ClickerSolutions Training Treasures

Beginning Shaping: Planning Your Sessions

Hi Cricket!

Yes, you're getting it. Believe me, the single criteria and short session concept was one of the most important things I brought back from the seminar. One of. DoG, there are so many things that's it's really hard to single things out like that. :-)

One criteria per session. Yes!

I'm assuming I can do multiple sessions, but I should change criteria between sessions.

Yes, you can do multiple sessions. However, you don't *have* to change or increase your criteria each session. At the end of the session, evaluate your dog's performance. Did the dog get 80% correct? Is the behavior strong? Then you can increase criteria. If the dog is getting fewer than 80% correct, remain at the same level for the next session.

Usually I do one session, then put her in her crate or outside for 20 minutes.

We didn't break up the sessions this much. Actually just crating her while you evaluate her progress and make the plan of where you want to go next -- literally just a minute or two -- is enough of a break. Since I have two dogs, I may either alternate dogs or do several sessions in a row with one, then several sessions in a row with the other.

I'm planning to make my sessions either 10 repetitions or three minutes, whichever comes first. I'm also keeping track of repetitions, marking the errors, so I'll be able to tell easily when the dog is ready to have the criteria increased. I'll also be able to see when I've increased the criteria too fast because my success rate will be low and will remain low for two or three sessions.

I try to mix up where I train (back yard, porch, driveway, family room, etc.) and I sometimes switch location if I do two sessions in a row.

Excellent idea.

Training is a mechanical skill. Timing is critical.

Absolutely! Have you played the timing games that the Baileys have posted on various lists? Basically, have someone drop a ball or a set of keys. You try to click so that your click and the sound of the object hitting the floor coincide. You shouldn't be able to tell them apart. Have the person drop the object from varying heights. The game gets much more difficult as the object starts closer to the floor.

Gaiting: body parallel to mine, move at a trot, head facing forward, maybe follow target stick. Future considerations: speed of trot, turns, looking at judge and free stacking when we stop, may want to get her to adjust her reach and drive to better compliment her structure since I now see that I don't have to just accept what she gives me :-)

Stacking: front feet facing forward, parallel and square under shoulders, rear feet facing forward and square with front feet, stretched out behind slightly, slightly wider than hip width, weight balanced left to right, weight slightly forward (up on toes), top line level, chin down with neck arched, ears forward, tail up. Future consideration: duration, approach and inspection by judge, proximity of other dogs and handlers.

Terrific breakdowns!! I'm doing the very same thing. I'm starting by describing the complete behavior in minute detail, response by response. Then I'm breaking it out into individual criteria and figuring out what needs to be taught in what order. I'm making a separte list of proofing exercises and aniticipated challenges -- what I think I or my dog will find most difficult -- so I can pay special attention to those things. Bob says this type of planning is critical but is often overlooked. Training is easy (okay, easier) once you have a very well-defined picture of what response you're looking for.

This brings up another related point. Don't be afraid *not* to use the clicker. The clicker, when used correctly, gives you incredible precision. If, however, you're working on something more general, or if you're not sure exactly what you want to reinforce, don't click -- just chuck food.

For example, loose leash walking is way less precise than heeling. So I can just feed, feed, feed while the dog is in the general position. However, if the dog is wandering all over, and I really want to indicate when he has wandered into the correct location, I might use the clicker for that. Even with loose leash walking, I like for Rain to glance up at me. So for that specific, discrete behavior, I used the clicker.

Bob says there are lots of times that they didn't choose to use the clicker in the very beginning. First they just chucked food to get some semblance of form, *then* they shaped and refined the behavior using the clicker.

When you raise your criteria, is one aspect getting two criteria (feet square and even) at the same time?

Yes and no. Work on them separately. First deal with even, ignoring square. Once even is strong (80%), add square. Be prepared for even to decrease in reliability temporarily. That is okay. (Think about learning a physical skill. Every time a new aspect is added, the others go to pot while you figure the new one out, then you figure out how to coordinate everything.) Just concentrate on square. Gradually, you can require both square and even -- just give her plenty of opportunity to get it all straight in her mind (and muscle memory) before you do.

If I get something really nice, should I give her several treats (I have been)?

Bob says only give a jackpot when the dog vastly surpasses the criteria. Do not, however, raise the criteria to that new level. If the dog continues to offer at that new level for the rest of the session, *then* you may increase to that level in the next session. Don't change your plan mid-stream.

Should I vary what her rewards are?

Well, Bob didn't really get into this. He likes food because it's a primary reinforcer, it's easy to deliver, and it doesn't slow down the session. He, I believe, uses the same food most of the time. I vaguely recall someone asking about this, and asking if it wouldn't be better to vary the food types, and he shrugged and said, "That's complicated. I like simple. Simple works."

Before the world revolts and starts talking about using a higher value reinforcer in more distracting situations, realize that Bob build an *extremely* strong, reliable, highly-reinforced behavior before he ever gets to those distractions, and those distractions are phased in, in a very controlled manner. Like a variable schedule of reinforcement being used to strengthen behavior, using a variable treat value in distracting situations is a crutch to make up for a too weak behavior.

Now, for the record, I've always made up a dry treat mix with a variety of reinforcers. I keep it in a tupperware container and just pour some into a bowl when I'm ready. That's simple for me, and my dogs like it. I'll probably continue doing that.

Also for the record, I probably will still teach variable schedules and using a variety of treats to my beginning students. Why? Because they aren't very likely to build the strong behaviors, just like Bob said. If they have interest enough to continue, or really get "into it," then I'll encourage them to switch to continuous.

I've noticed some superstitious behavior (touching me with her nose, moving closer to me). Is this likely to be a problem or only if my timing is off and I occasionally click it?

That might be the reason. Another possible explanantion is that some part of your body language has become an accidental cue for that behavior. Bob warned us to keep our body language very neutral when working with the chickens. For example, if we lean forward a bit before we click, the chicken will cue off of that, not the click.

Once you add the cue -- and even before -- take pains to make sure your body is not a salient stimulus (unless it is supposed to be). Change the picture frequently. Don't just change rooms, but change your position. Lie down. Sit down. Face backwards. Stand on one foot. Bend over. Cross your legs. Hold your arms in the air. Once you add a cue especially, the only consisitent thing in the picture should be the cue.

What about adding the cue? I have read that some people use a cue for each foot to help them get the dog to place each foot correctly. I guess I'd rather have one cue, "stack" for the finished product so I get the same thing each time I give the cue. Although being able to cue "ears", "tail" might come in handy.

I think you're describing a chain. Getting all the parts into place individually first, then finally adding a single cue. When Terri and Christy get back from the advanced seminar, they can give us all the wisdom of chaining.

Sorry this is so long. I'm not sure if what I need most is reassurance that I'm on the right track, or specific suggestions.

I'd say you're definitely on the right track. Well done! Let us know how it goes.

Melissa Alexander
mca @
copyright 1999 Melissa Alexander


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