Because my movie on the different thresholds in dog training has a lot of narrative for which I didn’t include text on screen, I am including that narrative here.
[0:00 Clip of two dogs barking reactively while looking out a window] Thresholds in Dog Training
[0:08 Text: Over Threshold??] Have you ever heard a dog trainer use the term “over threshold” and wondered what it meant?
[0:13 Photo of door threshold with light coming through underneath] A threshold is the point or level at which something begins or changes. That’s the standard dictionary definition. but the interesting thing is that there are actually three physiological and psychological thresholds that are important when we are training our animals.
[0:23 Text: There are three thresholds in dog training] [0:31 text: 1. Sensory Threshold] The first threshold we need to know about is the sensory threshold as defined in psychology. [0:37 Clip of a feather lightly touching the palm of a hand] Here’s a definition: “The faintest detectable stimulus, of any given type, is the absolute threshold for that type of stimulus.”(Psychology, Peter Gray, 5th edition, 2007)
[0:45 Text: Can you hear the 15.5 KHz noise? Your computer is probably generating it.] Have you ever heard the term, “threshold of hearing?” Right now during this slide I am playing a high frequency hum. Can you hear it? If not, it is under your threshold of hearing for that frequency. If you can hear it, it is over the threshold.**
[1:02 Photo of Rhodesian Ridgeback alertly looking at something in the distance]The sensory threshold is involved when our dogs are able to see, hear, or smell something new in their environment.
[1:10 Text: 2. Threshold of Fear] Another threshold is the threshold of reactivity or fear. [1:15 Series of photos of dogs aggressing or looking afraid] This is the one people usually mean when they say their dog is over threshold. The most general definition of this threshold is the point at which the sympathetic nervous system responds when the animal is afraid. This causes chemical changes in the body and overt behaviors usually falling into the categories of fight, flight, or freeze.
[1:37 Text: Examples of dog over threshold of fear] Dogs who are aggressing are generally over the threshold of fear. Here are two other examples of dogs over that threshold.
[1:44 Video of frightened dog at the vet] She’s panting, but it’s not hot.
She’s hyper vigilant.
Trying to escape, or hide.
[2:08 Video of small dog cowering and very still] This dog is practically paralyzed with fear.
[2:19 Text: What’s in between the threshold of sensory perception and the threshold of fear?] But there’s one more threshold, and it’s located behaviorally between the other two. If one threshold is where the dog sees something, and another is where the dog freaks out about it, what’s in between?
[2:33 Text: 3. Threshold of stimulus aversiveness] The point at which the thing becomes aversive, where the dog starts to be uncomfortable with it. [2:38 Photo of dog lying on mat licking its lips] This could be called the threshold of stimulus aversiveness.
[2:43 Text: Example of a stimulus over the threshold of aversiveness] Here is an example of a dog in a situation where a stimulus is over the threshold of aversiveness. In other words, she is stressed about something in her environment, but so far she is holding it together.
[2:54 Clip of dog on a front porch with me looking and acting very nervous as we practice some trained behaviors.] She repeatedly licks her lips and looks behind her.
She’s responding to my cues, but she’s worried about the noises.
[3:22 Text: What would it look like if we made diagrams of the thresholds?] In my webinar on thresholds in dog training, I made diagrams of these thresholds, and discussed where each of our common training protocols falls among the thresholds. Here is a summary of those diagrams.
[3:35 Main diagram of thresholds and protocols.] The black line represents distance from or intensity of the stimulus.
All three of the protocols discussed here take place over the threshold of stimulus perception, since the animal has to perceive the stimulus to learn about it.
The combination of desensitization and counterconditioning is correctly practiced under the threshold of stimulus aversiveness.
Protocols that use negative reinforcement straddle the threshold of stimulus aversiveness. The animal is exposed to the stimulus at an aversive level, and escape from the aversive level of the stimulus is used as a negative reinforcer for appropriate behaviors.
The closest proximity to the aversive stimulus may be more or less than I show here; the important point is that negative reinforcement protocols have to cross the threshold of stimulus aversiveness to work.
Flooding takes place at or above the threshold of fear.
[4:36 Diagram with thresholds of stimulus perception and stimulus aversiveness close together.] The thresholds aren’t always spaced out nicely. For example, if the threshold of perception and the threshold of aversiveness are very close together in space, a trainer using desensitization/counter conditioning would probably not use distance as the initial way to keep the stimulus non-aversive. The trainer would probably use a different form of the stimulus first. This configuration of the thresholds is probably common with wild animals.
[5:03 Diagram with threshold of stimulus aversiveness and threshold of fear close together.] Likewise, if the threshold of stimulus aversiveness and the threshold of fear are very close together, a negative reinforcement protocol would be very difficult to perform without risking flooding.
[5:15 Animation of threshold of stimulus aversiveness and threshold of fear moving closer and closer to scary stimulus, then disappearing] Finally, the thresholds move because of environmental factors, the animal’s stamina and psychological state, and of course as we train. This is what we hope will happen as we train.
[5:33 Main diagram of thresholds and protocols.] For more information on thresholds, please see the links to my webinar and blog in the video description. Thanks for watching!
[5:42 Credits: Thanks to Blanche Axton, Debbie Jacobs, Marge Rogers, and Florrie Bassingbourn]
© Eileen Anderson 2014 eileenanddogs.com