November 17, 2017 – Learning Puzzle Prequel

The Brain Games project continues!

So apparently I missed this part originally, but I went back to fix that. These are basic ‘getting to know your dog’ exercises.

Left or Right Pawed-threw a ball or cookie and watched which foot was taken off with first for numerous repetitions.

Chest Hair Curl – does the swirl on their chest curl counterclockwise or clockwise?

Yawn Copy – does the dog yawn back?

There was also a test to see which eye your dog prefers to work off of, but it involved desensitizing a blindfold and sending the dog over a jump, among other exercises. That would be a long term project for Sei and Perrin, so we skipped it.

These traits were then compared to some service dog studies.


Left or Right Pawed? Left? Ambidextrous? There was a slight preference for left, but it was not very strong. Not sure if the difference is statistically significant.

Chest Hair Curl? Clockwise

Yawn Copy? No


Left or Right Pawed? Right

Chest Hair Curl? Counter-Clockwise

Yawn Copy? No

With the yawning, I have tried this quite a lot over the last few months. Neither Perrin nor Sei yawn if I yawn, but I often yawn if one of them yawn.

The other two characteristics are kind of interesting, compared to the service dog studies. They found that there was a correlation between right-pawed dogs and twice the success rate in service dog programs, while dogs with a counter-clockwise chest whorl were also twice as successful in service dog programs. Clockwise whorls were more likely to be anxious. The idea behind those was that right pawed dogs are bolder and inquisitive, while another study suggested that right pawed dogs had an easier time understanding language while left pawed dogs are more fearful and reactive. Perrin can be a bit dog reactive, and he isn’t terribly verbal, however he is certainly bold and inquisitive. Sei on the other hand is much more cautious and prone to anxiety. I wouldn’t go so far as to say fearful or reactive, but he is definitely less bold and confident than Perrin is. Sei is however, much more verbal than Perrin, even at Sei’s young age. These differences do seem typical long Sei’s and Perrin’s breed characteristics though. Sei is a more observant, sensitive, thoughtful herding breed, while Perrin is a bolder, confident sport breed mix.

I’m not sure how useful comparing any individual dog to those studies is, however. I don’t actually know where to find the original studies, so don’t know how they were done, or on what dogs they were done on. I would guess that this study was looking at the differences in left vs right pawed dogs and the whorl direction in dogs of the same breed/type (to my knowledge the most common service dog breeds are labs and goldens, both sporting breeds). I would bet that the differences between dogs of different breeds are much larger than the differences between dogs who are left/right pawed or with different whorl directions.



November 16, 2017- Learning Puzzle 11

We have been working on lots of things lately, but nothing worth commenting too much on. I am still slowly but surely plugging away at the brain games as I get the chance. Some are more elaborate to set up, or need many many repetitions to complete. This one however was very easy.

I sat the dog in front of me, giving eye contact, then turned and looked at a doorway and acted surprised, then recorded what the dog did.

Here is Perrin and Sei:


Turns out the answer was: not a whole lot! Perrin did look in the same direction briefly both times but then quit, and Sei preferred jumping on me. I plan to try this again with Sei using a doorway where something interesting occasionally happens, and see if he has the same reaction.

ETA: I tested this a few more times with Sei in various places in the house, and this is pretty representative of his reactions.

November 5th, 2017- Learning Puzzle 5

We finally finished the two cup game today! I did take video, but it takes forever to edit, and there isn’t much value in watching that many repetitions. Today we did the:

  • Pointing at cup with stick
  • Tilting head at correct cup
  • Looking with just the eyes
Game Sei Perrin
Tilting Head



Pointing with Stick



Looking with Eyes



They both did really well on the point with the stick and the head tilt. I was kind of surprised on the head tilt, that seemed more subtle than the elbow point that the struggled with. The only difference between them in this whole thing was the looking with the eyes. Perrin didn’t really understand that, while Sei definitely did understand. Interesting!

From their overall result on all variations of the game, I would think that it is safe to say that both of them are certainly paying attention and understanding my human gestures in this context.

November 1, 2017- Learning Puzzle 5

We are continuing on with puzzle 5 from the  Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines   course (see previous post for details).

Game Sei Perrin



Tapping the Cup



Pointing with Foot



Both dogs really understood all of these gestures, consistently choosing the correct mug. Only 4 more to go to complete this game, but they are hard ones!

October 31, 2017- Learning Puzzle 5

We are still flooded out of the backyard, so I am continuing to skip the puzzles that need an outdoor space. Today’s puzzle from the  Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines   course is meant to test the degree to which the dog follows different kinds of human gestures.

The set up:

I am using two identical mugs to hide treats under, so I can execute the following scenarios.

  1. The pretest- this will be completed only once.With the dog in a sit stay in front of me, I pretend to put a cookie under both cups. I only put a cookie under one of them. Look at your feet and release the dog. Record what the dog does.
  2. Tap the container with a cookie under it  and release the dog.
  3. Point at the correct container. The rest is the same.
  4. Point with elbow. The rest is the same.
  5. Point with foot. The rest is the same.
  6. Point with a stick. The rest is the same.
  7. Face body towards it. The rest is the same.
  8. Tilt head towards it. The rest is the same.
  9. Look at the right one with the eyes only.
  10. Put on sunglasses and repeat the last test.

Each test (except the first) is repeated at least 5 times and the results recorded. These take a really long time given how many reps there are. Especially as Sei’s sit stay isn’t really proofed to this level yet and we are working that concurrently, so his turns take twice as long as Perrin’s. Today we got the pretest done, along with pointing with arm and elbow. Here are the results:


Sei and Perrin both went right to the correct cup.

The Rest

Here are the rest of the results from today in chart form:

Game Sei Perrin
Pointing with Hand



Pointing with Elbow



On the first go with the pointed hand, Sei was hand targeting for a bit until he understood the game, but he was consistent on the understanding that the hand side is the paying side. Perrin also understood the pointing well.

Neither Sei nor Perrin really understood the elbow pointing. Not sure if it was something I was doing wrong or if they are both just similar that way.

October 30, 2017 – Learning Puzzle 4

Day two of working through the learning games from Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines  course. We have to skip around the order a bit, because our yard is flooded out (also meaning no rally for Perrin today, so he played this game with Sei and I instead). I figured that snorkling for cookies might disrupt the intention of the outdoor experiment! So today we are doing Puzzle 4, which is a barrier challenge like yesterdays puzzle.

To complete this game, I set up Sei’s x-pen in a V shape against the wall, with a gap on one side. This is done in a different room than the first game. Several variations are completed:

  1. A cookie is dropped on the inside of the x-pen while the dog watches (handler stays outside the x-pen). The dog is then timed for how long it takes them to find the gap in the x-pen to get to the cookie.
  2. Exercise 1 is repeated, but the side of the x-pen that the opening is on is switched while the dog is out of the room.
  3. The handler walks around the barrier, puts the cookie inside the x-pen, walks back to the dog and releases them to go get the cookie. The dog is again timed.
  4. Exercise 2 is repeated, but the side of the x-pen that the opening is on is switched while the dog is out of the room.

During the experiment, I also added my own scenario out of curiosity. I pulled the x-pen away from the wall so that the dogs could go either way around, then let the dog watch while I walked around, placed the cookie and walked back. I was interested to see if they went the same way I did when they had the option to go either way.



Sei really only looked at me at first to see if I was going to be the source of the treats. After he figured out the game he searched very independently without any input from me. For the first set up, he had times of 20 seconds,  and 10 seconds. He also cheated once, by pushing the x-pen in until he could reach the hot dog bit through the bars. I added an old frying pan to contain the treat after that to prevent it from happening again.

Because Sei’s sit stay isn’t quite up to snuff for this yet, my partner held Sei while I set the cookies, then let him go once we were ready. For the second set up, he had times of 3 seconds, and 14 seconds.

The part of this that is really, really interesting to me is that during the alternate set up, Sei consistently went around the same way I did. Out of 6 trials, he went around the same way I did 6 times, even when I mixed up the order.


Please excuse Sei’s noise. He gets very upset when it is his brother’s turn to work.

Perrin looks at me a lot, and requires some encouragement to keep searching instead of staring at me. I suspect that this is partly personality (his brother Dex would definitely just stop and look at you to make something happen), and partly a factor of training impulse control around food and eye contact. He took 28 seconds, 13 seconds, and 38 seconds to solve the first puzzle.

The second puzzle he was considerably faster with times of 5 seconds and 20 seconds. He also doesn’t want to get out of his sit stay to find the cookie in the x-pen because I had more treats in my hand. I think he needed convincing that this wasn’t some sort of proofing exercise before he went off exploring.

With the alternative set up, there wasn’t a strong pattern to which side he was choosing. It was about 50/50 with the side I came around, and he seemed to have a slight preference to the left side. I would have to do more trials to get any useful info.

His tail just looks so happy whatever we are doing!


Perrin and Sei had very different approaches to the puzzle. Which is not surprising given how different in personality and thought process they are. Perrin definitely wanted more handler support than Sei needed, and I think Perrin was a bit confused about what he was supposed to do with the set up (should I get the cookie or ignore the cookie? Which is the purpose of this exercise?). I will be interested to see how/if this changes as Sei ages and we work more on impulse control around food (of which he currently has very little as we haven’t worked on it much). Sei clearly was doing some sort of tracking of me, because even when he could go around the barrier either way, he always went the same way as I did. Perrin did not have a strong pattern of doing this. Perrin usually solves puzzles that involve me (shaping), and doesn’t opt into much puzzle solving on his own (trying to get things he wants around the house for example). This is consistant with him looking to me to solve the food problem rather than going off to figure it out himself immediately.

October 29, 2017- Sei – Learning Puzzle 1

Day one of Sei and I working through the learning games from Brain Games- Puzzles for Canines  course. This game was designed to test memory and mapping skills.

The idea was to set up a barrier between me and something the dog wants, then have a helper release the dog into the room, and see how long it takes him to figure out he can go around the barrier to get to it. This is timed.

The second part of this experiment uses the same set up, but the dog is held and watches while I walk behind the barrier, then is released. The dog is then timed on how long they take to solve the puzzle this time.

Here is Sei’s first run:

And his second:

I ended up running the second scenario three times because I noticed something interesting and wanted to test it.

In the very first run (not shown) I placed the cookie just slightly back from the opening on the floor, so it could be seen, but I did not call any attention to it. Sei didn’t even look at the barrier and ran right to me. So the second time (the one shown above), I stuck my whole hand with the cookie out of the gap to show him where it was as he ran over. He figured it out pretty quickly and ran right around the boxes to get his treat.

In the second run, Sei took roughly the same amount of time to come around the box (except the middle attempt, where he just ran straight to me. I forgot to show him the treat in the gap so he just ran to me), but he consistently went around the boxes in the same direction I did. I thought it was a fluke the first time, but he did it the next two times too. I find this fascinating, especially because he routinely came around the far side, when it would have been closer to where he started to come around the near side.

I think his timing has more to do with when I pull the cookie back far enough from the hole that he can’t reach it, than it does him ‘figuring out’ the puzzle. As soon as I pulled the cookie back from the edge, he stopped pawing at the boxes ran right around the barrier. It was very consistant.

I would like to compare this with Perrin’s behaviours. They are very different, but they have also had different foundations. I have not done a lot of impulse control around food with Sei, whereas Perrin had a ton of it as a pup. Would Perrin lay down and wait until given permission to have the food? If so, how would he respond to a set up that took me out of the picture, with a sturdier set up and just the cookie behind it that he has to go around the barrier for? Interesting.

I di try this with Perrin, but he nearly destroyed the cardboard boxes in about 3 seconds, so I will have to make a sturdier set up for him!