Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sydney and the Newton's Cradle

Many thanks to my friend Charlene Dunlap for this article about her movie work with Poodles!
My Standard Poodles are veteran movie actors having starred in numerous movies that my husband and I produce. We recently finished videoing Act 1 (of a three-act story) of Jyah and Sydney’s first mystery.  At Jyah’s detective agency on his office desk, there is a Newton’s Cradle. I trained Sydney (who plays a Dr. Watson type to Jyah’s mysterious “J.D.” character) to use the device. 
Newton’s Cradle Multi-Ball Pendulum (named for Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) is a classic desktop executive toy that demonstrates Newton’s principal: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The device consists of a series of identically sized metal balls suspended in a metal frame so that they are just touching each other at rest.  Each ball is attached to the frame by two wires of equal length angled away from each other.  This restricts the pendulum’s movements at the same place. If one ball is pulled away and is let fall, it strikes the next ball in the series and comes to a dead stop.  The ball on the opposite side of the series acquires the momentum of the first ball almost instantly and swings in an arc that one would expect of the first ball.  The intermediate balls appear stationary.  What actually happens is that the first impact produces a shock wave that propagates through the intermediate balls.  This continues until, toward the end of oscillation, even the intermediate balls jiggle a bit and they all come slowly to a stop. 
In the scene, Sydney goes to the desk, picks up and pulls the first ball, and then lets it drop, starting the momentum.  For her to understand how to correctly use this device, there were nuances she needed to be aware of: 1) pick up and pull only the outside ball - which isn’t easy because each ball is the size of a marble and lies against its neighbor, 2) pull the ball back without displacing the cradle itself, and 3) let the ball go so that it hits the next ball with the correct amount of force.  The degrees of distinction in accomplishing this are rather complex for a dog to understand.   
So, how did I teach it?
Some things seem to take forever to train, and I thought this might be one of them . . . even though Sydney is very good with "front teeth" behaviors -- holding a pencil to type on a keyboard or to dial a phone, picking up quarters to put in a small-mouthed jar, etc.    
The behavior turned out to be one of the easiest I have trained.  Why?
Since puppyhood, my Poodles have been taught to use learned behaviors in different contexts.  I simply called Sydney over to the desk, showed her how the toy worked, and then held out the first ball asking her to “take it.”  When she did, I clicked (with a reinforcement clicker device) and she dropped the ball. (The click ends the behavior.)   Next, I asked her to “get it” (the first ball) . . . which wasn’t simple because her nose didn’t fit easily into the cradle without getting tangled in the wires.  It took only three tries for her to understand the concept of what was expected, and she could do it perfectly every time. 
Newton himself would have been proud of this Poodle!!      
Charlene Dunlap

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