Our trainers at School for Dogs prepare written report cards for their students each day. These explain to their guardians what the dog has worked on that day, how they did on the lesson and how the guardian can continue building the skill at home. And when your trainer is Alan Lankford, you get the benefit of his clever and humorous writing skill along with your detailed report of how to shape a new behavior using positive reinforcement! This is a great guide to the mechanics of learning theory.
Alan provided this report card for Lola after working with her on a new skill:
This morning I had the rare privilege of working with Miss Lola. You might think that's because I had one fewer dog than usual, but it's actually because Lola is so beautiful that looking at her is like staring directly into the sun – it's just too intense for me to do with any regularity. Only Jessica, who has built up a tolerance by looking at the second most beautiful boxer, her Jackson, for years, is able to work with Lola every week.
Given that I would need some time to recover from Lola's sublime grandeur before working with her again, I wanted to do something simple enough for her to learn in one session, but practical enough for her to use every day. I decided upon "show me your profile." I'm more than certain that a dog as pretty as Lola is swamped with offers to model – especially now that she's lost some weight and has a snazzy new collar. It would be a great asset for her in auditions to be able to turn her head to the side and show her face in all its brachycephalic beauty.
To teach this, I first waited for Lola to turn her head even slightly to her left (it's hard to choose, but I'd say her right side is her best side). By doing this, I was "shaping" the behavior instead of luring it: I didn't give Lola any guidance, just selectively reinforced closer and closer approximations of what I was looking for, out of the behaviors Lola offered on her own. I think Lola enjoyed calling the shots (but I'm sure you knew that already). The first time was the hardest, because turning to the left also meant turning away from treats. She stared straight at them for a minute or so, accumulating drool, until finally giving up and looking to Jessica in desperation, hoping Jessica would save her from the mean man who wasn't giving her any treats. Fortunately for Lola, Jessica was to her left so she got a click and a treat. It took her maybe forty seconds the next time, and less and less each time after that. Yep, Lola picked up the point of the exercise pretty quickly – brains AND beauty – and soon I was just focusing on getting her to turn her head in just the right way, so as to best accentuate her features.
Once I had that, I added the verbal cue ("show me your profile"). Once she was responding to that, she had some sits and downs thrown in there, to make sure she was listening for the cue and not just repeating the same behavior. After a little bit of that, she really had it down. Eventually, Jessica had to drag me away before I burned my eyes out gazing upon Lola's resplendent visage, but not before Lola cemented a new move into her repertoire.
To read the biographies of our regular bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.