CHANGING THE VIDEO – AN ASSISTANCE DOG SUCCESS STORY
Nina Bondarenko BA 2003Â©
Introduction PRACTICAL TRAINING USING CLICKS, TARGETS AND BRIDGES
It started as a joke, if only we could train a dog to programme the video! However, for one of our disabled students, this was no joke. She can’t reach down to take the video out of the machine, and asked us during the residential training with her Canine Partner assistance dog, if it were possible to at least teach the dog to take the video out. We thought about it, reviewed her situation at home, and decided that it was possible.
The factors needing to be addressed, were the relative fragility of the videos, and the fact that the machine was set on the ground. This meant that the dog needed to be low, to reach the video by stretching, not bending, and needed to take the video gently in the teeth and move backwards and away, before turning around and heading for the handler. Dogs tend to take the shortest route, once they know the way (just like people!), so we had to build into the training a default position lying down in front of the video machine. We had to eliminate the possibility of the dog reverting back to pulling at the video from a standing position, once the dog was working in the home. Also, since we were planning to teach the dog to eventually put a video into the machine, this prone position was essential.
Target the Tape The first stage of the training was to ensure that the dog was comfortable taking and holding a video. We used a bridge and target procedure to do this, holding the right hand out as the target, and bridging the dog for holding and carrying the video towards the target. Once the dog was fluent with this, we added the cue, Ã¬videoÃ®, so that the dog would recognise what was required later on when actions relevant to the machine were involved. This dog has already been taught what a bridge and a target requires, so he was able to readily focus on targeting the hand with the video, rather than mouthing the video, or dropping it. This is crucial to easy training of these complex tasks, because the slight stress and pressure involved in learning something new could easily cause a dog to mouth, fiddle with, shake or drop the item. And this pattern of response is one we always must avoid in the training of Canine Partner assistance dogs.
The first stage of the training was to ensure that the dog was comfortable taking and holding a video. I used a bridge and target procedure to do this, (see Homing Signal further down in the article) holding the right hand out as the target, and bridging the dog for holding and carrying the video towards the target. Once the dog was fluent with this, we added the cue, Ã¬videoÃ®, so that the dog would recognise what was required later on when actions relevant to the machine were involved. This dog has already been taught what a bridge and a target requires, so he was able to readily focus on targeting the hand with the video, rather than mouthing the video, or dropping it. This is crucial to easy training of these complex tasks, because the slight stress and pressure involved in learning something new could easily cause a dog to mouth, fiddle with, shake or drop the item. And this pattern of response is one we always must avoid in the training of Canine Partner assistance dogs. Stage Two Now we needed to teach the dog to remove the video from the slot safely. So I knelt down beside the video machine, pulling the video almost all the way out, and gave our dog the target and a cue to take hold of the video.
My hand target was next to his nose, so there was no chance he could make a mistake, get it confused with some other action, or default to a mouthing or chewing or dropping it. From the lying down position, he only needed to take hold of the video and turn his head to be successful. This smooth action of removing the video and transferring it to my hand was reinforced with very high level rewards and bridged constantly with the Homing Signal I use in our training. This Homing signal is a slowly rising tone of voice that increases in volume and pitch as the dog gets closer to the target and ends with a shout of Excellent! This is reinforced with high value treats, occasionally a chest rub (this dog loves chest rubs), or sometimes many low value treats. This brought us to the third session, wherein he needed to work to a greater level of difficulty. Firstly we added the depth to which the video was pushed in, and reinforced all successful attempts to bring it out safely.
He needed to stay calm, but work out for himself how to get the video out from further and further inside the machine, and bring it out horizontal, not pulling up. Then we added distance, so that my hand target was further and further away, but for these sessions, the video was almost out of the slot. We wanted to lower the criteria for getting the video, so that he could be repeatedly successful in taking it to the target correctly from a down position.
Final magic: we then put it together and asked him to get the video. He went and lay down in front of the machine, reached under for the video case until he could take hold of it, and then pulled himself backwards, to make sure it came out. He then got to his feet and trotted over and placed it in the hand target, to rapturous applause. Next steps will be to very clearly define the outline of the slot in contrasting tape (white tape against the black video machine) so the dog knew where to target.
The dog would be taught separately to push the video in with the nose. I would position the tape deck so it was very simple and obvious for the dog to reach forward slightly and push the tape. I would use the Homing Signal to reinforce duration of the push, and withhold high value treats to trigger frustration, which would encourage him to push harder. I would then add difficulty by asking him to hold the video and target the slot. AT first the video would be in the slot, but gradually he would have to place the video in the slot in order to earn the reinforcement.
By shaping this gradually, perhaps adding a different body position to distinguish it from taking out the video, we could put a different cue on the action of putting the video in the machine and pushing. I will absolutely not allow him to programme the video because we will end up watching endless Lassie and Rin Tin Tin reruns, and he will get ideas above his station! Nina Bondarenko Homing Signal This is based upon the Bridge and Target principles developed by Kayce Cover. She calls the marker an Intermediate Bridge. Intermediate Bridge: A series of continuous and instantaneous signals marking a progression of successful instants advancing toward a successfully completed behaviour.
A steady stream of articulated syllables issued as an animal begins to cooperate with a trainer, and continued until the animal begins to deviate from the requested behaviour (at which point they are stopped till the animal returns to compliance) or until the behaviour is successfully completed, (at which time the string of ibs is punctuated with a terminal bridge). What I use is a tone, which increases in pitch, intensity and frequency as the animal approaches the target and desired behaviour, and which is marked at the end by a clicker, or a terminal bridge, which in my training, is the word ‘Excellent!’ sometimes punctuated with clapping, and reinforced at first with treats.