Saturday, January 2, 2016

'Hup!' 'What? What?'

Trooper "hupping," Henry "What? What?"-ing.
With the New Year comes a change in Trooper’s training: Fewer treats during the execution of every task successfully performed. This is a big step forward, even if it may sound trivial.

Training a hearing dog to lead its client to the source of a sound—a knock at the door, the ringing of a phone, the calling of the client’s name—involves several steps. 

In the beginning, we did it this way:

1. For a door knock, an assistant (in this case Debby) stands outside the door. I drop a treat in front of the door while Trooper watches, then lead him to the TV room and tell him to sit. After 15 seconds Debby knocks on the door. Trooper rushes to the door, scoops up the treat, and at my encouraging “Trooper, come! Hup! Hup!” rushes back to me and jumps up on me. “What? What?” I say, and Trooper rushes back to the door, the source of the sound. I follow, at the end giving him a second treat and fulsome praise.

2. For Debby’s calling of my name from the kitchen, we do much the same thing: I drop a treat on the floor in front of her, then the dog and I repair to the TV room. At her “Henry!” Troop rushes to scarf up the treat and runs back to me as I say “Hup! Hup!” At my “What? What?” he runs back to the kitchen and, after I arrive, collects a second treat and praise.

3. The phone is a little different. There are four landline phones in the condo and they all ring at the same time. We want Trooper to lead me to the captioned phone in my office. I leave a treat on the floor by my desk and repair to the TV room. With my iPhone I dial the house landline, and when it rings, Trooper alerts. I say “Hup! Hup!,” Trooper jumps on me, then I say "What? What?" and he leads me to my office, collecting the treat left on the floor. With the praise I give him a second treat to reinforce his accomplishment.

He’s been doing that almost without error for more than a week.

Now we’re experimenting by eliminating one of the treats and encouraging Trooper to “hup” on me immediately, rather than first going to the kitchen, door, or phone. The treat we’re eliminating is the one dropped on the floor at the source of the sound.

This morning we tried it with the phone. On the first go, I did leave the treat in front of my desk, but on the second, third, fourth and fifth attempts I did not. In the TV room Trooper “hupped" on me (with encouragement), then at my "What? What?" led me to my office—success!

In the afternoon came the door knock without a treat as bait. Troop ran to the door, then as I said "Troop! Come! Hup!" came and "hupped," leading me back to the door at my "What? What?" Three up, three down, inning over.

What we eventually want him to do is jump on me automatically whenever the sounds occur and lead me to the sources without the necessity of treats and “hup!” commands. It may take a year, trainer Laura told us, before that happens. Be patient, she said.

He’s on his way.

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