Blog / Tootsie

When things just aren’t rolling along

I asked Tootsie to rollover a few nights ago.  She just stared and puffed her cheeks a couple of times.  There may have been the start of a head tilt, but that could also have been my own ego conjuring up a mirage.

I spent the next few days working out a diagnostic training session in my head.  I thought it reasonable that Tootsie had forgotten what “roll over” meant.  It had been a long time since she had heard the cue.  I also thought it likely that she may not physically be able to roll over.   She’s a healthy old dog, but she is still old.  And old dogs can be weaker, less flexible, and even a little stiff/sore.

After mulling over how to approach the session, I decided to act as if I were shaping the behavior from the beginning, but experienced clicker trainers and shapers will observe that I violated a few of the tenets associated with good training:

(Sorry the video is cut off.  Sometimes phone storage space is scarce.)

  • Multiple criteria per session.  I went into the session without knowing my exact criteria.  Therefore, I was all over the place with my clicks; I reinforced everything from starting to lie down to weight shifts that were obviously the beginning of a roll.
  • My rate of reinforcement was too low.  Because I didn’t know my criteria, I decided what to reinforce in the moment.  This caused a noticeable lag in reinforcement time, which is why Tootsie almost let out a frustration bark (1:05 on video).

This definitely isn’t good practice for teaching new behaviors, but I leveraged “bad” training to figure out my particular issue.

She demonstrated knowledge of all of the steps involved in rolling over (lying down, shifting a hip, tilting her head, using her legs to push herself over), but she could not develop enough momentum to complete the rotation.  I saw tension in her face (0:50 on video) when she tried; she was experiencing discomfort and/or slight pain. Tootsie’s nonresponse “roll” was one of ability, not memory.

So what am I going to do?  Nothing.  It’s just a trick; she doesn’t have to do it.  I may, however, up her NSAIDs. 

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