Moodle Dog

Day 2 of My Trip to Indonesia by Sophia Yin

It’s day 2 of my trip to Indonesia and today I visit Asri’s brother’s family. They have a puppy named Cream Puff that the breeder sold to them as a poodle. At 8 weeks it was hard to tell, but now that she’s 5 months old, it’s clear she’s probably more like a “moodle” (maltese-poodle mix).

Elisa, Asri’s sister-in-law, and the kids, Gaby and Sean, never take Puffy out on walks because the streets are too crowded and the general Muslim population doesn’t like dogs. But in spite of this, Puffy is well socialized to people because many people-cooks, helpers, neighbors, visitors come to their house on a daily basis. In Indonesia, anyone who has a little money hires helpers because help is inexpensive.

Puffy Learns to Sit instead of Jumping and Nipping at People’s Feet

Puffy’s biggest behavioral issue as a puppy is that she loves to jump on people and nip on their feet. In Indonesia, since most people go shoeless in the house, this can become a big issue early on. Luckily, both behaviors are simple to fix with one solution. We just train her to sit for bits of her kibble instead of jumping on and nipping the kids or parents when she wants attention. I work with her first and she’s a quick study, just like the average dog that I see in the U.S. Although I have to lure her with a bit of her kibble-which Elisa’s withheld from her morning meal-after 5–10 minutes, she’s ready without my needing to lure her. I can just reward her with the kibble after she’s sat, instead of showing it to her first.

The Kids Play the Human-Training Game

Now the kids get to try. But first they have to see what it’s like to be the dog so they can train empathetically. We play the training game where they reward behaviors closer and closer to their goal behavior. First, I train Gaby to spin in a circle. I start by saying “yes” and immediately giving her a tiny treat whenever she turns her head clockwise while standing stationary. After she does this 5 times in a row, I no longer reward her for this behavior. Instead I wait until she offers to turn her body as well as her head clockwise about 45°. In this manner, I gradually reward behaviors that are closer and closer to spinning 360° in a clockwise circle. Within minutes she’s spinning 360°.

Next it’s Gaby’s turn to train. She trains her brother Sean. She wants him to turn 45° to his left, walk over to a chair and stand in front of it. The problem is that she accidentally starts by rewarding him for turning 90° and so he thinks this is the behavior she wants.

When she realizes her mistake she shouts, “Wait, start over.” So she can start with a clean slate. But that’s not allowed. A dog wouldn’t know that the behavior you just rewarded 5 times was a mistake and he shouldn’t repeat it anymore. So, instead, she has to fix what she’s trained. She has to start saying “yes” and then rewarding right before Sean turns all the way 90°. This is tricky because he’s turning fast. So she has to be quick. After marking the correct behavior with a “yes” 3 times in a row, Sean understands that he’s supposed to only turn 45°. Then after rewarding him for this 45° turn 5 more times in a row, Gaby no longer rewards this behavior. She wants him to search for a different behavior. One that first requires turning 45°. After 10–20 seconds of searching and trying different behaviors, Sean makes a move in the right direction. He starts to take a step forward. “Yes,” treat! From there it only took several more minutes for Gaby to get the goal behavior.

When it’s Sean’s turn to train, it’s a different story. I’ve chosen something more difficult for him. I want Gaby to flap her arms like a bird while raising her leg. Gaby plays the very outgoing pooch. She tries different behaviors and doesn’t give up, even when the first four or five don’t work. She tries kicking her feet, walking around, jumping, but her arms are completely stationary. She doesn’t even consider moving her arms. Sean can’t figure out what to do, so he walks around her while trying to decide. Gaby turns to face him as he moves around. She thinks that his movement must be a cue, part of the training.

Elisa states, “It must be really confusing for the dog. They don’t know when we mean to be training them and when the people are just standing around trying to figure out what to do.” To get her to start lifting her arm, I reach my hand out as if to give her something. When she starts to raise her arm to take it, I say “yes” and treat her. I repeat this several times and then do it with the other arm, and she quickly understands that waving her arms is good. Then, it’s on to getting her to also raise one of her legs. I have to use a similar trick to get the initial foot lifting, but it’s not too difficult from there.

Once the kids have finished training each other, they get to play with Cream Puff. We work on their treat delivery speed first so that Puffy gets her rewards right when she sits and before she has a chance to get up. And as a result, the kids are able to train her to sit, even when they run to the other side of the room in just minutes. “This is so much easier than yelling at her when she does something wrong!” exclaims Elisa.

Generalizing the Good Sit Behavior

Now, we apply the behavior to other situations where Puffy is excited. For instance, when she comes over for attention, the kids just wait until she sits and then pet her. And when they want to eat in peace without having her stand under the table or jump on them, they tether her by leash to furniture several feet from the table while they eat so that they can eat and go back and reward her when she sits patiently.

Like most dogs who get rewarded for sitting 50–200x in a day, Puffy’s training goes quickly. If they continue at this rate her calm sit behavior will become a habit. Her test comes later in the afternoon, when the 3 year old neighbor, Eva, visits. Eva usually runs from Puffy as Puffy nibbles her feet. But today she learns to reward Cream Puff for sitting. She stands still holding a few pieces of kibble in her hand-the kibble we just pulled out of her bowl, which was sitting uneaten on the floor.

Cream Puff’s Good-Behavior Test

When Puffy sits, “Quick, give her the treats,” Gaby tells her. Puffy wants the kibble from Eva’s hand because Puffy likes the interaction as well as the food. Puffy consistently sits for Eva without first jumping within just minutes. We have to instruct her each time so she doesn’t accidentally reward Puffy when Puffy’s standing. Then we ask, “Eva, now run to the chair and then stand still”. She does it and, when Puffy gets to her and sits instead of jumping, she gives Puffy the treat. A few times, Puffy starts to jump but stops and sits immediately when Eva stops. We just have to be sure Eva runs for short enough distances so that she stops before Puffy jumps.

After each treat, Eva wants to continue training. Elisa says, “Eva, you were scared of Puffy before, right?” Eva says, “No”. She can’t remember she was afraid before. She just remembers she likes Puffy now and can get Puffy to sit.


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