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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.

Molly’s “Easy Trick”

In Molly’s puppy training, we taught her “target.” For her, “target” means touching her nose to a hard plastic Frizbee used only for this exercise (her play Frizbee is soft and looks different.) It took her a little while to figure this out. In class, she didn’t get it at all, and focused on the instructor instead. So we practiced at home.

The problem was that, while Molly associated hearing a “click” with getting a treat, she didn’t seem to associate the click with what she was doing. I’d click her for looking at the Frizbee and give her a treat, and so she’d pay attention to me, hoping for another, and ignore the Frizbee. Eventually, I started to place the treats on the Frizbee. I also discovered that she was motivated more by attention and praise than by treats alone.

Molly is smart, so she figured out the game very quickly. Within a few minutes, I no longer needed to cheat. I could say “target” and she’d go for the Frizbee. It took us a few sessions for her to figure out that I wanted her to touch it with her nose, but she soon understood. Before long, we started hiding the Frizbee for Molly to find. It became a fun game.

Since she was doing so well, we started looking for ways to build upon “target.” I remembered once seeing a therapy dog in a hospital push a Staples “Easy Button” for the amusement of patients, and decided we’d try that. Molly figured it out in one session.

First, we did some review with targeting the Frizbee. Then, placed the button on top of the Frizbee. When that wasn’t a problem for my pup, I took the Frizbee away, leaving the button. At first, I rewarded her for showing any interest in the button at all, just as I did when first teaching “Target.” Then, I rewarded her for touching it. I rewarded her extra if she managed to actually activate the button, causing it to say, “That was easy.”

Presently, we’re tying to teach her how to activate a touch lamp. She figured it out in about 1 minute, but the problem is that she isn’t always able to activate the sensor and actually turn the light on and off easily.

Congratulations Molly!

Despite my chronic tardiness and occasional laziness, Molly has graduated from Puppy Education at PetSmart. Woof! They grow up so fast.

She’s really learned a lot! I never knew what a smart dog I had until I started training her. Among her classmates, I believe that she may very well have the best “sit” and “leave it,” although she lags behind a few other dogs when it comes to focus. It’s OK pup, we’ll work on it! :)

Next, Molly will be going to Click-A-Trick classes before tackling intermediate and advanced classes each in turn. Molly is a people-pleaser and loves positive attention. She also loves using her brain and trying to figure out what I’m asking of her – it’s a game! And now that she understands the clicker, training her is much easier. Not only that, but Molly loves getting out of the house to go on a special trip, going for car rides, meeting different people and dogs, sniffing around the pet store, and class itself and all the games and treats that come with it. Training makes for a happy pup!

So far, she knows:

  • Sit (she actually already knew this before we got her.)
  • Come (she knows come, but the reliability varies depending on distractions.)
  • Lay Down
  • Target (touching an object, in this case a plastic Frizbee used only for this purpose, with her nose.)
  • Stay (She’s not rock solid on it yet, but we’re getting there.)
  • Leave it (not touching a treat or object even if I set in on the ground in front of her or hold it in front of her nose until I tell her “free” or “take it.”)


We’ve also been able to use what we’ve learned about clicker training to make bath time a bit better for her. She still doesn’t like baths,
but I can now wash her without having to tie her leash to the shower bar. Everything’s better with treats, it seems.

She also knows “button,” which was not exactly taught in the class, but the class definitely helped. Since Molly already knew “target,” learning to push a Staples “Easy Button” on command with her paw was a snap (or a “click,” really,) for my clever puppy and only took about five minutes. Like the button says, “that was easy.”

The “button” trick is simple, but I actually got the idea to teach that from a therapy dog who I saw when I was in physical therapy back when I was in the Army. This big Malamute mix named Kodiak pushed his easy button, along with doing other neat tricks. Since Molly learned target from the class, we built upon it with “button.”

Maybe she’d like to be a therapy dog some day.

ETA: I love the trainer’s penmanship. :) She wrote the certificates for us while we were there, rather than having them prepared beforehand, because she wanted to be ensured that she wrote each name correctly. She told us that she once came across a dog whose name was pronounced “Fido,” but turned out to be spelled “Phidoux.”

I told her Molly was spelled “M-O-L-L-Y… X.”

Working With Horses: Operant Conditioning

Over the last few days working with horses at Equi-Sense, I’ve given thought to the operant conditioning methods in use.

The first and my favorite is positive reinforcement. Positive Reinforcement is when a desired behavior is reinforced with a reward. When working with dogs, this is usually done with a treat, especially when shaping behaviors. With the horses, we had no treats. What we did instead was pet the horses and speak in a soothing voice when they did as we pleased.

Less frequently, we’d use what’s called positive punishment. Positive punishment is following an unwanted behavior with an aversive stimulus. I don’t so much like this method, and neither does the owner. He instructed us to use this method only to deal with aggressive behavior, such as when the horse tries to bite. When Brandy bore her teeth at me yesterday, I was told to punch her in the mouth. On one occasion, I did lightly tap her on the muzzle with the end of the lead rope, but even doing that made me uncomfortable, so I only did it once.  I don’t like striking animals, and I understood where the horse was coming from. If some stranger started pulling me around by my face, I wouldn’t be in a great mood either.

I did, on a few occasions, use what’s called negative punishment. Negative punishment is dealing with an undesired behavior by taking away something that the subject wants. When I was leading Thunder, and then Brandy, sometimes they’d walk ahead of me or into me. When they did, I’d stop them and pull them around in a circle before moving on. The horses wanted to move forward, but I would only allow them to do so when the agreed to do it my way.

I used a similar method with Brandy later while in the small pen. As I discussed in my previous post, I was having trouble leading her back and fourth through some cones, and as a result she became upset with me enough to bare her teeth. A helper instructed me to “pop her in the mouth,” but I wasn’t comfortable with that. Instead, I instructed the horse to stop and had her hold still. This kept her from moving as she wanted to (as well as giving me a moment to figure out what I was doing.) I didn’t need to strike her, I just had to let her know that she couldn’t her her way by being aggressive. She didn’t teeth at me again after that.

The most common method used, and in contrast to the methods of positive reinforcement that are the staple in clicker dog training, was negative reinforcement. In negative reinforcement, an aversive stimulus is applied until the desired behavior is achieved. The owner called this  “pressure and release.” When we wanted the horse to move its head away from us, we’d wave our hand near its eye. Horses don’t like this, so they turn away from the hand. When we wanted the horse to move its hind end, we’d gently tap its hip (when I say gently, I do mean gently. We tap the horse no harder than one could tap a baby without making upset.) Sometimes it isn’t even necessary to touch a horse to apply negative reinforcement. Off lead, we’re able to control a horse in a pen simply by standing behind its haunches and waving, compelling it to move forward. Once the horse does what we wanted, we cease whatever we were doing so the horse knows it did what we wanted it to.

Dog Trainer?

Since my time in the Army will soon be ending, I find myself once again dealing with the delema of what to do with my life. Not knowing what I wanted to do for a carreer (as well as not having the funds for education anyway) is how I ended up in the Army in the first place.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had many dreams as to a career, many of which reflected my age.

  • Age 5 – Hermit. I wanted to sleep in a tree-house in the woods and just live off the land.
  • Age 7 – President. Some boy told me women couldn’t be president. Being a feminist even then, I told him he was full of doo-doo.
  • Age 9 – Super Saiyan. Who needs money when you have the power to shake the planet just by looking serious and grunting?
  • Age 11 – Soldier. Because I wanted to be a badass when I grew up.
  • Age 13 – Rock Star. I’ve always loved rock music. Too bad I have no talent.
  • Age 15 – Truck Driver. I had a bit of an unsocial phase…
  • Age 17- Video Game Designer. Wouldn’t it be great if I could use my years spend indoors, controller in hand, neglecting school and having a social live, as work experience?
  • Age 18 – ????????????????????????? Shit! The closer my graduation date got, the less I was sure.
  • Age 19 – Anything but the Army. It wasn’t a great deployment.
  • Age 22 – Teacher. I looked around me and saw nothing but idiots. I thought maybe I could do a better job than their teachers did.

I’ll be 23 by the time I’m out, and I honestly have no idea what kind of career I want. Much like I did late in high school, I found things to distract myself from thinking about it. I know, avoidance doesn’t help.

I’ve always loved dogs, and wish I could have one. Sadly, I can’t as I live in a barracks and would have little time for it because of work anyway. But, since I’ll be getting out soon, I’ve been thinking about getting one then. It would sure be nice to have four-legged hiking companion. So, in my free-time, I’ve been watching dog-training instructional videos on youtube. Even though I don’t have a dog yet, I really enjoyed most of the videos I’ve seen. Dog training looks fun the way the trainers demonstrated it. It’s my hope that when I do get a dog, I’ll be able to train it myself.

Then that got me to thinking… maybe I could get certified? If I could study dog training, I would be a better dog owner myself, but maybe I could become a professional dog trainer? Finally, a job I would enjoy!

I spent a portion of this week looking up certification schools and job placement opportunities, and even got to speak with some school counselors.  The more I look into this, the more appealing I find it to be.

Finally, some optimism.

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