After visiting the vet recently (for Fibi-dog’s annual health check), I realised her & I hadn’t worked on an open mouth behaviour together! And this paired with – many of our current ATA members currently working on the same behaviour – got me excited to give this a go. Here are a number of our sessions from the last wee while where you can see us working on this behaviour.
Video one – February 19th 2021
One thing I really like to do anytime I start training anything new is just jump in & see where we are at. I call this a baseline session. Consequently without giving it to much thought I decided to see if I could get Fibi to target her top lip to my finger! See below ⬇️
Video two – March 07th 2021
When sharing this training with the amazing Sarah owings – one of the challenges she pointed out to me was that part of Fibi’s target behaviour was a very tightly closed mouth. So seemingly a different approach might be beneficial! We tried numerous different things including thinking about times where FIbi offered an open mouth behaviour and we might be able to capture it! One such time is when we are playing – Fibi would open her mouth and chase my hand!
Consequently I just started to capture this behaviour (with a click and some food) and then incorporated the top lip target into this … see the beginnings of this here ⬇️
Video three – March 16th 2021
I started to notice that after feeding – Fibi would often chomp her lips a bit. I decided to therefore add some food tosses in to give her more time to fully consumer her Kibble. One other thing I really like about this approach is that it also allowed me to gather more data and consequently hypothesise how Fibi was feeling about everything. I.e. quick latency to get back to the station could suggest she was enjoying the training… however if that latency increased (and at times it did) it might suggest she is not enjoying it as much.
I also added a foot stool to bring Fibi more up to my eye level.
Video four – March 23rd 2021
One thing I really struggled with in this training was my timing and capturing a certain sized gape as well as a still mouth for duration.
I am a big fan of using antecedent arrangements in ways that help measure certain components of what we do – so I purchased a compass (used for drawing circles) & modified it. I was hoping this might help me ensure I am clicking the same gape every-time, (approximating wider & wider) by having something more visual to click, i.e. chin on bottom target/part of compass.
Video five – April 06th 2021
However with the above strategy I found that I had some challenges with holding the compass in a way that worked for both FIbi & I. Therefore back to the drawing board – which ended up with me giving the below (alternative) approach a try to see where it might take us ⬇️:
A – I present thumb
B – Fibi targets top lip
C – I bring up finger to bottom teeth
A – I bring up finger to bottom teeth
B – Fibi opens mouth
C – I move finger with mouth
A – I move finger with mouth
B – Fibi opens mouth more
C – I move finger with mouth
Note: To the absolute best of my ability I was trying not to put pressure on bottom teeth. I endeavoured to wait for her to move her mouth and move my fingers with them. Although I found unintentional pressure was really challenging to avoid & once again I was mechanically challenged to implement the strategy with desired mechanics.
Video six – April 13th 2021
Up until this point I had been failing-forward with my timing of my click with Fibi’s mouth @ a consistent gape. Additionally (as mentioned above) I had been struggling with unintentionally putting pressure on Fibi’s mouth parts to get this behaviour!
So next I tried using a 15mm cut piece of ice block stick between my fingers (see end of video for picture). This ⬇️ meant I could apply pressure with both fingers down on the ice block stick and my fingers wouldn’t therefore move/put pressure downwards on Fibi’t bottom lip (which I had unintentionally been doing)!
Video seven – April 15th 2021
We started getting great success with the above strategy and for the first time since starting to train this I felt confident pushing duration up past 2-3 seconds ⬇️
Video eight – April 22nd 2021
We then shifted to me using a 20cm piece of ice block stick and added in a torch! All ready for us to start to move this behaviour to new locations & start adding in some more distractions before taking to the vets office! 🥳 Woo Hoo!
Well there you have it – our journey to an open mouth behaviour (for vet exams) so far! We look forward to continuing to work on this over the coming whilst and will of course keep you updated as we progress.
What about you? Is an open mouth behaviour something you have trained! I would love to hear about your journey and how you trained it with your learner/s? You can let us know by leaving a comment below! We look forward to hearing from you.
P.s want to learn even more about about possible ways/strategies to teach an open mouth behaviour! Watch/read the bonus blog/video diary from previous ATA member Sarah Ridley who took significantly different strategies then I! (which is what I love about this behaviour! Everyone does it slightly differently!) 💚 >>> https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/sarah-ripley/