

First, I needed to introduce her to the concept of running through the uprights. I shaped this simply by strolling by the obstacle and rewarding her for taking the initiative of going through the uprights. We've done this when introducing other obstacles in the past, so it's a familiar drill to her. The only "new" concept was the narrowness of the uprights. Here I am shaping the behavior. As you can see, as Hokey gradually becomes more confident about performing the behavior, her speed and drive increase. By the way, that soft click you might hear is a flashlight that I'm using as a substitute clicker. More about that later.


Once Hokey clearly understood the concept of running through the uprights, I placed the remote controlled treat dispenser on the ground for her to drive to. She would get a treat released for a "hit" - running through the uprights, but, in theory, wouldn't get one for a "miss" - running by the uprights without going through them. She never did get a miss during this phase though.


Then it was time to put it all together by putting my foam tiles down with the uprights placed at the contact end and the treat dispenser placed several feet from the end.

I have decided it is easiest to see a contact hit if I have 3 foam tiles of all the same color linked together at each end of the "plank" (recall from the last post that 3 tiles are equal to the USDAA contact zone measurement). Here I have red on one end, yellow on the other.

The modification with the uprights worked really well. It seemed to do its job of acting as a visual guide to help her stay on the plank all the way to the end the majority of the time. She had a couple of instances where she came off and then swung back on to run through the uprights, but those misses were not nearly as numerous as those during the training session a few days ago when I wasn't using the uprights. Here is Hokey getting some nice "hits":


As for the other main problem mentioned in my last post - that of the absence of a good clicker substitute to mark the desired behavior - that is something I'm still working on.

 As you can see from these stills from videos taken during today's session, she still has times where she is leaping over the contact area rather than hitting it.
There is a slight possibility that the uprights will encourage this behavior since she might interpret them as a cue to jump, but because she had several instances of just running through the uprights rather than jumping, I do not think this is the case.

Here is the video showing her leaping over the contact zone:


Without a proper aid to give her instant feedback, there is really no good way for me to communicate what I'm looking for her to do. I'm sure it's frustrating to her. Not having the ability to communicate my criteria to her properly is frustrating to me.

However, I do think I may have a workable solution. I bought a little push button LED flashlight a couple of days ago to try to use as a substitute clicker (as an alternative to my hand flash). It's relatively bright, so as long as Hokey is looking at it, she should be able to see the light flash on even when outside during the day. It also has a relatively quick reaction without much of a delay, which is a huge bonus as this is something I have struggled with when trying to find devices that will work well in our training.

The downside to using the flashlight is that Hokey needs to be facing it in order to get the information. In training the running dog walk, if I'm restraining her or holding a stationary position at any location other than right at the end of the plank facing toward her, I can't provide her with the information contained in that flash of light. Even with me standing at the end like that, things don't work out so well. Having to release her, watch the contact, decide to click the flashlight followed by clicking the remote for the treat dispenser all within quick succession did not prove to be very workable in practice. Therefore, I think it would be best at this time to have a second person stationed at the contact end of the plank watching the contact area for "hits" and clicking the flashlight, while I concentrate on releasing her and operating the treat dispenser.

In the short time I've introduced her to the concept of the flashlight as a substitute clicker (I picked it up on Friday and today is Sunday), Hokey has grasped the concept very well. Here we are today demonstrating how it can be used to shape a sit/stay. Notice that she is definitely glancing at the flashlight in anticipation of getting information/feedback from it.


So that's the update! Running dog walk contacts are still a work in progress, but with improvements!

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