Tag Archives: training

Dallas Developments: Day #4

22 May

Today was a big day for Dallas. Before going into his room every morning for breakfast, I measure out all his food into separate containers. There’s a cup of his pellets, a tablespoon of the Kaytee Exact blend, and 1/2 a Probios treat (which he may or may not eat, depending on his mood. Alice & Hatter will literally stand on each other to get theirs. Dallas couldn’t care less.) I do this because it gives me three opportunities to pair a click with receiving food, and therefore three more chances for Dallas to learn the connection.

However, when I went into his room today, something was immediately different. Usually Dallas is in his hidey box, staring at me from the far corner of his pen with wary eyes. Today, he was at the front of his pen, in full periscope mode. (For the non-bunny crowd, “periscoping” is when a bunny balances on their hind legs to get a better look at their surroundings. Some call it “prairie-dogging,” because it’s the same behavior.) He knew what was coming, which shows that he’s adjusted to the daily schedule here. That’s a good sign.

Even more exciting, as soon as I hit the first click, he ran to his food bowl and looked back at me. He knew what that click meant- FOOD! I poured in his pellets, and waited for him to get a few bites in. Dallas dives on his food like a football player after a fumble, and it’s best not to try to interfere with that. Then I gave a second click, to signal that the Exact was coming. He didn’t stop eating, but for the first time, he didn’t grunt at me when I put a scoop near his face. He didn’t even flinch- just kept eating whatever he could get his little teeth around. He wasn’t interested in the third click and the Probios treat, but he didn’t grunt or flinch when that was offered either.

Based on this, Dallas has likely learned to associate a click with the arrival of food. He knows to expect food when he hears the click, so he doesn’t feel threatened when it is immediately offered. This is a huge step in his training. It’s not the end of the pairing, as he needs to show the same reaction for a couple more days to be sure that he really understands, but he’s on the right track.

It’s important to note that even though there was a success today, Dallas still has a long way to go before he’s ready to be adopted. When I went into his room this evening, I took a few treat options with me. As you can see in the videos below, he was very social at first. He even put his front paws on me to get at his preferred treat faster. It may be hard to hear in the video, but he got a double click for that, to signal a “jackpot” reward for such a social and trusting behavior. He did take his treat and run off, though, showing that while he’s willing to climb on me to get the treat, he’s not trusting enough to assume I won’t try to steal it back.

 

A few minutes later, he was at his food bowl. I wanted to see how he’d react to my hand entering his “space,” even after a click. As you can see, he didn’t like it at all. He grunted and lunged at me. While he didn’t make contact, he made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome around him at that moment. That’s a territorial display, and it was a reversal from this morning’s behavior.

 

In this third video, taken about 10 minutes after the second one, Dallas approaches me again. He even allows a quick few seconds of petting. This is the first time he’s allowed me to touch him, and he got another jackpot reward for that- double clicks and a new Timothy hay twist chew.

 

I ended the training session at that point, as it’s always good to end on a high note. I closed up his pen, said good night, and turned off the light on my way out the door. We’ll see what tomorrow morning brings. When it comes to Dallas, anything is possible.

Dallas Developments: Day #3

21 May

It’s Saturday, which means cleaning day at the Anderson Used Book Emporium & Rabbit Salon. For Alice & Hatter, this is nothing new. Every Saturday morning, they get fed, they get released from their pen, and then they sit at the edge of the kitchen and supervise me while I clean out the pen. Even though today was the first Saturday in the new house, they stuck to their schedule. Those two are nothing if not punctual.

Dallas, however, was a completely different story. It’s day 3, which means he’s just getting used to the schedule around here. Cleaning day predictably threw him into a tailspin of territorial behavior and general unhappiness. He’s still learning to associate the clicker with a reward, but his mood today meant that he wasn’t interested in any extra pairing sessions, or with having me anywhere near him at all. Instead, I left the door open to his bedroom so he could see me moving around the house, but otherwise let him be. He hung out by the door for a bit a few times, but kept pretty close to the back of his pen most of the day.

As there are no training updates to report, I thought I’d talk a bit more about how clicker training works. Basically, it replaces an actual reward, such as a piece of food, with the sound of a click. The reward and the click are paired together repeatedly until the animal learns to associate the sound of the click with the happiness of getting that reward. Once that’s been learned, the reward is offered less and less often with each click, until just the click is reward enough to reinforce a good behavior. This makes it easier to train an animal, as over-feeding or distraction from another reward isn’t a concern.

Dallas, as a VERY food-motivated bunny, is learning to associate a click with a food reward. He hears a click every time he is given food- breakfast, greens, hay fills, night-night treats, and anything else he is given during the day. If it’s edible, he hears a click before it. He’s starting to get it, but he’ll need a couple more days at least for the lesson to really sink in. Once he starts looking for food every time he hears the click, he’ll be ready to move onto the next step.

Clickers come in all sizes and sounds. I use a small one with a very quiet click, so that it can be hidden in a hand and not startle Dallas. I used it previously on Alice, and it worked very well. The problem now is that she remembers the sound and keeps hanging around the outside of Dallas’s room, waiting for her treats. Hatter didn’t respond well to clicker training at first, and as he didn’t need any behaviors modified, I didn’t pursue it with him. He hangs around with Alice, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if he ever picks up on the connection between click and food.

Here are some pictures of Dallas’s pen. He has the guest bedroom to himself, and has about half the room to play in when his pen is opened. At some point, I’ll run out of other boxes to unpack and will have to tackle setting up that room for human guests. Until then, he seems to think it’s a pretty nice bachelor pad. I agree, now that it’s all clean. 🙂

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You can see more pictures on Instagram on the #DallasDevelopments hashtag, or by searching my username- @zombiesandbunnies.

 

Dallas Developments: Day #1

19 May

I’ve taken on a summer project, y’all. His name is Dallas.

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He’s a year and a half old, and he’s a Georgia House Rabbit Society bunny. He was rescued from living outdoors (likely after being dumped by a previous owner), and he’s got some issues that he needs to work out before he can find his forever home. My job this summer is to teach him just that, via clicker training and a whole lot of patience. Here’s where we’re starting from.

Dallas currently:

  • Gets spooked randomly by unseen things and bolts. He will bolt in whatever direction he is currently facing. This means it’s not always away from whatever spooks him. It’s called the “Dallas Dash.”
  • Is territorial. He doesn’t like humans or other bunnies in his space. He’ll grunt or charge, or just plain bolt whenever he feels threatened. This includes feeding time. He also leaves a poop trail to mark his territory, but is otherwise very litter-trained.
  • Is very food-motivated. Dallas loves to eat. Pellets, hay, greens, treats- you name it, he’ll munch on it. This is actually a good thing for training.
  • Is not a fan of loud noises or sudden movements. Either of those will result in an immediate Dallas Dash. Unfortunately for him, he’s living in a house with Hatter & Alice- the King and Queen of Rabbit Mischief. Dallas now has his own bedroom for this reason.
  • Has a silly personality underneath all that fear & aggression. He’s been here less than a day, and is already binking and flopping around his play area when he’s not Dashing. He seems to prefer soft places, and is currently dozing on a pile of baby blankets as I type this.

Dallas needs to learn:

  • To not spook at unseen things. It makes his behavior unpredictable, and his tendency to bolt in any direction could be dangerous for him in an unsecured environment.
  • To share his space, to an extent. All bunnies need a safe space, where no humans or other animals are allowed. However, a bunny shouldn’t grunt or charge during feeding time. Dallas will have to learn to tolerate hands in his pen at least twice a day.
  • Where his safe space is. It’s perfectly reasonable for a bunny to spook at loud noises or sudden movements- after all, they’re a prey species. It’s what they do. However, Dallas will need to learn where he should run when he gets scared, so that he doesn’t hurt himself.
  • How to let his silly self shine. He looks like he may be a New Zealand White rabbit, which is a breed known for being silly and sociable. If he can learn that it’s OK to play around the humans, he’ll have no trouble finding a forever home.

I’ll post regular updates on his progress over the next couple of months. You can also follow along on my Instagram (@zombiesandbunnies) for photos and videos of Dallas’s progress.

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