Saturday, April 7, 2012

Duration Lab with Kay Laurence Part One- stillness

This lab was subtitled Duration in Moving and Static Behaviors, yet Kay broke it down even further (part of a clicker trainer's M.O. obviously). I am actually working on this behavior as I type this- with Eloise the dog, not a horse, but the correlations are obvious.

Kay broke stillness behaviors down into "calm stillness" and "contained anticipatory" stillness. The first is when you want your animal to chill out and relax, such as Eloise lying on her mat next to me as I type right now. The other is when you want the animal to wait for the next active cue- a start line in agility or perhaps the start box for XC?? In all instances you may want the animal still, but the difference is the accompanying emotion- sleepy? or taut like a rubber band pulled tight?

Kay uses a specific body position to differentiate which type it is. She uses the type of click and the food delivery- both style and placement- to help shape the behavior. And she uses follow up
behaviors which correlate. In this first photo, Eloise was still wanting to jump up when she heard me click. Continued slow clicks and methodical feeding gradually calmed her to stay in position.

Dogs have many positions they can lie down in. There is the sphinx like position from which they can launch up into activity and there is the position when they are rolled over on one hip- a more relaxed position in which they would be more likely to sleep. There is also the flat out position ("dead dog" in our house). When I pulled Percy's mane this Spring (I had let it get quite long and thick over the winter out of sheer laziness), I reinforced him for longer and longer durations of standing while I worked. I do this when I work on his mane and he's quite good for it (I use a cheater comb so no pain involved!). But this year we added a new twist and I'm thinking that I can use Kay's methods to a specific "stand" while I pull his mane. The twist was that he yawned fairly early on in the process and I clicked because it was a relaxation sign. So he yawned again....and again. But he made himself sleepy in the process! Pretty soon his eyes were drooping and his head was hanging (he was loose in the aisle). Just exactly what I wanted while working away at his mane. Not the "stand" I'd like for a halt in the dressage ring- this was a different behavior. So I think I will intentionally ask for the yawning type of stand in many little sessions while I keep his mane short this summer.

Kay also stresses the importance of watching your animal to know how he or she functions normally- WHICH hip does your dog sleep on most? Observing the dog sleeping on its own will help you determine which position she's most comfortable in and therefore more likely to stay in when put there on cue. Once you get the dog to lie down in front of you- perpendicular to your knees such that when they curl, it is toward you, you then treat by placing the food toward the dog's tummy so it encourages them to relax over onto the far hip. Likewise, while working on Percy's mane, I did not ask him to step back or turn to get the treat. I reached out slowly (but promptly) and delivered it to the low position his head was in. Kay quoted Skinner as saying, "the way the reinforcer is delivered is more important the what the reinforcer is".

Ever know you could click differently according to the behavior you're working on? I do this subconsciously with a tongue click when I'm working with horses- quiet behaviors get a very quiet little almost "tic", whereas active behaviors get a loud "KLOCK". One encourages maintenance of a quiet attitude, the other keeps a horse jazzed up. Kay even does this with the clicker. Using a box clicker, she showed how you can rest your finger flat on the metal piece to quiet the sound (and you can also muffle it behind your back or in a pocket) vs using the tip of your finger to get a louder click. For still behaviors, she also separates the two parts of the click- holding for a bit before releasing the tab. Usually I do this when I click by mistake and wish there was a way to stop mid-click!!!

How you end a training session matters as well. I chose to work on Eloise's "settle" behavior while typing because I knew that Eloise would eventually doze off as she relaxed next to me. She did. Her eyes are open in this final picture because she heard me click the camera.

So alternately, if you want to work on stillness that contains excitement, you feed while they are still in the sphinx position, you use a clear, sharp click, deliver the food fast but in a position that reinforces staying in position and end the behavior by cueing an active behavior or releasing for a wild play session.

This is the type of halt I'd like for a dressage test. Square and collected, ready to spring into the next gait requested.

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