Georgie Learns a New Trick

One thing I’ve been doing more of this semester is rat training. I started some clicker training with my rat Georgie last fall. However, I didn’t get too far past teaching food delivery and conditioning the clicker.

So far this fall we’ve worked on a handful of tricks, including targeting, standing on a platform (including increasing duration), and going through a tunnel. I am a teaching assistant at school for an introductory behavior analysis class. This week, since we were talking about shaping, I put together a short edited video of Georgie learning how to go through the tunnel.

On youtube: Clicker training a rat to go through a tunnel using shaping

In this video you can see how Georgie and I used shaping to break the final behavior down into lots of tiny little steps, first approaching the tunnel, then going through farther and farther, until she was finally going all the way through. Training this trick took several sessions over a few days. You can see in the video that later in the training she will often try things that earlier on were reinforced, but when she doesn’t hear the click, she tries going a bit farther.

So far, I’ve learn that rat training is super fun, but also quite a challenge!! Georgie is super, duper smart and she figures things out pretty quickly if I break the task down into enough steps and set her up for success. However, she also gets bored and frustrated super fast if I go in too big of steps or do not keep a high enough rate of reinforcement.

In fact, she’ll hop up on the windowsill and ignore me for a minute or so if she doesn’t think my training is up to par! But, this is always a good indicator of when I’m going too fast or not communicating effectively what I want.

I’ve learned that training a species that I’m not use to training is a great way to really improve my training skills and my mechanical skills. I’ll continue to report back as Georgie continues to train me how to be a good rat trainer!

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  • Karleen

    “In fact, she’ll hop up on the windowsill and ignore me for a minute or so if she doesn’t think my training is up to par!” LOL!! My beagle has a similar reaction to my “poor performance” with the clicker…..she sits down, sticks her nose in the air, looks to the left, and refuses to look at or acknowledge my presence.
    I LOVED THIS VIDEO! An excellent example of how to use shaping. I think I cheered when Georgie finally got thru the tunnel!

    • Thanks Karleen! I'm glad you enjoyed the video. I cheered too when she first made it through the tunnel. :)

      ~Mary

  • Kanderso

    Very good video.  Did you deliberately avoid feeding the treats near the tunnel?

  • Gwen

    Mary thank you so much for posting this video. I am just in the early stages of learning clicker training, andddd I love rats. :) So this is a great post for sure. One question: (1)  I see she was smart enough to remember she could turn around and go right back to the tunnel, but why did you ask Georgia to come back away from the tunnel for her treat? Instead of leaving the treat nearer the tunnel, to “treat for position”?  This great video came in very handy for helping me learn, thank you.

    • Hi Gwen and Kanderso,

      Thank you both for commenting on my rat blog post today and for both asking questions about food delivery. Food delivery is SUCH an important topic. And one that is sometimes hotly debated! :)

      Yes, I did deliberately feed away from the tunnel. The biggest reason was to “reset” the behavior. The final behavior I want is moving toward the tunnel and then through the tunnel. By feeding away from the tunnel, it sets her up for the next response, because she is then ready to move back toward the tunnel again.

      There are several ways to do food delivery, all which can be effective in different circumstances. And there probably could have been other alternatives that would have been successful here. Since this is a great question, I'll write a longer post about food delivery and different variations. It will probably be beginning of next week before I get it up on the blog, though.

      Thanks again for asking questions, let me know if I can clarify things further.

      cheers,

      Mary

  • Radal16

    Great video! It's funny how Georgie lets you know when your training isn't “up to par.” My gelding also is very quick to let me know when I screw up, the trainees often get it better than the trainers!

  • EJhaskins

    Rats are an utter delight toi train :-)

    I trained my Twinkle to play billiards on a toy table top billiard set.  Though I trainer her with clicker and food treats (shelled rock melon seeds (cantaloups to you) she used to, after a few balls were potted, run up my arm for her favourite reward — a kiss :-)

  • Awesome!  I love shaping behaviors.  It's so much fun to watch them learning.  :)  It's good that she forces you to break things down.  I wish one of my pets would do that for me because I definitely need reminding sometimes.  Keep up the fantastic work!

  • sunny

    very cool thanks for sharing your hard earned education.