eileenanddogs

Month: January 2014

The Right Words, Revealed

The Right Words, Revealed

Last week I published four “deceptive” photos in  A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, But Are They the Right Ones? As promised, here are explanations and context for the photos.

#1 Zani doing “Whale Eye”

Zani whale eye
Zani whale eye. Is she stressed or fearful?

Below is the photo in context (it’s #3 of the 4). Zani had been looking at me, turned her head to look at something, and when she turned back to me, her eyes moved first. Sometimes “whale eye” just means the dog turned her head or her eyes alone. Click on a photo for a larger view.

Reader Diana had nailed it in the comments last week, by the way. Here are the “right words”:

Zani’s head, body and tail are all in alignment and tail is out. The whale eye results from looking without turning her whole body. Eyebrows are lifted but eyelids lack tension and pupils are not dilated. Ears lifted at base. Mouth is closed but not tightly.

Also note that in the two photos published here in which Zani is looking back at me (in the direction of the camera), her eyes and the muscles around them are very soft.

Here, for contrast, is a photo of Zani with whale eye when she is afraid. This picture is also featured in my post, “The Look of Fear,” where Zani’s fear response is discussed in detail. You can see whole clusters of fearful body language in the photos in that post, as opposed to the photo above that shows “whale eye” on an otherwise calm dog.

A small black and tan/rust dog is crouched on a green and brown couch. She is leaning away from something (not visible) to her right and looking back in that direction. You can see the whites of her eyes. She looks scared.
Zani scared

#2 Summer looking slightly crazed

Summer stiff still
Summer: Is it a seizure?

This, of course, is not a seizure but a play photo. The uncropped version is below, along with a couple of others from the play session. It is from Zani’s first month in the household, and Summer and Zani played almost constantly in those early times. Summer’s play always has an edge to it, to my eyes, but I supervised very closely, and Zani kept going back for more. Summer and Zani have never had a fight.

Here is the photo uncropped, and two other stills from the video. Click on them for larger versions.

#3 Clara doing “whale eye”

Clara whale eye
Is Clara stressed?

Clara was in her crate in the car. She looked forward to see what I was doing, and couldn’t turn her head far enough. You can see how her neck is pushing on the bars, and her nose is in the very corner of the crate. She would have had to stand up to turn her head farther, and apparently didn’t think it was worth it. She is generally very relaxed in her car crate and sleeps much of the time.

#4 Pride being “naughty”

Pride Naughty
Pride posing #1

This, of course, is a highly trained behavior. Pride didn’t even lift his leg to pee in real life. The reason I include it is how his face looks in the photo. The set of his mouth and his narrowed eye with a tiny bit of white showing make him look, anthropomorphically speaking, rather sneaky or crafty. (Keep in mind that “guilty” looks are generally appeasement signs in dogs, and do not correlate with misdeeds.)  And this isn’t even a guilty look, just a combination of circumstances.

Marge Rogers, who trained the behavior and took the photos, says it was luck and just one of those moments in time. Directly below is another photo from the session from comparison. In that photo you can see that Pride is clearly watching Marge and the camera attentively. I think perhaps both photos demonstrate the awesome eye contact Marge gets from her dogs.

Pride #2
Pride Posing #2

In case you didn’t notice last time, Marge sets up these photos for her wonderful Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue Christmas cards

So that’s “the rest of the story.” Thanks for reading!

Coming up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • Oh No, I Broke my Dog!
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words…But Are They the Right Ones?

A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words…But Are They the Right Ones?

Here are four photos that are probably not as they seem. I’m telling you that up front. This isn’t a trick.

The shutter speed of a typical digital (or analog) camera is far less than a second. Especially if your dog is in motion, that fraction of a second might look terrible. How many pictures of yourself do you have with your eyes half closed and you look like a zombie? (Oh, is it just me?) But all you were doing was blinking. Camera angle and lighting can do strange things as well.

There is a lesson here, and it is this: We can’t judge definitively from a still photo. We can use them to learn to observe, but because it is only a fraction of a second, our interpretations, even if based on excellent observations, could be completely wrong. We can come to much better conclusions from a video, but even then, if we don’t know context, I think being conservative in our assumptions is a wise move.

With that said, take a look!

Zani whale eye
Zani in the grass

The above photo of Zani is a video still. She looks–at least–concerned. So-called whale eye is often an indicator of fear. In my followup post (next week) I will show the surrounding frames of the video. Feel free to discuss in the comments. What other body language indicators can you see and what might they indicate?

Summer stiff still
Summer on the bed

This photo of Summer on the bed is also a video still and it is cropped. I used to use it as an avatar on social media until a friend told me it looked like Summer was having a seizure. She wasn’t, but you know, it actually does look that way. In my next post, I’ll show the photo uncropped, and some other stills from the video. Care to speculate?

Clara whale eye
Clara in the car

This is a photo I snapped of Clara in her crate in the car. Why might this whale eye not indicate stress?

Pride Naughty
Pride at Christmas

And finally, this incredible shot that my friend Marge took for her “Naughty or nice?” Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue Christmas card. How did she get this photo and why does Pride look so crafty?  The photo has had some color and lighting adjustment and some cleanup, but Pride’s face and body have not been altered.

Photos remain incredible learning opportunities. And as we are learning body language, they are one of our main tools. For example, I have made available this complete set of labelled photos of poor Clara when she was extremely stressed out. I can vouch for them. She was stressed out of her mind and there are multiple signs of that in the photos. Perhaps in general, the more indicators you see in a photo that there is stress or any particular emotional state, the more likely it may be true. (I’m thinking that one over.) But with a still photo, it can’t be a guarantee.

What do you think?

Coming up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • Oh No, I Broke my Dog!
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Boing! Capturing a Trick and Putting it on Cue

Boing! Capturing a Trick and Putting it on Cue

Zani catching some air
Zani catching some air

I’ve got antecedents and cues on the mind lately. So here’s a little video showing how I captured and started putting a cue onto a darling behavior of little Zani’s.

Continue reading “Boing! Capturing a Trick and Putting it on Cue”
What’s an Antecedent Arrangement?

What’s an Antecedent Arrangement?

One of the classifications in Dr. Susan Friedman’s Humane Hierarchy that is pretty unfamiliar to most of us dog trainers is called “Antecedent Arrangements.” And look, it is on the more desirable end of the hierarchy! There’s no speed bump, caution sign, or stop sight. There’s an inviting little arrow. Worth looking into, don’t you think?

The Humane Hierarchy
The Humane Hierarchy

We are accustomed to manipulating consequences when trying to effect behavioral change, but that’s not the only thing we can do. We can make changes to the antecedents, the things that set the stage for behaviors. Antecedent arrangement is on the desirable end of the Humane Hierarchy because it is less intrusive. You are not actually trying to change the animal’s behavior via reinforcement, punishment, or extinction. You are manipulating the environment to enhance the likelihood of the behavior you want.

How do you do this? The three types of antecedents are cues, setting events, and motivating operations.

  • Cues: You can remove something that serves as a discriminative stimulus for a behavior that you don’t want, or don’t want right then and there. Or you can add something that will better signal the behavior you do want.
  • Setting events: You can make the behavior you want easier by changes in the environment, and make the undesired behavior more difficult.
  • Motivating operations: You can do something that affects the animal’s motivation, either to perform the behavior you want more, and/or to do the behavior you don’t want less.

I have an example of antecedent arrangement in my second post about the Humane Hierarchy.  But another one fell in my lap lately, so I thought I would share it.

The Dread Back Door

Undesirable door behavior
Undesirable door behavior

Since Clara became an adolescent, then a young adult, I have struggled with back door behavior with my three dogs. Actually, since before then, since Summer is reactive and sometimes can’t respond well when she’s worried about what might be down in the yard.

My goal has always been for Clara and Summer to lie down in assigned places close to the back door. Zani can sit or lie down wherever she wants, because she already has nice door manners,  isn’t pushy, and had no agenda other then earning a treat if one is available. Summer needs to be back from the door to help her keep calm, and Clara is back from the door to keep her from bashing everybody else. Theoretically.

This is a generalization of a known behavior. I teach my dogs to get on mats and stay there as a stationing behavior, starting the day they come to me, in all sorts of situations. All around the house I use soft bath mats with rubber backing as dog stations, and they are like magnets to my dogs since they have been reinforced so highly for getting on them, lying down, and relaxing. But I was not able to use them to mark the places I had designated for Summer and Clara at the back door. This was because the den was the one room in the house in which Clara had free range as a youngster, and she would chew them up if not completely supervised. So I bought a couple of rubber non-skid bath inserts, like you put in the bottom of your tub or shower. They made decent station markers but were not attractive for her to chew.

I worked for a long time to get Clara to stay on her mat at the door. It was an “expensive” behavior for her, as Sue Ailsby calls it. There was just too much fun to be had dashing towards the door and knocking the other dogs aside like bowling pins. So it took a high level treat at first and some very consistent practice to get a nice wait on a mat. By the way, using going out of the door as the reinforcer didn’t work as an initial training strategy. Much too exciting. I needed to build the behavior up using high value treats. And since we went out the door many times a day, sometimes with very little preparation, Clara did get some chances to practice the undesirable things. I.e., I couldn’t always have great stuff and I had a hard time being consistent.

Summer trying to make eye contact at the back door
An old photo of Summer trying to make eye contact at the back door when her whole body and mind are already outside

Finally I did some intensive work  over a couple of weeks and got some pretty consistent behavior. Once I got Clara’s behavior in shape, I started working on Summer. That was just as hard, in a different way, because I was working against some emotional patterning. Summer is anxious and predatory, and easily gets worked up into quite a state, anticipating what kind of animal might be in the back yard, especially at night.

So I finally got the general idea across to both of them (along with perfect little Zani), but the reliability of the behavior was not where I wanted it. My walking toward the back door was the main cue, but we were a long way from three dogs slamming into their places. I was still putting up with charging ahead from Clara every once in a while and glassy eyed standing around from Summer more often than that.

Then I had a bright idea. I got our door behavior very close to 100% without a struggle. The short video shows the solution. With one change, I got an improved  cue and setting. Note that in this example, as in much of life, there is not just one learning process happening. The change in antecedent worked in tandem with the positive reinforcement (and differential reinforcement of an incompatible behavior) that had already been going on. But it sure gave it a huge boost!

Link to the video for email subscribers.

Link to a script of the movie for those who can’t view it.

And that’s the power of antecedent arrangement.

I bet some of you out there have some good examples. How about sharing?

Coming up:

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Copyright Eileen Anderson 2014

Why Not to Respond to that FaceBook Post While You’re All Fired Up

Why Not to Respond to that FaceBook Post While You’re All Fired Up

Zombies Invade San Francisco!

Thanks to Scott Beale on Flickr for the photo. 

This post may not about what you think. There are several obvious reasons not to rush off the deep end with a critical FaceBook comment, first among them that you may really hurt someone or make yourself look like an asshole. But I don’t think that point really needs a whole blog post, do you?

But here’s an idea that I do think is worth examining in detail, since I think it is much less familiar to many of us, psych majors excluded.

I’m talking about responding to that inner drive that tells you that you MUST get out there and write something to STOP THE NONSENSE that people are writing. And that you need to do it RIGHT NOW. Dealing with the feeling is a very interesting topic to me.

Coping

A friend told me that when you take your first abnormal psych class in college, you are blindsided by the perfect descriptions of your mother, your boss, your next-door neighbor, and your ex–right there in the textbook. 

I kind of had that feeling when I started learning about maladaptive coping strategies, but it was, umm, not just other people. Oh oh. This really hits home.

I’ve been reading and studying psychology in a piecemeal way most of my life but I hadn’t read much until recently about coping.

So when I recently read this blog post on maladaptive coping strategies, it started me burrowing into the topic. While some of my buddies are reading original sources and writing about the ramifications in dog training (as I probably will too), I’m sticking with the basics and thinking about people!

Maladaptive coping mechanisms: how could something that feels so right be  so wrong?

Coping

In psychology, coping is expending conscious effort to solve personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress or conflict.–Wikipedia

Adaptive coping is coping that works to achieve these aims. Maladaptive coping is unsuccessful in the long run and actually raises stress levels. But since maladaptive coping can feel so good in the short run, it’s very very seductive.

Here’s a list of adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies I have compiled from some different sources, both scholarly and pop culture.  This one in particular was a particularly nice succinct little list: Adaptive and Maladaptive Coping Strategies, and all its entries made it into my list below.

In my list, I tried to pair them when possible, but it’s not in any way exact.

Adaptive Coping Maladaptive Coping
Concentrating on efforts to do something about the problem Practicing anxious avoidance–avoiding anxiety provoking situations at all times
Seeking instrumental social support (getting advice, talking to someone who can do something to help) Looking for sympathy/social support
Deriving meaning from stressful experience Performing safety behaviors
Keeping physically fit and preventing adverse physical effects Relying on someone or something else to cope
Lowering arousal through relaxation techniques Aggressing
Exercising Abusing substances
Using humor Escaping–fleeing at the first sign of anxiety. Panic or phobias
Taking action about the problem Distracting oneself
Accepting and learning to live with it Being in denial
Showing restraint: holding off on doing something too quickly and making it worse Rushing in to “put out the fire.” Seeking relief from the discomfort no matter what the cost
Confronting problems directly Wallowing in self blame
Suppressing competing activities, i.e., concentrating on the problem Performing mental avoidance–turning to other activities to distract oneself
Planning: making a strategy Disengaging–giving up
Changing unhealthy emotional reactions Focusing on venting emotions
Performing altruistic acts Performing self-indulgent behaviors
Preparing ahead of time for stressor Getting sensitized (rehearsing and anticipating future fearful events)
Changing perspective and making realistic appraisals Dissociating (compartmentalizing)
Utilizing internal locus of control Utilizing external locus of control
Counting one’s blessings Ruminating
Planning how to use one’s time productively Sleeping too much

If you are like me, some of those in the maladaptive column were a surprise!

Adaptive or Maladaptive: A Quiz

Let’s say your job at a big company sucks. There’s a bar on the way home where you and your coworkers hang out. Several times a week, on your way home, you stop at the bar. A couple of drinks help you unwind from the stress of your jerk boss, your impossible quotas, and the toxic guy in the next cube. But also, your coworkers are there. There is lots of camaraderie as you support each other in your complaints, and share the difficulties in the workplace. It feels great to get that social support. When you get home, you are still a bit frustrated, so you get on FaceBook using your fake account and gripe a little more, or post anonymously on a “my terrible boss” website.

Question: Which part of what I have described is maladaptive and which is adaptive?

<<insert Final Jeopardy tune>>

Answer: As described, all of it is generally maladaptive. Most of us recognize the down side of regularly using alcohol to handle a situation. But the type of social support described is also maladaptive a lot of the time. This comes as a surprise since we usually look on social support as a great thing. And the support described above undoubtedly feels great. Such a relief it is to hang out with people who understand and can commiserate! But doing so is unlikely to lower stress in the long haul. In fact,  it is likely part of a dysfunctional coping strategy that may keep you in your miserable job, and/or keep you miserable in your job. So is griping on FaceBook, but that doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us.

Expansion: How could we tweak this to make it more adaptive?

  • How about, instead of drinking and bitching at the bar, you had a meeting with your co-workers about ways to improve the workplace? You could even bring in people who worked at other corporations who have managed to implement grassroots improvements.
  • Or if that turns out to be too “pie in the sky,” you can form a support group where you help each other job hunt to get out of the toxic company. (Just don’t let it devolve every time into a gripe session.)
  • OK, so in today’s job market, neither of those will probably work for everyone who is discontent. We have to be realistic. So in the meantime, keeping physically fit, meditating or doing other mental relaxation techniques, counting one’s blessings about having a job at all, and creating internal challenges and learning experiences relating to the job are all positive coping strategies.

So What Does This Have to Do With FaceBook?

Facebook is a pleasant place where you visit with your friends and family, chat with like minded people, exchange ideas, and share photos. What a happy place it is! It must be since so many people spend so much time there, right?

Not! For some of us, FaceBook is also a place where we find disagreement, insults, and mayhem. And it’s things we care very deeply about that are being argued about. FaceBook can instantly cause one’s blood pressure to shoot sky high!

There is a lot to cope with there. And what is the main stressor? For most it’s dissent. Both the fact of disagreement and the emotional reaction to the ways that people disagree.

It turns out that few of the ways I’ve been using to cope for a long time came up on the maladaptive list!

Maladaptive? Really?

I have shared before that I am pretty thin skinned. I’m an unlikely candidate to be writing about anything controversial since argument makes me really nervous. Throughout my life I’ve been proud that I have been able to just turn away and ignore stuff that has been written about me or even to me if I knew it would be upsetting. It does take some self discipline.

Hare making a run for it
Hare making a run for it

So how could ignoring somebody who bothers you, or protecting yourself from having to read the opinion of every Tom, Dick, and Harry be maladaptive? First of all, remember that we are dealing with stressors. It’s not maladaptive for me to avoid eating egg yolks if I just plain don’t like them. It’s not maladaptive for me to avoid arguments about the Greco-Persian wars if those are not interesting to me. But it’s maladaptive to turn away from criticism of my posts as a default, fearful reaction. It is an escape response if it stems from an inability to cope with the criticism.

If I’m completely honest, when I try to ignore critical stuff about me or my writing, that doesn’t relieve the stress. I know it’s out there. After a while it may fade from my mind, since I’m forgetful. But the most important thing is that ignoring it doesn’t build any resilience. Since I do get some relief from the escape, I will be more likely to do it more in the future, not less. The behavior may generalize and become an automatic coping mechanism. 

I think we can perceive that that’s not good. I would much rather be in a place where criticism didn’t hurt so much. Let’s look at the Adaptive column for some alternatives.

What if, instead of turning my back, I could take a look at this criticism? What if I derived meaning from the act of reading these other opinions? Gave them some thought. Either firmed up my own views, saw some merit in the others’, or just had a good laugh? What if then I was just able to accept that this person is out there thinking that particular thing, and not have it bother me personally? Wouldn’t that be better than having to continue to escape and avoid whenever I see that they have written something about me?

I think it would. Acceptance is underrated. In my opinion, the list item about “acceptance” doesn’t mean that you agree with or excuse the person. It means that it doesn’t stress you out that they are out there disagreeing with you. Huge difference.

And if I got to that point where it just didn’t bother me, then whether or not I looked at it wouldn’t matter. My emotional reaction to a diatribe about one of my posts would be a bored yawn or a quick scan for new information rather than a quick click away.

I want to be clear that I’m not pointing a finger at anybody else. This adaptive/maladaptive stuff is tricky. If you are somewhat in the public eye and tend to ignore some types of non-constructive criticism, you may just be a lot farther along than I am in the growing up process. But for me, that ignoring thing has been a fear reaction.

That’s the missing piece for me. I have been thinking all along that in some cases, not paying attention to someone or something could be just fine. Even severing ties with a relative or former friend may not necessarily be maladaptive, in my opinion. We don’t have to associate with everyone in the world to be mentally healthy.

I talked to a very wise friend about this. She said immediately that she thought that if one could make a choice about it, that was an indicator of more adaptive behavior. It wasn’t running away. That person didn’t have a huge emotional impact on you. You just thought it logically through and decided they just weren’t worth your time in the grand scheme of life.

Fools Rush In

And that brings me to the title. Did anybody notice the item in the maladaptive side about rushing in to “put out the fire”? We all know that feeling. Here’s the famous cartoon.

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/duty_calls.png

Credit and license for the cartoon. Thanks!

You can even see that this is maladaptive. The person is losing sleep so as to get their comments in right away.

Learning about maladaptive coping has been a revelation to me. Here, all that time I have been seduced by that feeling of absolute urgency. It is powerful!  But I have learned now how to classify that feeling. For me it is MISPLACED. It is maladaptive. It’s a classic response to pressure (negative reinforcement, anyone?) And that can lead us to take the quickest avenue to relieve the pressure. Writing an elaborate response to straighten everybody out and pressing Post!

But the internet will be there tomorrow. I can sleep on it. See all that stuff in the “adaptive” column about showing restraint and planning? FaceBook comment threads are probably the last place in the world where you are likely to change someone’s mind anyway. After a second thought, you may decide it’s not even worth your time. And if you are just wanting to help someone–they’ll probably be there tomorrow. It is just not an emergency after all. How interesting it is that some words on a screen can tap so effectively into those physiological responses to stress!

How about you all? What do you think of the lists above? Agree? Disagree?

Coming up:

  • Boing! Capturing a Trick
  • The Catharsis Myth and Dog Training
  • What is an Antecedent?
  • Elements of a Cue
  • Making Lemonade: Negative Reinforcement in Writing
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)

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