eileenanddogs

Month: January 2018

Eileenanddogs: 2018 Pet Blogger Challenge

Eileenanddogs: 2018 Pet Blogger Challenge

These are my responses to the questions from the Go Pet Friendly Pet Blogger Challenge. 

For those who may be visiting your blog for the first time, how long have you been blogging and what is your main topic?

I have been blogging since July 2012: five and a half years now. My focus is positive reinforcement-based dog training. I have an interesting niche because I am fairly well versed in behavior science (for a person without credentials in that field) but I am not a professional trainer. So one thing I do a lot is to analyze my own klutzy training errors (sometimes with video). Sort of a real life “Don’t do as I do.” I also write about misconceptions in dog training and produce some more technical articles about learning theory.

What was your proudest blogging moment of 2017?

sandy brown dog with black muzzle waiting on floor at vet officeI think it was being able to blog about the successes of my formerly feral dog Clara. Clara got a rough start in life with no human contact. She came to me at about 10 weeks of age. She accepted me as her family, but every other human was greeted with growling. With the help of a fabulous trainer and friend, we did slow motion catch-up socialization for six years. There were some long plateaus, and even some steps backwards. But I realized this year that Clara has become resilient. She is more relaxed at the vet than most “normal” dogs. She is confident in new locations. She is much more comfortable with people. She has always been fabulous at home; now I can share her with the world a little bit. I blogged about this in November.

A Milestone for Clara: Socialization Work Pays Off

Also, a post of mine on conditioning my dog to the sound of Velcro got picked up and purchased by Clean Run magazine. (That’s in addition to four articles I wrote directly for the magazine this year.

Which of your blog posts was your favorite this year and why? (Please include a link.)

It’s a tie between the post I wrote about my dog Summer and one where I defined a functional assessment in dog training. They are very different. The post about Summer was a tribute to my non-dramatic dog, my quiet dog, my alter ego. I wrote it before I knew she was sick. I published it after she died of canine hemangiosarcoma.

Unsung Summer

Changing gears a bit: my post about functional assessments may sound a bit dry, but actually it is a great help for people trying to find or assess a dog trainer. Putting it bluntly: hacks and one-size-fits-all trainers don’t do functional assessments. They don’t study the dog’s behavior, determine what is driving it, and design a plan with those things in mind. In the post, I explain the functional assessment and its purpose, and I teach readers how to recognize when a trainer is doing one.

What’s a Functional Assessment in Dog Training and Why You Should Care

In terms of your blog, how do you measure success?

Besides the usual—hits, shares, and comments—I feel that a post is a success if someone tells me that it changed the way they looked about something or helped them with their dog. I’m also very proud of my posts that are on the first page of Google, especially in the top spot.

In what ways has your blog changed during 2017?

I’d like to think that my writing has gotten tighter. When I first started blogging, I let my posts run as long as I felt like. I have always edited a lot, but in the past couple of years, I have started editing more for length. I don’t want to be one of those people who take advantage of the tolerance of their readers. I want to make things as pleasant and smooth and non-wandering as I can.

What was the biggest blogging challenge you overcame in 2017, and what did you learn that could help other bloggers?

When things get hard, what keeps you blogging? 

I hope I don’t sound like a jerk here, but things never get really hard for me when blogging. Some of the other writing and editing I do can get to be a chore sometimes. But blogging is dessert. I love it. I don’t have any problems thinking of things to write about—I have 100+ partially written posts in the works at any given time. Motivation isn’t a problem. Just carving out the time.

Looking forward to 2018, what are you hoping to accomplish on your blog this year?

I haven’t had a blockbuster post for a while. I like serious posts that bring something new to a subject. I have a couple in the works, including one on Herrnstein’s Matching Law. I’m excited about that. Yes, I’m a nerd.

In addition to what you’d like to accomplish, is here one specific skill you’d like to improve or master this year? 

I am working on setting up schema for my blog posts. It’s a way of adding coding to the posts that tells Google in a language it understands about the topic and technical aspects of the post. Posts with schema often appear in Google search results with a photo included and are presented in a more attractive way. I’m actually starting on my dog dementia blog and will get to Eileenanddogs.com a bit later.

Now it’s your turn! You have the attention of the pet blogging community – is there a question you’d like answered, or an aspect of your blog that you’d like input on? Share it here, and we’ll answer you in the comments!

I would love to talk to others who are working on schema and other SEO enhancements of their blogs, especially WordPress users. I have specific questions about how to edit the WordPress code directly after using a plugin to set up schema. If anyone can help me with that, please comment! I’ll be happy to offer some other kind of technical support in exchange.

Thank you to Go Pet Friendly for the 8th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge!

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Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!

It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!

This is the short version of this post. Here is the longer version.

Some dog trainers who use tools such as shock, prong, or choke collars, or startle the dog with thrown objects or loud noises, claim that these things are done only for the purpose of “getting the dog’s attention.” They may further insist that the dog is not hurt, bothered, or scared.

Others, while well meaning, use a special sound or a “No!” to get their dogs to stop doing something. Not the worst thing in the world, but these people will try to argue you to the ground, insisting that the noise or word is “neutral.” They’ll say that it doesn’t carry any aversive effect, that it “just gets the dog’s attention.”

If only! This sounds like the Holy Grail of dog training. It’s the Magical Attention Signal! It can get your dog’s attention, get him to do something, or stop doing something, all rolled into one. You don’t have to use those pesky treats or toys, and it certainly doesn’t hurt or bother the dog!

Gosh, who wouldn’t want that? Life would be so easy with the Magical Attention Signal!

Unfortunately, the Magical Attention Signal is utter nonsense.

I have another version of this post in which I analyze the possibilities of the so-called Magical Attention Signal using learning theory. Feel free to check it out. Or read forward and get the story through some straightforward analogies.

Glumph

Imagine that you and I don’t share a common language or culture. But a friend in common has dropped you off to stay at my house for an afternoon.

You are looking around the house. You come into the bedroom and start looking through my jewelry box. I look up and casually say, “Glumph.” In my language, that means, “Please don’t bother my stuff; why don’t you go look around in the next room.” But you don’t know that. It was just a nonsense sound to you, so you keep looking through the jewelry. “Glumph” perhaps got your attention for a moment, but nothing else happened. It was a neutral stimulus. Now here’s where it gets interesting. What happens next?

Scenario 1: The “Neutral” Attention Signal

So what if nothing else happens besides my saying, “Glumph” every so often? If the jewelry (or my mail, or my wallet) is interesting, “Glumph” will not get your attention. In fact, the more I say it (staying in a neutral tone), the more it becomes part of the background. You habituate to it, and it loses even the tiny bit of attention-getting power it may have had at the beginning through novelty.

Outcome: “Glumph” is a neutral stimulus and doesn’t work to get attention.

Scenario 2: The Raised Voice

This is one of the likelier scenarios. After my first statement of “Glumph,” I say it again, but this time I raise my voice. I really need to interrupt you from going through my things! This time you are startled and you stop. Oops, the host is mad!

“Glumph” is now more effective. But how is it operating? It is interrupting you either because it is intrinsically startling, or because you know that yelling humans are more likely to harm you.

Outcome: “Glumph” is an interrupter operating through fear or threats.

Scenario 3: Taking Action

This is the most common scenario in dog training. What do I do after I say “Glumph,” conversationally to you, and you don’t stop what you are doing? I yell “Glumph,” I jump up, and physically stop you from going through my jewelry. I might do this a number of ways. Even though I’m upset, I might take you very gently away from my jewelry. Or I could do something less gentle. I could grab your hands or whack them. I could close the lid on your fingers. I could yell in your face. I could push you away. I could hit you.

So what does “Glumph” mean now? You will likely pay attention the next time I say or yell it. Because it means at the very least (the gentle scenario) you are going to lose access to the thing you are enjoying. But most likely you will have learned that my yelling “Glumph!” is a precursor to something unpleasant happening to you.

“Glumph” has become a punishment marker, and can operate as a threat.

A neutral stimulus by itself has no power, and the dog will habituate to it. If a word or noise works reliably to stop behaviors, it is not a neutral stimulus. It doesn’t just “get the dog’s attention” in a neutral way. It works because it is either intrinsically unpleasant or predicts unpleasantness.

Outcome: “Glumph” scares the dog or predicts something painful, scary, or otherwise unpleasant.

But Wait: There are Positive Interrupters!

Yes, thank goodness. There is a positive reinforcement based method for getting your dog to stop doing stuff. You can condition a positive interrupter.

Here’s a video by Emily Larlham that shows how to train a positive interrupter. Here’s a post about how I conditioned yelling at my dogs to be a positive thing for them—and it ended up having a similar effect.

But the thing is, the people who have conditioned a positive interrupter will tell you so. They can tell you the systematic process they went through to create it. They created it before they ever used it, not in the middle of difficult situations. They will emphatically not claim that their cue is a “neutral, attention-getting stimulus.” They know better. They implemented positive reinforcement.

 

No Magical Attention Signal

If someone says that Tool or Method A, B, or C is designed to “get the dog’s attention,” ask what happens next. Once they get the dog’s attention, how do they actually get the dog to do something or stop doing something? Also, ask them what happens if the first implementation of the tool fails to get the dog’s attention.

Many promoters of aversive methods in dog training don’t want to say that they hurt or scare or startle or nag or bully dogs. And our mythology about dogs is so strong that most of us want to believe them. Hence, the lure of the magic signal that works all by itself, with no other consequences. I hope this post will bolster your “nonsense detector.” Behavior is driven by consequences. If no change in consequences occurs, there is no reason for a behavior to change.

A woman with her back partially to the camera is sitting on a lawn. There is a wooden fence in the background. Three dogs are lying down nearby, all looking into her eyes.
Attention in the backyard, achieved with positive reinforcement

 

Copyright 2017, 2018 Eileen Anderson

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