Mr B the Cat Learns to Weigh Himself

Above: Mr B gets on the scale and looks up at me while he begins to sit.

The above video shows Mr B getting on the scale. I am not sure why it is not possible to hear all the clicks except the one where I clicked the very beginning of the behavior.

I found that trying to manage the video camera, clicker, and container of treats while giving an SD (especially before coffee) was not conducive to astute training–but the benefit is you can see him on film.

Mr B took about three days to learn the behavior. I didn’t really track the number of sessions.

The first day was just click and give a treat. I also captured a “sit” behavior in the process.

My training sessions tend to be very short and frequent.

I stop when the animal hits the success level we are aiming for and bonus the animal with extra treats, attention, or play.

The next session after we progress tends to be a review with a repeat up to the desired behavior we left off on and maybe a couple of reps to make sure the animal understands that the new level of behavior is the one I want.

Depending on the animal, I might ask for a little more.

For the scale, Mr B sniffed it and I clicked and rewarded.

Then after he did that consistently, I watch for the next criterion I wanted–which is movement of a front paw.

He got that quickly and put the paw on the scale.

The first paw took the longest to train. Once he got the click for two paws on the scale he consistently offered it without going backwards.

Okay, stay with me while I digress to illustrate some things.

Mr B then started variations to check if he was on the right track.

He would step on the scale with two paws and lay down, the next time he would sit with his rear off the scale after putting his two paws on it, then he might walk around the scale before putting his paws on it.

That is what you want to see when training.

Every animal is different and some might “get” that the movement onto the scale is what is the ultimate goal and they will continue to move onto it more quickly.

Some animals, like Mr B, will experiment to see if other things will work too.

Another more familiar explanation can be done with dogs that are learning not to jump on a human.

Some will replace the jumping with a sit right away–because it has been reinforced and the jumping is not–so there is a good chance that will be rewarded.

Their test works and that is the end of it.

However, some dogs will jump up and put one paw on the person, or perhaps jump and touch another object nearby with the paws (or paw), next they might just jump up in the air in front of the person without touch anything, and finally they will offer another behavior in replacement of the jumping.

Mr B was doing the same type of thing.

He is also not a fast acting guy–unless you tell him to get out of the kitchen!

So once Mr B began to consistently get all four paws on the scale and sitting down for the weighing, I began anchoring the “scale” command–which means making sure he understood what was wanted.

The anchoring worked with asking him to perform the “scale” behavior. If he offered any other variation or did not respond in a specific window of time, the session ended.

This means his opportunity to receive reinforcement ended.

This taught him to respond with the behavior and to respond within a window of opportunity rather than on his time schedule.

What then happened is that he would get onto the scale without offering other behaviors.

Also, he began getting on the scale faster because slow responses no longer received reinforcement.

I knew he understood that he was to get on the scale in a certain location but would he do so in another?

Some animals can do this easily while others have difficulty with it.

Finally I began to work the behavior in other locations and with another scale and that is when I discovered that the variable schedule of reinforcement was too much with all the other changes.

If you look at this body posture in the video you can see how his whiskers curve forward in that happy manner cats have when they are affectionate or playful.

In this “action video” (LOL) he walks past the scale to see if I will reward it. He is also purring which I was sorry you cannot hear.

What I found in changing the location (above we are working in a third location) is that he did not do well on a variable schedule (used in this video).

My final assessment through two weeks of work with Mr B is that he is one of those rare animals that needs to have consistency.

So, he is back to a one-click-equals-one-treat model and now the owner is learning to work with him.

I hate using consistent schedules as a trainer–but unless Mr B is on a consistent schedule he will offer a behavior he knows is a solid one for reinforcement (in this case, “sit” and wait) instead of what is asked.

Part of this might be because the SD is too similar between the “sit” behavior and the “scale” behavior but I think it is more about his process of manipulating people that has worked so well for so long.

I also considered if I attempted to introduce too many variables too early which I ruled out.

When an animal does not perform as you would like, it is good to step back a reassess the situation.

Training is communication and so if an animal does not respond in the way you would like–redirection in training might be needed.

In his entire repertoire through the training he now knows:

  • sit when asked,
  • sit and wait before being fed,
  • come and come eat,
  • stay aka wait (marginal),
  • get out of the kitchen, and
  • scale (get on the scale and sit).

Above: Mr B as he starts to sit on the scale.

Above: Another view of Mr B on the scale in location #3.

I’ll have to ponder if I left anything out but now I am slowly working the owner into managing his behavior with the clicker.

Many people have a hard time coordinating the clicker, food, commands, and (in this case) a syringe all at one time.

She did good so I gave her a mini milk chocolate bar as a reward!

I have more to say but that will be in antoher post.

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