Saturday, October 9, 2010

Another take on Stimulus Control.

Here’s a blog post from Lynn, the owner of Weimaraners Lily & Shayla, giving me another lightbulb moment about Stimulus Control.

Stimulus Control (click to go to original post with videos)

Here is the definition of stimulus control from Wikipedia:

1. The behavior occurs immediately when the cue is given.
2. The behavior never occurs in the absence of the cue.
3. The behavior never occurs in response to some other cue.
4. No other behavior occurs in response to this cue.

Have I mentioned that Lily is a clever girl?

In our home, Lily has a singularly important job. It is up to her to activate the Emergency Call Box if needed. Once activated, the Emergency Call Box dials 911. It is, therefore, EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that this behavior is on stimulus control.

Lately, however, when I am seated in the room where the call box is located, reading, perhaps, or watching TV and Lily would prefer that I attend to her ... she has begun to activate the call box to tell me, "Let's play!" or "Let's train!" or "Pay attention to me!" (During the training period, the call box is not connected to the phone line).


When training her Close the (front) Door behavior, if, in the process, she must pass the call box to get to the front door, she makes a quick detour and activates the call box "just in case".

A classic example of the need for getting this behavior back on stimulus control if there ever was one.

Early in the Levels when we begin teaching our dogs Duration, we teach Two-fers and wait for her to offer the behavior a second time, as if to say, "Hey, stupid! Didn't you just see me DO that?"

Lily offers the ultimate "Hey, stupid!" in this video clip.

(She pushes the box for a couple of seconds, creating a very long buzz)

When I initially began teaching the Emergency Call Box chain of behaviors, I first used the verbal cue, "Call" for the activation behavior. Then, changed the cue because in "real life" the cue to activate the call box would be NO cue - or no verbal cue. My inert, silent body becomes the cue. So I must be careful in the process of re-teaching stimulus control to not lose the final desired behavior.

Now I am about to begin teaching a variation of this behavior outside in public. Should I be on the ground and unconscious while we are out somewhere, it will be Lily's job to Down beside me and to remain there until someone picks up her leash and moves her, in order to assist me.

Just think about this for a minute.

More likely than not, in a public situation, she will be wearing her vest and she will be on leash. Then, suddenly, will find herself with a free leash, responsible to remain beside me no matter what the distractions and for an indefinite period of time.

I cannot train this behavior in the house, because my body position is the cue to activate the call box IN THE HOUSE. As always, I will need to control my environment to absolute minimal distraction when introducing the "new" behavior. And, ideally, I will have another trainer or person near by to keep concerned passers by from thinking I am in need of help.

I have been slow to begin training this behavior because I wanted to think through as many contingencies as possible. With Shayla, I taught her to leave me and to Get Help. With Lily, I have reconsidered and want her to remain.

A new and different training challenge for me.

Stimulus control is an important part of that challenge. Who would have thought it could be SO important?

The picture is from December 2007. Ain’t that pretty?!

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