Reframing the Question

Sei and I have been working on free stacks in an ultra casual way since he came home. They have not been something we are making much progress on. At first, I was getting a LOT of sitting (really the only thing that had a reinforcement history at the time). I quit working on them for a while, and moved onto other things, one of which was learning how to effectively lure, for other classes.

Both the original way I learned free stacking, and the method taught in the local class we are taking are fairly similar in practice. Hold food out in front of the dog’s nose, quickly take it a short distance from their face, and reward stillness. Well, this was very contradictory to all of the work I had JUST done on teaching Sei to drive into a lure. I could see that it was really confusing to him: “Before I was getting rewarded for driving into your hand with food in it, but now that isn’t working and I can’t see any difference in what we are doing, so why don’t you want the same thing?” To make matters worse, I realized I was using the food to lure Sei to a stand when he sat, and then expected him to leave it alone the next second once he was standing. Not good.

I tried changing how I held the food: if I hold my hand like THIS, drive into it; if I hold my hand like THAT, stay away from it. Turns out, I am not consistent enough to do this in daily training. I may need to simply lure him away from something in day to day life (say, an oven mitt on the floor), and in that split second moment, I have no idea what I am doing with my hand.

This was starting to frustrate me. Why can’t I follow these simple steps that work for many people who follow this method, and get the same results? And I realized I was asking the wrong question.

How would I teach this behaviour (at this stage, it is really just a stand stay) if I didn’t know how it was typically taught? What methods work best for me? For Sei?

For the last two questions, I can unequivocally take anything that resembles luring off of the table. One of my biggest issues with luring is that I can’t seem to split behaviours when I lure. Not sure why, other people have no problems with it, but somewhere in my brain “theory does not compute!” And that is definitely going on here. Things I am currently lumping together:

  • Standing rather than sitting or laying down
  • Standing still rather than moving
  • Standing in a particular relationship to my body positioning (perpendicular to me)
  • Standing with his head in a particular direction (to my right rather than my left)
  • Looking forwards (rather than up or down)
  • Looking straight ahead (rather than at me or at something else)

Okay, thats definitely a problem!

So, here is a guess at a training plan to maximize shaping and clarity. We will see how it works:

  • Taking a cue from the luring for making a functional hand cue in the ring, shape eye contact on a specific hand gesture (in this case, a finger held out perpendicular to the dog). No food should be in the hand making the gesture.
  • Increase the criteria from eye contact with the hand, to standing while looking at the hand.
  • Increase the criteria such that the highest-angle standing orientations are weeded out. So, maybe everything from perpendicular to the hand gesture to 85 degrees are rewarded, then only up to 70 degrees, etc. This would theoretically allow me to remove my body position from the equation, I just have to put my hand in the right place.

ETA 1: I have just taken the food out of my gesture hand, and this has already made a huge difference in Sei’s frustration levels. Whoohoo! We will see how the rest goes.

ETA 2: I think we are getting somewhere! It is still a baby behaviour, but the frustration level is way way down (the most important thing), and I am starting to get some standings still.

I love it when thinking through the problem and analyzing it from a different angle gets me where I was hoping!

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