Friday, April 15, 2011

Who’s Shaping Who?

When he was just a young Noodle, Cadence, like all puppies, could get a little “busy” and needed close supervision to keep him from finding his own entertainment around the house.  Often, if we were unable to watch him closely, or if we just needed a few quiet moments to read, we would crate him in our extra crate in the living room with a chew treat to keep him happy.  We keep a constant supply of frozen stuffed Kong toys in the freezer for just these occasions.

Now that Cadence is two and much more reliable around the house, he doesn’t require as constant supervision and is allowed a lot more freedom.   Lately, however, we have noticed an interesting chain of behavior.  Frequently when Lowell is working from home, or at the end of an evening when we sit down to read for a little while before bed, Cadence will start with a series of activities. 

Cade waiting First, he will start “poking” the other dogs and the cats, trying to get some attention.  We call it poking – he basically makes the rounds barking at everyone a couple times as they lie there annoyed, trying to ignore his pleas for attention.  He will then run to the crate, and stand there looking expectantly at us.

If this doesn’t elicit a response, he will then go to the mat by the front door, grab it, shake it a few times, then run to the crate again and wait. 

As we are just hoping for a few minutes of rest, after a few rounds, this is the typical result:

Cade Kong Hmm, what have we been reinforcing all this time?

Always humbling when the ones at the other end of the leash demonstrate how much more skilled they are at the art of shaping behavior than we are.  He has not yet reached the skill level of my first cat though, who had Lowell and I both trained to give him his water in one specific coffee mug, which needed to be dumped and refreshed with clean water every couple hours, under his close supervision.  If he didn’t come with you to the sink and watch it happen, it didn’t count.

I notice two things about Cadence’s behavior chain that interest me though.  One, we clearly were not just rewarding resting quietly in his crate, but actually reinforcing the “naughty” behavior that would precede being given some quiet crate time.  Also, it is interesting what the greater reinforcer is here.  I had assumed that the value would lie in being allowed to hang out with the whole family, but clearly if we are going to all sit around and be boring, then sometimes a crate+Kong is preferable to our company.  Of course, Border Collies like their structure – all of ours do welcome crate time as an opportunity to slow down their too-active brains.

At least they are content with payment of Kongs and fresh water.  Here’s hoping they don’t start wanting the keys to our cars, or a beach house in Maui.  We’d be doomed.

cade nose lick

No comments: