I’ve spent the last two months doing the Living and Learning with Animals (LLA) online course with Dr Susan Friedman, plus work has just got crazy busy, so I thought I’d just do a short blog this month celebrating my monthly training successes! As we say in Animal Training Academy, I’m tooting my own horn (well, sometimes it just has to be done 😊)!
Co-operative care with Rhum the cat
My birthday is 29th August and I was lucky enough on that very day to get a share of one of my cooperative care videos by the awesome Dr Susan Friedman on the Behavior Works Facebook page. This is huge for me! The page has more than 26,000 followers and Dr Friedman is a personal hero of mine!
The star of the video is Rhum cat. If he is wet when he comes in from outside he comes to see me to be towel dried. In the video I offer him the towel and when he presents an area of his body I will towel that area down. I then stop and offer him the towel again so he has the choice to leave or ask for more drying action. He has complete control over his environment and I respect his decisions. He loves being towelled and there is no need for any food reinforcement, the towelling is all that he needs. I think it’s a great example of other types of reinforcer (instead of food) that your animals may enjoy. It also shows the real importance, and joy involved, in offering our animals choice (they can say no) and control over their environment. I’m just teaching a way of communicating to me what he wants. Also notice that I do not pick him up, there is no need, all of it is done at a height that both he and I are comfortable with.
The link to Dr Friedman’s post is above, and here’s the video:
Odie and the stapler
I have a particularly old and rubbish stapler. I have to give it a good bash to get it to work. Odie is not a fan of loud noises and used to run from the room when I used it. The LLA course has been an awesome refresher in techniques I may have overlooked to make my animal’s lives easier. So I started thinking about how I could make the sound of the stapler less upsetting for him, aided by the LLA and my previous blog on Dog Training Jargon (which was also a good refresher for me)!
I landed on pairing the sound of the bang with food, so using respondent conditioning to make the bang a conditioned stimulus. I would use the stapler and then immediately deliver a shower of food.
I keep 100g of the boys daily kibble allowance back for training projects during the day (the postman means good things appear!), or for reinforcing behaviour that I like (quiet, sitting on their mats), so I just used that.
In less than a week I noticed that when I turned to deliver the treats Odie was just looking at me in anticipation! I got Kevin to take a really short video showing Odie’s reaction to the stapler now. There is a slight flinch (it is a loud noise) but he shows no desire to leave! Result! Pavlov in action!
Sweep and the buzzer
Sweep has a very small bladder so he needs to go out to pee regularly otherwise we have accidents in the house. Generally he is very subtle with how he asks to go out, no barking is involved, he will just chuff or bat at anything around the front door with his paws. Sometimes I am so engrossed in work that I don’t hear him. I thought I’d teach him that his favourite buzzer (which barks!) means the door opens.
I did a couple of short sessions, one where I clicked when he hit the buzzer, I opened the door and threw a treat out. Then I asked for advice and wonderful Linda Ryan (of Inspiring Pet Teaching) suggested (as Sweep knows the buzzer already) that I cue the buzzer, when Sweep hits it the buzzer acts as the marker (click) and then I reinforce by opening the door. I did a quick session with that method and the next day I got this:
I posted the video on social media and I got several comments along the lines that teaching Sweep to hit the buzzer to request to go outside actually means Sweep is training me. I respectfully disagree with these comments.
By teaching Sweep to press the buzzer I have empowered him with the ability to communicate with me. I’ve taught him that when he asks me to go out by using his behaviour (hit the buzzer), I will listen 100% of the time!
It’s also massively beneficial to me because I don’t have to clean up pee when I don’t hear him asking to go out. I’ve saved the hall furniture that he used to scratch at. I’ve saved myself having to pick up Kevin’s stinky shoes that Sweep has knocked off the shoe rack. I’ve saved his chuff for other things he wants (it’s a guessing game so eliminating one possibility is great!)
All I have done is taught him a more appropriate behaviour, like we would do for jumping up, pulling on the lead or rushing the door.
I am delighted and proud because I have taught him something really flipping cool – effective communication! He is now reliably using this to tell me he wants to sunbathe or he needs to pee. Yay!
So these are just my little wins this month! I hope I’ve inspired you to go out and empower your learners!
I currently live in Weymouth, Dorset (originally from Beverley in East Yorkshire). I am a certified dog trainer, graduating from the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional course in October 2016. I have owned dogs since 2001 when I got my first rescue dog Jack, a mutt extraordinaire. When I lost him I spent two years fostering dogs for a local charity and as a result I gained Odie and Sweep. Odie is the reason I became interested in training and behaviour. He demonstrates "aggressive" behaviours towards other dogs. I chose clicker training because I saw how much confidence it gives both my boys and I train mostly as a hobby with my own dogs and cats and spend my spare time with them and continuing my training and behaviour education with webinars and seminars. My passion as a trainer is in force free husbandry. If we can teach dangerous exotic animals to accept blood draws voluntarily then we have no excuse in not teaching it to our animals. I work full time as a marine biologist (to fund my dog habit!), a job I have done for 20 years. It has taught me to avoid the use of jargon while not dumbing down content, a skill I hope will help me produce a helpful blog!