Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Watching the Brain Work

It's amazing to harness the true intelligence that our dogs exhibit.  When we put aside our human thinking and reasoning and pull way...way...way back and give a concerted effort to think like an animal (in this case a dog), it's amazing how clear things become.  Dogs are very linear in their thinking.  It's a straight line from A to B.  They react to stimulus in the only way they know how and while that might drive us humans crazy, it's actually takes a lot of pressure off of us (the humans) and them (the dogs) and allows us to move forward.

Case in point: Oscar and the vacuum cleaner.

Ever since Oscar was a pup, he hasn't particularly enjoyed the vacuum cleaner.  I understand that.  It's loud.  It's big.  It moves on it's own.  He never went berserk or anything, but he would bark-bark-bark at it when I pulled it out from the closet and would bark-bark-bark at it off and on while I would move it around the house.

I can thank Grisha Stewart for helping >me< re-frame and understand why Oscar was exhibiting said behaviors when it was time to clean the house.  What was the function of the behavior?  Surely it wasn't distance decreasing behavior.  It was distance increasing in nature; he wanted Mr. Dyson to go away.
The Dyson DC07:
Once a cause of barking; now a cue for behavior!

Using my superior (!) human brain, I decided to start marking and rewarding him for offering any calming behaviors at the vacuum (looking away, sniffing the ground, turning his body away, taking a step back, licking his lips).  He figured out very quickly that those were good, self-soothing behaviors and I put the icing on the cake by tossing the food reward away from the vacuum...the increased distance was his functional reward.

Could Oscar move himself away from the vacuum to create that extra distance he wanted?  Of course he could, but in his mind, he definitely could not (A to B) so I had to teach it to him through shaping.

Well, fast forward to this past weekend and what happens?  Oscar starts throwing behaviors at the vacuum cleaner in the form of walking backwards from the yellow monster.  With glee, I mark and reward him and I see that happy boy come back in the vicinity and repeat.  He's got it!  Way to go, buddy!

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