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How Does Shaping Work With Operant Conditioning

Shaping and Model Training Combined!

After a few days of making sure Friday is settled in with her newborns, we're back to the routine. I'm to go to train Matty and bring Maui along, but this time, I'll try to do some shaping on the side. According to her owner, Matty's obedience lessons are going well and it's a matter now of reinforcing them. I talked to her about potentially teaching Matty to fetch specific items and she said why not because after all, Matty is a retriever, and if she could teach Matty to pick up certain things like her shoes or a pen, then she'll enjoy her time with him much more. 

I still had Maui wear the shock collar, although this time, it's loose and I'm using plastic prongs as we don't need negative reinforcement for now. He also seemed more attentive with Matty around, probably because he thinks if he doesn't focus, Matty gets the food reward instead. I'm bringing some cooked liver with me and I'm already expecting Maui to be competitive about it. Hopefully, they don't end up fighting about it. 

Like before, I let Matty and Maui interact. They rough house a little and it's clear that Matty is taking the "submissive" part of the play as he keeps laying down and exposing his belly to Maui while pawing him, but when he gets up, he tries to nibble at Maui's hind legs which then starts their "bowing" part again and they chase each other. After a few minutes they both visibly calmed down and I made the collar beep to signal training. 

I want to note that I absolutely love that I taught Maui to approach when he hears the collar beep. It's convenient, especially because of the range. I'm taking Maui camping with us in a few months, so I'll be able to put this collar to the test. 

I only needed Maui's attention but Matty seems also to understand that it was training time. I also wanted to show "shaping" to Matty's owner so she can also teach him complex stuff in the future. She's getting herself a shock collar too, so I might as well share some of the techniques I've learned. Maybe she'll be better at it, maybe she'll develop her own version of it. 

I started by placing the "training shoe" close to my feet. I prepared the clicker and said, "Get!" while pointing at it. It took a few tries for Maui to remember, but he held the shoe in his mouth. I didn't wait for him to place it on my hand since I know he'd just stare at me, so I clicked and tossed a piece of liver into his mouth. 

Since the shoe was already close to him, I said "Get!" again while pointing at the shoe. It was more of a gamble but he did grab the shoe again. Matty was going close to me, trying to score the smelly treat, but he wouldn't get anything yet. He needs to see Maui get the shoe for a bit until I bring in my second training tool. 

It was just an old shoe from her owner. I placed it on the ground along with Maui's training shoe so that Matty can understand the goal. The idea is to continue Maui's training in retrieving the shoe and only give Matty a reward if he can pick up the other shoe. It doesn't matter which shoe it is for now since we're only teaching them the act of getting stuff and putting it in my hand. 

And so the shaping continued. I kept telling Maui to "Get!" my shoe and after 3 commands, he eventually remembered to place it on my hand. Matty, on the other hand, tried to paw at my hand whenever I'm about to throw the treat. Thankfully, he's not trying to catch it or get it from Maui, because that might start a fight.

I'm really banking on Matty learning something moderately complex quickly by just observing Maui. two times now he looked at Maui when he was getting the shoe. If Matty at least picks the other shoe up and holds it in his mouth for two seconds, I'd reward him. 

I'm reminded that you don't actually need two dogs to do the model-rival training. You can have another person do the task, provided human behavior is something a dog can do physically like moving an object. Thanks to my "research", my streaming app recommends certain videos and one of them was two ladies teaching a Yorkie to topple a water bottle through model-rival training. First, the trainer gave the Yorkie a treat that looks like food pellets, just to let the dog have a taste of the prize. Then the trainer says "Push!" and the other person pushes the bottle down, then the trainer gives the treat to the person. (It would have been funny if the second person also consumed the treat.) The trainer resets the bottle and commands again. The Yorkie keeps trying to grab the food but to no avail as the other person is doing the rewarding behavior. 

After about six tries, the Yorkie suddenly slaps the bottle almost angrily, then gets the food pellets. They cheered and continued the training a few more times just to give the Yorkie a chance to get more treats. It was a very nice way to show how the model-rival method works. It's still part of Operant Conditioning since you're rewarding the behavior, and offers a nice "shortcut" into teaching them. 

With that daydream out of the way, I kept on training Maui and he's currently placing the shoe on my hand, but still not letting it go until I present the treat. I was stuck with this last time, but I place my faith in shaping. This time, I didn't grab the shoe, I just opened my hand below his mouth and waited for him to release the shoe. 

I said "Get!" again to urge Maui to drop the shoe and I didn't grab a treat yet so he won't drop it expecting the food. I was surprised when he did, but I was even more surprised when Matty suddenly grabbed the other shoe on the ground. He didn't bring it to my hand. He wailed his head around as if proclaiming that he did a thing and should be noticed. I clicked for Matty and Maui and brought out two treats, tossing them in different directions. Matty almost caught it, so he's learning pretty fast. 

The next part of the training was a little difficult as I had to keep resetting for two dogs, and Matty sometimes gets the shoe as soon as it lands without my command. Maybe his breed-specific instincts are starting to kick in, assuming that's a thing. That, or maybe he just likes to play fetch like most dogs and is thinking of initiating some play. 

Alas, I'm running out of cooked liver so I pushed on to the training, trying to keep the pace up. Maui properly drops the shoe somewhere in the direction of my hand, and Matty grabs the shoe wherever it may be and plays with it. It took Maui several tries of shaping just to hold the shoe in his mouth, so I think this model-rival training is the real deal. My plan of taking advantage of Matty's retriever skills to turn and then train Maui via Model Rivalry is starting to take shape. 

Matty's owner was surprised by how fast it works. She shared how part of her curriculum before she became a teacher, was to extensively learn about the principles of operant conditioning and how it can be applied to students.

I chiefly learned about it through the lens of dog training, but it's also widely used in teaching students, particularly kids and toddlers. She told me how a toddler learning to walk is already a type of self-shaping because the toddler's reward for it is increased autonomy. The target behavior is being able to stand on two legs and walk, and the toddler will work towards that goal through several small steps. Achieving autonomy is one of the primary reinforcers and Mom and Dad's positive behavioral response are the secondary reinforcers. 

It's the same when it comes to teaching kids right and wrong. I recalled back then how positive punishment was used on us in the form of shaming, making the noisy students wear a sign saying "I am a bad example." for hours. It was brutal back then. These days the worst punishment you'd get for misbehaving is a negative punishment in the form of a time-out, where you are removed from the group while the teacher continues the lesson and possibly something fun. Eventually, associative learning kicks in, and they associate being noisy or misbehaving with something extremely horrible in today's time: The Fear of Missing Out. 

 She tells me that these days, some parents only give attention to their kid's undesirable behavior. With our ever-busy and sometimes hustle-oriented lifestyles, we only take action when our kid does something bad, and often don't reward them or give them enough attention when they try to do something good. She went on about how some parents just expect their kids to do good and only punish bad behavior. 

I was partially guilty of this because I only ever praise my daughter when she does better at something she's bad at. She's great at reading and writing so I don't give it much attention compared to her skills in arts and crafts.  

I directed the conversation back to dog training and she did understand how shaping works, basically breaking complex behavior into achievable steps and rewarding positive behavior. The backbone of the training is the high rate of response the dog must be subjected to and letting them learn on their own. 

As I mentioned before, It takes a certain 

 

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