Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra ‘news flashes’!
Sunday April 2nd 2017
Not a progress report. More of a no progress report.
Two or three weeks ago I reported that, at last, I’d found a whistle which Isis could hear. Optimistically, I also announced that I would attempt to train her to respond to the whistle.
I hoped to emulate the behaviourist Skinner’s famous ‘stimulus – response’ experiment in which he trained a dog to connect a sound with a quality reward.
The stimulus for Isis would be the whistle. The target response would be for Isis to come to me when I blow the whistle. Easy.
I plan that the training will progress through five stages. The first four stages will take place in the house.
I stand within a couple of metres of Isis and blow a short, sharp blast on the whistle.
I reward her immediately with a little piece of cheese, and, of course, lots of pats.
I stand about a couple of metres away from Isis and blow a short, sharp blast on the whistle.
When Isis moves towards me, I reward her.
The same scenario. When Isis comes right up to me, I signal her to sit and then reward her as before.
Gradually, I move further away from her before blowing the whistle, eventually moving as far away as I can within her hearing range.
We move out into the garden and try stage 6. If necessary, we move back through the stages until she performs as well in the garden as she does inside.
We follow the same procedure but now we do it in the park. Wow. Bingo! We achieve recall! How amazing is that?
Good idea, I think. Only problem is we are still at stage 1. Things are not quite going to plan.
This is what actually happens:
I blow hard on the whistle which emits a loud shriek. Poor Isis jumps, cowers momentarily and tucks her tail between her legs. She recovers quickly though, and stands still looking puzzled. I rush forward and stick a treat under her nose. She gobbles down the treat, and off we go again.
Sometimes she comes towards me, but not often.
It is obvious to me that Isis has not yet made the connection between the sound of the whistle and the appearance of the reward.
She always cowers and tries to escape if a nearby dog barks at her. She also often cowers when a bird screeches loudly overhead. Other than this, I had seen no evidence of her responding to a sound before she reacted to the whistle.
If, I reason, she shows fear and tries to take evasive action when she hears a dog barking or a crow screeching, she should be able learn to respond to other sounds.
What are we doing wrong – or neglecting to do right?
I know I’ve not been as consistent as I need to be. I have repeated the exercise often but not every day. Consistency isn’t my strong point, but that’s no excuse.
Most dogs are trained at a very early age to respond to sounds. Obviously this has not happened with Isis as she appeared to have no useful hearing.
When someone who has been blind or deaf from birth has their sight or hearing restored, s/he is not automatically able to see or hear. Because these senses are not merely mechanical but perceptual, people have to learn to interpret the images or sounds with which they are suddenly bombarded. Generally, learning to ‘see’ or ‘hear’ is a long and difficult process.
Hairy One’s hearing has not been restored, or, as far as I know, has not improved, so the comparison isn’t a perfect one, but it might still be useful. It may seem a strange idea, but I think that Isis needs to learn how to hear.
I’d very much appreciate any comments, advice or suggestions you have.
The only approach I can think of is to:
- do whistle training at least twice a day, every day
- try to find a way of making her less startled by the sound of the whistle, and
- be very, very, patient and stick with each stage as long as it takes to master it.
Hmmmm ………………………. bet Skinner’s dog wasn’t a podengo.
Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk