I guess it is not really a secret that I brought my 3 puppies up to my place of employment to further their socialization and education. It is rather hard to hide them, especially since my co-workers enjoy their company just as much as I. This is a one-time event because at 10 weeks of age they are right in the peak of the socialization “window of opportunity”. Socialization and habituation to humans must occur during the first 16 weeks of life if puppies are to grow up to be well-balanced adult dogs. There are two very good articles I can share explaining the science of socialization, and the process. The first is “Puppy Socialisation and Habituation (Part 1); Why is it Necessary?” and the second is “Puppy Socialisation and Habituation (Part 2), How to Go About It.” – both by David Appleby.
The puppies have to learn a lot of different skills just to make their visit practical. They aren’t allowed inside the facility’s perimeter fence, so they must learn to “camp” on the dog truck – a canine RV. They have to hold their bodily functions until “dropped”, attached to the truck on a short ‘drop chain’ for temporary confinement. They’ve had to learn to accept the confinement of the drop chain, which is quite short, for up to two hours at a time. Those lessons come as a matter of course, as they really don’t have much choice.
The Dog Truck is a "Canine R.V."
Where the puppies shine as ‘student’s’ is in behaviors where they DO have a choice. This is where operant conditioning, in the form of “clicker training”, comes into play. You can find a reasonably detailed explanation of operant conditioning and clicker training in the “A Clicker Training Primer” by Melissa Alexander.
The puppies have been exposed to the clicker and they associate it very strongly with a couple of good reinforcers, food treats and their favorite toy. When I take them walk about (more accurately “run amok”) in the big parking lot outside the facility I frequently call them to return to me, and each gets a c/t (click and treat) as soon as they reach me. All of them are able to offer a cued “sit” for a click and treat, and they are now woking on ‘duration’, holding the sit position for longer and longer periods of time. Cassiopeia and Capella were both trained to go up and down the steel-grate stairs into the guard shack (Orion is still working on that very difficult for a puppy behavior).
Loading the dogs into their compartments in the truck is no big deal when they are relatively small, 25 lb. puppies, but all of my adult dogs are much larger, ranging from 65 to 80 pounds. I haven’t been 18 years old for several decades, and after a long career as a paramedic my back and knees aren’t as sound as they once were. To save my body I train all of my dogs to “walk the plank” in order to “saddle up” (get into the truck).
Since I have the truck, the puppies and the ramp all at the same place in the same time, I decided I would use their new clicker learning skills to train them to run up the loading ramp to load into the dog truck. This presents a really good example of how quickly clicker-trained dogs can master a behavior.
I started the training by luring the puppies into the behavior. I placed bit of raw beef at intervals up the ramp, led the puppy to the bottom and showed them the first beef treat. As soon as the puppy touched the treat I clicked. By then the puppy generally saw or smelled the second one, so climbed up to grab it, earning another click. This was repeated to the top of the ramp, where the puppy received a click and a ‘jackpot’ of several treats before being closed into his or her comfortable compartment in the truck.
The second time we practiced, I lured the puppies to the bottom of the ramp with a piece of beef, and each puppy ran to the top to earn his or her click and treat (C/T). The third time, I didn’t use the lure at all. I walked the puppies to the ramp and they dashed to the top like old pros. This afternoon I asked a co-worker to record video of the puppies as they “saddled up” into their compartments. You can see the videos by clicking on the links below. As you look at the videos remember this is only their fourth repetition of the behavior.
Capella on the Ramp
Cassiopeia on the Ramp