Tag: Susan Friedman

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:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2014

The Right Word: Reducing Errors in Verbal Cue Discrimination

The Right Word: Reducing Errors in Verbal Cue Discrimination

Sable colored dog leaps off a pink mat towards her female handler's outstretched hand
Summer releases on the correct cues

I’m an auditory person. I grew up in a whole family of musicians. I love language and sound and music of all sorts. For the first half of my life I lived almost exclusively in the company of musicians, and in the second half I have few musician friends. This second half has made me conscious of the ways we musicians are different!

At work, I’m the one who gets asked to check the voice mail when we can’t understand the name. When there is a strange noise, eyes turn to me for identification of it. I can almost always tell if someone can’t hear me well, and I can immediately tell if someone is not listening to me (these are very different!). I can also ignore visual stimuli very well if I am listening to someone or something. (With regard to visual skills, I’ve been told someone could come in and rearrange the furniture in my house and I wouldn’t notice….)

So naturally I am interested in my dogs’ perceptions of sound and verbal cues. Frequent readers will know that I am honest about my limitations and frailties as a trainer, so I think you all will believe me when I say that ironically I seem to have three dogs in training who all have rather low aptitude for verbal cues. I.e., it’s probably not just my limitations in this case. So we all have to work extra hard on words.

Verbal cue discrimination training, where you teach a dog to respond only to the correct word,  can be stressful for any dog. If not done with care, the dog can have a very high error rate, which is discouraging to many dogs. So I gave a lot of thought about how I could reduce that error rate.

In A Secret for Training Two Dogs I described my strategies for teaching one of my dogs to stay on a mat while I trained another. I briefly discussed my methods for releases. I have chosen to use each dog’s name, spoken in a certain tone, as an individual release. Dr. Patricia McConnell demonstrates this method in “Examples of Wait with Multiple Dogs.”  This post covers how I went about teaching the discrimination of each dog releasing only on her own cue.

Does She Know the Cue At All?

Most of us at some point discover that our dogs don’t know their verbal cues nearly as well as we think they do. Here’s an experiment for those who have puppies or inexperienced dogs and haven’t worked on this before. Try this if your dog is familiar with Sit and Down, but not Stand.

Cue your dog to sit. Then look at her just like you are giving her a real cue (be as convincing as you can) and say “(Your dog’s name), Purple.” Or some other word that doesn’t sound a bit like “Down” or any other cue she knows. Most dogs will promptly lie down.

It usually turns out that your dog  didn’t really know the word, “Down.” She didn’t need to, since whenever you have said something to her when she is sitting, you meant for her to down. So you can say anything and she will do it.

The transition from responding whenever “human-says-a-word” to learning to listen to the verbals can be difficult and stressful. That’s why I decided to apply the principles of reduced error learning.

Reduced Error Learning

I don’t use the term “errorless learning” because it is both impossible in real life situations and sets a depressingly high standard for most people (and also, I have to add, the most well known studies involved lab animals that were food deprived. I just don’t want to be associated with that). I wrote about this in Errorless Learning II. I have adopted Susan Friedman’s terminology of “reduced error learning” because I think it’s more realistic.

The original concept as promoted by Skinner is great. I do absolutely follow the practices of this kind of learning, which I would describe as “setting your dog up to succeed and to reduce stress in learning, including with creative manipulation of the training environment and props.”

An example of this is the process of  making the right choice easier at first during an olfactory discrimination, such as the cups game. If you are teaching your dog to foot target the inverted cup that covers a smelly treat, first you start with only that one cup. Encourage her to use her nose to smell the cup and treat. Let her repeatedly practice touching the cup with the  treat under it. Lift the cup and give her the treat each time.

To start the discrimination, you introduce a second cup without a treat, but you introduce it way over to the side where the dog can’t reach it. You gradually move it closer and closer while the dog is still touching the correct cup. In this way you have made the correct choice easy and the incorrect choice hard, and the dog is gaining a reinforcement history for touching the cup with the treat. Only after this process would you start mixing the cups up.

The opposite of this process would be to put out multiple cups with only one with a treat under it, and mix them up each time the dog gives a try. Even if your dog knew a foot target, there would be no clue as to which cup to touch. And even if it seems like it would be obvious for them to touch only the smelly cup, well, I’m here to tell you that my hound couldn’t do it, even when I made it much easier than a bunch of mixed up cups. With several cups, the failure rate is apt to be so high that many dogs will quit after a few attempts. This is the difficulty with trial and error learning.

Applying Reduced Error Learning to Cue Discrimination

Verbal cue discrimination means you teach your dog to respond only to the correct verbal cue and not other words. The way this is generally done is to repeat the cue for one behavior several times, and reinforce correct responses. (If you are not getting correct responses, you aren’t ready to work on cue discrimination.) After about four of these, say a completely different word instead. If the dog doesn’t do the behavior (yay!), or hesitates, quickly mark and reinforce.

Note that this is harder for the dog than firing off a bunch of different cues the dog knows. Because in this exercise the dog must be discriminating enough and confident enough to do nothing if the word is not a real cue. Plus, in so many situations we reinforce clicker dogs for guessing. The first time you practice this it can be like pulling the rug out from under the dog’s feet.

So how can we reduce stress and errors? In addition to choosing words to begin with that were very different from the correct cue word, I also chose to use at first a different tone of voice and/or volume for the cue. I took pains to make the non-cues as far away in the auditory sense as they could be from real cues.

Sand colored dog with black muzzle and tail stays on a pink mat, relaxed and with her mouth open, as her female handler says a nonsense word. She is supposed to stay unless she hears her personal release word.
Clara correctly stays on her mat when I chirp out a nonsense word


The Process

Since the whole point of individual releases is that one dog comes and the other/s stay put, I practiced with each dog by herself, going through the following steps to insure that she learned to respond to her own release cue and not the other dogs’.

Special note:  I heavily reinforce my dogs for being on their mats, and I don’t require them to move when I give the general release cue, “OK.” Because of this I incorporated a hand target and/or other body language at first to encourage them to move, then faded it. Others would probably not need to do this.

  1. With the dog on her mat, I called her with her release word followed by invitation to hand target or other body language that invited her to move.
  2. Then I called her with her release word without a hand target.
  3. Then I said a word that was very different from the dog’s release word and in a different tone (I blurted it out, high and squeaky). I reinforced her for not moving. If she got up, I quietly escorted her back to the mat, walking side by side with her to avoid using body pressure. (This hardly happened at all, which was one of my goals.) If the dog did get up, I made the non-cue word even more nonsensical. Quieter. Or perhaps I turned away. Anything I could think of to make it less cue-like. Once she started getting it: lather, rinse, repeat.
  4. I started interspersing the dog’s release word. I reinforced when she came, and for the other words, I reinforced when she stayed. If she stayed for her own release word, I beckoned her a little. If she came for another word, I quietly escorted her back to the mat as described above.
  5. I gradually worked into using a normal tone of voice for the non release words. I continued to reinforce for correct behavior/s, staying or releasing appropriately.
  6. The final step was to work in the other dogs’ release words to make sure the subject dog wouldn’t release on them. At this point I was saying all the words exactly the same way without helping the dog. The goal was that she released for her own and was steady for the others.

Link to video for email subscribers.


This method worked very well for Clara and Zani. Clara in particular got it very fast, and I loved how she lay there very relaxed on the mat while I said the other dogs’ release words.

Summer had the hardest time. She alone started offering other behaviors for the non-cue words.  That meant that the first few times I used a non-cue word, I had to withhold reinforcement or else reinforce a random behavior performed on the mat. In most cases she tried her “rewind” trick, a backwards inchworm move. I figured out to reinforce very fast, before she was able to move, and we got through it.

But then after I got her to stay still on the mat through the non-cue words, she lost confidence about coming on her own release word. She was not getting the difference.

I did some extra sessions with Summer. After I reviewed the video I realized what the problem was. My squeaky cues were actually prodding her to action. She is a bit sound sensitive and I think they stressed her out a tiny bit. In any case she responded by trying something, anything. So I did the obvious, and instead of squeaky blurty non-cues, I said very quiet ones. That did the trick. I was able to raise the volume almost immediately, and she is catching up to the other dogs.

I’m getting close to my goal of having all my dogs present and unfettered while I train one, with the others reinforced for their self control on their mats!

Thanks for reading! Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intervention 2: Antecedent Arrangements. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brace yourself for inordinate cuteness in the video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading! Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

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.


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:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

 Copyright Eileen Anderson 2013


1 Added note 1/7/14: I have a whole post about antecedent arrangements now.
Thank You Susan Friedman and Associates: A Personal Review of the BehaviorWorks Living and Learning with Animals Professional Course

Thank You Susan Friedman and Associates: A Personal Review of the BehaviorWorks Living and Learning with Animals Professional Course

Home page photo from behaviorworks.org

Imagine if you could drop out of this world for two months and live somewhere where positive reinforcement ruled rather than punishment. Where teachers understood how people best learn. Where people taking a class were there to learn, not work for a grade. Where people noticed what was good and remarked upon it. Where people said please and thank you. A lot. Where “cheating” didn’t even need to be discussed. Where the teacher understood the qualities of effective reinforcement so well that she made herself available by email and text to EVERYONE and often responded in less than 5 minutes. Continue reading “Thank You Susan Friedman and Associates: A Personal Review of the BehaviorWorks Living and Learning with Animals Professional Course”

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