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Tag: negative reinforcement

Please Go Away: Dog Body Language Study

Please Go Away: Dog Body Language Study

They really do get along! Honest!
They really do get along! Honest!

One of the things I am very grateful for in my life with dogs is that my current three get along. They don’t adore each other, but two of them, Clara and Zani, actually play together and are comfortable in each other’s space bubbles. Zani helped “bring up” Clara, even though Clara got pretty obnoxious pretty fast as a pup. And both of them manage to get along with Summer, who would really prefer to be the only dog in the world. Or at least the only female. But thank goodness they don’t hate each other.

I’ve written before that Summer is bothered by rowdy play and used to go on the attack when she thought Zani and Clara were being a bit too chaotic. I taught Summer something else to do rather than charge in snarling and snapping. I’ve shown some other clips and stills of Summer and Clara in particular vying over resources, but doing it without physical contact or a fight.

But before I ever had Clara, during Zani’s first several months in the household, Summer and Zani played almost constantly. So Summer does know how to play. I’ve always kept a close eye when she did, since her play often has a little edge to it.

Nowadays, every once in a while Summer seems to invite the others to play, or something. Usually she play-bows to Zani, then follows it up very quickly with an attempt to hump her. Often Zani will come leap in my lap when Summer tries that. Sometimes Clara gets between Summer and Zani. Typically, Clara and Zani both get visibly anxious when Summer initiates…whatever it is she initiates.

The Movie

In today’s movie, it didn’t play out quite like that, but I think it’s very interesting. Summer appeared to invite the others to play, and they weren’t having any of it. Zani wasn’t nervous enough to flee, and instead was quite assertive. Clara was her usual blunt self. But even though the other two ganged up on her, Summer remained remarkably calm and unbothered.

The most interesting thing to me was Zani’s extensive nosing of Summer’s ear and mouth, followed by Clara doing something similar. Some people who have seen the movie have speculated that Summer might have something medically wrong that the others were picking up on. But I can say with near certainty that the nosing was not curiosity of any sort (and that there’s nothing wrong with Summer’s mouth or ears). Zani’s automatic, normal response to either of the other dogs coming to get attention from me is to stick her nose persistently into private places–butts, ears, or mouths usually. She can almost always get Summer to move away by doing that. And if you look at Clara’s behavior carefully, she is doing a whole lot more poking with her nose than sniffing.

It’s easy to feel bad for Summer watching this. The other two are so obviously telling her to get lost. But my read on it was that Summer was relaxed about the whole thing. Her initial invitations were, for her, loose and friendly looking. During the whole of the intrusive nosing, she stood there wagging her tail (a nice wag–slow and wide, at three quarters-mast). She had fleeting looks of concern, but mostly her mouth was loose and to me she looked quite pleased with herself. Also–Clara left the scene first. (Clara and Summer headed for two different water bowls for a drink at the end.) I score it Summer: 1; Clara and Zani: 0. Nice try, girls!

Link to the video for email subscribers.

A Note on Behavioral Function

Performing behavior analysis in situations other than training helps me understand things better. Perhaps it does for some of you, too. So I’ll bolster my hypothesis with a tiny bit of it.

The reason I think that Zani’s sniffing/nosing behavior was saying, “Go away” to Summer, is that I have seen it perform that function dozens of times. The usual behavior analysis goes like this:

  • Setting: Summer is standing near me and I am petting her and/or talking to her; Zani is close by
  • Antecedent: Zani sticks her nose in Summer’s butt or ear and presses it there for a duration of time
  • Behavior: Summer moves away
  • Consequence: Pressure from Zani’s nose is escaped
  • Prediction: Summer’s moving away when Zani’s nose is pressed into her will increase or maintain.

This is a negative reinforcement scenario. My dogs are all experts on using pressure on each other (and on me). But the interesting thing is that the prediction didn’t come true.

This time, Summer didn’t move away, even when Clara joined in with the pressure as well. So I’ll have to keep an eye on the behavior patterns in the future. Was this a rare aberration for Summer? Or is she getting desensitized to Zani’s nosiness? And if so, will Zani develop a new tactic? Zani is an expert communicator, and as the smallest dog in the household develops some interesting ways to get what she wants. I’ll report back if something interesting comes of this.

Clara and Zani on day bed
Clara and Zani are comfortable in each other’s space. Summer, not so much.

Do you have a dog who does something non-violent (but obnoxious) to get another dog to move away?

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The Humane Hierarchy, Part 2 of 2: Examples

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.

Examples!

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:

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The Humane Hierarchy, Part 1 of 2: Overview

The Humane Hierarchy, Part 1 of 2: Overview

I am a Humane Hierarchy trainer. That is the name of the roadmap I use to make ethical choices about the training methods I use. I’m going to describe the method in this post.

(Humane Hierarchy Part 2, which is now also published, comprises real world examples of all the methods in the Hierarchy.)

I don’t call myself a clicker trainer, although I have used one, nor do I call myself a force-free trainer, although that is certainly a goal, nor do I call myself “all positive,” since that could include positive reinforcement and punishment both. I do use the first two terms, along with several others, to refer casually to trainers who use those names and have similar goals to mine. The people who use these terms are part of my community.

But the Humane Hierarchy is a concept I love, and a name I take on for myself comfortably and with pride. And I was born a non-conformist, and throw off labels as fast as anyone can put them on me. But this one I’ll take. Because it’s a non-label of a label. You’ll see.

Susan Friedman, PhD, published “What’s Wrong with this Picture: When Effectiveness is Not Enough” in 2008, and in that article proposed the Humane Hierarchy. The article is about incorporating ethics into the choices we make when training animals, rather than considering only “what works.”

I have written about Dr. Friedman frequently. She is a behavior analyst and strong proponent of humane, ethical treatment of all animals. Here is my review of her course on Living and Learning with Animals, and here is her website, Behaviorworks.org. Be sure and check the free articles.

The Humane Hierarchy is not a set of “rules.” It is a general ranking of training methods, starting with the least intrusive for the animal and ending with the most intrusive. Least intrusive is defined as the procedure that leaves the animal with the most control over its outcomes. Any person who uses the Hierarchy as a guideline must inform herself about the species of animal she is working with and carefully observe the behavior of the individual animal, because different animals will respond differently to different methods.

Dr. Friedman takes behavioral intervention seriously. It is a large responsibility to intervene in the behavior of an animal, and her approach directs the user to consider the animal first: its needs, wants, likes and dislikes. What does the animal want, and how can we figure out if there is an acceptable method for it to get it? It’s only fair, since in all cases we are the ones with the keys to the cabinet, the cage, the car. But that’s a pretty radical concept for a lot of people.

So here is her new graphic of the Humane Hierarchy. To use it, think of a behavior of your animal that you might want to change. Then start at the bottom of the picture, in the little car, drive forward very slowly, and take every right turn. If the consideration on the side street is irrelevant or doesn’t work when tried with full information and skill, you can drive forward again and take the next right turn, or consult a trainer or colleague. Note the stop sign before you get to positive punishment!

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.
 

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

In a previous post, “But Every Dog is Different!,” I hope I showed that the claims that trainers who avoid force are somehow employing a cookie cutter method or limiting themselves are wrong.  This graphic makes it explicit. But the speedbumps, caution sign, and stop sign warn us to take care as we reach the more intrusive actions. The path a person will take will be absolutely different with every animal she trains.

The fact that no procedure is ruled out does not mean that for me personally, and I dare say most people who use this roadmap, that certain commonly used tools are under consideration. If I ever did get to the positive punishment turnoff, unlikely in itself, you can be pretty sure I would not be strapping something around my dog’s neck to administer it. I would be consulting a professional who did not use such tools.

Someone who habitually shoots up to the end of the road with only a nod in the direction of the other turnoffs is showing their limitations. I don’t mean this in a snarky way. I mean that each turnoff and its method requires care, consideration, and often creativity to employ well. As an amateur, I know that the limitations of my skill level could further endanger an animal if I tried to employ some aversives. Even professionals I know consult with colleagues before going that far down the road.

Dr. Friedman describes employing a negative reinforcement protocol with a zoo animal after other methods were tried for a **year**. In hindsight, that may seem like too long to some people, since the goal was to get the animal to enter a more enriching environment. However, any method including aversive stimuli involves risks of fallout, and the keepers were unwilling to take those risks if they were unnecessary. As it turned out, the aversive method only had to be used once, and no fallout was perceived.

Note that positive reinforcement is third on the list. The first two considerations are new to lots of people, and discussed much too infrequently in my opinion. The magic of the Humane Hierarchy is on the “most humane” end in my opinion. There is so much to be learned there.

Part 2 of this post will give an example of every method on the map, all centering around a common theme: crate behavior. So come back to read about “antecedent arrangements” if you’ve never heard the term before. 1)Added note 1/7/14: I have a whole post about antecedent arrangements now.

Labeling

One of Dr. Friedman’s foci is that labels are not useful in observing and documenting behavior. “The dog is dominant” and “the parrot is acting hormonal” tell us nothing about actual behavior. One of the skills I am always working on, and which got greatly exercised when I took her class, was observing my dogs’ behavior and working on putting it accurately into words. That’s harder than it first seems! (Again I’ll refer to the great FaceBook group Observation Skills for Training Dogs. There’s the place to go practice.)

So even though I very much support the “Unlabel me!” campaign for our animals, as a writer I really struggled with some kind of term to refer to the type of training I do! I welcomed a term for my training approach. I sure didn’t need to write a paragraph about quadrants and force and aversives and management every time I refer to my training.

“Humane Hierarchy trainer” describes perfectly what I seek to do. It’s not a rubber stamp. I don’t have to qualify it or explain away anything. I just need to define it from time to time, since it is new to some folks. Thanks again, Dr. Friedman!

Closeup of the face of a caramel colored dog. Her eyes are squinted, her facial muscles are relaxed, and her ears are back. You can barely see a hand under her neck, petting her.
A commenter on one of my movies yesterday called Summer “dominant.” Is that a useful description for what she is doing here while I pet her?

Thanks for reading!

Proceed to Part 2 of the Humane Hierarchy (examples of each method)

Afternote, 5/29/13: Because of the comments of a reader, I realized that I did not mention something important. The hierarchy applies to operant learning only. If your dog is fearful or aggressive, you will almost certainly be using classical conditioning and desensitization techniques.  In those situations, no knowledgable trainer will ever recommend that you try any aversives. Although classical conditioning usually involves food, it is not the same as positive reinforcement because there is no contingency on the animal’s behavior. The goal is to elicit a respondent reaction that changes its emotional state. Thanks for helping me clarify!

Coming up:

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 Copyright Eileen Anderson 2013

Notes   [ + ]

1. Added note 1/7/14: I have a whole post about antecedent arrangements now.
Is It Really Just a Tap? Shock Collar Training Explained

Is It Really Just a Tap? Shock Collar Training Explained

Holding down the button on a shock collar remote

Shock collar trainers have several names for the shocks that they administer through the collar. A tap. A stim. A nick. A page. Static. Application of pressure.  It sounds like something short and relatively benign.

Even the word “shock,” although it has much more negative connotations (which is why shock collar trainers usually don’t use the word), sounds like something brief. If you get a shock from scuffing your feet on the carpet then touching metal, it is unpleasant but over in milliseconds.

What many people don’t realize is that in many types of shock collar training, the electric shock is on for much longer periods. In the initial training sessions it is turned on and left on until the dog figures out, sometimes with very little effective information from the trainer, what she is supposed to do to get it to turn off.

Here is what that training can look like. (This video uses a stuffed dog as a demo.) Since with many actual shock training videos you can’t tell when the shock is applied and how long it lasts, I have shown that pictorially in the video.

This method uses what is called negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is in play whenever you are trying to get an animal to do something by using something painful or uncomfortable. (This is in contrast to positive punishment, which is used to get the dog to stop doing something. Shock training is used for that, too.) When a shock collar is used in negative reinforcement training, the shock is turned on, and left on, until the dog does the desired behavior. Some common applications are for recalls, crate training, platform training, and taking and holding a retrieve item. Negative reinforcement is also called “escape and avoidance” training. In this case the animal is working to escape or avoid the shock.

Science tells us there are two ways to get repeated behavior. One is to add something the dog likes after she does it. (Dog sits, and gets a treat.) The other is to take away something the dog doesn’t like after she does it. The handler pinches a dog’s ear until she grabs and holds the dumbbell in her mouth, then the handler releases the ear. There is no “neutral” way to get behavior to repeat. Behavior is driven by consequences. If you don’t see something either pleasant or aversive influencing the dog’s behavior in a training session, you haven’t looked hard enough. (Hint: it’s usually not praise.)

So when the shock collar trainers say that the shock doesn’t hurt–that’s not true.  During the initial training period, it must be painful, uncomfortable, or frightening, or it wouldn’t work. It has to have some unpleasant feeling that is robust enough to get the dog to work to make it stop. An example of a dog exhibiting absolute misery during his first session with a shock trainer is on my page Shock Training Session Video Analysis.

It’s true that after the initial stages of training, the shocks can be shorter and at a lower level. Sometimes just having the dog wear the collar, or using the vibration function only is enough to get compliance. Being trained with shock leaves a history of pain and discomfort behind it.  And the possibility of it never goes away as long as the dog is wearing the collar. The dog understands this from experience, because she has already learned the consequence of not responding immediately. The consequence is pain. As Kelly Blackwell, a well known shock trainer, describes the dog’s understanding of shock collar training: “If I don’t do it, they can and will make me do it.” You can see her videos on my Shock Collar Training vs Force Free Video Examples page.

It is even possible to manipulate collars so the dog doesn’t know which collar delivers a shock. A trainer can thus get compliance from a dog who is not even wearing a shock collar. Also if the dog associates the shock with the trainer, the dog may comply without wearing the collar. In both of these cases, the threat of shock is still there to the dog.

That is how you train behaviors with a shock collar. Leave the shock on until the dog complies, then release it when she does. If that level of shock does not work, raise to a more painful level.  Once the dog understands how the system works, most dogs will comply at lower levels of pain or just the threat in order to avoid the escalation.

Video Comparison

One of the advantages claimed by shock trainers is that their dogs can be off leash.   Which of these dogs in the following videos appears to be enjoying his freedom more: the one who just learned to come when called because otherwise he will be shocked, or the one trained force free, doing a long distance recall, and who was called away from sniffing, to boot? Watch the body language.

“Dog training using remote training collar by BigLeash”

(This is not a stuffed dog but a real beagle being trained, in case you would rather not watch. The actual training starts at about 1:40. )

“Stanley, come!”

(Beagle/rat terrier mix trained without force, doing two quick, responsive, happy recalls)

More Comparison and Analysis

Three new resources:

Shock Collar Training vs Force Free Video Examples. This is a resource page that contrasts videos of dogs being trained with shock and videos of training the same or similar behaviors force free.

Shock Training Session Video Analysis. Some very generous trainers from the Observation Skills for Dog Training FaceBook group helped me do a second by second observational listing of the body language of a dog undergoing his first shock training session. There is also analysis and commentary on the training techniques used.

Training Your Dog with a Shock Collar: How Will You Decide? An article written for a lay audience in plain language on the risks and damage caused by shock collar use. There are links to scholarly resources and statements by credentialed experts to back up the statements made.

Thanks for reading. Please pass this along to anyone who may be considering using shock or hiring a shock trainer because they have heard that the shock is “just like a tap on the shoulder.”

Upcoming topics:

Call the Doctor. I Think I’ve Been Poisoned!

Call the Doctor. I Think I’ve Been Poisoned!

I had a little outpatient procedure the other day. As I was leaving, still a little fuzzy, the discharge nurse gave me some papers including a little card in an envelope. She said, “This is a thank you note from all the staff who worked with you today.” I was surprised, and mumbled, “Well, I should be thanking them.”

I did think it a little odd to get a thank you note for undergoing a medical procedure! But when I got home I opened the envelope with that little surge of happy anticipation you can get with such things, even if it’s from a medical office and even though I suspected they had a reason beyond the simple goodness of their hearts for sending it. After opening it I first saw that five staff people had signed it by hand. How nice. Then I read the printed message. “Thank you for letting us serve you today. Please take the time to complete our survey.” There was a green sheet in the packet with questions about the service at the facility.

I felt slimed.

Thank you note. It was a poisoned cue in this story.

(This is a generic thank you note. I don’t have a picture of the actual note because I threw it away THAT DAY.)

I should have known better. I did sense that they wanted something from me when the nurse made a point of mentioning the note. I couldn’t imagine what they could want, though, and the suspicion slipped away. My cultural programming took over, and in spite of myself I had a little of that sense of anticipatory happiness that comes with an unexpected gift or even just a piece of pleasant mail.

I started thinking  about this in behavioral terms as I realized that they had squelched any desire on my part to be cooperative. That’s too bad since they were nice staff. Perhaps they needed the survey for some kind of accreditation. But I had a visceral negative response to this ham-handed attempt at manipulation.

I discussed the incident in the context of Dr. Susan Friedman’s course, Living and Learning with Animals, which I am currently taking.

I described my feeling of being tricked. I had been expecting a tiny happy feeling from being thanked. It might have reinforced going to that facility, or more probably opening the envelope of the card. I got an aversive instead. I was blindsided by pressure to perform a task, albeit simple, but in a way I really didn’t appreciate.

So instead a goodie potentially resulting in positive reinforcement, I got an icky application of negative reinforcement. Check out my post for a review of the processes of operant learning, a.k.a. “the quadrants.”

Susan Friedman pointed out that the thank you note was a poisoned cue. Whoa. Of course.

She was referring to a term coined by Karen Pryor that refers to a cue associated with both reinforcing and aversive consequences. Animals that experience this kind of mixed training are generally demotivated and often display stress. Nicole Murrey performed several experiments with poisoned cues for her master’s thesis research under the supervision of Jesus Rosales Ruiz at the University of North Texas. The behavior in the study was to come to the human on cue. The aversive seems comparatively mild  to us: it consisted of the dog being pulled into position via the leash when it failed to come voluntarily.

The dog learned one verbal cue for the behavior that was taught with positive reinforcement only. It learned a different verbal cue for the version that included the aversive. Adding the aversive completely changed the dog’s performance and demeanor in those training sessions.

Ms. Feisty being pulled via the leash. After she complies, the pressure will release, negatively reinforcing her movement in the handler’s chosen direction.

 

Being pulled where you don’t want to go isn’t fun for a real dog.

The above photo was graciously provided by Debbie Jacobs of fearfuldogs.com. She has a great blog here. Debbie’s life’s work is UNpoisoning things for dogs. I almost decided not to use the photo because it seemed a bit callous for me to compare my instant of squirming irritation with the experience of a dog being pulled by its neck. But these kinds of connections help me learn, and maybe they will you too.

Anyone who crosses over to training based on positive reinforcement notices the changes in the dog’s response to cues that are trained exclusively that way. It is writ large. And some of us actually retrain behaviors and change poisoned cues because of the negative associations.

For humans and some animals, the aversives involved with negative reinforcement can be completely non-physical. Negative reinforcement is present in social pressure, threats, nagging,  extraction of promises, guilt trips, even quotas and deadlines. All situations in which some kind of pressure is applied to get you to do something, at which point the pressure relents.

A thank you note is a cue for being thanked, and opening them has been taught to me with positive reinforcement. Every time I had opened one before this I had gotten a small bit of pleasure, or at the worst, a neutral experience. What I got this time instead was a mild aversive, and the surprise made it SUCK. This was a tiny incident in life, a blip on the screen. But I’ll bet it will be a while before I have unspoiled anticipation at opening a thank you note again.

Ironically, a straightforward request to fill out the survey would have been fine. But some marketing wannabe decided to pair it with the unexpected thank you note. I’d be interested to see whether they got more surveys back when they implemented that pairing. It didn’t work on me.

How about you? Have you ever gotten something slightly (or extremely) icky when you were expecting something nice? How did you feel about it?

Copyright 2012 Eileen Anderson

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