Friday, October 25, 2013

APDT 2013: Friday

Me: I think I’m irrationally excited about training chickens tomorrow.
Sara: No, no, I’m pretty sure that’s a reasonable thing to be really excited about. But then again, I’m a dog trainer, so I’m not normal.

Poultry in Motion
          Speaker: Terry Ryan
I GOT TO CLICKER TRAIN CHICKENS: BEST. DAY. EVER. My big lesson from this workshop was a new respect for chickens. We spent the first part of the morning on our concrete marking skills, and then we moved to teaching the chickens to touch a target. I’m pretty sure the chickens picked this up much faster than more dogs I know; they’re much smarter than I’d given them credit for. Terry started by teaching us about our chickens. I learned that chickens can see color as well as people, and that the color of a chicken’s ears correlates to the color of their eggs. Also, they might try to peck out your eyes.

While basic learning principles can be applied to all animals, from nematodes to grad students, each species requires a slightly different approach. Chickens are faster than dogs, and they don’t allow us to take advantage of them (ie, you can’t force them to do anything). Chickens have small stomachs and fill up fast, which forces us to use short training sessions, In addition, they have short attentions spans and therefore need a very high rate of reinforcement (10-15 rewards/minute). My partner-in-training, Catherine, and I worked with a Spitzhauben hen named Nellie. Spitzhauben are Terry’s favorite kind of chicken. It turns out that this is pretty much because they are the border collies of the poultry world: fast, smart, and flighty. (note: I am not a border collie person. I suspect I would have preferred a more stupid chicken.)

I’ll spare you the details, but we were able to get Nellie to beak-touch her targets (well, mostly), a red circle and a small toy dinosaur. My big epiphany from chicken training was that lumping is really hard. Usually when shaping a behavior, I break it down into really, really tiny steps. Lumping is grouping several of these steps together. The advantage of using lumping is that you’re looking for multiple steps, so you get a higher rate of reinforcement. The disadvantage for me was that there was just too many small behaviors for me to try to keep track of. Apparently, my brain just doesn't work that way.

Favorite quote: “Why would you waste time with something that doesn't pay when there’s a dinosaur right there that does pay?”


(2nd Also: Crystal – Sara says I get chicken game points because you read this. Ha.)

How to Use Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT) in a Growly Dog Class
          Speaker: Grisha Stewart and Joey Iverson
If you don’t know what BAT is, you should go read Grisha’s book. Or this article. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
BAT is something I’ve wanted to do in my growl classes for a while, but I haven’t been comfortable enough with the technique to try. The “incorporating it into a class” portion wasn't really anything new to me, which was surprising. It was mostly general ideas that I use to keep my growly dogs safe anyway, like making sure you’re working in a secure environment and that you muzzle dogs if you’re not sure of their behavior in close contact and so on. What was useful to me was seeing BAT in action and being able to reaffirm how I thought it looked in real life. One of the concepts that was a little new to me was the importance of leash skills in BAT. Grisha really drove home that if your leash is tight, it creates imbalance and creates tension, the dog will be uncomfortable, and it will interfere with their ability to concentrate on what’s they’re doing. The leash is give us a great deal of power over our dogs, and that is a dangerous thing when taking a dog into a situation where she may be afraid.

Favorite quote: “Dogs are often reactive because we take away their choices.”

Separation Anxiety and Technology
          Speaker: Malena DeMartini-Price
Separation anxiety is a behavior problem that I see regularly, but not regularly enough that I’m really comfortable with it. I was glad I decided to go to this session because while Malena didn't spend a ton of time on technology, she did spend a lot of time on treating separation anxiety. I've always thought of separation anxiety as being relatively over diagnosed in the canine community. It turns out that this is true and false. While not all barking, home destruction, and inappropriate elimination when left alone is separation anxiety, a dog does not necessarily need to be screaming, eating through walls, or extremely panicky to have separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is not a behavior; it is a state of mind. Just because we may not see the symptoms (because, hey, we’re not at home), doesn't mean the dog isn't anxious. And as I've said before, acting okay is not the same as being okay.

1 comment: