Friday, January 14, 2011

Help! My dog is a kitchen speed-bump!

Well - actually not my dogs - but a desperate question from someone who has taken some private lessons. Knowing it's probably pretty common - and something I'd surely deal with if I a) spent time cooking in my kitchen or b) hadn't established the kitchen "zone" many many moons ago.

The boys have to stay "out"
while I make some dinner.
Situation is as follows:
Owner is an avid cook - takes meal preparation very seriously and to a whole new level of art form...needless to say it's impressive. Owner has a sporting breed mix who is very much "part of the family", Owner loves to share the cooking experience with her two legged family- but Fluffy has gotten WAY TOO involved in the process of meal preparation - underfoot while his people have very sharp knives. Fluffy has gotten more than his fair share of "reinforcement" for being underfoot as bits of food have been dropped (accidently) and Fluffy has been allowed (even encouraged) to clean up the floor. This problem came to a head recently when Fluffy maneuvered in front of  his owner while she was carrying a casserole dish from the oven to the counter. She fell, glass broke, hot food spilled, Fluffy helped himself....hot broken glass, 350 degree hot food, slippery floor - the situation was just getting out of hand and while they were lucky this time, next time someone is really going to get hurt..

Proposed Solution:
A variation of the place game - rules can be a bit different but it's a trained behavior and has to start while the kitchen is empty. Fluffy will be taught to hang out in the den and dining room while people are cooking in the kitchen. Fluffy's people do not want to install gates and do not want to crate Fluffy (indefinitely) every time they step into the kitchen to work. Certainly (and alternatively), with a crate trained dog this problem could be solved without any training at all by kenneling Fluffy during meal prep for the foreseeable future..

First: While you are training an "out" (yes I think it's OK to use the same word as I use in agility for go "out" and take that jump away from me), you need to stop the behavior from happening in the interim. Break the cycle. In the case of Fluffy, he's going to go into his crate with a kong while his people are cooking. Fluffy has a positive association with his crate - he likes it in there, but he has not been crated in the home in about 6 months.

Second: Clearly understand what behavior you want to have while you are in the kitchen. Is it OK if the dog is up and moving around outside of your defined space? Do you want the dog laying down just across the threshold? Defining where and what is a necessary step in this process.  In Fluffy's case (and in my home too) there is a clear threshold between "kitchen" and "dining room" and "kitchen" and "living room". Fluffy's owner has determined that Fluffy may choose either living room or dining room and fluffy has no relative behavior (Fluffy must remain behind the threshold, but he can stand, sit, down, pace, etc). The soul objective is to remain out of the kitchen on a single command. Fluffy IS allowed to walk through the kitchen when his owners are not cooking - in other words he will be asked to leave the kitchen as circumstances dictate and will be expected to remain outside the kitchen until he's either invited back in, or his owners are finished cooking.

Third: Fluffy's people start with a dixie cup full of Cheerios and a clicker - standing just on the other side of the threshold. Fluffy is interested when he sees Mom pick up the clicker and Fluffy starts offering behaviors...Mom clicks Fluffy whenever he's on the other side of the threshold - tossing the cheerios further into the room. Once Fluffy gets the hang of this at close distance, the next session she moves to the second kitchen threshold and repeats the conditioning. Once Fluffy is happily bouncing out into the dining and living rooms, the owners put a word on the behavior. Fluffy's family decided on "too many cooks" (in the kitchen).

Cheerios
Fourth: Working one threshold at a time, Fluffy's mom gradually increases her distance from the threshold while being consistent about Fluffy's positioning across the threshold and consistently delivering the treats behind Fluffy..After they've increased distance they begin to delay the delivery of the cheerios - increasing the duration that Fluffy is remaining across the threshold. Remember - at this stage of the game (about a week into the behavior training) Fluffy is still chilling in his crate while the family is cooking, preparing food, etc. They are actively PREVENTING inadvertent reinforcement (dropped and scavenged viddles) while they are training the incompatible behavior.

Fifth: Once everyone in the household is able to go into the kitchen, declare "too many cooks" and Fluffy leaves the room they are ready to start working with some higher stakes. I'm still having them fill dixie cups of cheerios. Now that they start preparing food they are to increase the rate of reinforcement. Fluffy ONLY gets cheerios for "too many cooks" - he does not get preparation scraps for his threshold. Fluffy's people want him to have preparation scraps, but I'm able to convince them to save them and deliver them later - in his bowl and outside of the cooking/baking/food prep process. They begin cooking, declaring "too many cooks" and reinforcing the threshold. They are no longer clicking the behavior - remember the click ENDS a behavior. If you click a stay and your dog breaks the stay they are within their contract to do so - so in Fluffy's case a click would be an inadvertent invitation to come into the kitchen. Fluffy's people instead say something like "good too many cooks Fluffy" and toss a small "jackpot" of cheerios across the threshold.

Sixth: Train to maintain. Over time it's important for Fluffy's people to continue to pay attention to Fluffy leaving the kitchen and offering the behavior (with or without the "too many cooks" declaration). Fluffy's folks were encouraged to keep a cup of cheerios around and to randomly reinforce with jackpots for staying out of the kitchen. If they were to stop paying (attention and food rewards) for "too many cooks" the old clean-up and underfoot behavior would return rapidly.

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