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Free Shaping for Smart Dogs

I remember back at the shelter, when we asked about another dog besides Alys, we were told that this other dog was probably too active for us, whereas Alys would be happy with just "some board games".
Well, they were not wrong, exactly. Except she's less into Ludo and more into chess.

I'm constantly on the lookout for new ways too keep her entertained. Be it refining her signals, teaching her new tricks, or letting her search for food.

It took her about two or three sessions to figure out the basics of her Dog SUDOKU. By now she needs about half a minute to find seven treats. Eight is still a little more difficult, because one of the pieces doesn't have a hole to smell the treat. But not long and I'll have to think of ways to increase the difficulty further, by just hiding one or two treats and making them more laborious to get to.

Today I tried out some free shaping.
Free shaping basically means that you sit down with a marker and some treats, and reinforce anything fun or interesting your dog offers you. It can be an ear wiggle, or lifting a paw, or twitching her nose.
It's a great thing to do with a cautious dog like Alys, because she literally can't do anything wrong, and you encourage her to try out new things. If something works out particularly well or seems useful, you can shape it further into a new trick.

Except today that wasn't my goal, and what I went for wasn't technically free shaping.

Alys still doesn't play with toys at all. Which isn't really a problem but I'd really like some more options to reinforce her, other than food and verbal praise (and very occasionally a game of tag, when she's exceptionally relaxed and in the right mood).
So the idea was that if I reinforce her to use one of her toys, in whatever way she chooses, we might get to the point where she decides it's fun.

I put the toy down on the ground, sat down and waited for something to happen. Alys isn't too familiar with the concept of free shaping yet, so I was prepared for things to go a little slow in the beginning. She will offer me some behaviour, but mostly she'll sit in front of me and look at me, waiting for a clue as to what she's supposed to do.

I reinforced turning her head into the general direction of the toy for a while, but it soon became clear that she didn't link her behaviour and the treat to the toy at all.

So I decided to help her out a but by picking up the toy and letting it dangle in front of her for a bit. After a while she started pawing it (probably trying to put her paw on my knee but hitting the toy in the process, but that's fine), which was pretty cool. So I reinforced that a few times.

Then I put the toy down again and spent a lot of time staring at it intensely, and bending over it, moving towards it and away again, and just generally trying to seem mesmerized by it. Finally I started poking it with my finger, which prompted Alys to sniff at it (or maybe my finger), which was another great behaviour to reinforce.

I'd say we did make some small progress. I'm looking forward to seeing where we'll be in a few more sessions' time.

Generally, the more I learn thanks to my animal psychology training, the more fun it is to watch and work with Alys. I still make plenty of mistakes - sometimes even though I should know better by now - but I'm feeling more confident. Reading her as well as communicating with her comes more naturally all the time.
And I'm loving every second of it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2016 11:28 am (UTC)
Now I feel like a bad dog owner... I go for walks with Robin, we play a bit, he's allowed to come to the barn with me - and that's it. Oh, and we cuddle. A lot. 😉 although I have to say, that he has a lot of contact with other dogs on a daily basis - I mean, Kira lives here with us and he sees his doggy friends at the barn. Plus he's probably a very different character than Alys.

But it's really interesting how many different ways there are to entertain and train dogs. 😊

Regarding playing with toys - a friend of mine has a street dog from Hungary and she's had him for about 5 or 6 years now. Up until last year he never played with other dogs. It probably took him a while to realize that he can just have fun now.

Maybe Alys will play with toys in a couple of years, too. 😉

Feb. 19th, 2016 12:48 pm (UTC)
As long as Robin is happy and doesn't seem hyperactive or bored, everything is perfectly fine. :)

I wish I could offer Alys more contact with other dogs. My Mom and I even occasionally talk about how getting a second dog - one she likes, obviously - would probably be good for her. But it's just not possible right now. One, because I can't bring two dogs to work, and two, Elanor would not be happy at all.

We do, however, visit Sissi, my grandparents' JRT, occasionally. And she likes a few of the dogs in the neighbourhood. Those we'll sometimes meet during our walks. Alys is seldomly bold enough for more than a quick hello. But sometimes she shows hints of playful behaviour towards dogs she feels particularly comfortable with.
One of her best friends died a few weeks ago, though. :(
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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