Trying not to fall behind again, so I don’t forget things! Here’s an overview of the last week.
I have cameras at long last! Got the first one fully set up on Friday; Jak climbed up and installed the overhead one Saturday evening, and I finished the setup yesterday (Sunday). The Kasa “smart” app is kind of a clusterfuck on the iPad; I spent most of an hour beating my head against the wall until Jak suggested that I try it in portrait orientation, at which point all of the missing settings and controls magically appeared! Grrr.
Turns out my iMac is way too old (2013 model, perma-stuck at macOS 10.15) to run iMovie, so once again I have reason to be glad I splurged on the iPad in August. I haven’t done video editing since, what, the early aughts? so … no idea how hard or easy this is going to be. I haven’t even decided what I want to do with the videos once I have them, but at least now I can save out clips as they happen, so I have options in future.
I also am starting to take photos with the iPad whenever I can, since its output is significantly better than my 2019 mid-range Samsung phone.
On Tuesday I set up a single tile with two buttons (KITTYNIP and a second PRACTICE, designated PRACTICE [cat] in the app) for Rikki, putting it up high on the kitchen bar (about 2.5 meters from the soundboard). He’s continued to molest the main soundboard buttons though, even as I switched all of my for-Rikki modelling to the cat tile. (I let him press away on the big board, but tell him “Rikki, no bite” when he starts gnawing on them. He knows “Rikki” and “no”, so he stops temporarily when I say that, but he doesn’t know “bite” or exactly what behavior I don’t want. And he’s still super-frustrated by the giant splay of buttons which do not cause me to dispense treats.)
My theory is that narrowing Rikki’s focus down to just two highly desirable options will help him understand that different buttons do different things, which is the key lightbulb we need next.
On Friday he started pressing KITTYNIP on the cat tile, for which he gets a little dish with dried catnip. If he asks for more on the same day, I do diminishing returns — half as much each time. On Saturday he asked three times, by which point he was visibly stoned and stopped on his own. I deeply amused by his ‘stoned’ expression … next time I’ll try to get a photo. Also gonna need more catnip soon.
So far he hasn’t realized that the other button on the cat tile does something different. The only time he pressed PRACTICE separate from KITTYNIP was Friday, on the big board. I went and modelled PRACTICE on the cat tile before I trained with him, but he never did press it.
The treats Rikki is so nuts about were originally meant for Tashi; they are mostly oat flour and sweet potato with a little chicken — not ideal for an obligate carnivore. Plus I work hard at getting my animal nutrition right so that they don’t get overweight. So I don’t want to just load him up with treats all day. On the other hand, while I do want polite, well-behaved animals, I’ve never had an interest in teaching pets to do “tricks”. It feels like a waste of my time and theirs. I had started in with the treats only because I was trying to help Rikki learn how to activate buttons (instead of yelling his head off), but once he tasted them he was mad for them and I was screwed. Even though I was no longer target-training, he still wanted treats, so I was trying to come up with an increasing number of mostly useless things to teach him, purely to continue making him work for the treats … I don’t know why, just going on the way I’d started.
Saturday after the Zeno’s Paradox of Catnip I realized duh, I could do the same thing with treats — and so decided to jettison the Rikki “practice” nonsense in favor of a TREAT button. New plan: he presses TREAT, he gets a treat, the end. Second time in a row, half a treat. Third time, crumbs (they’re crumbly, I need to try putting another egg in the recipe maybe). Fourth time, “treat all done”, and ignore any further requests for the next couple hours. He’ll doubtless yell at me a bunch, but that’s been true for three months now since buttons first appeared, so.
On Sunday I noticed that it seems like it’s easier for him to press the left button (which happens to be KITTYNIP) than the right button (now TREAT); maybe he’s left-pawed? Is that a thing? Anyway, he activates KITTYNIP with his paw a fair percentage of the time but when he tries the TREAT button he just dabs at it. And then gets frustrated and starts gnawing on it, sigh. I’ve been calling back to our target-training and telling him “touch”, which causes him to switch to paw-dabbing, but there’s not enough pressure behind it on that side, so it doesn’t work. He’s also started getting visibly frustrated when he hits the KITTYNIP button and gets catnip instead of a treat, so … yeah, not understanding the concept yet. I tried to scent the buttons with their respective meanings, but can’t know how well I succeeded. Also that might have just made him more likely to gnaw on those buttons, in which case … oops.
I really need to redirect him completely to his personal tile, though, because his random attempts at the main board are just frustrating him and everyone else. I haven’t reset the app and started real data tracking again yet, in part because I have an outstanding bug report I’m waiting for FluentPet support to look into, but also because I’d like to extinguish Rikki’s main-soundboard assault behavior before I commit myself to assigning all the presses.
Wednesday I added the first post-reorg button: OOPS. Lots of accidental presses going on lately — Rikki’s escalating, desperate but vague bids for treats, but also since the reorg Tashi has done a lot of lying down near/on the buttons (guarding them from Rikki maybe? I just thought of that. hm.). And even Gracie got into the act one night, lying down and triggering CAT … CAT … CAT … CAT … Random chance, I assume, but still: accurate!
Tashi has used the OOPS button a few times, but not in a way that unequivocally demonstrates understanding that it’s meant to indicate a mistake or accident. The first thing he said when I put the OOPS button down was OOPS CAT MORE WORDS BALL, though, which could very well have been an observation about accidental word presses. First of all, because recently we switched to letting him bring a rubber ball inside, for self-entertaining play (he likes to drop it on the tile, chase, repeat), and that often ends up activating buttons; I’ve verbally said “ball oops words” and similar variations quite a few times. And second, because the number of Rikki’s nonsensical presses on the main board had skyrocketed over the preceding couple of days.
Or maybe that string was something else entirely, who knows? He went to four different areas of the board for those five words, though, so it took some effort (aqua / blue / back to aqua / red red) and was definitely deliberate, that’s all I can say for sure.
Thursday we took Gracie to the vet for a teeth cleaning and minor surgery; she had developed a lipoma on her side last year that, while ‘benign’, had grown to the size of a golf ball and may have been hurting her (so hard to tell with cats), and I decided while she was under anesthesia for the teeth cleaning was a good time to have it out.
So that day I added a SICK button to the board, and modelled GRACIE HURT SICK, KARAWYNN JAK HELP. After we brought her back home, it became GRACIE HURT SICK MAD, because she was warning everyone with four legs to keep their fucking distance or else. I’d modelled “sick” verbally on several occasions in the past — when Jak had some kind of intestinal problem, or when the cats vomited. Tashi might know it, might not.
On Friday I added FETCH. Despite his retrieverish appearance, Tashi did not innately exhibit ‘fetch’ behavior; I had to teach it to him. There was a period in his puppyhood where Tashi was very good about fetching … and then I bought rubber Chuck-It balls. Tashi immediately lost any interest in the existing fuzzy tennis-ball type (he will chase one if thrown because he will chase anything if thrown, but he won’t pick it up and carry it anywhere), and began resource-guarding the rubber ones, which meant chasing them but not bringing them back or even letting us get anywhere near them. For a while we managed to get around that by swapping between two balls, but then even that started to fail, seriously impacting our ability to exercise him in the yard. (I’ve since discovered the existence of ‘flirt poles’ for dogs, which I am eager to try, but we can’t get one until we go north.)
I’ve been realizing that a lot of Tashi’s problems stem from an extremely high prey drive, especially the ‘chase’ and ‘bite’ parts. So while Jak was gone I started working with him in training sessions indoors with a rubber ball, getting him first to “leave it” while it’s sitting nearby, then “leave it” when it’s slowly moving … rewarding with premium treats and getting to play with the ball afterward. I also realized that a “drop it” command is problematic in general because the very act of dropping a toy is movement that triggers his chase-and-bite reflex, so I switched to a “hand” command, and have been working on that with the ball and other toys as well. We’ve made good progress; he still sometimes ducks his head away to protect the ball if I reach out, but less often, and when I touch something in his mouth (ball or toy) and say “hand” he loosens his bite very consistently.
I also got him to return to better fetching by only throwing soft toys outside, not balls, and using the word “fetch” more consistently both on the throw and on the return, instead of “go get it” and then “bring it here”, which is the sort of lazy language that Jak and I both had defaulted to. On Friday I went outside to play with him, and — I’d expected him to want me to chase him, as that’s his usual favorite, but body language wasn’t lining up. So I asked if he wanted “fetch”, and got an ear perk — and sure enough, he was actually asking to play “fetch” with a soft toy. After seven or eight rounds, he let me know he wanted to switch to “chase”, so we did that. And he let me walk back inside without nipping and harassing me, even without a distraction. Huzzah!
That clear sign that he both knew the word “fetch” and sometimes preferred the activity is what led me to choose FETCH as the next word. Oh, and also on Friday I got hard proof that Tashi knows the word “bath”: I had put two of his indoor toys in the laundry that morning; a little later he pressed the word TOY, and then about an hour later he pressed it again. On the chance that he was asking about his missing toys, I told him that “Duck and Fox are having a bath.” (“Duck” got a head-tilt; “Fox” did not.) After I said it a second time, Tashi trotted off to the back bathroom (where he gets his baths) and checked the tub for his toys. I … did not know how to tell him in words he would understand that toys got baths in a different place from dogs and people, but I told him “Duck and Fox toys here later,” and he seemed to accept that.
As far as the biting goes — he’s only needed one time-out in the week since Jak came back. Every other time, a verbal “no bite. Tashi want alone?” or similar has curbed it quickly. Usually in fact he lies down at my feet when I say that — kind of like “No no, see, I’m being good!”
No new buttons on Saturday. We’re now at 46 on the main board, plus two for Rikki; I have 36 more to last until we next travel north … nine or ten weeks, at best guess. It will probably be frontloaded, because there are quite a few other words Tashi knows still waiting for buttons. It’s tough to choose, though — like I kind of want to put down the complete body parts section, but that uses up a third of my remaining buttons! So maybe I’ll just put down BELLY and NECK — those being his two favorite places to be skritched, and therefore the body part words I’ve modelled most — and leave the rest until February.
WATER (- INSIDE)
The other thing is that on … either Friday or Saturday, I forget now … I got a clear sign that he’s still confusing INSIDE and OUTSIDE, even though I recorded them to stress the first syllable, and moved them to two separate tiles. Like, he pressed INSIDE and immediately walked directly to the back door. I almost had removed INSIDE altogether at the reorg, and decided at the last minute to keep it, not only because of current uses like PLAY INSIDE NOW; PLAY OUTSIDE LATER, but also future adjective pairs, like OUTSIDE WET; INSIDE DRY or OUTSIDE DARK; INSIDE LIGHT. In thinking through it further, I realized that HERE would work fairly well in all of those circumstances, and “here” is a word that he might know or be able to infer from other circumstances: I use both “come here” and “look here” (the latter to get his eye contact). Plus it’s more versatile generally, which is a plus.
So yesterday (Sunday) I pulled INSIDE and reassigned the button to WATER (a word he definitely already knows). I’m going to leave OUTSIDE alone on the orange tiles for a few days before I put down some other place names he understands, like CHAIR for the recliners in the living room that he’s allowed to lie on. I’m currently thinking HERE is low priority (I only put INSIDE up so soon because I thought he already knew it, and I mistakenly thought the contrast with OUTSIDE would help rather than hinder) and may not come along for some weeks or months. I’ll keep using INSIDE verbally and hoping he gets the idea eventually, but I think we can do without it as a button.
Oh, and finally — I’m not even going to try to collect data on this, it would take ages — but my sense is that as time has passed since I flipped the board, Tashi’s button use has evened out more between the ‘near’ and ‘far’ sides of the board area. If I had to guess I’d say more like 60% near, 40% far now, as opposed to 75%/25% pre-flip.
Here’s the board as of this afternoon:
And here’s a current snapshot of the long-term plan (click through for larger image):