Saturday, January 23, 2010

Team Teaching

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on “Chill” - what Sue Ailsby calls “Go To Mat”. Given the easy layout of our house and the dogs’ respect for the rickety baby-gate, we just don’t have the need. Alas, Sue didn’t know that when she wrote her Levels, and therefore we are stuck working on Go To Mat in Level Three.

And so, with January fast coming to a close, it was time to brush the behavior off and see how it looked. Out came the cookies, the clicker, the rug, the video camera, and the dogs. Yes, I said dogs. Plural. Sue never said I couldn’t have some fun with this.

Teaching two at a time (henceforth called Team Teaching) has its challenges. For one thing, Zachary is a clicker maniac and will try a thousand things to make a click happen.

Beau will not.

Zachary seems to read my mind (which might explain his often unfocused and frantic behavior.)

Beau does not.

Zachary can reproduce a behavior six times in the time it takes Beau to do it once.

Well, I think you get the idea.

All is not lost, however, as Zachary would do paw stands and bark the national anthem for a single treat the size of a pea, while Beau might deign to sit and down but then expects a handful.

In a word, they are very different dogs, with very different needs, and the other day they were both standing in front of me wondering why I had just dropped a rug on the floor in the middle of the Kitchen. (Remember, both dogs had passed Level Two Go To Mat, so what I was asking was something they already knew how to do – they had just never done it together.)

As Beau just happened to have stepped onto the rug, I starting things off with a click and a treat in his direction in hopes he would be inspired.

Zachary immediately got on the rug and lay down. Yeah Zachary!

A few more clicks for Beau (mostly for lucky paw placement) and the game was on.

It actually turned out to be easier than I thought it would be - sorry, I know it’s much more fun to read about the disasters. You can watch the video for yourself on YouTube, but in summary what worked was:

  1. Tossing the cookies off the rug to reset the game.
  2. Tossing the cookies in opposite corners of the kitchen to avoid poaching.
  3. Tossing Zachary’s cookies out of the kitchen if I needed an extra moment or two to work with Beau.

I also learned a few things that I think gives added worth to Team Teaching.

  1. Beau is more likely to stay “in the game” when Zachary is there. It actually seems to keep him from getting overly frustrated.
  2. I think Beau has a calming influence on Zachary. I didn’t see Zachary throwing behaviors at me right and left when I withheld the click at the end to get an extra heartbeat of duration.
  3. Three minutes (and a bowl full of cookies) goes really fast when you are working two dogs at once!
  4. The dogs (and in particular Beau) seemed much more focused on my face instead of my hands. I’m guessing it was so they could tell who was going to get the cookie when I clicked.
  5. The dogs showed a whole lot of respect for each other’s cookies. I half-expected Zachary to make a try for Beau’s cookies at some point, but that never happened. Perhaps the cookies were flowing freely enough Zachary didn’t feel the need. I would definitely not try this if your dogs have “issues” with food or each other!!!

I really enjoyed this exercise, and barring a true (aggressive) disaster at some point I foresee me doing it much more often – probably not for brand new behaviors, but certainly for reinforcing, refreshing, and improving duration of known ones.

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