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Catching up. Notes about Behavior/Training.

It has been a crazy month – major computer issues, health issues, catching up on a huge backlog of work – and poor Boogie’s Blog has been neglected. I don’t have time to go into too many details, so this blog post is a quick summary of stuff that I have found interesting.

1. Two great books!  

First of all, I am plugging Grisha Stewart’s  Ahimsa Dog Training Manual  – I am doing new illustrations for the next edition! 🙂

Paul Chance’s First Course in Applied Behavior Analysis   is about modifying behavior in people, not dogs, but the philosophical premise and methods are the same as what are used in modern dog training methods, and I enjoyed learning about the same concepts in “human contexts”. Some quotes:

ABA is concerned with using environmental events to change behavior in desirable ways.

Much of the time, a behavior problem means either that a behavior occurs too often or that it does not occur often enough. The task of the parent, teacher, manager or therapist is to increase or decrease the frequency of the behavior.The chief difference between the people who live inside mental hospitals and those who live outside of them is not that we never behave as they do but that we behave as they do less often than they do.

One of the great things about ABA is that is focuses on what people can do rather than on a label or on some mysterious, unseen psychological disorder.

Please note that reinforcement strengthens BEHAVIOR, not PEOPLE. Everyone slips up now and then and speaks of reinforcing a person, as in, “John was studying very hard so I reinforced him”. You don’t increase the strength of people with reinforcement; you increase the strength of their behavior.

Some people think that people with Ph.D’s go around thinking up new terms for everyday words just so what they say will sound more sophisticated. There may be some truth to that, but the word reinforcer is not just a synonym for reward. Here’s the essential difference: Rewards are defined by consensus; reinforcers are defined by results. If an event strengthens or maintains the behavior it follows, it’s a reinforcer; if it doesn’t it isn’t a reinforcer. There is no other defining characteristic of a reinforcer.

This is an important point; one students often miss. People often get the impression that a behaviorist is someone who carries a bag of reinforcers about and whenever behavior needs strengthening, he reaches into the bag and hands out reinforcers. The essence of behavior analysis is not handing out reinforcers but analyzing the effects of antecedents and consequences on behavior. That includes identifying consequences that are reinforcing.

 

2. The DogRead Yahoo Group

I am subscribed to the DogRead group  by email. Every month a new book/author is featured readers can interact directly with authors, ask questions etc.  This week, the amazing Kathy Sdao is on DogRead. Kathy Sdao used to train dolphins for the Navy, and I almost included this example in my poster. I love Kathy Sdao’s response to this reader question:“is it always possible to use only positive, gentle reinforcing training methods with dogs?”

My experience has taught me that we tend to presume a false correlation between reliable behavior & the use of aversives. IOW, it seems to make intuitive sense that if the animal “must” do something really important (e.g., locate a bomb, track down a criminal, guide a blind person), we have to use some sort of force to teach the animal he doesn’t have a choice.

Yet, I believe we revert to coercion and force when our skills at implementing structured, clever, careful reinforcement procedures run out. The dolphins I trained for the US Navy reliably located deep-moored mines (as much as 600 feet down), reported the mine’s presence to their trainer on a small boat, then carried a heavy packet of explosives back down to the mine, attached this in a quite specific location on the mooring cable, then swam back to the small boat and leapt onboard for the long ride back to their pier-side pens. This behavior chain was long, cognitively and physically challenging, performed in the presence of huge distractions (including live food-fish swimming all around the work site), and ended with each dolphin choosing to go back to captivity.

It is beyond the scope of this discussion of my book (Plenty in Life is Free) to further discuss details of this training, except for the critical fact that we did not use “corrections.” We obtained accurate reliable real-world performance through the use of careful design of the training environments and tons of R+ over the course of many months of training. Punishment was not part of the program.

When folks say “yeah, but those were dolphins and they’re really smart,” I respond that dogs are every bit as smart. It’s just that their trainers are more often seduced into believing that punishment is necessary to teach “the important stuff.”

My affiliation (as an occasional consultant) with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) over the past few years has allowed me to see how amazingly effective positive-reinforcement training can be when done by skilled and creative trainers. Their implementation of clicker-training over the past ~five years has been amazing to watch. Their results have been so impressive that guide-dog organizations all over the world are seeking GDB’s advice on how to modify their own programs.

Hanging by my desk is this quote, from one of my all-time favorite books, Dr. Murray Sidman’s Coercion & Its Fallout (2001):

“An overworked and incorrect bit of folk wisdom pronounces the carrot to be of no avail unless backed up by the stick. But the carrot can do the job all by itself.”

… which is the point of  this poster illustration –

[click on pic for more info]

 

November 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm 4 comments

Helping dogs to be brave, Another vet visit.

I am subscribed to the posts on the Functional Rewards (BAT) Yahoo group and I really love some of the wisdom I find on here.

This question recently came up in the group:

if the dog shows a calming signal and you move the dog away, doesn’t that mean that you are afraid of the situation too cause you are moving away? a trainer told me to just go pass the person or dog to show that it does not bother you so the dog will think no big deal either.

Two responses below. First by Jude:

Moving away from a scary thing is a perfectly normal thing to do.  If the dog knows that s/he can always retreat, the scary thing becomes no big deal and eventually loses its charge – exactly your goal!

However, if the dog knows s/he must go near it, then it remains a source of concern.  Imagine being afraid of a poisonous snake hanging from a tree branch outside your front door and knowing that you can easily avoid it by using the side door vs. knowing that you must pass close to it each time you leave home just because your partner isn’t afraid of it and expects you to be unafraid, too.

Trying to calm an aroused animal by showing that you are not afraid does not work as a general rule and can increase an animal’s fear and/or shut down the animal. We have seen this on TV!

And by Susan Mitchell of C.A.R.E. for Animals :

I can understand what the trainer you spoke with is saying.  I agree that dogs take their cues from us and that they often interpret something based on our responses (verbal and behavioral).  (Sort of like kids do!)  But if BAT is done correctly, it is done with the handler demonstrating calm, and even confident/happy behavior…. and in response to the DOG’S behavior.  This conveys to the dog that 1- we can handle this, no need to freak out, and 2- I’m not going to be forced to ‘suck up’ my fear and face that thing over there.  It really becomes a “game” or sorts for the dog that they come to understand and maybe even enjoy.

Furthermore, I love what Susan has written below in response to another group post:

I really do believe in my heart of hearts that our dogs do their absolute BEST to do what we ask of them.  Sometimes it is just REALLY hard for them and they just can’t always do it.  It is our job to understand what they are communicating to us and help them out.  Just like they let us know when they need help…. they will also let us know when they don’t need it.  And while I know others don’t agree, I personally believe that the more we offer help, the more the dogs learn to trust us, the braver they become, and the less they actually need the help. 

I think this is really wonderful and inspiring, in that our ultimate goal is to help our dogs  feel brave, independent, make good choices (vs. simply doing as they are told or behaving on cue). Susan adds that in teaching self-control and relaxation to our dogs,  it is OK to go slow, be methodical, ask for advice along the way.

On the right is a photo taken today at the vet. This may not seem like a big deal to anybody with a normal dog, but I want to point out something quite amazing. Boogie is LYING DOWN in a room where there are dogs that he doesn’t know. There are three dogs and two cats in the room at the time this photo was taken (Later there were 6 dogs). The pup at the back is off-leash and very well-behaved. When Boogie is in a room with other dogs that he doesn’t know, he is never THIS relaxed. He will sit but never lie down like this.

This week, on two previous occasions I took Boogie out to busy public places and rewarded him with treats for lying down calmly by my side.  I have also moved Boogie’s bed closer to my desk so I can reinforce calmness and quiet while he is lying down. Before, the bed was too close to the window and he got distracted very easily… couldn’t relax for long.

“Please, can we go home now?”

In other news, Boogie is suffering again from skin issues. Dr. R said that there is no staph infection this time. The allergic reactions have not (yet) progressed to a staph infection even though Boogie’s itchy skin,  hot spots, hair loss, ear infection and goopy eyes don’t look so good. I told Dr. R that Boogie has also been acting sluggish and slower than normal.

Dr R: “Allergies are exhausting.”

And so I am applying Traimcinolone Cream to Boogie’s raw itchy (sometimes bloody) skin, and giving him Temaril-P – which is a steroid med – for 10 days. I really hate the side effects of steroid medications and I’m not happy about this.

I am currently researching supplements to help boost Boogie’s immune system. I am very interested in Canine Immune System Support & Doggy GOO. Any doggies out there familiar with these supplements? I’d love to get your thoughts.

When I was in the vet waiting room, a Yorkie owner advised me to give Boogie Cold-pressed Coconut Oil orally & topically – this will take care of hot spots and infections because coconut oil is anti-bacterial. Elsewhere I have read that Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with water can be used as a flea-repellent spray because of the acidity.  Can anyone confirm this info? Anyone tried these natural remedies with success?

August 4, 2012 at 1:31 am 18 comments

Bloggers Unite for Pet Rescue & Mall Dogs

Dog Rescue Success
Aargh. I am one day late! Today is July 24th. Via this site:

HOW CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

  • Blog about a Dog Rescue related topic on July 23rd, 2012
  • Add one of the badges below to your blog and help spread the word
  • Donate to a local dog rescue organization
  • Foster a dog
  • Volunteer at a local shelter or rescue organization
  • Share this post across all forms of social media and encourage others to participate!

I could blog about my rescue dog Boogie, but we’ll take a little break from Boogie for now. I want everyone to know about a new documentary film project called MALL DOGS.

The film is by Jessi Badami, whom I met at Clicker Expo last year. We sat next to each other in the Kay Laurence seminar, chatted, exchanged business cards, and kept in touch over the year.

Jessi is amazingly prolific – she writes, she acts, she makes films, she rescues dogs, and she was going to enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy this year but changed her mind and decided to concentrate all her energy instead on making this documentary about Lucky Paws, a very unique and successful pet shelter in Albuquerque, NM, that is located inside a mall.

You can read more about this film on: the Dogparent.com website  and on the film’s Kickstarter page.

Watch this video:

 

In short, MALL DOGS is an uplifting rescue story and I can’t wait to work on it. I will be creating illustrations and animations.

However, the Mall Dogs project can not happen if it doesn’t receive full Kickstarter funding in 30 days! Please donate. You can pledge any amount from as little as one dollar. Higher donations come with bigger and better premiums! Then, please share this blog post, tweet it, facebook it, pin it, do your social media thing.

“Mall Dogs” – Visit the Kickstarter page

Coming soon to Boogie’s blog:

  • My experience of Nicole Wilde’s seminar on “Separation Anxiety” & “Dog-Dog Play”
  • A review of the new “Tough Love” film

July 24, 2012 at 10:06 pm 3 comments

Understanding Doggie Play

I came across a brilliantly written blog post today – Have you heard the one about climate change and dog training?

I like this bit about “balanced dog training” –

What I’m advocating isn’t an all or nothing approach that discourages independent thinking.  What I’m suggesting is that according to the experts in this field, we are many years of work and mountains of evidence beyond having to balance our training philosophies because the real scientists have confirmed ten times over that the new art and science of animal behavior IS the field.

Which led me to another blog post by the same author where she analyzes the way her two dogs play.

we humans manage to anthropomorphize dogs in some of the most absurd and inappropriate ways, and yet don’t give them any credit as a species for possessing the same capacity for advanced social engagement that we do.

This blog post had a link to an very enlightening article in The Bark magazine: Is Your Dog’s Rough Play Appropriate? by Camille Ward & Barbara Smuts.

Coincidentally,  I am attending Nicole Wilde’s seminar on Dog-Dog Play this Sunday. I enrolled for two reasons: (1) I want to be more educated for Boogie’s sake so I understand what’s happening when he plays with another dog (2) I see this as research for my dog drawings.

Boogie rarely has the opportunity to play with another dog. We don’t have fences around here so it’s not safe to let him off-leash to run around with the neighbors’ dogs. Boogie sees his favorite play buddies – Rosie and Popeye- maybe 3 times a year because they live so far away.

A video from our last play date:

Here are some clippings from Is Your Dog’s Rough Play Appropriate? Some of this info is new to me and I find it fascinating:

Our research shows that for many dogs, play fighting is the primary method used to negotiate new relationships and develop lasting friendships. Although play is fun, it also offers serious opportunities to communicate with another dog. In this sense, play is a kind of language. Thus, when we regularly break up what we consider “inappropriate” play, are we doing our dogs a service, or confusing them by constantly butting into their private conversations? Most importantly, how can we tell the difference?

are traditional “no-no’s” like neck biting, rearing up, body-slamming and repeated pinning by one dog ever okay when two dogs are playing? It all depends on the individual dogs and the kind of relationship they have with one another.

This is very interesting –

…play does not necessarily have to be fair or balanced in order for two dogs to want to play with one another. Years ago, scientists proposed a 50/50 rule: for two individuals to engage in play, they must take turns being in the more assertive role. Scientists thought that if one individual was too rough or forceful (e.g., pinning her partner much more often than she was being pinned), the other dog would not want to play. Until our research, this proposition was never empirically tested.

There is an example of a “close canine friendship founded on unorthodox play”:

To this day, their play remains asymmetrical; Sage repeatedly brings down Sam with neck bites and continues to bite Sam’s neck once he is down. Sam wriggles on the ground and flails at Sage with his legs while Sage, growling loudly, keeps biting Sam’s neck. More than once, bystanders have thought the dogs were fighting for real, but Sage’s neck bites never harm Sam, and Sam never stops smiling, even when he’s down. Sometimes, when Sage is done playing but Sam is not, he’ll approach Sage and offer his neck, as though saying, “Here’s my neck; go ahead and pin me.” This move always succeeds; it’s an offer Sage cannot resist.

I am reminded of a little white fluffy girlfriend that Boogie used to play with (who no longer lives on our street). I used to worry that he was pinning her down and chewing on her neck too much. Well, there is so much misinformation about dogs being “dominant” that at the time I interpreted so much NORMAL dog communication as expressions of dominance. I have learned so much since then! Another common belief is that humping = dominance,  when humping is also pretty normal dog behavior associated with anxiety, arousal or social goofiness.

Boogie was off-leash in this very old video…

The article also draws attention to growls and snarly faces…

Play growls have different acoustical properties than growls given as threats, and when researchers played the growls back, dogs distinguished between play growls and growls given in agonistic (i.e., conflicting) contexts. If dogs can distinguish between types of growls in the absence of contextual cues (such as another playing dog), surely they know when a play partner’s growl is just pretend.

…dogs can exhibit nasty faces voluntarily, just as we do when we are only pretending to be mean.

…our studies have shown that dogs are very good at figuring out which dogs they want to play with and how to play well with their friends. Presumably, dogs are better than humans at speaking and understanding dog language. Perhaps it is time to humble ourselves and listen to them.

Also – Elisabeth Weiss: From The Dog’s Point of View 

I am looking forward to the Dog-Dog Play seminar on Sunday.

I will be bringing a sketch pad 🙂

July 18, 2012 at 4:36 am 2 comments

A very simple and awesome explanation of Clicker Training

A while ago, I came across this article: Why Clicker Training on TV would be a ratings disaster.The reasoning is that the process of clicker training  can appear repetitive and boring (click treat click treat click treat… no resistance from dog) compared to the technique of “dominating” a dog to make it do what you want, like on the Dog Whisperer Show. The theory is that a “battle of wills” makes for more interesting TV.

Well, I actually disagree that clicker training on TV would be a ratings disaster. If the trainer is a charismatic presenter, it could totally work. Zak George is a great example.

While I agree that an explanation of Clicker Training (Operant Conditioning) that uses lots of scientific/technical jargon (and presented like a science-lab process) could make audiences glaze over,  I believe it is possible to teach the SCIENCE in a clear, fun way that makes it easier for people to TALK about Clicker Training with normal everyday kid-level conversational language instead of having to use words like “quadrants”. Just my two cents. I am working on it.

Edit to add: Reward-based training without using treats

June 25, 2012 at 5:21 pm 13 comments

Dog Bite Prevention Week

It’s not my favorite week of the year – this is a subject that brings up all kinds of intense emotions. It’s the one week of the year where I worry that the strangers that Boogie has bitten in the past will change their minds, come back to sue me or request to have Boogie euthanized.  Yes, I know I am being paranoid and over-reacting. I am always worried that the percentage of people who have no idea why dogs bite and why it’s unsafe to invade a dog’s personal bubble, who are quick to blame the dog/owner is still way greater than the percentage of people who are educated and compassionate.

Dr. Sophia Yin has a great article about what people do around dogs to get bitten and how things are from the dog’s perspective.

Article: A Time To Take Responsibility For Dog Bites

Dickinson (director of the Sacramento County Animal Care and Regulation) describes one common scenario, “People get bitten because they see a dog they don’t know. It’s not acting aggressive. It’s just kind of walking around. They go up to it and they think the first thing you should do is put their hand out and let the dog sniff your hand.”

This may surprise most people, but even though we are commonly told that we should greet dogs by reaching out, in actuality, this can be very scary, especially if you’re a stranger to the dog.

Dickinson explains, “The dog doesn’t know you’re reaching out in friendship. You’re just coming at them. A lot of times people get nipped that way. It’s just the dog’s way of saying, ‘You’re in my space. Stay away from me. I’m not interested in you right now.'”

Related links:

Dog Bites are preventable…

Help! My Dog Bites!

Dog Bite Prevention Week blog post (last year’s blog post)

And this video, animated by me for Dr. Sophia Yin.

May 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm 5 comments

The Behavioral Revolution

This is fascinating. Excerpts from the Patient Like The Chipmunks DVD which I am tempted to order, but I think this video clip already offers plenty of amazing footage.

After watching this clip, I now fully understand why Operant Conditioning or Clicker Training is sometimes criticized as being too cold, too mechanical or emotionless.  As in the YouTube video above by Bob Bailey, he shows how the Brelands (Animal Behavior Enterprises) successfully trained thousands of animals of different species using  Behavioral Science (vs. old school aversive methods)  such that they could have their animal shows travel around the country, and be coin-operated and fully-automated like Skinner boxes.  There is proof here that direct human contact or interaction is unnecessary and … I don’t know… there’s something a little depressing about the way these animals perform like little robots – repeating the same behaviors over and over again – even if they are all well-paid and treated humanely.

On the other hand, it is exciting to know that anyone can learn these training skills, that there are logical explanations for the whys and hows, and that the methods are always evolving in a more intelligent and humane direction. The nerd in me would love to attend one of Bob Bailey’s chicken training camps and I love this Bob Bailey quote from Sophia Yin’s article “Bells & Whistles” in the current issue of The Bark magazine…

Crafts generally develop over thousands of years and tend to preserve what’s old and what has been done before. Information is passed down in secret from master to apprentice, and the apprentice must never question the master. As a result, when errors are introduced, they tend to be preserved. Another characteristic of a craft is that a change is designed only to solve an immediate problem . Rarely do they look for general principles.

Science on the other hand, is a systematic way of asking questions, a process that eventually weeds out mistakes. It’s guided by principles and data, and researcher’s approaches change and are revised as new information comes to light. As a result, science advances quickly compared to craft.

… which is interesting when considering  Why Dominance Won’t Die.  (…interesting choice of photo)

Related links/good reads:

Keller and Marian Breland Create the Field of Applied Animal Psychology
by Sophia Yin

Dog Whisperer, Horse Whisperer. What is all the Whispering About? by Cindy Ludwig

The Pursuit of Happiness – Is There Room For Emotion in Dog Training? by Jane Killion

Emotionless Training by Sara Reusche, whom I collaborated with on this illustrated guid to Playing With Your Dog:

(click to see it larger/download options)

Speaking of learned behaviors, yesterday Boogie was on his bed next to the heater. His body was awkwardly twisted around because he was trying to lick himself. He accidentally hit the heater with his leg – CLANG! – freaked out, ran to the window and barked.  You know, UNFAMILIAR NOISE –> BARK AT WINDOW. Even if he caused the noise himself.

Another classic example is the time when Boogie ran around the room chasing his ball. In his klutzy excitement, he bumped into my leg and jumped back with a huge yelp like I had kicked him. I threw his ball and all was forgotten.

Never a dull moment around here with my sensitive Boogie! 🙂

April 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm 6 comments

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