Smart Pets

Teaching Your Old Dog New Tricks

Unique among animals in SL

If you were to adopt a VKC Pet today, you would find an animal that already is completely capable. The pets are born with instincts that allow them to obey commands to stand, sit, beg, offer a paw, lie down, rest, show its belly, play dead, come and go, follow, wag its tail, sniff, bark, howl, and more. They also do these things on their own initiative.

This is pretty impressive as it is. But what really distinguishes Enrico Genosse’s pets from any others in Second Life is the fact that they learn and they are smart.

The VKC Pets have true artificial intelligence (AI). The intelligence of the pets is based on Machine Learning, a scientific discipline concerning computers that looks for patterns in data and learns rules to predict when those patterns recur. The result of this complex scripting is that the pets are able to observe and act upon their environment. They can, for example, recognize you or your friends and act in particular ways depending on whom they see. Obviously, this is much more intelligence than going to a food bowl when a scripted timer determines "hungry" or going to a bed when a scripted timer determines "sleepy."

At the most basic level, the VKC Dogs learn through conditioning, much the same way as your real life dog responds. When a VKC Dog does something pleasing to you, praise him. Say, “Fido good” (assuming his name is Fido). This will make it more likely that he will repeat this behavior in the same situation. “Fido bad,” naturally enough, has the opposite effect. As you train and condition Fido, his personality develops, a personality that is unique to this particular dog.

At the next level, it is possible to actually teach your dog new tricks. You can think up a chain of commands chosen from among your dog’s Instincts, combined perhaps with some commands for turning and waiting. Because the VKC Dogs can learn, you can assign a single word to the string of commands, and teach that word to your dog as a trick. Then whenever you want your dog to perform these actions, you would use the single word as a command.

Imagine that you want your dog to dance a happy dance every time you come home. First you would need to think about what a happy dance might look like. Maybe your dog would bounce up and down in place, wiggle a bit, and then zoom over to you wagging his tail. Or maybe your idea is different. It does not matter, as long as what the dog does looks like the happy dance you have in mind.

Once you have figured out what your happy dance looks like, then you teach it to your dog, using the special command — learn. So you would say, for example:

Fido learn happy sit beg sit beg turn l turn r go owner wag

As soon as your dog Fido hears this from you, he knows a happy dance. When you say, “Fido happy,” he will do his happy dance. If you tell him this every time you come home and then say, “Fido good,” he soon will do his happy dance every time you come home without being told.

The difference between training and conditioning can elude people. To simplify, training involves teaching a specific set of skills while conditioning changes the likelihood that the skill will be put to use. Even if we never teach our dogs a single trick, we can still condition the dog’s personality. Of course, if the dog also knows some tricks, its personality is richer and more varied.

At one level, teaching a trick is a little like programming your calculator or spreadsheet to compute your next mortgage payment: teach the trick and the dog will simply follow your instructions. It is at the level of the personality, when your dog does the trick without being asked because you have said “Fido good,” that your dog is most deeply special and unique.

Weekly classes, taught by VKC Proven Trainers, are available on the weekends and during the week. Classes are free and offered at times convenient to a variety of time zones and work schedules. Please check the Information Kiosk near the Clinic in the VKC Parks or the Virtual Kennel Club group announcements for current times and topics.

If class times are inconvenient for you, most VKC Proven Trainers love to hold ad hoc classes for you. Trainers are also available to answer your questions or to admire the tricks you have taught your dog. Check it out. ❧

Training Manual

Use the navigation menu on the left for links to How to Play with a VKC Dog and to the VKC Dog Owner's Manual for detailed information about training.