Molly, Get The Light
Last time I wrote here, I was showing off Molly’s “Easy Trick,” wherein she would push a Staples button on command, triggering it to say, “That was easy.”
Soon after she was rock solid on that trick, we began training her on a new one. One day, when I was sitting on the floor, tying my shoes, I noticed Molly sniff a touch-activated light on a table, causing the light to turn on. She hadn’t done it on purpose, it was just sniffing things. Still, I rewarded her with lots of praise for it. This gave me the idea to teach her to turn on the light on command.
Since she already understood “target,” pressing her nose to a plastic Frisbee used only for the targeting exercise, it wasn’t hard to get her to target the light. At first, I propped the Frizbee up against the light and had her target it a few times. Then, I took the Frizbee away. She was having a little trouble figuring out what I wanted, so I switched tactics. I place a treat on the base of the lamp and told her to get it. She did, and I clicked and rewarded her. As there was just a treat on the base of the lamp, she went back to sniff it. Click. Treat. Now we’re getting somewhere.
At first I rewarded Molly for any interaction at all with the lamp, whether the light came on or not. She figured out to go for the lamp in a matter of minutes. Things got difficult, however, when I made actually activating the lamp a condition for getting a reward. Fur, it turns out, doesn’t lend itself well to the use of a touch activated lamp. Poor Molly would try so hard to get the light to turn on, and would get frustrated. This was a problem that we could not continue until it could be fixed.
The solution is an odd one. I bought some beef-flavored dog-food sauce from the pet store a few days prior, and Molly had been happy to have it in her bowl. I spread a small amount of it on the lamp (ew, I know. I cleaned it afterwards.) When Molly licked it, her tongue would activate the light, and I’d reward her with a treat. By the nature of what she was doing, gradually there was less sauce to lick up. By the time it was gone, it didn’t matter because she’d learned that licking the light got her the reward.
You’ll notice in the video that I’m no longer clicking. I learned from the button game to use the effect of what she’s doing (making the button sound) was the indication she was about to be rewarded (I learned this after recording the button video.) I still use a clicker in early stages of training, but once she’s good at something, I let what she does be the reward indication. In this case, the light coming on became the replacement for the “click.” This is what works for my dog, your results may vary.