Thursday, October 4, 2007

Cue Discrimination

One of the things I love about clicker training is that it encourages the student to try different behaviors without fear of being corrected for the wrong response. If I am teaching my dog to sit and she lies down instead, I don't do anything. I don't scold, place her in a sit or pop her collar. Nor do I praise, click, or reward her. I do absolutely nothing, which tells her she didn't get the behavior right. So she keeps trying other things in order to figure out what will make me click and give her a reward. Some animals will go through an amazing array of behaviors. This frustrates some people, but I always explain to my human students that it really means the dog is happy and comfortable in training and with continued work the dog will learn to associate "sit" with putting her bottom on the ground and nothing else.

Sometimes instead of trying a bunch of new behaviors, a dog will incorrectly link a couple of behaviors. I had an adorable Cardigan Welsh Corgi in my puppy class. We were working on "puppy push ups" - an exercise where the dog is cued to sit and lie down in rapid succession. The corgi knew "down" and he knew "sit", but he also knew that they'd been working on "roll over". So whenever he was asked to lie down from a seated position, he'd roll over before settling into the down. It was adorable, but his owners were embarrassed. After all, he was supposed to just do sits and downs! I explained that this is pretty normal behavior for a clicker trained dog and not to worry. If they worked on the sit and down separately and then only rewarded when he went from one to another without the roll over, he would learn the difference.

In our efforts to teach BabyBug to be polite, we've taught her to link a few responses that shouldn't be linked. It started off with saying "bless you" after people sneezed...or coughed...or cleared their throats. Then she started saying "thank-you-you're-welcome" whenever someone did something for her. Most people find this charming, but it embarrasses my husband a bit. I keep explaining to him 1) it's good that she does it at all, even if she sometimes gets it wrong and 2) she will learn to discriminate between the situations so she uses the proper phrase at the proper time.

Sure enough, on Saturday morning we were having a cuddle fest on the big bed and Bug gave me a kiss. I said "thank you" and she appropriately responded with "you're welcome" for the first time. Later on she thanked me for something without tacking "you're welcome" on to the end. She still forgets sometimes and combines the two, but she's started to understand the difference. And really, it makes me kind of sad. It was an adorable misunderstanding and she's just growing up so darned fast!

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