Monday, January 01, 2007

Try, try again....

I decided to try something different for both targeting the mat and targeting the crock.

For targeting the mat, I moved it closer to me and change its position from vertical to horizontal. When I would reward Jinx for putting her feet on the mat, I would have the reward positioned so she had to put her front paws on my leg (I am sitting on the floor with my legs crossed). After she gets her reward, she gets down and because of the position of the mat and the reward she moves all 4 paws onto the mat. It seemed to be working well, so I moved the mat away about 2 inches and she continued to put all 4 paws on the mat after getting down. I am going to continue moving the mat away and then work on her targeting it from different directions.

The crock is not going as well. I was having some success with doing the same thing, moving the crock so it was right in front and then rewarding her with her feet my leg. When she got down her front feet would land on top of the crock, but she didn't seem to be "getting" it. The next session I decided to use the target stick. I held it above the crock so she had to get her front feet up to touch it. We will see how this works over the next couple of sessions.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bad blogger...

I haven't done an entry for a while. The holidays make everything else kind of crazy!

I haven't been training as much as I would like either. That is one of my New Year's resolutions- to do some training everyday. I don't know why it seems so hard to take 5 minutes and train. I don't just do that with training, I do it with everything! So I am going to work on that this year.

Sorry for the tangent. Back to clicker training. I am still working on targeting the target stick and targeting the mat. Jinx is doing pretty well with the target stick although now that I am extending it out more she occasionally targets the stick portion and not the ball on the end. Maybe I extended it to quickly. I have also taken this on the road! I have worked her several times on a bench. There is nothing for her to investigate and she has been doing well. She even worked when my cat, Bitsa, decided to join us for some distractions.

With the mat I am working on her getting her whole body on to it. She is good with getting her front feet on, but getting the rear on is hard. I am trying to reward her close to the mat so that she gravitates to the area.

In my last post, I mentioned the recommendation from the book "Right On Target" about teaching one type of nose, paw and body target before teaching another. So I have started working with Jinx on targeting her front feet to an upside down food crock. This is taking a little longer than I had hoped. I started by clicking her for sniffing the top of the crock, but so far the only way I have been able to get her to put a paw on it, is by rewarding her on the opposite side of the crock she sniffed. This is basically luring and it doesn't seem to be helping. Plus, I don't like doing it because she is concentraing on the food and not the action she just did. I will continue a few more times and if we still are moving ahead, I think I will try something lower to the ground.

Ferrets aren't the most body conscious critters! That may be what is making the mat and crock harder than the nose target. My girls are forever running and banging into things when they are playing and doing their wicked weasel wardance. I can't complain though, I am not too graceful either!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Targeting the Mat

The next session went very well also. I decided to start working with her on going to a mat. A folded bandanna is what I am using for the mat. In true ferret fashion, as soon as I put it on the floor, Jinx's curiosity made her go over to it so I had the opportunity to click. I started out clicking for her sniffing it and then waited for her to put her paws on it. Luckily, that didn't take long. The main thing I need to remember is to reward her so she has to come off the mat to eat. This sets her up for the next rep.

We are continuing to work with the target stick. I am moving it further away so she has to look for it. She is doing well with this.

I just got the book- Right On Target! Taking Dog Training To A New Level by Mandy Book and Cheryl S. Smith. It gives step by step instructions for training targeting which is great for those who find it hard to break behaviors down into small steps. They recommend teaching a nose target, paw target and body target each before training another nose target, paw target, etc. This way the dog (or ferret in my case) won't get stuck offering just the one behavior, such as a nose touch each time when you want them to try something else. I like the advice and am trying to think of what we can work on for paw targeting.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Eureka! She's Got It!

Our session last night was great! Jinx is getting it! I did 10 reps offering the target stick about 3 inches away from her, sometimes to her left, sometimes to her right, other times in front. She got each one! The very last rep I decided to hold the target stick above her head so she had to reach up to touch it and she did it!!

The only issue we had was how long it takes for her to finish her treat. I used her chicken soup watered down so it was like soup. Her treat was she got to lick the soup. It would take her several seconds to finish after her lick and re-engage. I will continue to work on this.

Now that she is understanding what the click means, I am going to start working on her going to a mat.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Great Article on Clicker Training Ferrets!

Here is a great article written by Joan Orr and Teresa Lewin from Karen Pryor's website,

Clicker Training Your Ferret

The First Behavior- Targeting

The very first behavior I started working with Hijinx was targeting. Targeting is when your pet touchs some part of their body to something, in this case I started with Hijinx touching her nose to my finger and a target stick.

I always found this an easy behavior to teach my dogs and something that really helps them understand what clicker training is. Since ferrets are so curious I figured the odds of Jinx touching my finger or the target stick would be pretty high.

First, I charged the clicker about 10 times by clicking and then giving a treat right away. I didn't do this with my dogs and they caught on quickly, but some reason felt I should do it with my ferret. Then I got ready to target. I put my finger out and Yay! Jinx touched it, so I clicked. I was able to repeat a few times before Jinx lost interest. I ended the session.

The next session I worked on targeting my finger a few times, as well as a target stick. Jinx had no problem touching the target stick when it was first presented. I was only able to do both the finger and target stick a few times before Jinx lost interest again.

I have not practiced as often as I should (shame on me!). Over the last 2 months, I have only done about 5 sessions. Partly, because I have been doing more training with my dogs, but also because I get a little discouraged working with Jinx. It is not her fault, I just think my expectations are too high. I am used to working with my dogs who will work for anything and work for long times.

Some of my frustrations- Jinx will only work for very short sessions so I am not able to do many reps, I never know what treat she will work for that day and when I give her a treat, it takes her much longer than a dog to eat. Now all of these are things I can work with, I just need to remember the training sessions are not about me, they are about watching Jinx to see what works,where we need to move forward and where we need to step back.

For the treat issue- I am trying to make treats as small as possible, I may try chicken broth in a bottle as she wouldn't have to chew it. I also think part of the short sessions is that she still hasn't really grasped the meaning of the clicker. After this mornings session, though, I think we are making progress. I used a mixture of half baby food and water as the treat and just worked with the target stick. Currently, I am offering the target stick about 3 inches away from her so she has to move to it touch it. The baby food was taking a little long for her to get down so I was not able to reinforce as often as I would like, but I think I was able to see Jinx "getting it". She was really interested in the baby food, so much that she missed touching the target a couple of times when I offered it because she was looking for the food. When I offered the target again and she touched it, I saw the light come on when I clicked and treated. She eagerly touched the target for a few more reps and then got a jackpot of the babyfood. I was able to do about 10 reps which is more than we have ever done! Hopefully, this will carry over to the next session!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

My Training Tool of Choice- The Clicker

It's just a little plastic box with a piece of metal that snaps when it is pressed, but oh, the power it has. But the power is not contained in the clicker, but in how the person using it. The clicker is used to mark a behavior your ferret is doing. By marking it and then reinforcing immediately after the click, you are letting your ferret know that she is on the right track. But why the clicker? Why not just say "good ferret!"? Why not just give a treat?

Good questions! There are several reasons I prefer the clicker to a verbal marker like "good ferret". One reason is it helps provide information without any emotion in it. I know from dog training that when I a lot of how I am feeling into my training sessions. If I am not feeling well or had a bad day at work, my "good dog" was not that same as when I was feeling good. My tone and how I would say it would also change depending on how our training session was going. If my dog was not catching on and I was starting to get upset over it, my "good dog" would more flat. If it was going well or my dog finally got something we were working on, "good dog" would be more high pitch. I found that tone of voice meant a lot more to my dogs than what I said. If you have a dog, try this. Say "Good dog" as if your dog is Lassie and just found Timmy down the well. Then say "Good dog" as if you just found your dog had destroyed your beloved CD collection. Did your dog react different each time you said "Good dog"? Each clicker may vary slightly from the next, but an individual clicker will make the same sound each time you click, no matter what your mood (although I don't recommend training when you are in a bad mood, I always find it carries over into my training sessions no matter what).

Are You Looking for Love?

I added a Featured Pet Module from Petfinders. It features ferrets available for adoption from the 2 shelters I adopted 3 of my fuzzies from. Sugar and Spice came from the Pennsylvania Ferret Club and Shelter and Sprite came from Tiny Prints on the Heart Ferret Shelter. There are many, many ferrets across the country that are looking for a second chance so if you are thinking about adding a ferret to your family- consider adopting a shelter ferret.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting started.

Clicker training doesn’t require much equipment to get started and you probably have items around the house you can use.

A clicker- I use a regular box clicker, I seem to have them all over the place (but can never find one when I need it!). There are other types of clickers available also- the Triple Crown Clicker and the I-click are 2. An ink pen that can be clicked will work as will a lid from a Snapple bottle (press the center of the lid).

Treats- you want something the ferret really likes and you want it to be very small- about the size of O is good. With clicker training you want the reinforcement rate to be high so you want something the ferret can eat quickly. This was one of the hardest things for me as most treats for ferrets are big. I also am careful about what food and treats I give my ferrets so I stay away from sugary treats. What I have been using are- The Ferret Store Superior Choice One Ingredient Chicken Treats- these can be broken in to small pieces rather easily; Totally Ferret Chicken Bits- these are small pellets that can also be broken into smaller pieces; N-Bones- these require some cutting with a knife to make sure they are small enough; Chicken gravy or Chicken baby food- this can be put into a syringe or I found it works well with one of those cheap plastic Mustard containers you get for picnics (for those not familiar with ferrets, Chicken Gravy is actually a name for various recipes using chicken, ferret food and other ingredients. I make mine so it is a baby food consistency and use it to give my one ferret her medicine.). You can also use a chopstick or popsicle stick to dip into the Chicken gravy and let the ferret lick off.

Target- Target training is one of the easiest behaviors to teach. It involves teaching the ferret to touch an object, in my case I taught Hijinx to target my finger and a target stick with her nose. I use a Karen Pryor Target Stick, but a dowel, ruler or practically anything will work.

Finally, the most necessary item of all is a ferret. I’ve chosen Hijinx to be my victim, I mean, the lucky ferret to be my first clicker trained ferret.