I got to attend the most interesting seminar this weekend. Claudia is from Italy where she has been doing various research on something called social learning in dogs. Social learning would be learning new behaviors by observing others.
If you have watched Dogs Decoded you know of the experiment involving pointing. A dog sits in front of two cups, human puts treat under one cup and then points at that cup. A dog can follow your pointing hand. They can also follow your pointing head and even your pointing eyes! I tried this with Indi and yes, even the eyes work! They tried the same experiment on Chimpanzees and also on Wolves and neither creature had the same capability that a dog does to follow our pointing gesture.
Claudia mentioned this experiment and also told about a similar one involving a fence with a door in it. The researchers would put an object like a bone on the other side of the fence and then have a person walk around the fence to the object and back, to demonstrate to the dog how to get to it. The dog did then go around the fence. They then opened the door in the fence which was right in front of the dog. The person went around the fence again to show the dog how to get there and the dog then did that same thing, went around the fence, not through the door. This told the researchers that dogs seem to prefer the "socially learned" method to the easier method. Hmmm. Maybe the dog didn't notice the open door? But still, neat!
For the seminar our dog had to know three behaviors on verbal command only. I picked "shake" (meaning to shake hands), "get it" (to pick up something), and "turn". They should be behaviors that you can in some way mimic easily.
You have to do these sessions in the same orientation every time, so you cannot have your dog in front of you for one lesson and then at your side the next. It is useful for them to be in front of you so they can see what you are doing easier. The other key is, if you are using an object, like "touch that cone" or "get it", you have to have that object right there near you and your dog throughout the session.
So I'm standing there in front of my dog and trying to remember the proper order in which I am supposed to say things and not make a total fool of myself (while on stage with a microphone of course)...
Start by telling your dog to sit and stay (Claudia has her reasons for it only being a sit). Next, you perform your version of the command. For shake I used what Indi does with her paw, she paws at the air, waiting for my hand. Now you tell your dog "do it". This is what everyone else used but I decided that since one of my commands was "get it" it sounded too similar so I changed my word to "copy". Next you give your dog their old known verbal command and they perform their trick, then reward.
Using your three behaviors, make sure to mix them up so you are not being predictable and no more than two times in a row for any of the commands. Your dog will eventually link your body motion with their old verbal command and start performing after they hear the "do it" instead of waiting for the verbal command. At the same time they are learning that "do it" means to copy your motions. This is the first step.
I will write more about it when we move on to the next step, generalization of the "do it" command!
Here we are practicing today. This is probably our 10th little practice session since yesterday.
What do you think, is this a useful training method? Does it make sense? Do you think a dog can actually learn to copy you? I am still not 100% sure on that but it is fun to try! At the seminar a Golden was on stage and he picked it up very quickly, he practiced maybe four times before he didn't need the old verbal command anymore. It was amazing! He got the link between body motion and his old command, but what does that mean exactly?