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Targeting with Multispecies
By Francoise Joiris
American Animal Trainer Magazine
Vol. 3 Issue 3 July-September 2002

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            Saying you're an animal trainer is a little like saying you're a doctor.  There are countless specialties, subdivisions, techniques, etc. yet all animal trainers have some common ground.  Likewise, while there are vast differences in different species and how they take to being trained, there is definitely a common ground in the training of almost any species of animal.  I am neither a specialist nor an all-arounder.  I've spent most of my life working with dogs, cats, and birds but have also worked with a variety of barnyard beasts, the occasional turtle, and a handful of rodents.  After years of pondering the differences and similarities I decided to experiment teaching the same behavior to a dog, a cat, a camel and a parrot.  The choice of behavior was simple, to go to a target.  The follow up was to use that simple behavior to create a more complex behavior.  I hope that following my adventures will shed some light on how to train different species using similar techniques while respecting their species-specific behaviors.

Teaching an animal to target in the first key to opening up a channel of communication that allows one to 'explain' all sorts of behaviors to an animal quickly and with relatively little stress.  It is not unreasonable to think of target training as the most important step in training any animal.  An animal who will go to and remain at a target can be shown how to go into a cage, walk on a lead, come to its handler, remain still for husbandry procedures, almost any basic behavior can start with simple targeting.  Training the camel, my task was to use targeting to get the animal to willingly enter and walk through the barn.  She had developed a fear of going into the barn and her owners could not convince her to enter it.  I chose to train the cat to go into a cage, something many of my clients have trouble getting their cats to do.  The dog was to learn to bring a message to someone and jump on them until he was noticed.  The parrot simply had to fly to my hand or to his cage on cue, he's my spoiled baby so he got off easy.  Those who think that animal training is a long process that requires large amounts of patience will be interested to know that the time spent training each animal for this experiment varied from an hour to 1 hour maximum.  Granted, some of the animals already had training experience, but the fact remains that training was not a long drawn out procedure.

 

PART 1 TWIGGY THE CAMEL

            Twiggy is an almost two-year-old female bottle raised camel who is the first camel her owners have ever had.  They are experienced animal people, and did a wonderful job raising and socializing her.  She is friendly, easy to halter, and easy to lead, but has otherwise had no training.  My previous experience with camels was limited to handling camels trained by other trainers, and even that experience was fairly limited.  Because of my inexperience with camels and Twiggy's inexperience with training, I thought she'd be perfect for the experiment.

I arrived at the farm in the late morning.  I wasn't exactly sure what I would work on with Twiggy other than teaching her to touch the target, but I figured I'd think of something when I got to know her.  Before heading out to the barn I chatted with her owners and discovered that she would not walk through the barn, a rather typical horse barn with stalls, feed, storage and tack rooms, and wide corridor down the middle.  She had not had any bad experiences in the barn, but no one had ever been able to make her go through it.  My first thought was,  'Great!  I'll teach her to walk through the barn!"  My second thought was what had I gotten into now as I pictured myself struggling with this very large youngster inside the dark recesses of the barn.  No matter, I had already explained to everyone that I had never trained a camel before and didn't really know what I was doing.  Her owners had been instructed to remove her favorite food treats from her menu for the day so that I would be able to use them as reinforcers.  She is partial to carrots so I neatly sliced carrots into 75 bite sized morsels and headed out followed by an audience of four family members and friends as well as a photographer.

 

            My training plan was to start by teaching Twiggy to tough the target with her muzzle while she was on one side of the fence and I on the other.  If that went well I would go ahead into the field with her and work on target touches in different directions (up, down, left, right) as well as following the target.  My next step would be to have her follow the target into the barn a few steps.  I figured that I could accomplish that much in one session if she was compliant, and was ready to back off my goals if she was more difficult.  Twiggy headed toward us as soon as she saw us walking down the path, and was standing with her head stretched over the fence by the time we reached her.  The distraction of so many people all milling around talking was a bit much for both of us so I settled everyone a short distance away where the would see us but could not be directly distracting.  I had decided to use Kayce Cover's favorite conditioned reinforcer, the letter 'X', along with the intermediate reinforcer 'xxxx'  to train Twiggy.  I stuck te farget in front of Twiggy's muzzle, she lipped it curiously, "X!"  I handed her a piece of carrot.  She and I repeated that scenario about six or seven times.  I could see the light coming on in her eyes.  I could also see that it was taking too long for her to pick the carrot piece out of my hand and that distracted both of us from the training.  I switched to slipping the carrot into the side of her mouth, which worked much better.  I moved the target about a foot away from her muzzle, she started to reach toward it, and 'xxxxxxxx' she touched it, 'X' and another piece of carrot.  Again I moved the target about a foot away from her muzzle, again she reached toward it as I kept up a soft stream of x'z and rewarded her with a crisp 'X!' and a piece of carrot for success.  The third time I did this she started moving toward the target, 'xxxxx' then stopped.  I stopped saying x.  She looked at me for a long moment pondering the situation.  She reached forward again.  I started x-ing again.  She stopped.  I stopped.  She started.  I started.  She touched the target, "X!".  She did the same thing one more time, experimenting with getting me to start and stop x-ing.  I knew she understood the concept when on the next try she went purposefully toward the target with one ear tilted toward me to make sure I was continuing with the x's.  We were ready for the next step.

 

            Once I was inside the field with Twiggy she had to spend a few seconds exploring me from head to toe before getting her mind back to work.  Rather than let her learn to ignore a target when she wasn't in the mood to work, I put the target away until she'd gotten her curiosity under control.  She made the transition to targeting with me in the field smoothly and effortlessly.  I started to up the ante, asking for a step forward rather than just a each.  She progressed rapidly, almost always moving to the target immediately and confidently as soon as I had positioned it.  The photographer could not see us clearly and needed to get into the enclosure with us.  I put the target away again for a moment while she explored this new person and brought it out once she'd had her fill and was again turned toward me.  She headed for the target, 'xxxxxxxxx' she turned back toward the photographer, I stopped x-ing.  She cocked her head toward me questioningly.  I started x-ing again.  She took another step toward me, 'xxxxx' she paused, silence.  Another step, a pause, and finally the last step to the target, 'X!'.  I slipped several carrot pieces into her mouth, praised her, and gave her a good scratch on the neck.  I wasn't sure she'd like these things, but it seemed like she would, and she did.

           

            The next step was to teach her to follow me at a polite distance using the target as an indicator of where her head should be positioned.  I had plenty of experience with horses that crowded and mugged while they were being led and did not want her to get into that kind of habit.  She tried to walk with her chin on my shoulder a couple of times, but moved herself back to the target when she realized the intermediate bridging (xxxxx) had stopped.  I x-ed continuously when she was right, and reinforced with a big 'X!' and a carrot piece at variable intervals.  All was progressing smoothly and quickly.  She was much easier to train than I had anticipated.  I started asking for longer stretches of attention, for turns and circles and the like.  Suddenly Twiggy stopped working and wheeled around away from me.  One of the spectators had decided to come around the side of the barn for a better view.  Behaving like and being with the tremendous range of peripheral vision of a typical prey animal, Twiggy was immediately aware of this change in her environment.  Being bottle raised and imprinted on humans, she was more interested in exploring this new appearance than in bolting away from it, but either way, her concentration on training had been broken.  We had been working steadily for five minutes, so I decided to give her a break for a few minutes to explore the visitor and reflect on her experiences with the target.

After a brief break Twiggy was clearly excited to get back to work.  As soon as I re-appeared with the target she walked over and touched it.  This time I did not 'X!' right away, but continued the soft stream of 'xxxxx' for a brief moment then 'X-ed' and reinforced.  I repeated the target touch several times, sometimes reinforcing immediately, sometimes asking for more duration before reinforcing.  Only occasionally did Twiggy take her muzzle off the target before I released her.  She was well on her way to understanding the nuances of our communication.  The soft 'xxxxxxx' of the intermediate bridge was reassuring her that she was on the right track, just as silence indicated to her that she had slipped off the path to the right behavior.  She performed with energy and confidence.  We were ready to take our first step inside the barn.  Twiggy followed me (and the target) up to the barn entrance.  We stopped with me just inside the barn and Twiggy just outside of it.  I reinforced her with several pieces of carrot and put the target away for a moment while Twiggy stood looking into the barn.  I brought the target out and placed it about six inches from her muzzle.  She reached forward without moving her feet and touched the target.  I reinforced and moved the target another six inches forward.  She again stretched forward to touch the target without moving her feet.  I continued with her this way, edging the target a few inches forward at a time, 'xxxx-ing continuously as she reached cautiously toward it, reinforcing her with 'X!' and a piece of carrot for each touch until her neck was stretched horizontally.  I put the target away for a moment and let her relax.  When I brought the target out again I held my ground but did not go further into the barn.  Twiggy had remained in the same place and again stretched her neck out fully to touch the target without moving her feet.  I reinforced her and immediately moved the target another two inched into the barn.  I started to 'xxxxxxx' as she tried to extend her neck further.  She realized that her neck had reached its limit and very gingerly moved one front foot forward into the barn.  'X!'

           

            As she munched on her slice of carrot I turned to her owners and asked exactly how far into the barn they were able to get her.  "About as far as she is now" was the answer.  This was to be our moment of truth.  Twiggy was completely at liberty to bolt any time the g to be too much, she understood the concept of moving to and touching the target, and she knew that I'd let her know whether or not she was on the right track with constant feedback.  I moved the target another six inches into the barn.  Twiggy contemplated for a moment then took a slow step into the barn, moving all four feet.  We moved slowly into the barn, Twiggy shuffling her feet forward as little as possible each time I moved the target.  When we were about one third of the way through the barn she started to exhibit what I interpret as signs of stress, ignoring the target and nuzzling bits of straw and fallen feed on the barn floor.  I let her take another break.  Interestingly, she did not leave the barn, even though she was not being reinforced for staying in it.  She kept her head down for a few more seconds then raised it as if to say, "OK, let's get back to work."  I was almost out of carrot so I switched to plain feed.  At this point I felt that the actual reinforcer was not nearly as important to her as the ability to control her environment and 'make' me explain things to her and give her things.  I also had a banana in my pocket as back up.  Apparently bananas are among her favorite foods, but they aren't the easiest reinforcers to dispense.  We made it to the halfway point of the barn uneventfully, moving a few inches at a time.

           

            Two of the resident horses had become interested in our trip through the barn and hung their heads over stall doors to watch.  Twiggy has grown up with these horses and was not perturbed.  We kept on moving.  Suddenly one of the horses goosed Twiggy in the rear.  Nothing hard or malicious, but enough to startle her into hightailing it out of the barn.  Damn!  There went all my hard work.  Without thinking I waved the target at Twiggy's departing behind and said 'touch'.  Touch is the cue I use for targeting, and even though I had not yet taught Twiggy the cue I had certainly mumbled the word as I was praising her for her work.  As I mentioned before, her peripheral vision is great, and I knew she'd seen the target.  I started to mumble 'xxxxx' almost under my breath.  She paused.  I "x-ed" a tiny bit louder.  She turned toward me.  I headed toward her and met her half way.  This occasion definitely merited a piece of banana.

Despite being goosed by the horse, Twiggy moved through the barn much more quickly the second time.  I never pushed for great distances, but increased the reach until she was moving ten to twenty inches at a time.  The last ten feet of the barn were particularly scary to her because of a dreaded black matting that she seemed sure would swallow her whole.  We went back to inching our way forward.  She repeatedly progressed to having three feet on the mat, but it took several attempts before she got up the courage to put all four feet on the mat at once.  Beyond the mat was the far end of the barn where all of our audience was waiting to pet and praise her as she gobbled up the rest of the banana.  Twiggy had made it across the barn for the first time in her life.

 

            After this first walk through the barn at liberty, I put Twiggy's halter and lead rope on and repeated the trip.  As one might have predicted, it was somewhat harder for her to get through the barn with halter and lead rope as she did not have the same feeling that she could bolt if she needed to.  While I was initially careful not to apply any pressure to the lead rope, after we had made it well into the barn I began to apply a little pressure to the lead rope at times when she started to backtrack.  I tried to be careful not to pull to the extent that she became frightened, but at the same time wanted her to feel that pressure on the halter did not necessarily and immediately mean she was going to be dragged or forced into anything.  Any time I applied pressure I xxxxx-ed so that she knew she was doing the right thing by accepting this handling.  On the one occasion when she looked a little panicked I loosened the pressure and draped my arm around her neck, rubbing and petting her while talking to her calmly.  She re-gained her composure quickly.

 

            At the end of our training session Twiggy had been able to walk through the barn willingly both at liberty and with a halter and lead rope.  She had clearly enjoyed the experience.  Although I knew she must be somewhat tired from the effort(I knew I was), she nuzzled me hopefully as I packed up to go, obviously hoping I'd take my target out again for another round.

 

            Twiggy will need to repeat all these steps a number of times before she's comfortable and confident enough to walk through the barn without a target to guide her, but she now had the skills she needs to work though her fears without a great deal of stress.  I lost track of the exact amount of time I spent with her, but I know that the entire training session, including breaks, was less than an hour long and we used the equivalent of three carrots, one banana, and a couple of handfuls of feed.

 

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PART 2 EDISON THE CAT

            Edison is a cat of indeterminate age who arrived at our home on his own steam and moved in with our family approximately five years ago.  He has been trained with a clicker and target stick  to perform a variety of behaviors such as jumping through a hoop, sitting up, and the like.  He and I have developed a comfortable training relationship over the years.  Like all of my animals, he is immediately alert when he sees it's time for someone to be trained, and is most excited when he sees it's actually his turn.  However, he's not especially interested in long training sessions.  I've found this to be true of all the cats I've worked with so it might be something about the way I work with them.  They enjoy the work but do best when sessions are kept to a few minutes at a time.  This is a contrast to Twiggy who was able to handle close to an hour of training in her very first experience.  As a reinforcer I chose baby food that I dispensed by dipping a chopstick into the jar and letting Edison lick a bit for each click.  Reinforcing can be a bit difficult with Edison because he's very adept at using his paws and he's very fast.  If I time and position the presentation of the chopstick correctly he's apt to swipe it from me with his paw and that aborts the training session while he spends several minutes licking every bit of baby food off his foot.

 

            I started by tacking the target to the wall at cat height and called Edison into the room.  He knows the command 'touch' in relation to a target stick or my extended fingers so I pointed to the target on the wall and said 'touch' with my finger on the target.  He sniffed, 'click', he came to my other hand for him lick of food.  We repeated this several times and I gradually moved my pointing finger away from the target.  By the tenth try he went out about ten inched to the target by himself and touched it with his nose.  It appeared that he had understood the concept, but on the next trial he looked momentarily at the target then sat down to groom himself.  In hindsight I realize that I should have ended the session sooner or not pushed for so much distance so fast.  I did push and he did shut down.  I called our other cat, Fax, and worked him in front of Edison for a minute to increase Ed's desire to work.  He walked purposefully up to the target and touched it with his paw.  As he had been heading toward the target, I had been edging away from it so that he had to come about two feet away from the target to get his reinforcement after the click.  He ate and immediately turned back to the target, walked over and deliberately placed his paw on it.  I reinforced and then called it quits for that session.  We worked a total of about three minutes.

The next session took up where we had left off.  Edison remembered the target and was able to go to it from several feet in any direction.  I worked with him on increasing the duration, and at the end of the session he was staying at the target for several seconds.  Edison has a tendency not to tolerate many repetitions at the same level.  Once he's gotten a concept it's best to move on to the next step.  Unfortunately, it's not always easy for me to gauge how much is the right amount before upping the ante.  During this second session, as soon as Edison had gone smoothly to the target and remained there twice in a row, he had it with that interpretation.  He then proceeded to experiment with rubbing against the target, sitting next to the target with his back to it, rolling on the floor by the target, and the like.  I interrupted the session to work with Fax again.  Whether it's called jealousy or not, whatever dynamics are at work always serve to get Edison back on track.  Edison returned to work and was able to correctly go to the target, touch it, and remain.  We ended the session.

 

            Our third and final session entailed affixing the target to the inside of a cage.  I used one of the larger dog crates to make photographing the sequence easier.  Once the target was inside the crate I called Edison.  We repeated all the steps from our first and second session, starting with me pointing to the target and ending with him walking into the crate and remaining in it touching the target while I closed the crate door.  True to form, after a few minutes of training, when we had repeated the same behavior one time too many for his liking, Edison started to improvise by refusing to come out of the crate.  Fortunately, while he was not willing to come out of the crate for a click and treat, he did come out when I presented another target (my extended fingers) and commanded him to touch.  We ended the session with Edison willingly entering the crate, remaining in it while I closed and then opened the door, and then willingly exiting the crate.  The total training time was approximately ten minutes averaging fifteen clicks and treats per minute.  His previous experience with training, coupled with a much less scary task, enabled him to learn his job much faster than Twiggy.

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PART 3 BARTOK THE AFRICAN GREY PARROT

 

            Bartok is a fully flighted 3 and a half-year-old male African grey parrot.  He is my personal companion and house pet.  He has been trained to perform a few tricks, trained with Kayce's Bridge and Target techniques, and also worked with in the more traditional 'pet owner playing with pet' kind of way.  He already had been trained to fly to my hand and to his cage from my hand when I began the experiment, but I had not worked with him for a while.  In addition, Bartok was going through a moody phase and did not want to be handled.  This seems to be a normal part of Bartok's behavior, every year when he's molting he shuns any physical attention from me.  As he is fully flighted and one room in our apartment has double height ceilings, he can be quite difficult to manage if he's in one of his 'moods'.  I looked forward to seeing how working on targeting would affect my ability to manage him.  In the past he's always become very compliant when I keep working with him, but he is reaching adulthood and I thought that might affect his willingness to work.

 

            It is worth noting that both Edison and Stamp were easily able to work with a great deal of ambient distractions, other animals coming through the room, toys on the floor, people around them, whereas both Twiggy and Bartok were apt to startle and lose composure at even relatively minor distractions.  I think this is a function of being a prey animal.  Predators are also constantly aware of their environment, but their focus is on catching and consuming prey rather than staying alive, therefore they aren't that bothered by distractions when they are performing actions that will lead to reinforcement.  I don't mean to imply that predators are not ever bothered by distractions, I'm sure neither Edison nor Stamp would continue working on my team if a mouse strolled across the room, but the emotional reaction to distraction is not as intense.

           

            I did not use a separate target for Bartok, but instead used my extended hand as a target to land on.  I used peanut butter on the end of a chopstick as a reinforcer.  I alternated clicker, verbal bridge (x), and plain old praise as the conditioned reinforcer.  At the start of the training session I placed Bartok on the top of his cage and sat down about five feet away from him.  I extended my hand and cued him to 'fly to me'.  He immediately flew to my hand and was reinforced.  I then cued him to 'fly to your cage' which he also did promptly.  I reinforced then sat down again.  Again I cued him.  He moved to the very edge of his cage and stretched toward me, but would not take off.  He had noticed the two cats staring at him from the balcony above and refused to move.  He has never had a bad experience with the cats, both of them have received a great deal of training to leave the bird alone, but he did not feel safe flying below them.  I moved closer and closer until he had only to step from the cage to my hand, which he was willing to do. 

 

            Flying back to the cage was less of a problem, probably because it was easy for me to 'launch' him from my hand.  I worked my way slowly backward until he was again flying to my hand despite the cats.  He then noticed the camera and we had to start from square one.  We worked through the camera fear the same way, then called it a day.  This doesn't sound like much progress, but there is a huge difference between Bartok's behavior when he is specifically asked to target to my hand and his behavior when I just try to manage without cues and bridges.  Left to his own devices he is far less compliant and less willing to work through problems than when I actually follow a carefully structured plan of action to guide him through whatever problems arise.  In the five minutes we worked he was able to overcome is fear of flying around the cats and around the camera, and focus on the behavior I wanted.  My biggest shortcoming with Bartok is that I don't work with him consistently.  Every time I find the time to work with him he progresses by leaps and bounds but I slack off and let him regress when life gets busy.  Interestingly, although sometimes there are months between one training session and the next, he always gets back to speed very quickly and is able to progress from where we had left off.  Clearly the motivation and drive instilled by training has long lasting effects.

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PART 4 STAMP THE DOG

 

            Stamp is and eighteen-month-old Norfolk terrier co-owned by my daughter and myself.  He is training for obedience, agility, film work, and earthdog and has a lot of experience with being trained.  He understands a wide variety of conditioned reinforcers including several verbal reinforcers and the clicker.  He is also well versed in targeting.  He can target with his nose, his paws, his chin, his shoulder and his hip on different cues.  He also targets to an indicated target even if it is a novel one.  For example, I will use squares of cardboard, a plastic leaf, a riding crop, a chopstick, basically whatever is on hand when I am training.  For the sake of continuity in the photographs I used the same target with him that I used with Twiggy and Edison.  I used soft dog treats and verbal praise as reinforcers, and used the intermediate and terminal bridges of 'x' and 'X!'.  The goal was to teach Stamp to carry a message in his collar, find a person on cue and then jump on them until he was noticed.  I figure that will eventually be useful for sending messages to the kids when I'm too lazy to get up and find them myself.  My son Julian served as assistant trainer.

           

            Session one began with Julian sitting in a chair approximately four feet away from me, holding the target between his knees so that Stamp could easily see it and reach it without much effort.  I sat Stamp next to me and signaled toward the target with my hand, making sure he had focused on it before sending him with a 'touch' command.  Julian and I both reinforced with a stream of 'xxxxxx's' as he approached the target, and a terminal bridge, 'X!' when he touched it.  Stamp ran back to me for a treat.  We repeated this a few times.  Sometimes I used the cue 'touch', which he already knew; sometimes I used the cue 'find Julian' which he did not know.  The first time I changed the cue he stopped half way to Julian and barked at me.  I encouraged him with 'touch, find Julian' while indicating in Julian's direction and he went on to the target.

After six or seven repetitions, Julian moved the target so that it was in his lap, tilted down so that Stamp could see it.  I sent Stamp the same way, and as he approached, in addition to say 'xxxxx', Julian gently waved the target to get his attention.  Stamp jumped onto his lap and we both reinforced him with treats.  We repeated this a couple of times then I moved a little further away.  Stamp performed well at the longer distance, however, after a couple of repetitions he had gotten too excited and started barking and jumping about instead of remaining focused on the task.  Whenever Stamp starts his bark fests I take it as an indication that I pushed a lesson too long, so we took a break.

 

            We started session two after a break of a couple minutes.  the first send was again to Julian in the chair with the target in his lap.  The second send was to Julian standing up, holding the target down low in front of his legs.  Stamp was not at all bothered by the change is position.  Julian raised the target a bit with each subsequent send until it was at waist height.  When the target had gotten high enough that Stamp could not reach it without jumping up, he got slightly frustrated and barked at Julian rather than trying to reach the target.  We both immediately stopped 'x-ing' and Julian gently moved the target about to encourage Stamp to reach for it.  After a few seconds Stamp lunged up and was immediately reinforced.  On the next send he jumped quite purposefully at Julian to reach the target.  We then asked for longer duration, reinforcing only after two or three jumps.  Sometimes I pushed for too much and Stamp reverted to barking and running back and forth between us.  We took another break after he had successfully mastered jumping repeatedly.  These two sessions totaled about ten minutes including the break.

We started the third and final session the next day with a quick review of each step that we had already gone through.  Stamp was very focused on task and performed with very little barking.  As soon as we'd finished the review, Julian held the target so that a tiny bit of it was covered by his shirt.  Stamp went for the target as though nothing had changed.  Julian moved the target further and further up his shirt with each send until it was entirely under his shirt.  Stamp continued to run full speed to Julian and jump on him on cue despite the disappearance of the target.  At one point in the session someone rang the doorbell  and Stamp, who normally feels it is his duty to charge to the door barking, was clearly torn between the draw of the door and the draw of the training session.  He split the difference and ran to Julian, jumping on him while barking at the top of his lungs and looking meaningfully at the door.

 

            Once the target was completely out of sight we stopped using it and I started sending Stamp from further and further away with his message to 'find Julian.  At the end of the third session he was crossing the livingroom and turning the corner to the hallway to jump repeatedly on Julian.  As soon as Julian had touched the message on his collar, instead of ending with a reinforcer, I gave him the command 'here' and he ran to my finger target to be reinforced.  To make this task useful in everyday life it seemed to me that it was important for the dog to understand that the person who sent him was the one who would ultimately reinforce him, that way the person who had sent the message would always get a confirmation of delivery by way of the dog returning without the note.

 

CONCLUSIONS

           

            There are a few conclusions I've come to while working on this experiment.  The first is a reaffirmation that target raining any animal is extremely useful for almost any future task you might want the animal to perform.  The target is not only useful to show the animal exactly where and exactly what you want, it also serves as a focal point which increases drive and concentration regardless of the species.  The clearest example of this was the camel.  Twiggy was able to conquer her fears because she had something clear to concentrate on and she knew she was free to bolt if she needed to.  This brings me to the next conclusion, one that I struggle with sometimes but do really believe to be true, and that is that animals have an easier time learning new tasks if they are at liberty.  The reality of life is that many animals need to learn the skill of working while leashed or haltered, but one should not confuse the need to leash an animal with the need to use the leash in training.  Does this mean that I believe an animal should never be corrected with a leash?  It depends on the animal.  I hade used a leash to control Edison and Bartok when they were outdoors, but would never dream of giving them any sort of leash correction for disobedience and expecting their behavior to improve.  Edison would become completely passive, a large immoveable lump of cat, and Bartok would panic.  On the other hand, being haltered and led will always be a fact of life for Twiggy and she needs to learn to give to the pressures of a halter without becoming fearful.  Being leashed is a reality for Stamp to, and in all honesty, once Stamp clearly understands a behavior, I am not adverse to using the leash to guide or correct him into the desired behavior if he is not complying.

 

            These four animals are different in species and in individual character.  Their behavior and response to training reflects these differences.  Most important, however, are the similarities.  When clearly guided and reinforced fairly, each animal was able to learn its assigned task in a very short time.  It behooves us as trainers to question what we're doing rather than what's wrong with the animal when our training progresses slowly and bumpily.  Animals that are untrainable are few and far between, as trainers we know that but still fall back on wondering why this particular (pick any species) that we are working with is so (fearful, stubborn, stupid, inattentive ? pick one) when what we really need to focus on is opening the channel of communication.

END

 

 

 
















March 2001
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Baby Stamp's second day in New York City