Learning Through Play

I’ve been asked by several people how I trained Inca to do the jobs she does for me.  As I wasn’t on internet much then I never did a blog,  no camera phone or anything then to take endless photo’s of every stage!   She was older and had basic obedience before I got first symptoms of Ataxia and nearly 4yrs old by the time I was teaching to do tasks like helping with dressing by which time she had all the vocabulary she needed for me to teach the ‘job’.

With JJ it has been very different.  He arrived at just over 8 weeks,  a little fluffy bundle eager to cuddle, play and eat but with no comprehension of language or ability to follow instructions!.. so how do I shape my fluffy little bundle into my full time helper by the time he reaches maturity?

The easiest way to start is wait until he does a behaviour naturally… ie sit,  then say or sign sit you have to pretty quick for him to get the connection at first.  Clicker training is very useful for this, He sits,  you click immediately and then treat,  soon he will associate the click with the action.

a 'sit' and 'look' beautifully demonstrated by JJ!

a ‘sit’ and ‘look’ beautifully demonstrated by JJ!

Interactive games are great for reinforcing the actions you want to teach as they work out how to get their food out.

'pick it up'....

‘pick it up’….

.. and 'pull'

.. and ‘pull’

For some skills I needed to work out a way to teach it specifically..  if it’s more complex you need to break the jobs down into stages.. work out what command needs teaching for each stage,  teach the commands first seperately then put the task back together again.  He will then be able to do more complex tasks where several commands need to be strung together to complete it.

Here’s an example..  I taught Inca to slide something out from under or behind an object by using this toy.

I taught Inca the 'slide item under paw' trick using this plastic igloo toy

I taught Inca the ‘slide item under paw’ trick using this plastic igloo toy

then would hide treats just under front of sofa

then would hide treats just under front of sofa

.. later she can use those skills to retrieve items such as pen I dropped

.. later she can use those skills to retrieve items such as pen I dropped

Another toy I found good for teaching a variety of skills is actually an infants toy called ‘pop up pals’,  it has a variety of different switches to activate to get the ‘animal’ to pop up.  I then treat.  This was Inca’s and bought before they started making dog toys that now do the same.

JJ has to work out which can be pressed easily with paw..

JJ has to work out which can be pressed easily with paw..

.. or maybe it be easier with his mouth?

.. or maybe it be easier with his mouth?

These problem solving skills can then be applied to real ‘jobs’ I need him to do for me as he gets older.  The other day he worked out how to get a pen that had dropped under front of TV cabinet.

JJ works out to turn body and lower right front leg to reach pen just underneath

JJ works out to turn body and lower right front leg to reach pen just underneath

The most useful skills that can apply to several easy ‘jobs’ are ‘pick it up’,  ‘bring it here’, ‘pull’ and ‘put it in’ .

JJ is practising 'pick it up',  'bring it here', and 'put it in' with this Tidy-up game

JJ is practising ‘pick it up’, ‘bring it here’, and ‘put it in’ with this Tidy-up game

here he's applying 'pull' to retrieving his snuggle puppy from the dryer

here he’s applying ‘pull’ to retrieving his snuggle puppy from the dryer

in a later session Inca shows him how to apply 'pull' to get washing out for me..

in a later session Inca shows him how to apply ‘pull’ to get washing out for me..

JJ practises 'pull'..

JJ practises ‘pull’..

and 'in the basket'

and ‘in the basket’

This is just the beginning,  he is only 4 months old on 23rd January this month so he still has a lot to learn before all this becomes automatic and he can take over fully from Inca so she can ‘retire’.  Of course he’s also been learning toilet training,  basic commands and road safety, coping with teething and has yet to go through his ‘teens’.   So he has a busy 18 months ahead of him!!

I have every faith in him though,  he is a bright little boy and that natural collie intelligence will get him far.  The first time I let him off-lead in an enclosed tennis court,  part of it is a on a slight slope at the far back of it,  so when he brought his ball to me it would roll under my scooter. The third time without me giving him any prompts at all he put his paw on top his ball as I approached to stop the ball rolling under my scooter!!!

paw on ball  to stop it rolling under scooter as I drive up to him!

paw on ball to stop it rolling under scooter as I drive up to him!

JJ’s First Xmas

photo JJ seemed to enjoy his first xmas!!   He certainly enjoyed opening all the presents even though he didn’t know why we were having a mad present fest this particular day!  🙂  (must have thought it was his birthday!)

 

This was the first day they played in the same room with food in treat dispensers,  but of course it doesn’t give them as  much space to fling their toys about without getting in each others way.

 

I let them take turns having a go at unwrapping their big present to introduce the concept of them taking turns to do something.

IMG_1393     IMG_1394

I often get them to sit or stand and pose for photo’s I think it’s good for basic obedience,  they are learning sit,  stay and wait.

"Look what Santa Paws bought us! "

“Look what Santa Paws bought us! “

As I only got JJ in November,  this first month has just been about settling in,  learning our routine,  building the relationship up between him and Inca and learning the basics ie toilet training , basic obedience and learning to walk alongside my chair/scooter.

Of course I also use sign so he’s learning the signs as my speech isn’t very consistent and depends on my muscle tone.  Sometimes it comes out clearly,  other times I struggle to get words out at all.  I find it harder when having to speak longer sentences with more than a few words strung together as of course it’s taking alot more co-ordination between my speech muscles and breathing which are all affected by the Ataxia.  Due to this I’m also starting to use a whistle for recall as sometimes I can get a whistle sound out and he comes in instantly but again its not consistent, so hopefully a whistle will help.

So far he has learnt the following commands/sentences in speech/sign:

sit,  stay,  down, wait, no, ok,  on,  off,  ride,  pick it up,  pull,  give,  off the road,  on the path,  on the grass, wait for Inca, paws up, paws off,  toilet,  tell and most recently ‘socks off”!

JJ had a go at pulling my socks off last night!

JJ had a go at pulling my socks off last night!

Most importantly the relationship between them is improving which I need for him to be able to learn from Inca directly,  so she will tolerate him been in same room as her when she is ‘working’ and so he won’t pester her and be trying to jump on her or play when she’s trying to do a job for me.

Initially Inca was not keen!

Initially Inca was not keen!

 

learning to be together

learning to be together

 

Inca's getting more relaxed near him,  but only whilst I'm there

Inca’s getting more relaxed near him

Inca doesn’t seem to growl and snap at him as much outdoors even when he tries to kiss her as they’re walking along side by side! ..  Due to heavy rain I haven’t been able to get into middle of a field with him to let him off lead safely away from cars.  I was worried he would either take off over ground I couldn’t follow him on or pester Inca and it end in a fight and I wouldn’t be able to get to them.

They have been playing  in the garden seperately cos as soon as Inca came to see what he was doing,  he took it as she wanted to play and would go charging up her and she’d get nasty with him,  same if I let them out to toilet together so neither dog would end up actually going to the toilet.  Inca was also snapping at him if he had a toy in his mouth,  although she showed no interest in playing previously other than with toys that have her food in!

walking side by side

walking side by side

.. and checking out stuff together

.. and checking out stuff together

I feel we’re ready to take the next step now so once JJ’s whistle has arrived and we’ve had a bit of training around house and garden,  I’m planning to take them a little further where there’s an enclosed tennis court we can go in to start with and see how they go on off-lead together in there with lots of treats and a couple of balls!!  🙂