When Lyra showed some proficiency at a series of small behaviors, I wanted to string a few together. I am starting by teaching her to pick the dumbbell up from the floor, climb on the platform, and return the dumbbell to me.
Lyra has a pretty good understanding of “four feet on the platform” and “hand me the dumbbell”. They are not on a verbal cue, but the presence of the objects combined with my behavior indicate what I’d like her to do.
I placed both objects on the floor in close proximity to each other. I’d point to the dumbbell and encourage her to ‘get it’. I’ve already been using that phrase when I place it on the floor, so she has some understanding of the command (in particular when combined with an informal pointing gesture). When she picked it up, I indicated the platform and encourage her to “up”. I have also introduced that word in relation to the platform. I started out sitting on the floor facing the platform. My job was to talk her into holding the dumbbell while climbing onto the platform.
Our first efforts were not perfect. She’d climb on the platform without the dumbbell. She’d pick up the dumbbell and drop it to the get on the platform. And sometimes I’d get lucky; she’d pick up the dumbbell and climb onto the platform. For these first efforts, I’ve relaxed my “four feet on the platform” rule a little, and I click and treat anytime she gets at least two feet onto the platform and the dumbbell into my hand ( I reach out quickly to help her be successful; this is not the time to fuss over the hold). After clicking, I do make sure to get all four feet up before I actually turn over the cookie. For this exercise, I’ve found that food is a lot easier to work with than a toy since there is less coordination required on my part.
To get the cookie she needs to show some understanding of combining the dumbbell and the platform.
After a couple of lessons on this concept, I saw progress. A bit forwards and a bit backwards, but the wheels are turning in her head. My plan is to stay at this point until she confidently picks up the dumbbell and hops up on the platform with all four feet, regardless of the position of the dumbbell. Then I’d like to be able to stand up, which requires a bit of a dumbbell hold on her part.
I could have approached this differently.
I certainly had the option of spending more time working the two pieces separately and developing very strong verbal/hand cues before combining the two behaviors – that would be absolutely fine. But I think she can handle my request for “platform and dumbbell”, as long as I provide sufficient assistance (verbal and pointing). If I’m wrong and she is over faced, I’ll simply back up a bit.
Soon, I hope she’ll require minimal assistance. When I place the dumbbell on the ground, it is likely she’ll simply pick it up and jump on the platform, whether or not I give a command or give any help. Or not. If she does it, then I’ll expect her to perform this task with less and less assistance on my part. If she does not take this step, then I’ll continue to provide help as needed. When she does this task with little real effort, I will either make the job harder (place the dumbbell further away, off to the sides, or insert some other manageable challenge), or I will stop providing a 100% reward schedule. I have no idea what I’ll do; there are advantages and disadvantages to all possibilities. For now, I simply want to see how this step progresses.
Here is a video of our fourth or fifth session working on this set of behaviors. For those who are curious, I push her off of the platform to build drive – that is opposition reflex. I want her to resist my efforts to get her off.