Double-Hinged Cupboard? No Problem!

There’s been a lot going on, including training. In the next few posts, I hope to update you on Barnum’s training, the latest powerchair saga, and other life events as I recover from my recent spate of activity.

Before I launch into today’s short Barnum-related post, I wanted to say thanks so much to everyone who helped Elizabeth Chalker. She did make it to her doctor and, although she’s quite ill, it seems to be going well. I’ve had to pull back from working on her situation, but I feel confident that there are enough other people involved now, that I can devote my energy to myself and Barnum with a clear conscience. If you want to keep posted on Elizabeth’s situation, join the Facebook group called Save Elizabeth Chalker.

Meanwhile, my powerchair has been to the shop and back (again), thanks to my parents, again! I hope to take Barnum for a walk tomorrow — and make it back home using the chair! The chair has a new “brain” and controller (sorta like Barnum). I think it might finally be in working order. Cross your fingers and paws! I’ll keep you posted.

Now for some fun training news. Remember how excited I was when Barnum really “got” shutting cupboard doors, and I posted a blog and video about that, as his first complete service skill?

Well, there’s one cupboard we had not tackled back in March, because it’s unlike all the others. It’s a corner cupboard, two panels, double-hinged.

An open, wood, corner cabinet door. There are two panels with a hinge connecting them. There is a chrome knob on the upper, outer corner -- on the left -- and a piece of pink paper is stuck in the middle of the other panel.

Dum-Dum-DUMMMM! (Suspenseful music.)

I didn’t train Gadget how to shut this cupboard because I didn’t think it was possible. I realize now it was definitely possible for him; the problem was me. I didn’t know how to shape with a super-high rate of reinforcement, and to mark really tiny steps of the behavior, like I do now. This kind of training is necessary for a skill that requires the dog to problem solve something complex like this.

Problem-solving was key here because it’s such a complicated door to shut, that I, myself, didn’t know how one would shut it without being able to grasp the knob, pull the door back, align it with the corner, and then push it in. When I started training Barnum on this cupboard, I viewed it as an experiment — a training exercise. If we managed to figure out how he could shut it, great. If not, no harm done.

Because Barnum has presented me with training challenges that didn’t allow me to cut corners (no pun intended!), as I had with Jersey and Gadget, and because I learned from Sue Ailsby and the Training Level’s list how to accomplish any skill through pure shaping, I am a much better trainer now than I was when I trained Gadget.

Here’s how Barnum and I conquered this corner cabinet.

For the first several sessions, we used pure shaping. (I’ve written in detail about our shaping sessions before.) I just let him experiment with nosing different parts of the door, and I clicked for anything I thought might be going in the right direction. Eventually it became clear that when he got most of the cupboard shut, so that both panels were flat against the outer/left wall, instead of at a right angle tucked into the corner, he needed to push a “sweet spot” — the outer edge of the inner door, next to the hinge — to finish the skill. I put a target (a piece of tape) on that spot (visible in the photo above). That was the only targeting involved.

When we started working this skill, it took 20 or 30 clicks to shut the door. After Barnum got neutered and became more focused and food-motivated, his learning accelerated a lot, and now he is much more savvy and “operant.” He is showing big leaps in learning between sessions (latent learning), which is thrilling.

That’s what happened last night and today. We hadn’t worked on the corner cupboard in a long time. Maybe two sessions in the last two or three months, with the most recent several weeks ago. But when we started it last night, he shut the cupboard in just a few clicks. Between the last time we trained and last night, he’d figured it out on his own!

Today, right away, he was shutting it in two or three movements, which was so fast, my clicks were always late. I didn’t know it was possible for him to shut the door so quickly and smoothly. It took me a while after I moved into this house to learn how to shut that cupboard, so I actually hadn’t figured out Barnum’s method until I watched the video and could see it in slow motion!

Since he was shutting the door completely in two or three movements, in a couple of seconds, I started adding my cue, “Shut the cupboard.” I also only click at the end of the behavior now — when cupboard is shut.

The video below is from today. It was probably the third or fourth trial of the day. This was his worst performance! He hesitated a bit when the door swung at him, which he usually seems accustomed to. Having my helper standing behind him, videoing, added an element of distraction to a brand-new skill. Thus, it takes him about eight seconds to shut the cupboard. But it gives you an idea of what Barnum can do, now that he is really a thinking, operant, motivated dog!

(Transcript below.)

* * *

Video description: Barnum is in a “sit” on the kitchen floor, his back to the camera. Sharon is ahead and to his left. To the right and in front of Barnum are kitchen cupboards with wood doors.

Sharon: Okay, stay.

Sharon moves forward and opens the corner cupboard, which has two panels, hinged in the center, and pushes it completely open so that the door is almost flat against the stove. She backs up.

Sharon: Good boy. Okay, shut the cupboard!

Barnum moves forward and puts his nose between the door and the stove and nudges the outer panel forward. Then he nudges the “sweet spot” — the left edge of the right panel, next to the hinge. The door swings forward but the outer panel hits the cabinets and bounces back. Barnum backs out of its way.

He looks at Sharon for a moment, perhaps waiting for a click or assessing the situation. The he nudges the sweet spot, hard, again. Both panels move forward and slide into place.

It’s evident he realizes the cabinet is shut before Sharon does, because as soon as it’s shut, he turns to her for his treat, and she hasn’t clicked yet.

Sharon clicks.

Sharon: Yay! Good job! (Hands Barnum a piece of meat from a yellow tray.) Okay, you can turn it off.

* * *

Sharon, the muse of Gadget (I could have done that! Except for maybe the cupboard swinging at me would have spooked me), and Barnum (pretty darn likely SDiT)

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3 Responses to “Double-Hinged Cupboard? No Problem!”


  1. 1 Courtenay June 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Congrats!!! Amazing work, Sharon.. and Barnum too!

  2. 2 Laura June 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Yea Barnum! Yea Sharon 🙂 You guys are awesome!

  3. 3 Sharon Wachsler June 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks! He now usually does it in ONE! (In that video, he nudged three times — he has figured out a way to shut it with one fluid movement.) It’s really cool.


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