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Saturday, January 29, 2011

A New Level of Learning

Snow, snow, and more snow here in PA!

I've been playing around with using the clicker with Treasure to see if perhaps she could hear it if I held it right next to her ear, or maybe she would even respond to the vibration of it.  I've tried it next to both ears. I've tried extra loud clickers. She is not associating the click with food, and she loves to eat!  She is also not even flinching her ears in response to the click.  So, I'm assuming it is not recognizable enough to her either in sound or vibration to be a useful training tool for us.  This was more for my own curiosity than anything else.  She does respond to some other sound vibrations in certain situations, so I thought, perhaps she might sense the click as well.  But it's not meant to be.

I taught a tactile marker to Treasure previously.  I tap twice quickly behind her ear.  But I find that this is not as clear as I would like.  She responds to it, yes, but it is not something that stands out to her in the environment. The other dogs often touch her behind the ear during play, etc.  I wanted something that would also allow me to mark and reinforce behavior when I wasn't close enough or in the right position to get those taps in behind her ear quickly.  Timing was also an issue.  I had to keep my hand out of her space (or she was constantly searching for it to see what it was holding or doing) but get it in there quickly enough to mark that exact moment of behavior I liked. 

I thought about using a vibrating collar as a marker signal.  It would accomplish my goal of being able to be farther from her.  Many people who have used vibrating collars with their deaf dogs told me there is quite a delay in pressing the remote control button and the actual vibration.  Most vibrating collars that are sturdy enough to last are bigger than what I want to put on a fifteen pound dog, and they don't work well with long-haired dogs.  Hair has to be continually shaved around the neck so the collar sensations can be felt properly.  Plus they are expensive! 

Then, the observant dog trainer that I am, I realized that she responds strongly to camera flashes, or to a sudden change in light/dark, such as turning a light on or off when it's dark otherwise.  I use a small flashlight as a clicker for my other double merle Grace with good success.  But it hadn't occurred to me until now to try it with Treasure.  How silly we can be sometimes.  Grace watches closely to see the light, but with Treasure, she is only able to see high contrasts in light and dark. 

Treasure knows she gets bedtime treats every night, so I started then.  I dimmed the lights so I could see her and her reactions, but it was fairly dark in the bedroom.  I flashed the light into her face and then fed the treat.  She was very engrossed in getting the treats, so it was hard to see any reaction to the light.  I kept at it anyway, trying to be patient, and over time I began to see that she was putting the two together.  Normally a flash or a change in light would cause her to spin repeatedly in an excited manner.  Now that was diminishing and she was beginning to show that she was sniffing to look for the treat.

Tonight, after several nights of flashing bedtime cookies, we had our first training session using the flashlight.  I was teaching my puppy to bring me a Kleenex out of the box when I sneeze (crazy dog trainer to actually TEACH a puppy to play with Kleenex!), and Treasure was trying to climb onto the coffee table to get the treats (again, crazy dog trainer to teach your blind and deaf dog to search for and find treats!)  So I put the other dogs away and turned out the lights in the living room.  The kitchen had a small light on in the next room, so I was able to see what was going on.  Plus the TV was on (nice that blind deaf dogs are not distracted by sounds in the environment!) so we had the glow from that as well.

We practiced some things she already knows with the flashlight as a marker - sit, stand, down, come to a stomp on the floor, spin and twist.  It was obvious that she was responding to some of the flashes and anticipating the treats.  We worked on getting her to step up and put her front feet on my leg while I sat on the floor, and we started working on a play dead behavior.  I was trying for a roll over, but she offered me a flat on the floor behavior instead, so we went with it. She was so proud of herself for figuring out how to get the treats!  She is very smart and will do things that I cue her to do, but she never really got the idea of offering those things on her own. 

I have a feeling she and I are both going to have a lot of fun with this!  And I'm getting used to training in the dark!  Not very feasible for long term, but great to be able to teach new behaviors.  Once they are on cue, then it won't matter anymore.  I can use the double tap or just petting with the treat.   

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