Thursday, April 25, 2013

57. Unloading the Dryer

Unloading the Dryer

The process of training a dog to unload a dryer (or load a washing machine) has many steps and is actually a chain of smaller behaviours that can be trained in steps. It works wells to back-chain the behaviour, starting with the last behaviour of dropping an object into the basket. This ensures that the last behaviour will be the strongest one and the dog will always be working towards something she knows better than the previous part of a the behaviour chain. In essence, the task always gets easier for the dog. 

Part 1 Put Your Toys Away
The first step is that your dog must already have is a solid retrieve. You can use that to shape your dog to retrieve an object (toys usually work best to start) and place it in a basket. 

A tip from Robin J: If you dog already know 'drop', you can cue a drop when the dog brings the toy back to the basket. Pointing helps direct the dog to the location.

Part 2 Handling Different Weight and Length of Items  The second step is to teach your dog how to handle different items she might interact with when unloading the dryer. Towels work well as they come in different sizes and weights. The dog needs to learn how to manipulate heavier items  as well as longer articles. The video examples are just a beginning. Generalize the dog's skill to other objects such as jeans and bed sheets as well as smaller delicate items such as undergarments. More delicate items need to be trained separately before adding to a laundry load so the dog does not shake, stretch, lick or drool on the articles.

A tip from Robin J: If you cannot hold the basket in place during training, you can either place a 10 lb weight in it to hold it still (a bag of rice works great!) or you can glue velcro the bottom of the basket to a non-skid bath mat.

Part 3 Comfortable Near, On & In the Dryer The next step involves teaching the dog to be comfortable near, on and in a cold and warm dryer, using stools and stepping around the laundry basket etc. Small dogs, in particular, need to be comfortable inside the dryer as they may need to step inside to retrieve an item on the far side. Reaching into a dryer from outside is another skill.

Part 4 Training with larger Items
Continue training with items that are slightly larger-sized. A hand towel works well. Add more items of the same size once the dog has learned how to handle one. Once you have built up to several items, use an intermittent schedule of reinforcement so the dog is willing to take out several items for one reward. (Actually, if you cue the next behavior, you are building a chain of repeated behaviors and the cue becomes the reward for the previous behavior). 

If you ask for too many repetitions too quickly without putting the foundation effort inin, the dog may stand and stare at you -see video 5 for an example where Jessie does this. This is the beginning of extinction because the payoff of doing the behavior is not yet big enough for the dog to do many repetitions without reinforcement. More reinforcement history is needed before the task is a fun thing to do for the dog. (Think of it as putting many pennies in the bank before being able to making a 50 cent withdrawl. Dogs don't do deficits!)

Increase the size to a bath towel. Mark after part of the time is pulled out, then for the whole item. 

Every step in training is a dance between asking for more so the dog doesn't get stuck at that level of training and not asking for too much so the dog doesn't get frustrated. 

Mix the size of the items more like a real laundry load.

Part 5 Adding Sound, Motion and the Verbal Cue
The last things to train are the sound and motion of the Dryer. With the dog standing away from the Dryer, turn it on the see what reaction it gets. If the dog shows any fear, you will need to counter condition the sound with food. This is achieved by pairing a high value food reward with the presence of the sound. Turn on the dryer, the food is is given to the dog. Dryer turns off, the food stops. As the dog gains confidence, you can ask the dog to move closer to the dryer. Over time the dog will associate the sound of the dryer with good things happening. 
Jessie was fine with the sound, but was a little wary of the movement of the clothes in the Dryer as I opened the door. (see the video) I didn't need to counter condition this (although I could have) as the more we practiced the known behavior of unloading the dryer starting with the dryer on, the stronger the positive association became and the mild hesitation disappeared. Counter conditioning can occur with operant conditioning (and usually does, it just takes longer if the fear level is high).
With Lucy, the heat of the dryer brought out some interesting smells. I simply allow her to time to smell it before giving the hand cue.

Adding a verbal cue is done at the very last once the behavior looks like you want it to and the dog has acquired all the skills needed to carry out the task.  Here's a post on the specifics. If the dog is not successful doing the behavior, you need to go back, retrain without the cue, then try adding the cue back in.

Of course the reverse process is used to train a dog to load a washing machine. Front load machines work best with Service dogs. Train a different cue to indicate that the dog must take the items from the basket and put them in the washer.