The Humane Hierarchy, Part 2 of 2: Examples

This is the second of two posts on Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy. Here is Humane Hierarchy Part 1 in case you missed it.

In this part, I present examples of each of the methods listed in the Humane Hierarchy. My examples all center around crate training.

Here is the Humane Hierarchy again so we’ll have it handy.

A graphic that shows 6 levels of behavioral intervention, starting with the least invasive at the bottom, going to the most invasive at the top. The graphic looks like a road going straight ahead, with a right turn for each behavioral intervention. They are, in order: Health, Nutrition, and Physical Setting; Antecedent Arrangements; Positive Reinforcement; Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors; Extinction, Negative Reinforcement and Negative Punishment; Positive Punishment.

And here is a link to a different version of the Humane Hierarchy graphic that may be visually easier than the roadmap version.


Remember, these interventions run from the least intrusive first, to the most intrusive last.

Intervention 1: Health, nutrition, and physical setting,  This means to check for physical reason for a behavior first, either a physical problem with the animal or something environmental that is affecting her.

Behavior 1: Dog just stands there when you ask her to go into her crate. Your old dog seems to have unlearned her crate behavior. Instead of going in eagerly when you cue it, she stands there licking her lips. She resists when you try to lead her in. You take her to the vet. It turns out that her vision is impaired. There is a glare coming off the stainless steel water bucket in her crate and it is scaring her. Your intervention: get a plastic bucket (and maybe a plastic crate).

Small black and white rat terrier with very big ears is lying down inside a wire crate with the door open.
My old dog Cricket in a crate

When considering a problem behavior, checking for a health-related reason should be the first step. This doesn’t apply only to old dogs, either!

Just think if you had tried to retrain the behavior, even with positive reinforcement. You would have had an apparently “stubborn” dog. Even worse, what if you had punished her?

Here is a beautiful video by Sonya Bevan of Dog Charming that shows some  “mis-behaviors” by dogs with some very interesting causes, including at least one that has to do with the physical environment: “There’s always a reason dogs do what they do.”

Intervention 2: Antecedent Arrangements. 

Antecedents are those stimuli, events or conditions that occur immediately before the behavior, which function to set the occasion for the animal to exhibit the behavior. — Susan Friedman.  A framework for solving behavior problems: Functional Assessment and Intervention Planning. Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine. 16,(1) 6-10.)

Cues are antecedents that we teach deliberately, but antecedents are happening in your dog’s life all the time. Antecedent arrangement means that sometimes you can deal with an animal’s unwanted behavior by changing what comes before it, rather than the consequences that come after it, as we do via the more familiar processes of  reinforcement and punishment.

Behavior 2: Puppy whines in crate. Your puppy’s crate is in the dog playroom. Your other dogs are loose in another part of the house. As part of the process of taking them outside when you get home, you let the other dogs into the playroom while the puppy is still crated. The puppy whines and screams in excitement when the others come in. Then you are in a quandary. Let the puppy out while he is whining? If so, you would probably reinforce it.  But what if he has to go to the bathroom?

The antecedent in this case is the entry of the other dogs. This precedes vocalizing by the puppy. The noise making might be OK in other circumstances, but whining and screaming in the crate cause problems. Here are three possible antecedent changes that could solve this problem:

  1. Complete elimination of the antecedent: Take the other dogs outside through another part of the house. Then go get the puppy separately to take him outside.
  2. Change puppy’s location during the antecedent: Let the puppy out first. Either take him outside, or let him be loose in the room when the older dogs come in. He may get excited and vocalize, but this doesn’t put you in the quandary that it does if he is in his crate.
  3. Change puppy’s location so he is no longer present for the former antecedent: Move the puppy to another part of the house and take the big dogs out through the dog playroom first, then release him to join them.

Any of these should solve this particular instance of whining in the crate without having to reinforce or punish anything, or train anything at all.

OK, here come the operant learning processes with which many of us are familiar. If you need a brush up, please see my blog post Operant Learning Illustrated by Examples, or go straight to my movie: Examples of the Four Procedures of Operant Learning.

Intervention 3: Positive Reinforcement. Something is added after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening more often.

Behavior 3: Dog goes in crate and stays there. This is something you want to teach your dog. To do so using positive reinforcement, you could use any of these three methods of training: luring, capturing, or shaping.

  • You could leave good stuff in there for him to find (luring).
  • If he went in there on his own, you could immediately mark and reinforce (capturing going in).
  • If he is in the crate and being quiet, you could drop him a treat or chewable as you go by (capturing quiet stay in crate).
  • You could play training games where you shape him to go into his crate from different areas of the room (shaping).

Brace yourself for inordinate cuteness in the video.

Link to the video on capturing crate behavior for email subscribers.

Intervention 4: Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors. This means a replacement behavior is (positively) reinforced while the unwanted behavior is extinguished (see extinction below).

Behavior 4: Your dog goes in her crate when visitors come (instead of leaping on them). This is something you want to teach. Your adolescent dog loves everybody and is thrilled when someone comes to the door. She jumps all over them. This is not your preferred way for her to greet visitors.

You start by training your dog to go to her crate using positive reinforcement, without visitors present. You train it really well until she is absolutely thrilled to go to her crate and runs top speed when cued.

Then teach her that the doorbell ringing is a cue for her to go to her crate. After this cue is very solid, you start practicing with people coming in, but not in real life yet. Use setups.

You will not get extinction of the jumping on people unless it ceases to be reinforced, so you will also take some management measures. For the beginning period you might keep an ex-pen around the inside of the doorway in case your dog makes a booboo and runs for the door like before. She still can’t get to the visitor and practice jumping.

For practice setups, you must train your visitors. You need them to absolutely ignore your dog if she does get to them and jump on them. This is the removal of the previous reinforcement for jumping up, which is generally human attention. But it’s best to try to avoid the situation entirely, because some dogs enjoy jumping even when the human is ignoring them.

A rule of thumb is that the reinforcement of the new behavior has to be more potent, or at least as potent, as the original reinforcement. So the finishing touch will be to teach your dog that after she has gone to her crate, she will sometimes be released to visit (if she enjoys that). She can calmly visit with the guests and get human attention as long as she has four feet on the floor. You will have to train that as well.

Here is an example of differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior where I taught Clara to lie down when I bent over, rather than mugging my face.

Intervention 5: Extinction, Negative Reinforcement, and Negative Punishment. Dr. Friedman does not give a hierarchical ranking order within these three. The degree of humaneness will depend on the application of each method and the individual animal.

Intervention 5a: Extinction. Extinction of a behavior occurs when the consequence that was previously reinforcing the behavior is permanently removed.

Behavior 5a: Puppy barks to be let out of crate at night. When you first got your puppy, sometimes when you were late letting him out to potty in the night he would give a little bark to wake you up. You would immediately get up and let him out to potty. As he got older you got tired of this. You were sure he really didn’t need to go. He would bark and you would stay in bed. So he barked longer. Finally when you couldn’t ignore it any longer, you would let him out. This has been going on for some time.

You get on the Internet to see how to get the dog to stop barking. Someone writes that you just have to outlast him. So the next night when he starts barking, you ignore him. And ignore and ignore and ignore. When he finally gives up and is quiet for a minute or two, you may let him out.

This scenario demonstrates the drawback of using extinction by itself. This situation is a mess. It’s horribly unfair to your dog, who may really need to go to the bathroom and is trying his best to tell you say in the way that was previously reinforced. His world has turned upside down and what used to work beautifully fails. Your dog has no clue now how to get out to potty. You waited until he was quiet to let him out, but you can’t use “being quiet” as a cue to be let out if he is quiet most of the night. Unless you want to start a behavior chain of: make noise, be quiet, get let out.

This is one of the reasons why using extinction alone is “farther down the road” than Differential Reinforcement of an Alternative Behavior. In that case, you are deliberately developing and reinforcing a new behavior to take the place of the old. The dog gets a big fat clue about what to do instead.

Intervention 5b: Negative reinforcement. Something is removed after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening more often.

Behavior 5b: Puppy stays in the crate. You are teaching your puppy to stay in the crate when you tell him to, without your closing the crate door. You put your puppy in and tell him to stay. He stays for a few seconds, then gets up and heads out the door. You get there first and keep walking forward, walking into his space and pushing him with body pressure until he backs up back into the crate.

Negative reinforcement uses an aversive, something the animal does not like. Because of that it can have fallout. My movie, Negative Reinforcement vs Positive Reinforcement, shows the difference in my dogs’ behavior when trained the same behavior with those two methods.

Intervention 5c: Negative punishment. Something is removed after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often.

Behavior 5c: Puppy whines in crate. Your puppy is in her crate. You enter the room and she starts to whine in excitement. (She has never done this before.) You immediately turn on a dime and leave the room.

Intervention 6: Positive punishment. Something is added after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening less often.

Behavior 6: Puppy runs out of the crate door when it is opened. Your pup has developed an unnerving habit of dashing out the crate door as soon as you open it. So you decide to show him who’s boss. You get a spray bottle of water and add some lemon juice. You walk up to the crate, open the door, and squirt him in the face as he tries to dash out.

A stuffed brown and white dog is positioned emerging from a dog crate. There is a hand and arm emerging into the photo from the other side. The hand is holding a squirt bottle and it is aimed at Feisty's face.
Feisty gets sprayed as she darts out of the crate

This demonstrates the many drawbacks of positive punishment. First, it may not be absolutely clear to the dog what he was squirted for. Looking out? Crossing the threhold? Whatever happened next?

Perhaps you haven’t even taught him the proper behavior that you do want, such as to sit quietly in the crate until released. So the next time you open the crate door, your dog may be afraid to come out at all. Or afraid whenever he sees the squirt bottle. His affection and trust for you may wane, since it was abundantly clear that it was you who were squirting him with the painful stuff. His anxiety level has probably shot up from the whole experience. What’s going to happen next time?

This scenario also illustrates what Dr. Friedman calls the “double whammy” of positive punishment. First, the dog didn’t get the consequence he was seeking: getting out of the crate. Second, he got squirted painfully in the eyes. And as Dr. Friedman wrote in the article that introduced the Humane Hierarchy,

Positive punishment is rarely necessary (or suggested by standards of best practice) when one has the requisite knowledge of behavior  change and teaching skills.

And she has kindly arranged a list for us of seven other things to try first!

Thanks for reading! Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

10 thoughts on “The Humane Hierarchy, Part 2 of 2: Examples

  1. Great post!

    About Intervention #1: Once Barnum’s oral health issue is resolved (tomorrow is the big day for dental x-rays and probably some sort of surgery to fix whatever is wrong), I plan to blog about the behavior problem that stemmed from this health issue — growling and jumping off my bed (fear reactions) when my feet moved toward him. From the beginning I wondered if there was a medical reason, but none could be found, and since training seemed to fix the problem, I had decided it was NOT a physical problem. (Until the dental issue got worse and more painful, and the behavior resurfaced, which added to my suspicion that there was, in fact, a medical issue going on.) Sometimes, even though you can improve a behavior with training, the root of the problem can still be a health issue!

    I will be curious to see, once his health issue is resolved and he no longer has pain on the left side of his face, if he will still have the fear reaction and related behavior of growling and jumping up when my feet move toward his face. In other words, the cause was a physical problem, but he’s had so long to practice a behavior in response to a once-feared stimuli (my feet coming toward him which might bump his painful face), that I think it’s likely he’ll still have this reaction and I’ll have to use DS & CC to resolve the behavior (again!).

  2. This postcame in a timely manner… My 2yo had spinal surgery a year ago and Intervention One needs a double underline/bright neon highlight. A seemingly basic sit/down/stand may possibly cause her discomfort. Before I ever knew there was a spinal issue I realized she disliked touching, petting, and holding but loved playing and running around. No one knew anything was wrong until I noticed her motor control degrade. As it stands today she seems to have lost approximately 30% of her hind-half proprioception, motor control, and feeling but has gained an appreciation for petting, a desire for relaxed proximity to me (laying in bed or on the couch while pressed against me… Right now her head is resting on my foot), and more joy. We do sit-down-stay push ups a few times a day but I see lately that she isn’t comfortable. There is a lot of pausing, lip licking, displacement sniffing, and what I can only identify as shutting down. Pull out a ball and I have immediate compliance for a few minutes and then it seems fetch gets old and she ignores me again. I only bring this up because Intervention One is a big deal and the absolute first thing to look at before moving down the road. I’m hard at work trying to figure out what to do about this.

    I have a big appreciation for the crate example you provided in Part Two since my ex has this exact problem with his puppy. You literally described the training issue he has with his pup in behavior 5a. I never slept a full night at his place and his “solution” was to yell out “no!”, spray the crying, crated pup with a water bottle (no lemon), or let him out and sleep on the couch together. He refused to take any of my advice in training him but kept saying he had “tried everything” or succeeded because the spray bottle or yelling worked to silence him for 5 minutes. I was pulling my hair out! I suggested crate training from scratch (not just targeting him to the crate and then shutting him in and walking away for 8 hours), mental games, exercise, stuffed frozen kongs to occupy, basic behavioral training, and finally I gave him my trainer’s number hoping he’d call and take HER seriously.

    I am curious about your opinion on a situation, my response, and its effect on recall training. To start I am anti-off leash mostly because the wrong dogs are often off-leash and present safety concerns. The run towards us at full speed, hackles raised, and surprise my (I know you dislike labels but…) handicapable dog. I understand that pain and discomfort can manifest as aggression and I have no idea what my seemingly stoic dog is going through underneath her joy to socialize. I like having the option to choose whose butt she sniffs, if at all, depending on her current attitude;. Other off-leash dogs rob me of the choice. My dog’s recall is weak but I’m working on it every day. Tonight I took my dog to the park, surveyed the area, checked her interest in the environment ocomapred to me and the ball, and let her off leash. We did several retrieves and then she caught a scent on the ground and bam- zoomies. Before I knew it she was very far from me and I knew she was over threshold. I responded by calling out her name loudly, once, and running towards her a few steps and then away from her at full speed up the hill just like we had rehearsed in training. She came straight into my arms and I said nothing, calmly grabbed her freedom harness, jogged to her leash 100ft away, and hooked it on. Then we walked home. I said nothing, provided no corrections, and tried to be as neutral as possible while recovering from a heart attack. I’m conflicted between rewarding a zoomie by rewarding the recall that I did during the zoomie. I’m afraid of starting a behavior chain like in 5a: zoomie, recall, further reward (I believe zoomies are self rewarding). Should I have made a bigger deal about the successful recall? Or will I inadvertently reward a behavior chain I don’t want? In the future I will take my own advice and put her on the 50ft lead for safety. Still, zoomies will happen and I’m wondering how to deal with them since they pose a huge safety concern not only off-leash but on-leash as well since she pulls my shoulder and injures it with all her uncontrolled force when on-leash.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      First, that’s great that you are so aware of your dog’s physical problems. That sounds difficult to deal with! Are there such things as vet orthopedists or sports vets where you are? I’m wondering if there would be anyone who could assess what kinds of movement would be safe and possibly beneficial for her? I know they do have physical therapy for dogs, but I don’t know the right specialists.

      I want to mention something that I have read and observed. I need to give my standard disclaimer that I’m not a professional dog trainer, and of course have NO credentials regarding dogs’ physical health. But I have read about and observed that dogs will often do a favorite activity even though when they are in pain. Do you think that might be happening with the ball? The excitement of the ball might override her pain for a while. Just a thought.

      You asked my opinion about the recall after the zoomie. You’re right that it’s possible to reward a whole chain. But my inexpert guess is that if you have been practicing recalls every day and reinforcing them well, that reinforcing just one that followed her running away to zoom wouldn’t have hurt. Reinforcing it would have been my choice. (It’s easy to say in hindsight! But I think so.) I reinforce my dogs for every recall ever, often including when they just come running up to me of their own accord. Perhaps a professional or two will chime in about this. Zoomies are a difficult problem since they can have different triggers and accomplish different things.

      Sounds like you are a careful and thoughtful trainer. Your dog is lucky to have you.

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