Thursday, August 21, 2014

23 Months: Proofing Behavior

Emma had been a rock star for a long time with the light switch.  She had quickly gotten the idea to push up and pull down to flip the switch and once I taught her to stand against the wall and work with a switch with an extender we had the first inkling of a full blown task.

She started to target and work the switch without the extender in my bedroom, but once again, I had to break the behavior apart to rebuild it.  I didn't mind.  She quickly got the idea again and was really enjoying herself.  It was time to start having her "help" around the house by doing light switches as I needed and to build distance.

I got her doing the light switch in the bedroom nightly and had built her up to about 5 feet from the switch, which still wasn't a bedroom distance to it, when it all seemed to fall apart.  She started to shy away from the task, refuse food and even began showing fear signs.  I was confounded.

I started to work with her to rebuild from the base up and she was shutting down.  I didn't understand.  I couldn't figure out why she was suddenly pulling out when, even with visiting dogs, she had been doing so well.

I have not, since then, gotten more than 2 feet away from the light switch and can only do one or two repeats with her before she starts to shy and pull out of the game.  I did one morning ask for the light switch and then ask for a well known behavior and then the light switch and three or four well known behaviors to build up her joy again.  It had been gone for a bit and I worried.

She went on vacation with her family for 6 days at one point and again for 4 days at another.  When she returned she was in a good mood and playful, but not in the game.  I had expected that and took the time to build her back up to playing the training game with me.

I also switched between the light switch and the door task.  I finally got her pulling with enough force to pull the door open, even with resistance, and got her consistently pulling it open on cue.  There is no distance on the task.  It took me all that time to build up good pressure on the pull cord and a consistent effort with the right amount of pull to get the task.  She tends to just mouth the cord and look for her reward and I had to carefully craft the task for a consistent sharp pull to open the door.

After that I noted that my door tends to swing back shut when she lets the cord go.  I went to train her to hold the door open by holding the cord and she became fretful.  I stopped at that point because I had to rethink how to have her open the door and keep it open long enough for her handler to go through it.  I have since solved that and will have her do a shoulder block instead, so I need to finish up and polish the task for her handler.

That leaves us with consistently crossing the bedroom to turn on or off a light switch.  She isn't close to it yet.  She needs to learn to block the door, which she's starting to get, but it worries her when it touches her.  This worry is less than trying to teach her to hold the cord, so I think we'll be okay.

But there is one other thing.  She's back to up and down training, which makes getting the behavior so much harder.  Some days she's okay and can handle the stress of the training and some days she's not.  Lately it's been more of the later.

I was informed by a member of the family that she'd been taken into public access recently, right around the time I started having problems with her overall training.  Though not very busy stores, even the low level public access training she's been doing has created long term fall out during the week when she returns to me.  She's barking non-stop again.  She gets going and simply cannot stop herself.  She's easily stressed and frightened again.  She's showing all the signs I saw after a single 10 minute outing when training her for public access and it's affecting her ability to learn - again.

Which leads us to this week.  I have started using Practical Application as a way to progress her learning and dropping the formal, more stressful, training to get her to advance.  I had to do this before with her retrieve when she found it unduly stressful.  It worked and today retrieve is one of her favorite tasks.

Today I had a man from Avista come and work on the house.  He was here for about an hour and during the last five minutes he went outside to check my meter.  Emma lost it.  Though she'd been friendly and calm with him in the house, the moment he was in the yard she completely lost her mind and was even growling at him.  She cannot do public access, she is stressing enough she is becoming fear reactive due to her insecurities with strangers.

All day long I ask for her best known tasks and throw in her newer ones to build up distance.  She's up to 2 feet, but it's a shaky 2 feet.  When I ask for her to get the light she goes and checks my Baker's Shelf first and then looks to me and then dances in circles and finally, with reassurance and guidance, gets the light.  I, by the way, get the same thing when I am right next to it.

Today she went straight to the light and with joy flipped it on and off when I needed.  This is excellent.  I will continue to work this until she can cross the room and do the light at night, which I still ask for and get the basic idea of doing lights built up.

Since her handler's light switch is too tall for her, I'll also take time next week to build the idea of standing on a stool.  This should solve the problem and make things easier on her overall.  I just want to split this fine enough she is successful.

She is opening the door with the cord on her own when she wants to find me.  This means she has the idea set well in her mind and next week we'll begin working distance on the door.  Right now, just working one item on distance should be enough for her.

This week, taking a slower and quieter approach has calmed her overall.  She's not doing the rolling barking nor is she constantly alert barking or destroying every stuffed toy she finds.  It's a step back to the calmer, more confident Emma I had achieved prior to her latest fall apart.

Hopefully I'll start seeing some forward progression again with Emma and get her to doing a solid and proofed behavior with the light switches and doors soon.

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