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Rugby Update – Scent discrimination problem solving

Another example of “Real” training! And by “Real” training I mean, I started with a goal and a plan (which I thought was pretty good), but in the course of the actual session things didn’t quite go according to the plan, and I had to make some training decisions on the spot. 

Last weekend the Rug and I revisited his scent discrimination skills. This session, my focus was on adding some distraction proofing to his search in the form of hand zen. He’s very proficient with hand zen in many contexts and behaviors, and he’s confidently working piles of 10+ scent articles of various materials, and we’ve already added a bit of distance and mixed up toy and food reinforcers. 

So for this round, I planned to add hand zen to his searching of leather articles. My goal with the zen is to challenge and encourage him to keep his head down and search thoughtfully and with focus. Like a lot of dogs, leather seems to be a bit harder for him to control himself and he can quickly get grabby and stop thinking. We’ve done a lot of work on targeting the leather article without grabbing them. At this point, we’re just using some scraps of shoe leather that I’ve cut up and labeled with a sharpie. I start and finish his mini-sessions on his mat to help keep his arousal at a productive level, and to have a clean beginning and end (and give me a chance to breathe!). 

I wanted to set him up for success (the road to hell is paved with good intentions), so I started with his strongest version of the behavior and reviewed the basic nose push with a hand zen distraction. He nailed it! Yay! OK great, so then I moved on to reviewing the leather article, and adding hand zen in the same way. That looked good, too! Yay again! 

So here are the first couple of mini-sessions. Kind of long. Not all that interesting, but if you look, you can see there were some early warning signs that I was in danger of lumping. Not terrible, but it’s a slippery slope.

 

So now I’m thinking, “Wheee! We’ve got this! We’re going to totally nail this game, and it’s going to make such an impressive video for my blog! I’m a good dog trainer!” 

Of course, if I’d been *really* paying attention, I might not have been quite so yay. Funny how much clearer things are on video than in real life, eh?

So, I added the hand zen to the searching of multiple targets… and THEN things got interesting. 

Ok, so there are possibly some not amazing training choices, but then finally I manage to get my act together, because for pete’s sake… I’m a Clicker Trainer, aren’t I? The challenge turned out to be if my zen hand was on the approaching side of the correct target, so that he had to move past my hand to touch the target. If my hand was even with the target, he could do it. When I moved my hand closer to the place where he was picking up the treat, the wheels came off. 

Moving forward, I’ll be revisiting the concept of my hand/distraction placement a little more, both by varying the position of the distraction, and also by varying where I deliver the treat. I will have to think of a way to objectively measure the distance and placement to keep my criteria increments small enough, so that I can work through the challenge methodically… and not just scattershot, which would certainly be easier (if less effective). I’ll let you know how it goes! 

 

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