Posts Tagged ‘Staples Easy Button’

Since the second video appears first, I wasn’t sure if everyone would get to see the text I just thought I’d share the text accompanying the “That Was Easy #1” Video in the blog. You can watch the Special Paws Channel on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/specialpawstraining. Here’s the text:

The “Easy Button” trick is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Alfonse. Special Dark’s version of the trick was inspired by trainer and chow fancier extraordinaire Layla Loveless, whose wonderful Alfie was the king of the easy button trick and spent many happy moments pressing it in response to the question “how was your homework?”

Notice that when I ask for the “high five” my hand is already up when I start to ask for it. With any behavior, it’s always best to make sure your dog can respond to both a visual and a verbal cue. This way no matter which you use in a given situation you dog will know how to respond. Normally if you’re still in the process of teaching the cue, you might choose to get the action reliable before you add the verbal cue. Remember the usual order is: verbal cue, pause, hand signal. Why? Because dogs will respond much faster to our body language than our words, it’s what they’re looking for. So if you give a hand signal while you’re saying something to your dog, your dog will usually hone in on the body language, and discard the words as extraneous information!  When you train a new verbal cue, your dog eventually learns that your new word predicts a particular hand signal that he already understands and that once he performs that hand signal there is usually a reward. Eventually your dog will hear the words and not wait for your hand signal and skip straight to the fastest route to the reward—performing the behavior you’re asking for! And voila, he’s learned his new task, now you’re ready to face your treats.

Do you think Special seems to be responding to the hand signal or the verbal cue when I ask him for the high five? Why would both of these signals be present together in that situation? Can you tell from this clip whether Special understands both the verbal and visual signal for the high five?

 In actuality, Special will give a high five for three signals: the visual signal alone and also for two different phrases! Why? It just sort of evolved as we continued working on new things with him. Much like over time, after he learned all the cues separately, I overlapped the verbal and visual cue for this particular behavior. He only needs one cue. But because after he’s learned both a visual and verbal one, I’m used to only giving verbal cues and by the nature of this trick I must make some sort of physical gesture towards him, my human brain has merged the two! And it took making this video for me to realize that!

The key is the overlap (if there is going to be an overlap) should only come after the dog has learned all the cues separately. My overlaps only occur during high fives and paws. Why is there even an overlap at all? Only because I love to talk to him! Remember, our dogs only need one cue– and they’ll focus on the easiest to understand and disregard the rest. It’s a reminder to always be aware of what you’re signaling to your dog. What you think you’re signaling may not always be what they are understanding!


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Well, now it’s easy anyway (if you haven’t had a chance to see Special Dark in action take a look at www.youtube.com/specialpawstraining). But in the beginning…

When we first brought the Staples Easy Button home a couple of years ago and pressed it for the first time, Special Dark was afraid of it. We were so busy with working on so many tricks with Special at the time that it ended up sitting on a shelf for at least a year.

Then one day during a conversation with fellow trainer and chow fancier extraordinaire, Layla Loveless; she mentioned that her pup Alfie had a new trick—to push the Easy Button! I just thought that was one of the cutest things I’d ever heard and decided to try it with Special Dark.

Given that he was quite fearful of the button, it was going to be a bit challenging.

So how did I teach him? I started by placing the button on the floor, and sitting beside it. I had a bag of chicken with me (one of the items on the very top of Special’s reward list!) Every time he came near the button or looked at it from a distance he was praised extra, extra exuberantly and got a piece of chicken!  After a while, every time I set the button down, Special got visibly excited (whole body wiggling, mouth open and all facial muscles relaxed). Then, he began offering more and more behaviors. He started coming closer and closer to the button until he started rushing towards it upon seeing it. He then started smelling the button when I set it down.  Once these new responses of approach and smelling were consistently more frequent than his older ones, I would “jackpot” these responses for him: he’d get a few pieces of chicken for approaching and smelling the button and only one piece for those times he simply approached it and just high praise if he looked at it from a distance.  

Eventually, he would come towards it when I had it in my hand, even before I set the button down. Since Special already knew paw and high five, I began holding the button for a few seconds in my hand. He began pawing at it! This is partly because he already knows that when I hold my hand out a certain way, it means for him to place his paw in mine (or occasionally apparently it means to exuberantly slam his hand into mine—as a woman also once found out when she tried to offer him her hand to smell! Well he recognized that hand gesture as “paw,” so he gave her one! She couldn’t stop laughing and neither could I!).

When he was consistently pawing at the button, he was rewarded with chicken only for the pawing action, and only praised for other button directed behaviors such as smelling it. I began setting the button on the floor again and he continued to paw at it once I had set it down. In time he became so excited at the site of the button he’d run over and paw at it. This pawing response was jackpotted and everything else got verbal praise. Eventually, if he attempted to paw at it while it was still in my hand, he got no chicken– chicken only came when he pawed at it when it was on the ground. When he was consistently pawing at it, I began asking “how was it?” each time before he had a chance to touch it. Next, he would only get rewarded if he pushed the button only when I asked him to by saying “how was it?” If he pushed the button for no question, there was no reward.  Before long, he understood that my asking “how was it” became the verbal signal to paw at the button.  Eventually, I left the button on the ground and whenever he heard “how was it” he’d paw at the button!

Now, I could begin to ask him to discriminate between cues, so I could ask him to do other things, like sit pretty, before asking “how was it?”

As we went on with this I began refining his button pushing too: Special is very gentle when he touches things with his paws so he wouldn’t always make the button “speak.” In fact, often his little paws would simply hover over the button like a game show contestant waiting to buzz in for the correct answer! So I began only rewarding those gorgeous responses when he’d actually make contact and only when he made the button make sound!

There are of course, many other ways to go about this. For one, you might choose not pick up the button the way I did, you could simply wait for the dog to touch the button on her own.

While this little trick is so fun and super cute, it’s also very functional. It’s one more thing Special and I can do together strengthening and deepening our bond even more. It gave him plenty of mental stimulation to learn a new trick and most importantly, it got him over a fear of something. While this is one of those things where you might ask, “so what, he’s afraid of a button?,” the way I see it, the more things in life I can show him are positive and not scary, and the more I can help him become a more confident dog, the better his life is, especially since we didn’t have him during his critical period of socialization. Whether that involves showing him he doesn’t have to be afraid of a tricycle abandoned on its side in the grass, a giant teddy bear by the dumpster in the dark or a button that makes a sound; or if it involves learning cues and tricks, every task he learns builds his confidence and gives us quality bonding time. What could be better than that?

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