Month: February 2014

Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

Here’s a little body language fun: Who is seriously resource guarding? And what is the other dog doing?

I showed these pictures to two of my skilled observer friends to compare, and they came up with some great observations. Much better than my own, and these are my dogs!

How about you? Care to play? Can you tell which dog is seriously guarding her object? Continue reading “Which Dog is Resource Guarding?”

Thresholds in Dog Training…HOW Many?

Thresholds in Dog Training…HOW Many?

In 2014, I gave a webinar entitled, “Over Threshold: The Changing Definition,” for the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Thank you to everybody who came! That was so cool to recognize some names!

I am outlining here some basics from the webinar. The reason I created the webinar in the first place was to allay confusion in the dog community about definitions and to aid in communication. I think some straightforward definitions and a “map” will help many people and their dogs.

I argue that there are three distinct, necessary, and useful definitions of the word “threshold” in dog training. They are:

  1. Sensory threshold as defined in psychology. Here is one textbook definition: The faintest detectable stimulus, of any given type, is the absolute threshold for that type of stimulus.—Psychology, Peter Gray, 5th edition, 2007. In the webinar I go into the history, discuss types of thresholds in psychology (yes, even within the discipline there is more than one), and cite several more definitions and supporting information. There are many sensory thresholds: hearing, different aspects of vision, smell, touch, etc. One way the psych definition of absolute threshold is unfamiliar to our common use of “threshold” in training is that it is the stimulus that is above or below the threshold of the organism’s sensory capabilities. We say, “That sound is under the threshold of hearing,” not, “The dog is over its threshold of hearing.” Organisms’ responses to sensory stimuli are often invisible to the naked eye, and the responses generally do not correlate to overt, “dramatic” behavior.
  2. Threshold in the common training sense. You can find definitions of this usage in books by Leslie McDevitt, Debbie Jacobs, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and more. These definitions roughly agree. Here is Debbie Jacobs’, which is very straightforward: The threshold is the point at which your dog can no longer deal with a trigger before reacting in a negative way (with fear or aggression).” — A Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog, 2011I argue that this usage of the term generally corresponds to the response of the sympathetic nervous system: the fight/flight/freeze response or the fear response. In this usage, it’s the dog that is said to be over threshold, not the stimulus. I also cover usages of the term “threshold” by behaviorists including Steven Lindsay, Dr. James O’Heare, and Dr. Karen Overall. They discuss dozens of sensory, physiological, and behavioral thresholds, and always specify which one they mean.
  3. Threshold of stimulus aversiveness. This threshold is the point at which an existing stimulus becomes aversive, generally because of the intensity of the exposure. I gave this threshold a name, but I didn’t invent the concept. It is necessary to locate this threshold through our dogs’ behavior when doing both desensitization/counterconditioning protocols and operant learning processes. Jean Donaldson defines it thusly: In DS/CC, “under threshold” is: An intensity of stimulus that elicits no fear (and so the intensity of stimulus that would not function as R-)…. Not “mild fear” or “manageable fear,” it’s NO fear.–The Pitfalls of Negative Reinforcement, PPG Webinar, 2012. Attention to this threshold is necessary also in negative reinforcement protocols that involve escape, since the stimulus exposure must be over the threshold of aversiveness in order for escape to function as negative reinforcement.

I believe that most of the problems in discussion of thresholds in the dog training community are due to two major points of confusion: 1) Whether we’re talking about the dog or the stimulus being over threshold (confusion between Definitions #1 and #2); and 2) The fact that many of us haven’t realized there is a difference between Definitions #2 and #3.

Mapping it Out

Here is a graphic showing these three different thresholds, and where the major types of protocols for working with fearful, aggressive, or reactive dogs fall among them:

Thresholds for blog

 This graphic may be shared for educational purposes with the copyright and credits included, and I would appreciate online citations to link back to this post or the webinar page.

The combination of desensitization/counterconditioning is performed under the threshold of aversiveness, as Jean Donaldson describes. Protocols using negative reinforcement (escape/retreat from the aversive stimulus) must take place partly over the threshold of aversiveness, or else the movement away is not reinforcing. They generally go back and forth over that threshold. Finally, flooding takes place at or above the threshold of fear response. In the webinar I split things out further and map six different protocols separately; I have roughly grouped them for this graphic.

I also talk about the ways that some of the thresholds move and change, through training, external events, and the emotional state of the dog. I describe how certain protocols become more difficult if two of the thresholds are very close. For instance, for wild animals the threshold of sensory perception of a stimulus and the threshold of aversiveness of that stimulus may be practically on top of each other. I address the often-heard claim that there is no negative reinforcement happening if the dog is “under threshold.” (Which threshold?) Also, I discuss which protocol is likely to take place closer to the stimulus—but also why the absolute distance is not a good point of comparison.


I will be working further on this topic, in part because of some great questions asked at the end of the webinar, so you may expect more from me about it at some point. The webinar is no longer available through PPG, but I plan to release a similar one in the future. I’m working on it in 2022.

Please note that the webinar will not have information on how to perform the above-mentioned training/conditioning protocols, on reading dog body language, or other training tips. It’s not about how to train a fearful or aggressive dog. But the feedback I have gotten from viewers is that it has clarified an area of considerable confusion and that it will help their training.

Related Posts

Don’t Get Mud on Your Face! Citing Research in Discussions

Don’t Get Mud on Your Face! Citing Research in Discussions

Clara mud on face 2

Lots of us in the dog community read journal articles and scholarly books to learn more about the science behind behavior, even if our academic credentials lie elsewhere. And sooner or later we want to share what we’ve learned, out of the goodness of our hearts (grin), or more likely to try to win an argument persuade someone of our position.

Some say you shouldn’t even cite research if you don’t have credentials in that field. I think that’s true to some extent, but I also think it is beneficial to read and try to assess research even if you don’t have those credentials. Delving into scholarly journals isn’t always easy, but it’s one of the best ways to expand your knowledge and learn about the dialectic nature of science. But you have to keep front and center in your mind that if you are reading about a discipline that you don’t have academic expertise in, you are at a huge disadvantage compared to the people who have a longstanding background in that area. 

One of the first rules of citing research is that you must understand the context, both for your own benefit and to save your ass from embarrassment. And if you don’t know much of the context, you’d be well advised to start studying.

Let’s say you run across a quote that refers to some research. It supports a position that might be a little controversial or a minority view, but you are excited since you hold that view yourself. You are delighted and ready to quote it, both to impress your friends and show the other camp a thing or two. What should you do?

As someone whose credentials are in fields other than psychology or animal behavior, here are some guidelines I have developed.

What to Do Before You Quote the Article

Cherry picking is a tempting rhetorical fallacy
Cherry picking is a rhetorical fallacy
  1. Find the original source. If you read about the study in Newsweek or The New Yorker, get the author’s name and track down the original research article. An editorial mention is not peer-reviewed research. You may have to pay for the original piece or order it through a library if you don’t have university access. Another option is to send an email to the author. You’d be surprised how many times they’ll just send it to you. Be sure and thank them politely!
  2. Read the article. The first time, don’t worry too much about all the stuff you don’t understand. Try to forge ahead and get a sense of the whole thing.
  3. Read the article again.
  4. Study the charts and graphics. What are they measuring? What’s on the x-axis and what’s on the y-axis of the charts? What statistical methods did they use?
  5. Now look up the terms you don’t understand. Give yourself a crash course if you need to.
  6. If there are still big sections that you don’t get, consult an expert in the field if you can.
  7. Read the article again. Are you beginning to understand it?
  8. If not, and if you have no way of doing so, stop right there. Don’t bother to quote it. If you think you understand it moderately well, proceed.
  9. Find the quote that got you started in the first place.
  10. Study the part in the article just before it. How was the experiment or problem set up?
  11. Study the part just after it. Did they qualify the statement at all? If so, you are ethically bound to include that part if you plan to quote the study. “The new XYZ method works 95% of the time (YAY!), but only with orphaned voles raised with chipmunks and no other rodents (oh).
  12. Study the results section and the discussion section. These sections are where the authors summarize their results and make the case for their findings. But they are also bound to announce the limitations, and we should be just as attentive to those.
  13. Think hard about applicability. If it is about behavior, are there big behavioral differences between the subject species and the one you want to apply it to? Is one a prey animal and another a predator? Have the researchers done something spectacular in the controlled condition of the lab that can’t possibly be replicated in real life? Or conversely, have they found a problem that rarely shows up in the real world because of the ways that good trainers know how to help animals generalize and practice behaviors? Tread carefully. Think it through. You’ll look silly if you announce a problem that real world experts have been aware of for ages and already know how to avoid.
  14. Find out how many times the article has been cited. Google Scholar will give you a rough idea. If there are few citations it generally means the work made very few ripples in the scientific world (usually a bad sign) unless it is brand new. If it has lots, keep that in mind for # 18.
  15. Start reading the citations. Did they show further research that replicated the results? Or did they yield different results and argue against the first conclusion? Sometimes you can tell from just the abstracts, but sometimes you’ll need to get the full text of those articles too. You may run across a review article of the whole topic. Read it!
  16. Take note of the date of the article. If it was from 1975 and the thread of research continues through 1980, 1983, 1988, and 1992, you’d better read to the end. You’ll either bolster your case or save yourself some embarrassment.
  17. Find a ranking for the journal that published the article. Here’s a journal-ranking site.  Collection Development Librarians can also help you assess the comparative merit and ranking of journals and academic publishers. This is another area where you may save yourself some embarrassment. If the ranking is abysmal and the only other publications citing the article are from the same journal–you have a problem. And be careful about the open source “pay and publish” journals; they require even more careful assessment. Some are responsible. Others not so much.
  18. Search through the citations and find the major opponents of the work if there are any. Get the cheerleader out of your head and address the article critically. What do the opponents of the work say? What are the opposing hypotheses and results? Do they make sense? How many citations do they have? (Being heavily cited only shows that people paid attention to the article. A good start. But it might be because a bunch of future studies demolished the findings.)

Take a deep breath. Does your quote have merit? Is it a fair claim, given what else you have learned? Is it from a good source? Has it stood the test of time? Does it apply to your own topic? If so, go for it. Write your post, make your claim, but qualify it appropriately. Cite your source and be careful about Fair Use guidelines: give complete credit so that anybody could go find the very article and quote you are citing, but don’t quote huge chunks.

It's usually safe to quote Chance
What does Chance say?

What To Expect Afterwards

Your friends will be proud of you. People who disagree may be irritated or outraged. But here is what to be ready for. There are virtually always people with better knowledge and credentials than you in a given field.  If you are already in the hierarchy of academia, you are keenly aware of this.

So, those people may have something to say about what you wrote. Here are the main possible reactions:

  1. They address you with criticism of your piece from the benefit of their broader knowledge. They may ask if you considered Joe Schmoe’s experiment from 2004. They may advise you that you made a beginner’s error and you forgot to account for the “Verporeg Effect.” They may tell you that you really need to start over because of the discrepancy between the metrics being used in the different studies. Make no mistake: This is a GREAT response to get from experts. Even if you personally feel ripped to shreds and devastated, get ahold of yourself. They took you seriously enough to make suggestions. They took time out of their day. Thank them (publicly if their critique was public) and go do as they suggested.
  2. They argue in opposition to your piece. Now you have lots more work to do. They have an advantage. They know the field. They are probably right. But you can make lemonade. Go study their points. You wanted to learn about this, right? Now you have a chance to learn some more. This is still hard on the ego, but again, you got taken at least somewhat seriously, and you have an opportunity to learn. And if/when you find that they are probably right, be gracious.
  3. But the worst: they ignore it. They took a look and decided that gracing it with a response would be a complete waste of their time. So you can either puff up your ego and decide that no one recognizes your genius, or go back on your own and study some more. Maybe you are that lone polymath who has connected the dots between some interdisciplinary stuff and people will recognize your genius later. More likely, you were just out of your depth. The people who make radical, startling discoveries are usually immersed in the field in which they make the discovery, or a closely related one.

But hey. You did your best. You probably learned a lot. Whatever the response to your claim, you must forever be ready to delve more deeply if someone comes up with a well-supported opposing point of view. Be a good sport. That’s how science works.

And by the way: I write from experience. I’ve made a variety of mistakes in citing resources and making claims. I thank the people who kindly helped me improve my understanding and make corrections.


Coming Up:

Photo credits: Clara with mud on face and Summer “reading,” Eileen Anderson. Cherries, Wikimedia Commons. The circle and slash added by Eileen Anderson. 

Is My Dog a Drama Queen?

Is My Dog a Drama Queen?

“My dog is such a drama queen!”

“My dog is so manipulative, she overreacts to everything!”

“That dog is not really afraid, she’s just being a diva.”

Have you heard any of these?

A few months back, I posted the following picture on a Facebook group for comments. Continue reading “Is My Dog a Drama Queen?”

Threshold Webinar

Threshold Webinar

Guess what, folks? If you wondered why I’m not posting much right now: I am giving a webinar through the Pet Professional Guild and have been working my butt off on that for several weeks. The webinar is Over Threshold: The Changing Definition. Click on the image below to sign up. (There is a charge: $10 for PPG members and $20 for non-members. There is one CEU available for CPDTs.)

The webinar will take place on Wednesday, February 19th, at 12:00 – 1:30 PM Central Standard Time (6:00 – 7:30 PM UTC).

<<Note: The live webinar has taken place, but is still available as a recording.>>

This will be very different from any other discussion about threshold you have ever participated in.

Be ready to find out:

  • Why there are so many different definitions of “threshold” floating around out there;
  • Why the use of the term in psychology and the use of the term in animal training don’t quite “fit”;
  • What effect this confusion has on training, and discussions about it;
  • Where desensitization/counterconditioning; negative reinforcement protocols such as are included in BAT* and  CAT**; and flooding fall with regard to these different definitions of threshold; and
  • What we can do to clear up our discourse.

Yes, those are the waters I am daring to jump into. Hope you can come!

Click on the image or the URL below.

Eileen and three dogs threshold2

Over Threshold: The Changing Definition (Still available as a recording.)

Coming up:

  • All-Natural
  • Which Dog is Playing?
  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • Is My Dog a Drama Queen?
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

* Behavior Adjustment Training by Grisha Stewart

**Constructional Aggression Treatment by Kellie Snider

I’m So Glad I Had the Camera!

I’m So Glad I Had the Camera!

Something pleasant for a Monday morning: Eileenanddogs Funniest Home Videos!

Clara ball square

Here are three incredible and adorable moments that I am very grateful to have on film.

Zani Uses a Tool

I literally grabbed the camera and turned it on to take this clip, so the background and camera work are terrible. But just look what I got on film. This was not set up.

Link to the “Zani Uses a Tool” video for email subscribers. 

Clara Discovers Gravity

Clara has always been good at entertaining herself. This is the day she invented Gravity Game #2.

Link to the “Clara Discovers Gravity” video for email subscribers.

Niña Blisses Out

This is the night I discovered that my friend’s dear little chihuahua (RIP little Niña) would bliss out when I jiggled her back and forth in my hands.

Link to the “Niña Blisses Out” video for email subscribers.

If you haven’t checked out my Blooper Video from when I first started the blog, be sure and check it out!

I’m grateful to live in an age where it is so easy to take pictures and videos. 

Coming up:

  • Big Announcement!
  • 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

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