Actually, this is really a project I started on about two years ago. In 2011, I worked some on teaching Ginger, my parent’s dog, to use my iPad. Although she did learn to touch a square button on the iPad, we never really progressed past that point. However, I learned a ton from the experience about programming, what makes a good app for a dog (or other animal), and what I should do differently the next time.
So, I’ve been working some recently on writing a web-based application that would work well for Amy. About a week ago, I started teaching her how to use the program. The first step, which you’ll see in the video below, was to teach her to touch a single circle on the screen of the iPad.
At first, this was a bit challenging. Rats love to investigate new things. However, sniffing does not actually involve touching. I was able to get her to repeatedly approach the iPad and to even approach the dot. However, she would just sniff the screen. She wouldn’t touch it with her nose!
The solution that did the trick was a tiny dab of apple sauce on the screen of the iPad. When she went to eat if off and touched the screen, BEEP, went the program. It didn’t take long before she figured out that the goal of the game was to actually touch the screen, rather than just sniffing it and we were able to get rid of the apple sauce.
A prompt or lure (like the apple sauce) can often be used to help an animal figure out what you want. However, it is so important to stop using it pretty quickly after the animal has done the desired behavior a few times. If you continue using a prompt or food lure for too long, it can become part of the cue for the behavior, and the animal won’t understand how to do the behavior without the prompt present.
Our next step will be to introduce a second circle along the bottom of the screen, but to the left of the current circle. Right now, I can’t be sure if she’s touching the black circle, or if she’s only learned to go to that spot on the iPad. Moving the circle to another location will start teaching her that the circle is the important part and that she should touch the circle no matter where it is on the screen, rather than just touching a particular location on the screen.
This video shows part of one of Amy’s recent training sessions.
Watch on YouTube: Amy the rat goes high tech (rat using an iPad)