Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Free shaping: crate training

When we first got Karma (age 6 months), I tried to confine her to a crate at night and when we left her alone.  I thought that was the safest place for her (and for everything else in the house).  She went into hysterical fits in the crate, though, shredding her bed and shrieking like a banshee.  I gave up on the crating and she magically behaves herself really well when she's alone.

When we started agility training, the instructors warned that by the third level (week 19) our dogs would need to be crated sometimes during class in crates along the side of the room.

I re-dedicated myself to the task of training her to accept being crated. I tried to lure her into the crate with the big guns of dog training: bacon, peanut butter, Velveeta. She would not put a paw in the crate to get to them, even when she was alone. When that didn't work, I figured our agility training would come to an end at week 18.

A few weeks before the deadline, it dawned on me to try free-shaping to get her into the crate. (The first behavior she learned by free-shaping was backing up onto an inclined plank. She's so pleased with learning that behavior that she does it all the time spontaneously during class.)

Step by step, over the course of days, in 5-10 minute sessions:
  • I put the crate in the living room and stocked myself with treats (chicken, hotdogs, Velveeta).
  • Stood in the living room.
  • Karma started offering behaviors (rolling over, backing up, sitting...) which I ignored.
  • When she looked in the direction of the crate, I marked (with a clicker) the behavior and gave her a treat.
  • After treating her a few times for just looking in the direction of the crate, I withheld the click/treat until she took a step toward the crate.
  • Then I waited for her to take two steps toward the crate before rewarding her.
  • Then I waited for her to get right up to the crate.
  • Then the big hurdle: I waited for her to put one paw in the crate. She did it!
Eventually (this is over the course of many days), she walked all the way into the crate.

Then I worked on increasing the amount of time she had to be in the crate before treating her.  I did this while leaving the crate door open.  I increased the time by one second at first, then later, when she was up to 15 seconds, I increased time in 5 second intervals. Then, I worked on stepping away from the crate. At first, just one step away, then two, then five, then turning my back and walking one step, etc. Eventually, I worked up to being able to turn my back, leave the room, go upstairs and come back down, while she stands quietly in the crate even though the door is open. Then I worked on incrementally closing the door. Voila! We did it! She can be crated!  Finally, we went through the same process (but much more quickly) at the training center.

I can't explain why she was willing to put a paw in the crate when we were free-shaping, but wouldn't do it when she was lured with bacon. Something about it was just fundamentally different to her. Free-shaping is a fun game to her.

Tonight we start Week 27 of agility training.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


We read Bram Stoker's Dracula for book club.  It was a fun read.  I pitched it but really had no idea what the story was beyond the fact that Dracula was a vampire.  It's considered a classic and seemed worthy of reading since it's the literary origin of an icon.

It was published in 1897, after the Industrial Revolution and about 30 years after Darwin's Origin of the Species.

In short, a group of Westerners (British, Dutch, American) defeat Dracula through use of Christianity, modern science and technology, and folklore.

Dracula is essentially pro-Western, pre-WWI propaganda. Its message is that "evil Romanians will corrupt our pure, virtuous women through sexual deviancy and our women in turn will corrupt our men thereby destroying Western civilization, therefore Romanians must be stopped; P.S. Romanians are Satan himself".

Sunday, January 24, 2010