Monday, January 18, 2010

Teaching Two Dogs at Once

I had just a few minutes of free time earlier yesterday evening, and as it had been an otherwise dismal week progressing on my Canine Curriculum, I decided to grab the gloves and do some quick shaping for Level Four Retrieve (Yes, I admit it, I was cramming before I had to write the weekly progress report.) With no time to teach the dogs individually, I figured I would see what would happen if I taught them together.

Isn't that what the dolphin trainers do?

I grabbed two gloves, my clicker, and a bowl full of treats. Zachary immediately ran out of the room. That’s not quite as surprising as it might sound since Beau always goes first and Zachary knows that. Zachary earns a bunch "free" treats for this behavior, and considers it a good deal.

Not today.

I called to Zachary and grabbed some treats. The dogs were now circling, looking more like sharks than dolphins. Crossing my fingers, I dropped the gloves and waited to see what would happen. (Yes, technically that was not per Level Four Retrieve, but as both dogs were comfortable touching the glove and both are natural retrievers, this shouldn’t have been a stretch for them.)

Zachary immediately dove for a glove, grabbed it, dropped it again, and then looked up at me. A click for Zachary plus a cookie. Yeah Zachary!

Beau stared at me expectantly, but didn't budge.

Zachary grabbed his glove and repeated the behavior. A click for Zachary, plus another cookie. This was fun!

Beau started at me expectantly, but didn't budge.

At this point I felt sorry for the big dog and nudged the other glove with my toe. Obviously confused, Beau sort of, kind of, moved his nose in the general direction of his glove. Good enough for me. An enthusiastic click and we had a party.

Meanwhile, Zachary had picked up his glove a half-dozen times, given it some killing shakes, dropped it at my feet, picked it back up again, and pranced about the room.

I figured the click for Beau would count, and tossed some cookies at Zachary.

Beau (done Hoovering up his cookies) was staring at me expectantly.

I stared back.

Zachary ran to his glove, grabbed it, tossed it up in the air, picked it up again, and tried to give it to me. Zachary was adorable. Zachary got a click and some cookies.

Beau stared at Zachary.

Zachary repeated his glove antics, and got more cookies.

Beau continued to stare at Zachary, and then looked down at the other glove. Beau kind of, sort of, nuzzled the glove. Yeah Beau! I clicked and we had another party, tossing a few cookies at Zachary (who was frantically doing one thing or another with his glove.)

Somewhere, in the deep dark recesses of the canine mind, a light bulb flickered on and Beau picked up his glove. Woo-Hoo! A big click! And cookies poured down from on high.

Did I mention that Zachary was now holding his glove and flipping his head up and down as he spun in a circle? Didn’t I just click for Beau? It tossed some more cookies toward Zachary.

At this point, both dogs were in the game. I concentrated on clicking and treating each dog, individually, specifically, alternately if possible, favoring glove holding behavior.

All too soon, my time window closed and I had to put cookies and clicker away. It was a fascinating experiment, and one I intend to repeat. The setup technically favors Zachary (the better shaper) but as Zachary happy works for one or two cookies while Beau expects lots of jackpots, I think cookie parity can be maintained.

I suppose this means cramming is a good idea after all, but don’t tell my son I said that!

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