QuickPress: Change the Motivation

I’ve blogged before about the problem of Barnum jumping up on my bed (not his whole body, just his front), and the many things I’ve tried to do to get him to jump up when asked and not when uninvited. I’ve also whined about it on the Training Levels list on occasion.

I have a queen-sized bed, and he jumps up around where my calves are. (We had to do special training to teach him that when he is invited to jump up, he must not jump on my legs, as that’s very painful for me. He should land and stay next to my body, not on it.)

I felt like I’d tried everything, although I knew I hadn’t, because in clicker training there is always a solution. So, if you still have your undesirable behavior, you haven’t yet hit on a way to explain what you want (and make it worthwhile) to your dog. This has made me feel like a doofus, and it’s also created a lot of frustration for both of us.

I’d tried every form of positive and negative reinforcement I could think of, as well as positive and negative punishment, even though I generally try not to resort to positive punishment. Here’s a partial list:

  • Putting jumping up on cue,
  • rewarding being on the floor,
  • trying to make being on the bed boring,
  • leaving when he jumped on the bed,
  • teaching “sit” as an incompatible behavior — which just poisoned “sit by the bed,” and I had to re-teach “sit,”
  • c/t for lying on the floor next to the bed (capturing), which is fine in itself, but didn’t seem to relate, in his mind, to not jumping on the bed,
  • parking my powerchair to block the part of the bed he normally jumps  on (not always practical or feasible for me),
  • and most recently, LTD, umbilical cord, which has taught him to jump on the bed, but to jump off when I lean forward to pull him off with the leash, effectively teaching him that when I approach him, he should get away from me. Not what I wanted!)

There have been two main stumbling blocks. One is that we spend the great majority of our time in my room, with me in bed, so it really is not something I can train on and off, like most other behaviors. From his perspective, the lure/cue (the bed) is there all the time. We can’t train this for hours at a stretch, because neither of us can handle that!

The other problem is that there are multiple reasons why he might want to be on the bed, and they vary by situation. Sometimes he wants to be close or interact with me. Sometimes he wants to snorffle what I’m eating. Sometimes, especially during the day, he wants to look out the window.

Over time, as he has learned that he never gets food rewards while I’m eating, the food snorffling interest has backed off. I have also been trying, when my chair is blocking his usual jumping spot, to teach him to come to me up by my head. This is going well, but it will take time to undo his habit.

In training this last bit, I often have to use our “around” cue — ordistance” as it’s called in the Levels, which is that he should come around my power chair from my feet to my head. He also knows Around for the crate, which is at the foot of my bed. The narrow side of the room is where the windows are, so if he goes around the crate, he is heading toward the windows.

He is able to look out the windows without jumping on the bed, either from a distance, on the floor, or from standing at the windows. A few weeks ago, I even left a step-stool next to the windows so he could get a better view. He does use it sometimes, but he still jumps on the bed.

Today, the obvious solution finally hit me. I was thinking about Karen Pryor’s book, Don’t Shoot the Dog, where she presents a chapter on each of the different ways we can attempt to alter behavior. One of them is “Change the motivation.”

“Okay,” I thought. “He wants to look out the window from higher up than the floor. How do I get him to understand that I want him to do that by stepping on the stool, and not by jumping up on the window sill or the bed?…”

Then I realized what I should have been doing ever since we started using the stool. Here’s what we did:

I cued him to go Around the crate. c/t. We did that a few times, with him happily trotting back and forth from the window side to the chair side. Then I stopped clicking for coming to the chair side. Now that he is good at shaping — more “operant” — he didn’t just give up; he tried some different behaviors. He went back to the window side. C/t.

Then I waited. Doing nothing is a very important part of clicker training. Sometimes it’s harder than you might think! We trainers like to “make things happen.” But things are always happening, whether we want them to or not. You have to wait for your opportunity to reinforce sometimes. This is called “capturing.”

When it seemed like I wasn’t paying off anymore, Barnum got bored and got on his stool to look outside. C/t. He jumped off to eat his hot dog, then jumped back up, c/t.

Shortly, he was jumping up there, which was good, but looking at me, waiting for his c/t, which I didn’t want. I wanted him to look out the window. I wanted to reinforce what he wants to do. Then we can both have our “down time” on our own terms.

I said, “What’s that?” And pointed out the window. He knows this cue from the “Look at That” (LAT) game. He looked out, c/t. We did a few of those.

Then my PCA went outside, which is always a reason for riveting excitement at looking out the window. I c/t him a few times, and he ignored the treats sometimes, which was fine. He knew he was getting treated, and he could collect them later.

Then, he wanted to start the game again. What to do?

He went over to the windows. C/T. He looked at me. Nothing. He put a paw on the step stool. C/T! When he’d retrieved his tidbit, he wasn’t sure how to reactivate me. Paw on step stool? Okay, C/T. Scratch step stool? Nothing. Paw again. Paw harder. Use other paw. Nothing nothing nothing.

I waited.

He stepped onto the stool. C/T. We did that a few times. Then, I waited for him to look out the window before c/t.

Eventually, he had enough of that and went to lie down on the floor on the other (near) side of my bed. C/T.

It’s only taken a year, but I think he’s finally training me.

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I found her pretty easy to train), and Barnum (“It’s taken me forever to get through to her. It’s a good thing she’s so cute!”)

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