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Old 04-22-2012, 08:43 PM
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Default Teaching a dog to learn

Granted I have tried too terribly hard, but my boyfriend's dog is proving to be a bit of a challenge in the "teaching stupid pet tricks" department and I would like to change that if at all possible.

She's a Lab/Spaniel mix, roughly around six years old. He adopted her when she was about one or two from a family that didn't want her any longer. Aside from some separation anxiety (that is now almost nonexistent) and bolting when she was let off lead (which he solved with an e-collar - her recall is now perfect if you can whistle [and I can't, so I have issues with her LOL]), she has had literally no behavioral problems. She is very well behaved and very well mannered. She's one of those dogs that doesn't really need training because she's just so gosh darn good.

But, while she's good...she's also, IMO, shut down. My boyfriend sees it as a good thing, because to him that means she's being obedient/submissive. I don't like it. It took me awhile to try to put a finger on it, but she is like a little soldier. She accepts everything you do to her and obeys what you tell her to do - but she doesn't offer any behaviors. She doesn't try to think, she just does what she's told. I don't know if that is normal, or if I'm just so used to Chloe's way of thinking and going about things I'm just having difficulty getting on her same wavelength, but I would love to see her actually start to think and learn and enjoy doing it.

Where do you start? I didn't think I relied on shaping (I'm more comfortable luring), and for basic commands that's true, but I never realized how much I've come to depend on working with a dog that thinks. If I want Chloe to figure something out and she offers a behavior that is suitable that behavior is marked and rewarded. If she offers a behavior that isn't what I want, she gets a no reward marker. She's able to think about it, offer new behaviors she thinks I might be pleased with, and then connect what works and what doesn't based on my response and I LOVE that.
Cynder's very smart, she just doesn't know how to offer behaviors. She defaults to something she already knows (sit) and...that's about it. If I pressure her in any way she shuts down because she thinks I'm unhappy with her. (And by pressure, I can even mean a no reward marker. Again, I'm so used to Chloe who takes that as an, "Oh, not that, I'll try this then" instead of, "Crap, I'm doing what I thought she wanted, but its not right and I don't know what else to do, so I'm just going to sit her and not move and see if she'll be happy about it".)

How should I go about working with her? Would it be best to just do some short training sessions with commands she already knows/partially knows and get her used to the entire training = game regime? And then maybe introduce her to shaping by teaching her a "trick" that is based off of behaviors she naturally offers? That way the only connecting she needs to do is that a behavior offered on a whim = treat?

I've just never had a dog before that doesn't like to learn. Even Rose (who is not the brightest bulb in the bunch) is enthusiastic when it comes to training sessions and enjoys trying to figure out what I want (even if she never quite gets there - she gets sympathy treats LOL).
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Old 04-22-2012, 09:08 PM
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Find a strange object that she's never seen before. Maybe a plunger, a trash can lid, a basket, anything. Then play the 101 things to do with a box. Basically, click for ANY interaction with the object. When you first pull it out, she'll probably lean in and sniff at it--*CLICK*. You may have to take it away and offer it to her again, but eventually most all dogs learn that the object makes treats appear.

I'd also make sure the treats are awesome, like hot dogs/cheese/liver awesome.

I've taught dozens of agility 1 sessions now (where we introduce shaping concepts), and of the 100+ dogs I've seen go through, only 1 never progressed with shaping, because she was SO shut down.
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Old 04-22-2012, 09:34 PM
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With new dogs, I start with capturing. Sits and downs, eye contact, targeting your hand with his nose, etc. are all pretty simple behaviors that are easy to capture.

When you do start shaping, I'd suggest not working on intricate behaviors. For example, if you do the box game, try to get him to jump on top of it, paw it, mouthe it, etc., rather than an intricate behavior like walking in a circle around it. Once she's got the idea of offering behaviors, then you can work on more difficult behaviors.
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Old 04-23-2012, 07:38 AM
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With the soft dogs I've worked with, I've done the method above (about bringing in a foreign object and marking for any interaction etc) and I've also just straight-out lured. I start with the lure and teach them several things until they are feeling confident that they "know stuff" and then I start segueing to more shaping. I am impatient so my dogs learn with a mix of lure/shaping and it seems to work for us. They throw odd behaviors all the time that are hilarious that I can capture and make into something. I start them all with luring first though so they get the hang of learning and doing something new.
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Old 04-23-2012, 07:53 AM
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I ran into this problem with Murphy. He wasn't shut down exactly - it was just that he had no idea how to think outside of the box and he'd default to known behaviors.

Here's a video of us working on pivot stuff: MurphyShapingPartOne.mp4 . The best advice I can give you? BE PATIENT. That video was after we'd tried shaping twice before. So he's offering behaviors but he spent an inordinate amount of time staring at me and wagging his tail. Lol. If I were going to do this again, with a dog that had minimal shaping experience, I would spend more time on box work. With box work you can click them for sniffing the box and then throw the treat to the other side (so they'll jump over) or in it (so they have their nose in it) and then you can click the resulting behavior.

For inspiration though - Murphy is a shaping FIEND now. If I won't click him for something he thinks he's doing right, he will look around and start shaping on the nearest object - leashes, bowls, cones, tables, rugs, anything. It's way awesome to have a dog that I thought would never be able to shape do stuff like that.
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