Posts filed under ‘Reads’

Behavior Shaping Game (for Humans)

[long nerdy post warning]

PORTL set up.jpg

I am very lucky to have inspiring professional dog trainers in my life who help me be a better dog geek and parent. When my dog trainer friend Sarah Owings asked if I wanted to playtest a “Tabletop Shaping Game” as her lab rat, my answer was YES YES YES.

Sarah’s game is a version of a behavior shaping game (for humans) developed many years ago by renowned UK dog trainer Kay Laurence, to help dog trainers become better trainers. When our dogs fail to learn something, make mistakes, or get frustrated, this is usually because something in the training plan isn’t working. The games are for trainers to hone their skills in testing, refining, and fixing their training plans. The learner or the dog is never blamed or punished.

There is also a variant of this game called PORTL (portable operant research teaching laboratory) that is used by the University of North Texas for research into Behavior.

In Sarah’s version of the game:

  1. There is 1 Teacher and 1 Learner
  2. The game is played with objects on a table, a clicker, and reinforcers. (reinforcers/”treats” are represented by small objects – there are a few different kinds) The Learner chooses their reinforcer before the start of the game.
  3. Each mini-session is short – 10 reinforcers per session. We work on ONE goal at a time.
  4. Click + reinforcer = Learner is to repeat the behavior. No click = try something else.
  5. There is no talking while the Learner is working.
  6. Each player takes notes at the end of each session and there is discussion at the end of the game. Was the Learner Happy? Confused? Thoughtful? Frustrated?

My partner Nathan, and I both took turns being the Teacher and the Learner. In between the sessions, Sarah privately instructed the Teacher what to do. I can’t go into all the details of the game we played because this would be like publishing spoilers and ruining it for everyone, but I will share general insights from MY experience.

It was interesting to FEEL what it’s like being the “dog” and learning about how Nathan and I learn differently!

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GAME 1: Nathan trains me to Flip His Monkey (not a euphemism).

The goal was to allow me to explore the objects on the table and then Nathan was to strengthen ONE behavior with added reinforcement (Click & R+).

Sarah gave an example: “the way a dog might initiate jumping up behavior at the door, then get reinforced for it by humans looking down, talking to him, pushing him down, and doing other exciting things in response.“ 

I personally don’t have any issue with Boogie jumping up, but here’s a reinforced behavior I know too well.

ABC pizza

When I touched the monkey head on the table, he CLICKED and gave me a “treat”. None of the other objects on the table earned me a click. I learned quickly that the target behavior had to do with the Monkey. Every time I touched the Monkey, I received a Click and R+ so I kept touching the Monkey.

game1

Observations:

  • One time Nathan clicked when I did something different (put the Monkey on the Frog), so I repeated the different behavior, and when I didn’t receive a click, I was momentarily confused. Later, I read his notes and he had written “I screwed up” – he had accidentally clicked a behavior he didn’t mean to click. It wasn’t a big deal because I was being clicked many times afterwards for doing the correct behavior.

howshefelt

  • At the end of the game, when Nathan and I compared notes, I had circled “Happy” and “Thoughtful/Focused” on my sheet of paper, but according to Nathan, I seemed frustrated like I wanted MORE. “You wanted to build something with ALL the objects on the table”. This was true – after being clicked 30 times for repeatedly picking up and flipping the Monkey, I was bored and had started interacting with the other objects on the table to see if there was something else that could earn me clicks.
  • In the 3rd session, the other objects had been removed from the table so it was clear that I had to interact only with the Monkey.

Sarah: “We learned that you are a learner that enjoys novelty, puzzles, more interesting challenges–those types of actions are more reinforcing for you than simply getting the right answer. This is what I love best about training. Ever when the teacher’s plans go awry, if you listen to what your learner is telling you, you learn how to teach that learner better in the future.”

GAME 2: Lili trains Nathan to Put His Finger in my Scrunchie (also not a euphemism)

Game2A

There was a Scrunchie on the table – no other objects present – and the goal was to have Nathan put his finger in the Scrunchie- and he took to it so quickly – only after 2 clicks, that Sarah instructed me to put this behavior on cue in the next session. 

My cue was a card with a yellow diamond on it.

portl02

Sarah: “The order here is very important…First you hold up the cue card…THEN you moved the scrunchie in front of him…behavior…Click R+. Not the other way around”

​When Nathan got it right very quickly, my next goal was to teach Stimulus Control. ie, Nathan should put his finger in the scrunchie when I give the cue. When I don’t give the cue, he shouldn’t put his finger in the scrunchie.

Here was something new to me – first of all, I had to establish a Off-Cue Behavior (in this case, eye contact from Nathan) that I could also click and treat. The goal with having Off-Cue and On-Cue Behaviors is to to reduce learner errors and/or frustration and keep the rate of reinforcement up. The Learner will always get reinforced for something, and no punishment or extinction is necessary.

Game 2B

In contrast, an illustration of what Negative Punishment (= removing something to prevent behavior from recurring) would look like, which can make the Learner shut down or hesitate to keep playing, or feel frustrated if they didn’t get the Cue to begin with.

negativepunishment1

 

Observations:

  • When I first held up the cue card, Nathan stopped. He stared at the card for a long time before picking up the scrunchie. Later, he told us he saw the yellow card as “a penalty card” like in soccer, so he had immediately interpreted this as a NO signal. This was a great example of Learners bringing past experiences to the table.

Sarah said – Imagine teaching a dog a new cue for SIT which is a hand signal (she lowered her hand with palm faced down), and what if in a previous home this is the same hand signal the dog would see before every time he got hit.

The cue that we think is neutral, may not be neutral for this individual dog. It may have other negative associations of which we are not aware. It’s important to pay attention/listen to our individual Learner so we can choose our cues with care, and train accordingly.

  • When I was training the Off-Cue Behavior, (no cue card) I started with no scrunchie on the table, and added this back later. The very first time that I added the scrunchie back in front of Nathan with no cue, he stared at it for a long while. He then picked up the scrunchie and put his finger in it, and when I didn’t click, he put it back down and looked at me like he knew he shouldn’t have done that. This was actually MY mistake. I changed the criteria, added the distraction, and should have clicked when he first got it right, instead of waiting for a different behavior. 

Sarah: “Clicking just for holding still for half a second, with hands in lap, would have ensured that he NOT interact with it on the first round and cemented the information that sitting still was correct. Instead, you waited a long time, waiting for eye contact. Eventually he was not sure about what you wanted and made a mistake–putting the scrunchie on his finger off-cue. But Nathan’s one error was informative for him. He interacted with the scrunchie–no click. He put it down and looked at you. You presented the cue–back on track. You made good teaching choices there.”

Offcuebehavior

In 40 repetitions, Nathan made a (off-cue behavior) mistake only ONCE. That was pretty good, I thought. 🙂

Also for some reason, whenever Nathan gave me eye-contact he would burst into laughter which then made me laugh. The more I clicked this eye-contact, the session turned into a laugh-fest. We could both circle “Happy” on our review sheets.

To summarize, these Behavior Shaping Games were a fun and fascinating way to experience how operant conditioning works, the power of clear non-verbal communication, and individual learning styles.

Most importantly, I got a sense of what it might feel like to be a dog being trained by a human-trainer, (Sorry, Boogie. I have so much more empathy for you, now!) and a much clearer sense that there are two individuals involved in this training game.

I think Nathan was a better Learner – he was way more focused with his attention. I was more all over the place as a Learner and got bored even without realizing I got bored until this was pointed out to me later.

To those “Obedience” people who dismiss Positive Reinforcement training as something like “bribery”  or “spoiling the dog” – this couldn’t be further from the truth. When done well, I see R+ training is an admirable skill and demonstrates good planning, good timing, an ability to read your learner and change your training plan to help them succeed and not be frustrated. There is so much brain and heart in this approach to training.

Thank you, Sarah!

P.S. Boogie is deaf in his old age, so I no longer use the clicker or any verbal cues. I use a “thumbs up” for a click/yes.

RELATED:

Check out this amazing video by expert trainer Mary Hunter. It’s super advanced but offers a great example of training/shaping without using words, planned in such a way that the learner gets it right 100% of the time. (This blog post by Mary Hunter is also worth reading: When Teaching Doesn’t Equal Learning)

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June 17, 2018 at 7:30 pm 2 comments

2017 Book List

Dog-related Books 2017

Dog-related Books I read this year:
  1. What The Dog Knows is the story of a German Shepherd who becomes a professional cadaver dog. Absolutely fascinating if you are interested in how sniffer dogs are trained. With pieces of dead human bodies.
  2. The Education of Will is by renowned dog behaviorist Patricia McConnell. This is a heartfelt memoir about trauma and the healing process – for both humans and dogs.
  3. Considerations for the City Dog is a for people like me who live in urban environments where there are dogs everywhere. This book covers management, training, everything to help you and your dog avoid stress! By Melissa McCue-McGrath whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Boston this year.
  4. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves has nothing to do with dogs. But if you are interested in animal behavior and human-animal relationships, please read this. A very profound and stunning novel that I read from start to finish on the plane – which was not a good place to cry my eyes out. Hint: Chimpanzees. Then go watch the new Jane Goodall movie.
  5. Pit Bull: The Battle Over An American Icon is an exceptionally well-researched and riveting book about how dog breeds become cultural symbols of heroism or criminality. In different periods of history, there has always been a scapegoated dog breed. If you are thinking of adopting a pit bull, please also check out The Pit Bull Life by Linda Lombardi. (One of my illustrations is in it!).
  6. The Dog Merchants is very eye opening. Here is a book written for everyday people who adopt or buy dogs, about how the pet industry works. The takeaway message is that there are good and bad rescues; there are good and bad breeders, and consumers could educate themselves or where our dogs really come from.
  7. Science Comics: Dogs: From Predator to Protector is an educational graphic novel with a hefty amount of information about dog origins, domestication, genetics… everything you want to know about The Dog is here. Co-written by two canine scientists I follow on Twitter, Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb, with fun and dynamic art. In a similar vein, I also recommend the Biology of Dogs online course by the Institute of Canine Biology. (I am in the middle of this course right now)
  8. SOS Dog: The Purebred Dog Hobby Re-examined is written by Edith and Johan Gallant who used to breed and show schnauzers before they starting living with and sharing their knowledge about The Africanis –  the landrace dogs of South Africa. This is a book about the health and welfare issues in dog breeding for conformation shows. Edith helped me out when I was designing the Africanis for my map.
  9. An Eye For a Dog: An Illustrated Guide to Judging Purebred Dogs is a trip. I bought this book because I was researching dog breeds. The book is full of images that test your ability to see subtle differences in physical structures within the same breed, and judge these by AKC breed standards. You learn to see dogs the way dog nerds see dogs.
Books that I will be reading this Christmas (I can’t wait to take a break so I can read!):
  1. Million Dollar Dog Brand by Nichole Sears, a marketing coach for petpreneurs. After all these years working as an artist for dog businesses, I am finally going to learn how to define and market my brand. I am doing a workshop with the author next year. Wish me luck 😃
  2. Only Have Eyes For you: Exploring Canine Research by Linda Case. Myths about dog nutrition, training, and other issues get debunked by science.
  3. What It’s Like To Be A Dog by Gregory Berns. Because Patricia McConnell recommended it!

Did you read any good dog/animal books this year?

December 18, 2017 at 8:57 am 1 comment

That time of year

It’s that Clicker Expo time of year and I am not going.  Sigh – I will miss Sarah Owings, Emily Larlham and Susan Friedman again! Even so, my brain seems to have kicked into WANT-TO-LEARN-NEW-THINGS mode!  Thank goodness for Tawzer DVD sales.

DVDs on my Watch List this week:

dvds this week

1. Sue Sternberg – dog-dog body language – Watching this one for drawing reference.

2. Patient Like The Chipmunks – So glad this is on YouTube!  Watched this historical gem a few nights ago. Warning: Different animals doing cute amazing things but I would rate this video a zero on the ‘warm and fuzzy’ scale. 🙂 This is the cold, emotion-less face of Science, Enterprise and Efficiency in animal training… How it all began, starting with BF Skinner and pigeons shaped to guide missiles; critters in boxes performing 4-5 hour shifts…. The point is that the Brelands and Baileys are still so inspiring and deserve to be better known for being way ahead of their time in championing humane animal training methods. Quote Bob Bailey: “Patience and preparedness is better than brute force”. 

3. Roger Abrantes – I have only watched Disc 1 of 3 so far and I am loving it. Quote:  These DVDs are a “Review of the Principles of Behaviorism and Operant Conditioning spiced with the view of an Ethologist”. Roger Abrantes is fascinating to listen to and to observe and I think this might be the first dog training DVD I have ever watched where the presenter is actually interacting with and moving around with a dog (and their humans) rather than talking straight to camera the whole session. He also very clearly defines the words he uses. eg, Signal vs Cue vs Command; and I like that he says “Inhibitors” instead of “Punishers”.

4. Grisha Stewart – there is a full series of DVDs (with covers I illustrated!), and I am starting with the “Problem Prevention” instalment tomorrow 🙂

Will add thoughts later….

P.S. I have registered a domain name for Boogie’s blog!  It is now http://www.boogiebt.com

January 16, 2015 at 9:12 am 1 comment

Plugging my work (sometimes still Boogie-related!)

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Or click here: http://www.doggiedrawings.net/#!mailing-list/c1ll2

There are some new things happening this month, very soon 🙂

Meanwhile, I have just signed up for Donna Hill’s online course:  DOG AS A SECOND LANGUAGE. Everything I know about dog body language so far I have learned from Boogie. Yes, ONE DOG only. So much more to learn!

 

March 29, 2014 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Ear Work

Every time I bring out the ear medication bottle (even before I touch or look at the bottle), Boogie KNOWS what is going to happen. He can read me like a book. He makes himself very small, like a turtle, and creeps very low to the ground, slinking away under a chair or into his crate.

earwashbottle

I have tried counter conditioning with treats. Things went well (the bottle ceased to be ‘scary’) up until the moment that he realized that liquid dripped inside his ear… and then he stopped wanting food and would back off as soon as he knew what would eventually happen. So I always ended up administering ear drops “by force”, while Boogie endured the ordeal. And then off he would go, escaping to shake off, before returning for the consolation treat.

I have started watching Lori Stevens’s Tellington TTouch For Dogs DVD,  and yesterday I decided to try something new.

Of course,as always, Boogie predicted the worst  so he pulled his ears back really tight as soon as I touched them. I didn’t pick up the ear meds. First I did some touches on his head and around the outside ear area with the back of my hand (Chimp TTouch). Then I used my whole hand on top of his head to move the base of his ears around, before doing direct  ear strokes… and soon I could feel his ears and his whole body relaxing.

(By the way, I had already done these same TTouches the night before, and I knew Boogie enjoyed them, so it wasn’t like a completely foreign experience).

When he seemed sufficiently relaxed, I added the ear drops into his infected ear, massaged this in, and waited for him to escape.

Miraculously, Boogie did not move. He just stayed where he was and looked at me,  so I continued doing slides on both his ears and massaging the base of his ears. When I removed my hands to see if he had had enough,  he turned around to look at me again: “Why are you stopping?”  

It was pretty cool.

TTOUCH notes-Earwork

I was ready to gloat but then things did not go so well this morning. I went through the same steps as yesterday. I did Noah’s March along his back and some Chimp TTouches around his face and ears… I stroked his ears until his head was resting on the couch and to me, he looked perfectly calm and relaxed. I stopped from time to time to make sure he was still fine… he was.

Then as soon as I unscrewed the ear drops bottle cap, Boogie jumped off the couch and ran away into the bedroom.

I went to get him and slowly he returned to the couch, with not his usual sad-faced ears-pinned-back look that was usually associated with ear medications. Boogie’s ears were up and his eyes were bright. He looked at me, looked at the ear drops bottle on the table, looked at me…

“Really, mom?

THIS DOG IS NO FOOL.

March 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm 11 comments

TTouch – “Walking In balance” DVD

The only Black Friday Sale I took advantage of last month was the one offered by Tawzer Dog. I got Lori Steven’s TTouch Walking In Balance DVD and last week I finished watching all 3 discs. Lori Stevens is fantastic and the seminar was so interesting and enlightening that now I wish I had ordered the first TTouch DVD too! 

Last year I had tried to read Linda Tellington-Jones’s TTouch book after Boogie’s intro TTouch session with Cynde. To be honest, it was hard to take in and retain all this information from the book without having more tangible experiences. I am the sort of person who needs to see and feel how something is done (vs only reading about it) – and watching Lori Stevens’ DVD has rekindled my desire to learn more about TTouch.  Also – the fact that TTouch was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones from Feldenkrais is something that I find really exciting. I have been obsessed with Feldenkrais all year and have been doing ATM lessons (ATM =”awareness through movement”) at home, a few times a week.

Feldenkrais-beforeafter

If anyone is interested, here is the  Frank Wildman ATM lesson (45 minutes) you can check out – ‘Folding Your Body With Ease ‘ https://www.dropbox.com/s/52hs6ip3cdhotpq/Vol1_lesson_one.mp3

To quote Lori Stevens, TTouch and Feldenkrais are both “neuromuscular retraining programs”. 

In using non-habitual movements and body work, we reduce tension patterns in our bodies, we gain awareness, we loosen our joints,  experience improvement in posture and gait, which in turn, lead to emotional well being, greater confidence and better physical performance. All these things influence behavior, which is why TTouch is also categorized as a “dog training method” that is humane and force-free.

I totally get the emotional benefits of better posture and gait, and the force-free aspect of this sort of training,  based on my own experiences with Feldenkrais. I still relish the ‘magical’ DIY results even though there is a scientific explanation as to why this all works.  It’s amazing to me that I can eliminate pain from my own body and expand my range of movement just by attentively, doing a series of gentle movements on a yoga mat that do NOT in any way involve physical effort or discomfort. No stretching, no muscle manipulations, no “holding” of poses…   I always feel amazing afterwards – taller, more stable, more flexible, more alert, pain-free etc. and I feel more motivated to work out and do physical things.

To quote Feldenkrais practitioners: We are learning to use our bodies more effectively to move effortlessly. We are training skill, not will. The skill is proprioception.

I keep all this in mind when I think of what I can do for Boogie with TTouch.

The focus of the Walking In Balance DVD is really ‘leash walking’ techniques and how to stay connected to your dog. In the first disc, there is an overview and intro including a Feldenkrais ATM lesson for humans to do (yes I did this! It was cool) so that we know how ‘improved proprioception’ feels.   Then Lori demonstrated some important TTouches on fake and real dogs:  Noah’s March, Zig Zag, Python Lifts, & Tail Work. I loved that she shared details on the amount of pressure to use, how slow the movements should be, where to pause, how to move to the next spot, how not to go over the same areas… etc.

As I was watching, I practiced on Boogie  and took notes. Boogie LOVED the TTouches so much that he left his bed and snuggled up to me on the couch for more.  Some rough sketches:

TTouchnotes-NoahsMarch

TTouchnotes-ZigZagTTOUCH notes-PythonLiftsAccording to Lori, senior dogs tend to lose “back end proprioception”. *edit*  Dogs naturally put 60% of their weight on their front end so that as they get older their back ends atrophy.  When dogs pull on the leash, this is not only damaging to the thyroid and trachea, the dog can also develop unhealthy patterns of “leaning”, making things worse. And so in using TTouches and Wraps we can sensitize dogs to more “hind-end awareness” and in so doing,  correct gait issues.

Likewise for dogs who do agility and reactive dogs. The DVD showed some footage of an agility dog whose jumping movements improved after experiencing a Wrap.

“We usually see a change in behavior when there are changes in the way a dog moves.” 

TTOUCH notes-HalfWrap

Boogie had experienced a half-wrap last summer but I am not sure if it made any difference. Perhaps this is because he is usually always wearing some sort of harness so he is used to having “stuff” wrapped around his body so perhaps the Wrap didn’t feel “non-habitual” enough?  Or perhaps it wasn’t helpful to be wearing a Wrap on such a hot day. Now that we are in winter, I will try this again. I have some bandages lying around somewhere.

Another TTouch method demo-ed on the DVD is the Balance Leash with 2 points of contact- which to me, looks quite complicated. I had to sketch it out to memorize what goes where.

*edited 12/31/2013

*edited 12/31/2013

The purpose of having 2 points of contact is for clearer communication or clearer leash cues. With 2 points, the dog can sense much earlier when we want to change direction than if we had one point of leash contact. In the DVD, Lori demo-ed this with humans on leash. With one point of contact, when we turn, the dog would feel more like he was being pulled.  “It takes two to pull”. We pull, the dog pulls.

Quote Lori: In an ideal world, dogs would be wearing harnesses with front and back attachments, not collars. 

In TTouch, we “stroke the leash” to let our dog know when we want to slow down, turn around, or stop. Now I know where the “mime pulling” in BAT comes from! 🙂

Boogie has not worn a collar in years… he wears a Freedom harness and these days, only using the back attachment and a one-clip leash. I could in fact configure a Balance Leash using the back ring only, by having the leash go around his chest…

Note: A good harness should not restrict shoulder or front leg movements nor be too tight. On the DVD, Lori went through different types of harnesses and a few different two-ring configurations for harnesses, some including side rings. I will need to revisit the DVD to remember what these different kinds of harnesses are.

There was so much more information on the DVD (“Labyrinth”, Walking on different surfaces, how to work with reactive dogs etc) that I can’t summarize everything in this one blog post.  I definitely need to go back and watch segments again and refer also to the DogRead Yahoo Group postings which had more detailed discussions and examples. (See postings from Dec 1-15, “Tellington TTouch Techniques: Walking in Balance With Your Dog” Lori Stevens)

A final memo: Before taking our dog out the door for a walk (when he is usually all hyped from being cooped up indoors all day), it is a good idea to have 5 minutes of Calm Connectedness. TTouch is a good way to stay connected and bond with your dog before venturing out.

Thank you, Lori!

Related links:

DISCLAIMER: The sketches in this blog post are rough visual notes that I created after watching the DVD. I did these sketches for fun/for myself because I remember and process concepts better when I draw them. You are welcome to use and share them but please note that they are NOT official TTouch handouts. – Lili 🙂

December 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm 3 comments

“NO!” and unwanted behavior. (Notes from Clickerexpo Part 2)

*This blog post was written a few months ago, following on from Part 1.

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From “How To Live With a Neurotic Dog” (1960)

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“Eli, No!” – a picture book (2011)

The pictures above are from two books that I bought only for the artwork. The first book is from the 60’s; and the second book is recent.

I think we live in exciting times because there is a cultural shift in thinking about dog training, dog behavior and human-dog relationships, and there is now more information available on the internet and in books  on understanding why dogs do what they do and how they learn, and adjust our training methods to be smarter and kinder.

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From “How To Live With A Neurotic Dog” (1960)

Traditional dog training, being based in punishment and behavior suppression put a lot of emphasis on the “No!’s”. 

To (loosely) quote Sarah: “There are people who want their dogs to be seen and not heard and they believe that this is how the relationship should be between human and dog.  And then there are those of us who want our dogs to be able to express themselves, communicate, initiate things, and feel empowered in a relationship”. The inspiring thing about Clicker Expo is that everyone is there to focus on the “Yes’s” – how to train in ways that encourage more behaviors, not less.

At the January Clicker Expo, I went to three Ken Ramirez seminars. Ken Ramirez is an expert trainer at Shedd Aquarium who has worked with many species of exotic animals and all his training stories (mistakes AND successes) were very insightful and heartwarming.

In his seminar on “What To Do When The Animal Makes Mistakes-““No!” is technically referred to as a No Reward Marker or Punisher.

Ken Ramirez said that he will not judge people who use punishment or negative reinforcement in their training methods, but he personally finds no need to say “No” to any student animal that he is training. He is able to accomplish any training goal with Positive Reinforcement.

“We are more creative trainers if we don’t have a way to say NO. You don’t want to say NO to an elephant.”

To Ken, trust is one of the most important aspect of any training plan, and what defines a good relationship between trainer and trainee is a strong positive reinforcement history.

One of the most common trainer mistakes is requesting a difficult behavior from an animal when he/she is not yet fluent in that behavior. This messes up the trust relationship. He shared several examples when trainers got too greedy and asked for too much too soon. Trainers might get too caught up in their egos, push the animal too far, the animal is unable to do the behavior he was trained to do (or doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it yet), has some sort of breakdown, stops doing that behavior… and then there is a lose-lose situation where it can take YEARS to re-train that behavior.

Ken Ramirez outlined the various ways that we have learned to deal with unwanted behavior. He cited the 8 methods in Karen Pryor’s classic book “Don’t Shoot The Dog” and agrees with Karen Pryor that “Changing the Motivation” is the most humane positive method. However, this is not always the most practical solution. There has to be a more immediate way to deal with unwanted behavior or mistakes.

Common ways of changing unwanted behavior that are aversive to the animal in some way:

PUNISHMENT – self explanatory. We add something aversive to make the behavior stop. The animal does not learn what is right. Punishing is addictive too to the trainer, and can get out of control. There is a high risk of fallout and loss of trust in the relationship. Dogs as a species may be more forgiving than killer whales but this is beside the point.  Physical punishment works but is the least humane and most intrusive method.

NO

NO REWARD MARKER (NRM) – basically a word like “No”, or “Wrong”, or “Oops!”  or “Stop it”. Which to Ken, are essentially still punishers  (Conditioned Punishers or Secondary Punishers). Even if we use “Oops!” as a warning (“Watch out, this is your last chance or else…”) if we lack self-control and use it too frequently, it could definitely become something aversive and will damage the relationship between human and animal. Even the kindest version of a “No” when overused will lead to frustration.

TIME OUT or Negative Punishment (eg, the trainer leaving the room with all the food, when the animal misbehaves) This is another response that causes frustration and anxiety, mainly because the animal does not have a clue which behavior he did was wrong and does not learn what is right. The information is not clear. Time Outs are also ONLY effective if the animal likes you in the first place or finds the training reinforcing. The animal may be relieved to be away from you.

KR gave a great example of a classic Time Out mistake: Dog does something ‘naughty’, person picks up dog, puts him in the crate and person leaves the room.

time-out

NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT = Training a behavior where the animal gets to avoid or escape something aversive. Ken Ramirez says that even though Negative Reinforcement always involves some sort of aversive, this doesn’t mean it is inherently evil. For example we use alarm clocks (aversive noise) to wake us up in the morning. We hate the noise but it makes us wake up. Another example is when we learn to turn off the car lights because every time we forget, there’s that loud beeping noise. The biggest issues with Negative Reinforcement are that overuse will lead to frustration and anxiety. The severity of the aversive can be hard to control and can become inhumane. It takes a lot of skill to use Negative Reinforcement effectively. 

I am thinking of training protocols for reactivity/aggression like  BAT , which include some element of Negative Reinforcement.  To paraphrase what Grisha Stewart said at the BAT seminar – yes, there is the use of an aversive in BAT set ups (presenting the dog with a scary dog/person) but we can’t avoid this aversive in real life. “It’s not like we can sit on the couch with our dog and calmly chat with him about his fear of other dogs”. I see that the humane use of Negative Reinforcement involves working in a controlled environment, not adding any artificial aversives, and always letting the dog feel safe and in control.

I like these Susan Friedman quotes:

Control the environment not the animal.

Control is a primary reinforcer, to deprive an animal of control is akin to depriving them of water, food.

To the greatest extent possible all animals should be empowered to exercise personal control over significant environmental events.

In addition to whether or not a method is effective, we have to consider what is the least harmful or least intrusive technique for teaching or changing behavior, and Ken Ramirez referenced the “Heirarchy of Effective Procedures” chart by  Dr. Susan Friedman.

Here is Dr. Susan Friedman’s original article which is a must-read.

HeirarchyProcedures

Example: If your dog runs around in the yard all day and growls at people on the street, you could change his environment/antecedent arrangements (level 2) – bring him indoors, or put him in the backyard out of view of the street – this would be less intrusive than actively changing his behavior with reinforcers or punishers (levels 3-5).

Ken Ramirez’s favorite least intrusive method for dealing with mistakes is what he calls the LEAST REINFORCING STIMULUS (LRS).

The LRS method was developed and used in zoos but it is also useful with pets. Top priority:

1. not reinforcing unwanted behavior, and

2. not adding any stress or frustration to the relationship.

This is how I understand it.

1. First of all, there must be already a strong  Positive Reinforcement history (ie, good relationship) and high rate of reinforcement.
2. When the animal makes a mistake or does the wrong behavior (not the one you asked for), be NEUTRAL for  3 seconds. Stay calm and DO NOTHING for three seconds. One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…
3. Immediately ask for another behavior that you know is easy, that the animal can do. Give reinforcement.

Assuming that 3 seconds is the right amount of time, the mistake/unwanted behavior won’t be reinforced, and it won’t be too long of NOTHING HAPPENING for the animal to develop frustration.

Emily Larlham (advocate of Progressive Reinforcement training) reiterates that the problem with “No!” and other conditoned punishers is that:

  1. it suppresses your dog’s behavior (overuse leads to a shut down dog)
  2. you create bad associations for your dog with yourself, your dog will do bad behaviors when you are not around.

Emily’s method of dealing with unwanted behavior is by using a  Positive Interrupter  – a sound (eg, kissy noise) and conditions this sound with a treat &/or petting, so that whenever the dog does an unwanted behavior, she uses the noise to redirect the dog away from doing the unwanted behavior, and then asking for a desired behavior that can be reinforced.

**IMPORTANT WARNING: Always give attention to your dog when he is doing good behavior and reinforce this good behavior. The Positive Interrupter is “attention” so if you use this ONLY when dog does unwanted behavior, then your dog will purposely repeat bad behavior just to get your attention.

Oh yes, I learned this the hard way 🙂

boogiebarks

How Boogie learned that barking is awesome.

August 21, 2013 at 5:50 am 2 comments

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