A Dog With Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Recovery on Video

Zani, a little black and tan dog, one day after her spinal cord concussion

Zani could use her front legs to balance a little while lying down on Day 1

This is a follow-up to Dog with Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Story Part 1

In February I told the story of my dog Zani’s accident and traumatic spinal cord injury. Today, almost four months out from the accident, I’m publishing a video diary of the first days of her recovery.

There are several types of spinal cord injuries in dogs. Many of them are debilitating. My previous article describes how my small dog Zani got a traumatic spinal cord injury on February 8, 2018, after running full speed into a fence.  I didn’t know what we were dealing with, but I knew what to do. I called a friend, moved Zani carefully to the car, and we went straight to the vet.

Zani was semi-awake but as limp as a rag doll. But it turned out that considering the severity of the blow, her injury was probably the luckiest one she could have had.

After taking her to the vet immediately after the accident and getting her X-rays and a CT scan, Zani got the diagnosis of a spinal cord concussion. I then took her home again. I was shocked that they sent her home with me since she had no use of her legs. She couldn’t walk, crawl, or even use them to steady herself while lying down. But the vet was confident Zani would regain the use of her legs over time, possibly even making a full recovery. The X-rays and CT scan showed no fractures, nothing dislocated, no obvious bruising of the spinal cord. She told me that when the cord is bruised, damage can be permanent.

Zani’s ability to use her legs did come back, beginning the next day and increasing gradually.

The embedded video shows Zani’s daily progress at walking, starting the day after the accident. I created the video so people whose dogs get this rare injury can see the progress of a dog who recovered.

Small black dog standing in yard, recovering from spinal cord consussion

Zani looking pretty steady on Day 9

Starting the first day, I had to take Zani out to the yard so she could try to pee and poop. She is one of those dogs who won’t eliminate if she is not comfortable in a situation, including that she will “hold it” for 36 hours or more. No indoor solutions would work and she would hate a diaper. So I knew I needed to try to get her outside even though she could only flail and struggle.

The first few days as captured in the video are hard to watch. I had to let her stumble around because she wouldn’t even try to pee if I was close or trying to support her. She did work out how to pee on her own the very first day, and I was able to swoop in and help her stay steady when she got in position to poop. (I got lots of practice with that move with dear little Cricket.)

Link to the video for email subscribers.

Every dog’s situation will be different, as will be their abilities to heal and return to normal activities. I don’t know if Zani’s response was average, above, or below, but I do know that I feel very fortunate about her recovery. At almost four months out, she can run at about 75% of her former speed. She tends to list to one side or the other when she is moving fast, but she also corrects herself. She gets on and off things successfully; she has learned to be careful about it. She can go up and down flights of steps. The main clue that something is still wrong is the listing when moving fast and that she often nods her head or holds it a bit sideways when trotting. She also does some odd thrashing in her sleep that is new.

Beagle dog mix is lying on a mat, looking alert. She is recovering from a spinal cord concussionI will be consulting with a rehab vet soon about what exercises Zani can do and what might be contraindicated. I want to know how I can best help her. I also want to discuss the likelihood of problems as she ages resulting from her gait abnormalities.

At this point, I don’t think she will regain 100% of her pre-accident abilities, but as long as she is not in pain and can do things that make her happy I am good with that!

Related Post and Video

A Dog With Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Story Part 1

YouTube video showing how dependent Zani was on care the first two days

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

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Speeding Tickets: Negative or Positive Punishment?

Speeding tickets are commonly used as an example in learning theory textbooks. But I’m going to disagree with the typical classification because of my own experience. Here’s a true story.

When I was about 20, I was driving in my hometown. I was home from college and driving down my own street. I think I was going about 45. I think the speed limit was 35. I don’t remember why I was speeding. I didn’t commonly drive fast. But that day I did.

I heard a siren and caught my breath. Looked in the rearview mirror. There was a police car behind me, lights flashing and siren blaring. It took a moment to realize that I was the target. My heart started beating fast and I got shaky. It took a while before there was a good place to pull off the road. I started to panic, fearing the officer would think I was trying to flee. But I got off the road as soon as I could. I parked, still shaky, and rolled down my window. I don’t remember what the male officer said, but I had been speeding and he was giving me a ticket.

I am not crier, but I started to cry. I was scared and humiliated. Then further humiliated because I was crying and couldn’t stop. Then worried that he thought I was crying strategically, to get out of the ticket. I wasn’t. I was just that upset.

But I was lucky. I was a young white, privileged female, moderately attractive if a little nerdish. I was in very little danger, compared, say, to any person of color. Being stopped by a police officer can be lethal for some people. Probably not for my demographic, and frankly, it wasn’t that type of fear. I wasn’t afraid for my life or personal safety. But a run-in with an authority figure where I was in the wrong still scared the holy bejeezus out of me.

I think the ticket was $50, a fair amount for those times and my college student budget. I received the written ticket, an attached envelope, and instructions to pay before a deadline several weeks away. I paid it.

White window envelope from City Hall. Is receiving this in the mail punishment?

Did I Stop Speeding?

As I mentioned, I generally observed the speed limit. But yes, there was a behavior change. I was extra careful on that street and in my hometown in general for several years afterward. I paid extra close attention to the posted speed limits. So although the behavior didn’t generalize as much as the authorities might have desired, I was indeed punished for speeding. My behavior of speeding reduced. I didn’t want to get caught and pulled over again.

What Kind of Punishment Was It?

It was positive punishment.

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

What was added? A scary, humiliating stop by a police officer. This was definitely an aversive experience for me.

But Wait, That’s Not What the Learning Theory Books Say!

Speeding tickets and other types of fines are often presented as examples of the operant conditioning process of negative punishment.

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

What’s removed? Money! Your money is taken away contingent on an incident of speeding. This is with the presumed intent of reducing speeding behavior. Negative punishment is also called a response cost.

So a ticket with a fine may be an example of negative punishment for some people, but that’s not what made me reduce my speeding.

If you aren’t bothered by authority figures or if you are on friendly terms with the officer who stopped you, the interaction itself may not be aversive. But the amount of the ticket could be hard on your budget, even catastrophic. It could prompt you to change your behavior. For me, the money was painful, but the interaction had a larger effect on my behavior.

What If There Is No Behavior Change?

Speedometer with needle just about 50 mphOK, in the negative punishment scenario, how likely is the behavior to change? How effective is the fine? Obviously, the results will vary from person to person, but there is a problem with the timing. Consequences are most effective when they follow a behavior immediately. But speeding ticket fines don’t usually do that. You are usually handed a ticket with an address or attached envelope. There is some legal code on there to reference what law you are accused of breaking. You usually have a couple of weeks to get the money to the local government or dispute the ticket and get a court date.

We can certainly understand the connection between speeding and paying the money but it doesn’t pack a big punch as a consequence because of that time lag. The time between behavior and consequence is one of the crucial factors determining whether a consequence is effective. In almost all cases, it needs to be short.

But sometimes the fine can be immediate. Once I was traveling driving across the country with a friend who got stopped on the highway in a speed trap. It was in Kentucky or Virginia. The officer pulled over and corralled two cars at once (both with out of state license plates) and led us both to the station. It soon became clear that we would have to pay a large fine then and there to be able to go on our way. The alternative was to come back to the same town at some date in the future. Who can do that when they are driving through? In that experience, the loss of the money was immediate. But hopefully, that is unusual. (It was also a scary experience.)

I wonder how often behavior changes because of the fine with the envelope in the mail scenario.

The Effects of Consequences Vary

I’ve related my personal speeding ticket story above. Someone else’s might be very different. The interaction might not bother them. Or there might not be any human interaction at all if they were “caught” by a programmed camera and mailed a ticket. On the other hand, a person without white privilege would be justifiably much more frightened than I was by being stopped.

For some people, the loss of the money could indeed be a driving force for behavior change. But I think overall, the speeding ticket example is a poor example for the learning theory books because 1) it skips the experience of receiving the ticket, which can be very aversive; 2) there is usually a time lag between the behavior and the response cost of paying the fine; and 3) being stopped by a police officer is a politically charged issue right now.

Further Reading and Discussion

After writing this, I discovered a very nice piece that analyzes several of the behaviors and consequences related to receiving a traffic ticket. If I had seen this, I might not have written mine! The author concludes that the purpose of traffic tickets is not to change behavior.  Take a look. It gave me some new realizations on the topic.

Are speeding tickets punishing?—ABC Behavior Training

I’d love to hear others’ experiences. Anybody out there make a long-lasting behavior change because of getting a fine? Oh, and drive safely!

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson 

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Posted in Behavior analysis, Operant conditioning, Punishment | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Translations of Posts From Eileenanddogs

A row of brightly colored language books for translations

I am always flattered when someone goes to the trouble to translate my writings into another language. Thank you to these kind translators!

If you know of other translated posts or want to do one, please drop me a line through my contact page. I love getting my writing translated, and I want to include them all here.

Croatian

Antonia Čirjak

ŠEST POGREŠNIH PRETPOSTAVKI O TRENINGU TEMELJENOM NA POZITIVNOM POTICANJU

(6 Myths About Positive Reinforcement-Based Training)

NEGATIVNE POSLJEDICE KAŽNJAVANJA 7 POSLJEDICA KAŽNJAVANJA

(7 Effects of Punishment)

Dutch

Janneke Koekhoven

Maar we geven onze kinderen toch ook niet overal koekjes voor?

(We Don’t Give Our Kids a Cookie Every Time They Tie Their Shoes!)

6 mythes over +R training

(6 Myths About Positive Reinforcement-Based Training)

Estonian

Mari Piht

AGA IGA KOER ON ERINEV!

(But Every Dog is Different!)

French

Stéphanie Michenaud et Nathalie Perret du Cray

Est-ce que votre chien veut VRAIMENT être caressé

(Does Your Dog REALLY Want To Be Petted?)

German

Maria Rehberger & Katharina Volk

TARNKAPPENVERSTÄRKUNG a.k.a. Eingeschmuggelte Verstärkung

(Bootleg Reinforcement)

******************************************************************

Anne Flueckiger

Rudelführer

(Pack Leader—short version)

******************************************************************

Silvia Deimeke

Rudelführer

(Leader of the Pack—longer version)

******************************************************************

Eva Kahnt

Ist dieser Hund außer Kontrolle vor Freude oder aus Stress – falsche Frage

(Is That Zooming Agility Dog Stressed or Happy? Wrong Question!)

Norwegian

Signe Aarskog

Svar—Hundens Mimikk

(adapted from Dog Facial Expressions: Stress)

Portuguese

Vitor Faibam e Claudia Estanislau

Retomar o significado: Generalização

(Dogs Notice Everything)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding the Joy in Agility

What do you see in this professional photo of Summer on an agility A-frame in a competition?

She’s so pretty in that photo, and running nicely, but you know what? She wasn’t happy.

Here are a couple more photos from that same trial.

Summer was not miserable. She was responsive and doing what I was asking her to do. (What a good girl!) But she was stressed. And she was not joyful. I can tell it from her face, which was drawn, even a bit grim. For some dogs, that particular look might just be focus. But for her, it shows unpleasant stress. Can you tell?

How Was She Trained?

Summer’s agility behaviors were trained with positive reinforcement. She was never forced onto the equipment, but was taught gradually and gently. She wasn’t scared of it. She was physically confident and generally enjoyed the activity. So why did she look grim in these trial photos? I can identify three reasons.

  • She was undertrained. She just didn’t have that much experience yet and wasn’t solid. The behaviors weren’t “can do it in her sleep” fluent.
  • She was stressed in the trial environment. It was outdoors, there were lots of dogs, it was muddy and rainy, and she didn’t have enough experience in challenging public situations.
  • This is actually the big one. I had trained her with positive reinforcement, but I had not sought out and used reinforcers that she was wildly crazy about.

Fixing the last one sent us well on our way to fixing all three.

Finding the Joy in Agility

At the time these photos were taken in 2008, I had recently found a new teacher. She helped me realized that even though Summer could perform most of the behaviors, and had even had some qualifying runs, I was trialing her too early.

So, we worked on Summer’s and my agility behaviors. We worked on her distractibility, especially her penchant for hunting turtles. We worked on my handling, so I could be consistent and clear. She showed me that almost anything Summer did (except to run after a turtle) was because I had cued it with my body.

At my teacher’s encouragement, I found very high-value treats that turned Summer’s attention on high. And we used a novel reinforcer—playing in the spray of a garden hose—as a reinforcer for a whole sequence.* The water play not only upped her excitement about agility in general, it was also great for proofing her performance. She learned that if she ran straight to the hose rather than following my signals, no water came out. But finish the sequence correctly, and there was a party with the hose. She loved it!

Link to the novel reinforcement movie for email subscribers.

Transfer of Value

In my last blog post I described how I became a conditioned reinforcer to my dogs over the years through regular association with food and fun. The same thing happened with agility.  All those good feelings associated with the high-value goodies, the fun, and the hose bled right over into agility behaviors.

Three years later, we competed again. We had practiced going to new environments. The fun of agility was so strong, and our behaviors were that much more fluent, that this is how she now looked in competition.

sable dog jumping an agility jump with happy look on her face showing the joy in agility

sable dog exiting an agility chute with happy look on her face showing the joy in agility

Summer came to love agility. She sprang from the start line when released. She ran fast and happy. She was an unlikely agility dog with her penchant for turtles and other prey. But she not only got good at it, she loved it. And I loved doing it with her. Even after I got Zani, who was young, physically apt and very responsive—running with Summer was always like coming home.

I thought about calling this post “Going Beyond Positive Reinforcement,” but I decided that was inaccurate. I didn’t need to go beyond it. The difference was just better positive reinforcement training.  More thorough, more general, more thoughtful. And the result was joy.

If you want to see just how joyful, watch the following video. The first clip is from 2012, at a trial. Even though it was late in the day and I made some clumsy errors, she ran happy! The comparison in her demeanor from the previous competition is striking. It is followed by the best example of her speed I have on film: a run we did in 2014 at an agility field (with distractions). Finally, I show some messing around we did at home in 2016, just to share how delighted we were to be playing with one another. She was 10 years old then, and that winter was the last time shared the joy of agility together. (She passed away in August, 2017.)

Link to the agility joy video for email subscribers.

My teacher, and other great trainers who have influenced me, have taught me to set the bar (ha-ha) high. It’s not enough that a dog can do the behaviors. It’s not enough that they can qualify. It’s not enough that they can get ribbons. It’s not enough that they are happy to get their treat at the end of the run or get to go explore the barn area at the fairgrounds.

What’s enough is getting the joy.

*If you allow your dog to play in water, especially with a hose, make sure she doesn’t ingest too much. Drinking too much water can be deadly.

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Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

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Posted in Agility, Competitive dog sports, Dog body language, Positive Reinforcement, Training philosophy | 17 Comments

Actually, I **Can** Get My Dogs’ Attention

I was thinking the other day about how and why I have a dream relationship with my dogs. They are cooperative. They are sweet. They are responsive and easy to live with. You know how I got there? Training and conditioning them with food and playing with them.

They weren’t the most difficult dogs in the world when they came to me, but they weren’t easy, either. Clara was a feral puppy who was growling at every human but me when she was 10 weeks old. Zani is so soft and sensitive that she would have been considered “untrainable” by many old-fashioned trainers. Plus she’s a hound, and you know you can’t get their attention when there is a scent around.

Yeah, actually you can.

a woman with a hat and a small black dog are gazing at each other, giving their full attention

Getting the Dog’s Attention

I published a piece earlier this year about a certain claim that some force trainers make. The post is called “It’s Not Painful. It’s Not Scary. It Just Gets the Dog’s Attention!” I point out that a neutral stimulus that is not attached to a consequence can’t reliably get a dog’s attention, even though many trainers make that claim. A truly neutral stimulus will fade into the background, meaningless. And if there is no promise of a pleasant consequence attached to the attention-getting stimulus, trainers who claim success with it are using some kind of aversive method. You can’t get something for nothing.

This was not really news. It was just Post 3,197 trying to untangle some silly mythology about training.

But I’ve got something to add. If you do enough of the good stuff, you will likely find it easier and easier to get your dogs’ attention. For my dogs, there’s no such thing as a “neutral stimulus” coming from me anymore. For years I have reinforced everything I ask of them with wonderful consequences. So—don’t tell—but I do have the “magical attention signal.”

Presession Pairing

Agility great Susan Garrett calls it “Being the Cookie.” Bob Bailey might say you were inviting Pavlov to get permanently comfortable on your shoulder.

Applied behavior analysts call it presession pairing.

Huh?

That’s right. ABA folks have a process where the analyst deliberately gains rapport with her client, usually a child. She sets herself up as the source of all sorts of fun before a session starts. The “pairing” part of the term is not between the analyst and the client. It’s between the analyst and good stuff. In terms of classical conditioning, the analyst/trainer is setting herself up as a conditioned stimulus (like Pavlov’s buzzer, a predictor of intrinsically good stuff). In operant terms, she is becoming a secondary reinforcer.

This is a pretty readable scholarly review about it: Developing Procedures to Improve Therapist–Child Rapport in Early Intervention.  In it, the authors operationalize some of the techniques that are used for presession pairing. (Despite the term, presession pairing doesn’t stop when the session starts. Most behavior analysts continue to do it whenever possible.) Some of the methods depend on verbal behavior, but several are rather familiar. I’m going to convert those to dog-talk.

  • Imitating play that the dog initiates
  • Offering items to the dog
  • Creating a new activity with a toy.

Sound familiar? Of course, we would also add food, food, food! And petting, sweet talk, and cuddles with many dogs.

The advantages of gaining rapport with your client or your dog are pretty obvious. One advantage mentioned in the article stuck out to me, though:

Antecedent-based strategies can be used to reduce or eliminate the aversive nature of the therapeutic context (e.g., therapist and therapeutic setting).

This translates well to what we do, too. Training sessions are usually fun, but of necessity, we sometimes have to subject our dogs to unpleasantries. Shots, eye drops, trips to the vet. But if we set ourselves up as consistent givers of good things, we can help our dogs through these experiences with minimal stress. So making ourselves into a giant conditioned reinforcer is not a selfish thing to do. It’s not just about, “Yay, my dogs think I’m great and I can get them to do anything!” It also helps the dogs in a big way.

closeup of the head of a sandy-colored dog with a black muzzle. A woman's hand is on the dog.

Too Clinical? Nope!

The section above may have halfway given some of you the creeps. If you are new to analyzing this stuff, it may feel bad, wrong, manipulative, unnatural—pick your word—to set out so deliberately to get somebody to like you. It might strike you as cold and clinical. But only if you haven’t done it before. Because once you do it, you realize there is nothing artificial about it. It feels good. It’s fun. It improves life for your dogs. I think it’s punishment culture that makes us feel weird about purposeful generosity and kindness. We can get over it.

gingerbread cookie modeled after Gingy from Shrek movieI have massively paired myself with good stuff over the years with my dogs. As a consequence, I don’t need any special interrupters around here. I don’t need to shake a can of pennies, throw something at the dogs, shock them, apply pressure, or yell. I don’t even need a “positive interrupter,” since that’s just another cue trained with positive reinforcement. I can say about anything to them and in just about any situation, they will reorient to me. Because even if it’s not one of their learned cues, if I’m talking to them, it’s likely that something fun for them will follow. And that’s pretty cool.

I’m interesting. I’m fun. It doesn’t take much for me to get my dogs’ attention.

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Photo credit: Gingy Cookie from Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Jorge Barrios 2006. 

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Posted in Behavior analysis, Classical conditioning, Dog training hints, Operant conditioning, Training philosophy | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Positive Punishment: 3 Ways You Might Use It By Accident

Positive reinforcement-based trainers never use positive punishment, right? At least we certainly try not to. But it can sneak into our training all the same.

Brown and white dog being grabbed by the collar in example of positive punishment

Collar grabs can be aversive

Punishment, in learning theory, means that a behavior decreases after the addition or removal of a stimulus. In positive punishment (the addition case), the stimulus is undesirable in some way. It gets added after the dog’s behavior, and that behavior decreases in the future. Some examples of that kind of stimulus would be kicking the dog, jerking its collar, shocking it, or startling it with a loud noise. You can see why positive reinforcement-based trainers seek not to use positive punishment.

In contrast, in negative punishment, the stimulus involved is desirable (appetitive). It gets taken away after the dog’s behavior, and that behavior decreases in the future. Examples of negative punishment are pulling the treat away from the dog’s mouth if she lunges for it, and leaving the room if a puppy plays too roughly. (Here are more examples of the processes of operant learning.)

In positive reinforcement-based training, we try to use only negative punishment. But it’s possible to use positive punishment inadvertently. Sometimes it’s a mishap. But there are also situations that predictably slide into positive punishment.

Positive Punishment: A Note About the Definition

Just because something hurts doesn’t mean that it will punish behavior. It is possible to administer an unpleasant stimulus (repeatedly!) and have no behavior change. For instance, I give allergy shots to both my dogs once a week. They get a whole CC of fluid injected under the skin on the back of their necks. I can tell it doesn’t feel great. But from the very beginning, I have followed the shot with a little box of fabulous treats, different every week. I’ve tried to determine whether the shot acts as a punisher. I’ve watched for decreases in behavior that might result from the shot.  I’ve found no such decreases. The dogs come eagerly for their shots and take the position I ask and stay still. The shot event is happy overall, even though there is some brief pain involved. Take a look.

So, keep in mind the “second half” of the definition of punishment. A behavior must decrease. It’s not only that you did something icky to the dog. It had to have an effect on behavior over time. Positive punishment can actually be difficult to employ successfully. The unpleasant stimulus must be applied at the right magnitude, with good timing, and consistently.

Even with these caveats, I have seen accidental positive punishment happen several ways.

 Examples of Accidental Positive Punishment

  1. It’s been a long time since I had to close my hand during “leave-it” practice with Zani

    Side effects of “leave it.” Many trainers begin the training of “leave it” (a.k.a. “it’s your choice” or ” doggie Zen”) by holding a treat in their hand. Some start with the hand open; some start with the hand closed and work up to it being open. When the dog moves forward to take the treat, they close their hand. The goal of this is negative punishment. When the dog moves toward it, the treat (appetitive stimulus) disappears and becomes unavailable. If the training mechanics are good, lunging for the treat will decrease over time. But there is a danger of positive punishment here. If the dog is fast, then the trainer has to close her hand fast. (Most trainers recommend against pulling the hand away.) Suddenly closing your hand on a dog’s muzzle can be startling or unpleasant for the dog. If the behavior of lunging subsequently decreases, what happened? You may have used positive punishment rather than negative punishment.

    Black and white rat terrier being reached for to be picked up

    Cricket’s feelings about being reached for are pretty clear

  2. Side effects of timeouts. The goal of a timeout is also negative punishment. This technique is used on puppies or rowdy dogs. When the dog does something undesirable, such as nipping, the human removes herself or the dog from the interaction.  That’s how the negative punishment works: the fun stops when the dog performs an undesirable behavior. (Sometimes the trainer will use a verbal marker to mark the naughty behavior so the relationship is clearer.) However, when one removes the dog, a couple other things happen before the dog is away from the fun. The human either needs to pick the dog up or guide him by the collar to the timeout location. But both of those actions are potentially aversive.1)A third option is to call the dog, but most trainers don’t want to call the dog to a negative consequence.  Many dogs don’t like to be picked up. Many don’t like to be grabbed by their collars. So what can happen in those situations is positive punishment: a “noxious” stimulus is added. If the dog’s undesirable behavior decreases, it could be through positive rather than negative punishment. This possibility is one of the several reasons it’s good to condition puppies to enjoy being picked up and having their collars handled.
  3. Side effects of “penalty yards.” One common technique for teaching loose-leash walking is often referred to as penalty yards. This method consists of instantly backing up when the dog begins to pull forward on the leash. (This move is usually paired with positively reinforcing the dog for walking by the trainer’s side.) The assumption behind this method is that forward motion is positively reinforcing (there is often a specific reinforcer ahead). So causing the dog to lose ground when they pull can constitute negative punishment. They get farther away from the exciting things up ahead. However, visualize the process. With negative punishment, as with all processes of operant learning, timing is important. What happens if you suddenly start walking backward when your dog is pulling forward? A jerk transmitted via the leash to the dog’s collar or harness. You will see experienced trainers use their arms as shock absorbers and seek to soften the change of direction. But they can’t go too slowly or the contingency between the dog pulling forward and the handler moving backward will be lost. Less experienced trainers likely won’t realize how hard this can be on the dog, especially if the trainer has earlier experience with training that includes deliberate collar “corrections.” So if the dog’s behavior of pulling decreases, it may be because of the loss of progress toward a goal. But it also could be that when they pull, it is soon followed by a jarring pull back on their collar.

What’s the Fallout?

Positive punishment and negative reinforcement have falloutThe examples I gave above don’t involve scaring, hitting, or kicking the dog. They don’t sound as bad as that. A hand snapping shut, a collar grab, or a leash jerk.  Not so terrible, right? Can even these milder sounding aversive stimuli create fallout? Oh, yes. If you snap your hand shut on a puppy’s snout, or right next to it, you can cause the puppy to be wary of hands. A very unfortunate lesson for a pup. Likewise with collar grabs: if you do them without conditioning first, you will create a dog who dodges away from humans. And while some dogs habituate to leash jerks, your next dog might be the one who shuts down from the jerk you create by moving backward.

Of course, it’s not the theoretical change from “minus” to “plus” that creates a problem for the dog. It’s that when we set out to follow a training plan, we often fail to notice the dog’s response to different parts of it. We don’t see the dog saying, “Hey, you pinched my nose! I hate that!” We are probably concentrating on our own mechanics. So I could have written these cautions without any reference to learning theory, and just said, “Watch the dog!”. But then they would just be scattered incidents. Using learning theory helps me see the pattern so I can head off future problems.

Some people claim to train without the use of aversives. That’s a goal of mine, as well, but unless we are vigilant, they can sneak in anyway. Just wait until I write a similar post about negative reinforcement. Evil grin.

Have you ever used positive punishment by accident? I promise I won’t let anyone hassle you if you want to comment. These examples are super useful for all of us to be aware of.

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Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

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Notes   [ + ]

1. A third option is to call the dog, but most trainers don’t want to call the dog to a negative consequence.
Posted in Behavior analysis, Punishment | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

My Dogs Do Know Sit! A Hint for Training the Sit Stay

Tan dog performing a sit stay in front of a woman standing right in front of her

Clara performing a sit stay. My stance is odd for a reason. Keep reading!

Turns out my dogs do know sit.

About two years ago, I wrote a post called, “My Dogs Don’t Know Sit!”. I described how my dogs couldn’t hold a sit stay when I stood still right in front of them. I analyzed the problem, and my conclusion was that part of the cue for them to stay was actually my walking away from them.  This was probably because I added distance too soon when originally training the stay. I ended up with the perverse situation that my dogs would hold their stays if I walked around, jogged, dropped treats, or left the room, but not if I stood still. All three of them responded this way, so it was clear that I was the problem.

I kept letting it slide, because in real life, I’m almost always moving around when I need them to stay. But I’ve been rather embarrassed about our sit stay problem, and that little hole in our training has bugged me. So, the other day I decided to take the plunge.

I told my friend Marge about my dogs’ two-second sit stay. She said:

For duration behaviors, I pick a visual target for myself other than the dog’s face. If I make eye contact, I’m likely going to ask the dog to do something. That’s what they are ready for.

So try looking at the wall behind the dog. Not the dog.

Marge always gives good advice. I did a session that very day with both Zani and Clara. I tried out Marge’s suggestion, thinking I would be able to use it to at least jump-start work on the sit stay. But they both flawlessly held the sit stay for as long as I wanted the very first time, and I was standing still right in front of them! And that’s even though we were on a small rug, which is a strong environmental cue to do a down instead of a sit. I pointedly looked at the wall behind them (that’s why I look dopey in the photo), and they both held their sits like little statues.

Wow. It turns out looking at my dogs was a cue for them to offer behaviors. Who knew? (Besides Marge.) I was the problem, but for once there was an easy fix. Look somewhere else, Eileen!

I still agree with what I wrote in the previous blog. But it was incomplete. I realized at the time (two years ago, by the way) that moving away was part of the cue for them to stay. I didn’t realize that looking at their faces when I stood still was a cue for them to move! Even though that’s exactly what I do when shaping or in other situations when I want them to offer behavior.

Duh!

Here’s a quick comparison with both Zani and Clara. The movie shows the differences in their behavior when I look at them versus when I look at the wall.

 

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Stay Cue

Somebody is bound to mention that if I just added a separate verbal “stay” cue, I wouldn’t have this problem. Perhaps, but I’d rather just use my original verbal cue. There’s no reason a single positional cue can’t have a “stay” built into it. I already have good down stays, mat stays, and even stands trained that way. The problem I have with the sit stay is well analyzed (thanks to Marge) and fixable. I don’t want my sloppy training to be used as an argument for needing a stay cue. Lots of people do without it just fine. The difference: they are clear about criteria.

Future Criteria for the Sit/Stay

Two mixed breed dogs performing a sit stay in front of their trainer. They are looking up at her attentively.

Zani and Summer sitting

Speaking of criteria, I have a decision to make. Am I OK with the cue situation as it stands? I could say, “Yay, my dogs can sit, they have duration, I just need to remember not to stare at them.” Or I could decide that they need to be able to stay even when I look at them. There is no right or wrong answer to that, although I bet most professional trainers and dog sport competitors would choose the latter and “proof” their dogs to hold a stay even when being stared at. But it’s also valid to let the handler’s duration “expectant look” mean, “Please offer some behavior.” I get to decide and train accordingly. I need to remember to be fair to my dogs and be consistent with my criteria.

Since Marge knew about the visual target thing, I’m guessing there are others like me who are simultaneously asking their dogs to stay and cuing them to move. I hope this advice can help some others. It worked a charm for me!

Related Posts

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

Note: Reader Stacey G. points out correctly that just being stared at in and of itself can make dogs uncomfortable and want to move. It wasn’t likely a contributing factor for my dogs because of their reinforcement history for eye contact, but it’s probably a common cause for “breaking a stay.”

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If My Criticism of Someone’s Comment on Facebook Is Punishment, Why Won’t She Shut Up?

two hippos with their mouths open, arguing

What behavioral processes may be happening when we argue? They may not be what we think.*

Let’s dive straight into an example. Sadie has just commented online in a dog training group, expressing an opinion I find to be dangerous and wrong. I write a carefully crafted post that I believe addresses her argument with clear and concrete evidence. I am polite. I’m also focused on building a strong argument.

What happens next?

Likely this. First, Sadie keeps right on arguing her point, frequently and more vociferously. Second, some of Sadie’s friends join in, criticizing me for being “punishing” and “not force free.” But how can it be punishing if Sadie’s behavior of writing her opinion is still going on, even perhaps increasing?

Behavioral Analysis

Let’s look at the learning and behavior processes involved. For the moment we will pretend that my comment is the only thing affecting Sadie’s behavior, and let’s agree that it got under her skin. Here’s how it went. (See the bottom of the post for a note on the analysis of verbal behavior.)

  • Antecedent: There’s a discussion about a topic that interests Sadie on the Internet
  • Behavior: Sadie writes and posts her opinion
  • Consequence: I post a counter-opinion
  • Question: Does her behavior of posting on the topic decrease, maintain, or increase?

Possible Outcome 1: Behavioral Decrease Through Positive Punishment

Outcome #1: Sadie doesn’t post on that subject anymore. Her behavior of writing about the topic has decreased. That would likely be the learning process of positive punishment at work. My post was immediately and severely aversive. I think this is what we usually expect to happen when we argue with someone, even if it almost never does. The idea is that they will either change their opinion or shut up. In both cases, they have ceased the behavior of arguing their opinion. This does happen. The person will leave the group or discussion. But it’s not the most common response, in my observation.

Possible Outcome 2: Behavioral Decrease Through Extinction

Outcome #2: This one is less likely, but let’s not forget extinction, another way for the behavior to decrease. Maybe Sadie didn’t see my comment or doesn’t give one whit about my opinion. But nobody else chimed in and encouraged her, so she drifted off to greener pastures of discourse. This is extinction, where a behavior that has been previously reinforced gets no reinforcement, then decreases.

Possible Outcome 3: Behavioral Increase Through Positive Reinforcement

cartoon of short creature in armor typing on a keyboard. Trolls like to get people to argue

Trolls may be positively reinforced by getting people to argue

Outcome #3: Sadie keeps posting at the same or an increased level. The behavior is maintaining or increasing. This could be the process of positive reinforcement. Perhaps Sadie is thick-skinned and doesn’t care what I think, but my comment indicates that someone is paying attention so her posting behavior increases. Or Sadie may be a troll, and this is fun for her. My response means she continues her game.

Possible Outcome 4: Behavioral Increase Through Negative Reinforcement

Outcome #4: Sadie keeps posting the same or at an increased level. The behavior is maintaining or increasing. This subsequent behavior can be a result of a negative reinforcement scenario. I think it is the most common occurrence and quite an interesting one. We tend to visualize a zinger of a response as a one-time deal. Pow! and done. Positive punishment. Knock the person out, and they don’t come back to the discussion. That can happen. But we are humans. What usually happens when we receive a verbal correction? We get upset. We obsess about it! It’s not a one-time aversive; it has duration. The comment is still there. People are reading about it. Sadie is thinking about it. And that sets the stage for the next set of behaviors. We know what a duration aversive leads to, right? Some action to escape it. And how will she likely escape the discomfort? By writing more words on Facebook.

If this happens, what does the analysis of Sadie’s next behavior look like?

  • Antecedent: Sadie is uncomfortable because of what I said to her on the Internet
  • Behavior: Sadie posts back to argue her case
  • Consequence: Sadie’s stress of being corrected or publicly embarrassed is relieved
  • Prediction: Sadie will continue to respond when argued with

This is negative reinforcement, and it often leads to an infinite loop.

The Infinite Argument Loop

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what is happening to me? Potentially the same thing that’s happening to Sadie. When I post, she becomes uncomfortable. She relieves it by arguing back. And when she argues back, this is aversive to me. If I get pulled in, I take action to relieve the discomfort by posting again. Ad infinitum. When both people are sucked into ego responses, the loop is sure to keep going and going.

There are probably other behaviors spinning off from the aversive exchange as well. Sadie or I may be having intense conversations with friends. We may be sending each other personal messages. One of us may have a drink or perform some self-soothing behavior. But if Sadie started off by posting in a public forum, she is probably continuing to do so at a more and more intense level. And so am I.

The Argument of Tone

Kindness and respect don’t always erase the human response to being corrected. I’ve specified that my original response in this scenario was polite and kindly for a reason. A big problem with humans is that no matter how nice it is, we can receive criticism or correction as meanness, even if it’s not coming from that place at all. We are a social species and discord can touch very deep, survival-related feelings in us. This can send us back into some primitive responses.

There’s a name for this one. Objecting to some words because they “feel mean” is the argument of tone, a rhetorical fallacy that positive reinforcement trainers get pummeled with all the time. It’s a type of ad hominem attack, or just pure insult if it doesn’t address the content of the argument. No matter what your motivations or how respectful your discourse, someone is going to pop up and say, “You’re not force-free with people!” Make no mistake: if all you’ve done is to present fact or an opinion that they disagree with, this is a diversion and an insult.

It can also be true. I’m not a mud-slinger, but there have definitely been times when I have been less than thoughtful. Oh yeah. But I do my best at being kind and respectful when I am in the position of contradicting someone. Much of the time now I can tell the difference between my arguing principally to relieve pressure and “be right” and arguing to exchange and further knowledge. Because if we work for it, good argument can happen, even if one or both parties feel stung. We can put on our big girl panties and concentrate on the issues rather than our feelings.

What To Do

This post was born because I started thinking of the misuse of the term punishment. But negative reinforcement involves an aversive, too.  The more I think about this infinite loop of argument, the more I can see how so much of this unhappy discourse works. Here are some observations about the loop and how one might escape it.

  • Recognize that even kindly critique presented in a constructive way can be unpleasant. This negative reinforcement loop can happen even when people are being very nice.
  • Summer arguing in play

    Don’t assume that someone else is being mean when you are the recipient of critique. Try to identify what is contributing to your response.  Sometimes it takes me days before I can lose my righteousness enough to see it from another side. When you get to that point, you may still disagree, but you can see your way through to answer decently. Arguing with the goal of mutual learning greatly lessens the aversive state, in my experience.

  • At the same time, don’t stick around and put up with rude behavior and cognitive fallacies. If it’s in an environment where you can exert some control, you can do that. For instance, you can have a comments policy and enforce it when you are on your own Facebook page or on your blog. But if it’s out of your control, consider quitting. If someone persists in cognitive fallacies, you aren’t going to get through.
  • Clarify your goals. Is your goal to persuade this person? Is your goal to shut her up? (Be honest. It’s possible for this to be a valid goal when her statements are dangerous or provocative.) Is your goal to persuade lurking readers? Is your goal to have an argument that is polite, fair, and furthers knowledge on both sides even if you don’t reach an accord? Are you just pissed off and want to vent? (That’s a good time to wait a while.) Your goal should help you make a plan.

What are the ways the cycle can stop? Some things I do are 1) agree to disagree then stop reading the thread; 2) continue writing but with the other people in the thread in mind—the silent lurkers—and don’t engage with the original person from then on; or 3) take some notes and go write about the situation somewhere else. I don’t mean to go and Vaguebook. I mean leave the personal stuff and the grudges out and address the topic itself after some time has elapsed. (Ahem. Like this post.)

When I’m the recipient of correction, I make an effort not to blame others for my emotional response.  When I succeed with this, and the other person does too, we may get to experience one of those great arguments where both parties are reasonable, nobody takes pot shots at anybody else, and everybody gains some understanding. It can happen!

Have you been part of a fair and productive argument lately?

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

*ABA with humans involving verbal behavior is a whole separate branch of learning theory. I am not touching on that part; just the major motivators. Thank you to the board-certified behavior analyst who looked over this post and agreed that what I covered, I got right. I’m open to other ideas about what is going on, of course!

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A Dog With Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Story Part 1

It started off as a normal winter afternoon. I had been home from work for a while. The weather was warm enough for the dogs to hang out in the yard. I sat wearing my warm coat and watching them from a chair in the sunshine.

Suddenly, a squirrel thumped down onto the fence and started running. I have a privacy fence all the way around the yard, and the squirrels run the length of two sides of it, using it as a highway from one tree to another. Clara enjoys running the fence after the squirrels, or even sometimes, by accident, ahead of them. This time Zani joined in. I watched because it is always entertaining. The dogs ran side by side.

Zani landed in the narrow space between that bush and the fence

Something happened so fast that even though I was watching, I didn’t exactly see it. But I heard a loud bump as a dog hit the fence, then I saw Zani lying very still on the ground on her side, right next to the fence. It had happened where there is a bush close to the fence, so my guess is that Clara ran Zani into the fence when the way got narrow. Zani landed facing the opposite direction she had been running, so she probably had two blows to her head and/or body: one when she hit the fence and another when she landed.

I don’t remember getting across the yard, but I got there fast. As I approached, Zani had a couple of spasms or seizures. Otherwise, she lay still on her side, too still, her eyes open.

I thought her neck was broken. Or her back. I thought she was going to die right there in my hands. But she didn’t. She kept breathing, her heart kept beating, and her eyes moved a little. But otherwise, she was completely still.

I texted my friend Ruth to come get us to take us to the vet and said I thought Zani’s neck was broken. I knelt there for a few minutes with my hands on her, murmuring to her. She was conscious but so still. Finally, I decided I should try to pick her up. I had to do something. I was still kneeling. I slid her away from between the fence and the bush and picked up her dead weight. I began to stand up, then I fell over backward. My yard is sloped. I managed to cushion her fall as I rolled onto my back.

I regrouped and strained to my feet. I carried her up the hill and up 12 steps into my house. It was exhausting. She is only 20 pounds, but she was a completely dead weight and I was trying to support her and not let her just hang there. I never knew how heavy 20 pounds of limp dog could be.

Ruth came and picked us up and drove to the vet, about 10 minutes away. I called them while we were en route.

When we got there, Ruth came around to the passenger’s side to take Zani from me because I had serious doubts about my ability to safely exit the car holding Zani’s dead weight.

Day 1: About three hours after the accident

At the Vet: Brain Concussion or Spinal Cord Injury?

The vet took the history quickly and examined Zani’s pupils for signs of a concussion. She dangled her above the floor and saw that she could not stand. Not even close. She rushed her for a steroid shot to limit swelling and took X-rays. At the time we didn’t know whether she had a concussion or a spinal injury or both. The X-rays looked good but could not show all the details we needed. It did look like nothing was fractured. The vet delineated the possibilities: all sorts of things that could be wrong with her head, spinal cord, or discs, including FCE, or fibrocartilaginous embolism. She recommended a CT scan to look for smaller fractures and damage to the spine. I agreed readily, even though it meant putting her under anesthesia. All this time Zani was dazed, but not completely out of it. She didn’t evidence any pain.

The CT results were very good. The vet said over and over how lucky we were. She and the internal medicine specialist at the clinic concurred that Zani probably had a spinal cord concussion. (If you do a web search on “spinal cord concussion,” most of your results will involve football players.) I asked what to expect, and she said she thought Zani could have a full recovery. Over time, she would regain the ability to walk. I should allow her to be ambulatory as she was able. If there were bruising of the spinal cord, then the prognosis was not quite as good.

I took my still-completely-limp dog home, wondering how hard it was going to be to take care of her.

Day 5: Hey! Steroids make me hungry!

More of the story to come. The injury happened on February 8th. So as not to leave you in suspense, Zani’s recovery is going very well. Her quadriplegia was transient. She has regained more leg function and balance every day.  Her appetite has been excellent throughout, her pain seems minimal, and she has been amazingly cooperative, especially considering the extent of her injury. (I think she could probably get an award as the only dog stricken with a spinal cord concussion and sudden quadriplegia who never eliminated in the house—even when I wanted her to.)

Here is a video of how limp she was for the first 24 hours or so.

I debated whether to post about this since it’s ongoing and personal, but finally decided to. I request that people don’t make medical or supplement recommendations. I have an excellent vet team, including access to a rehab specialist.

Thanks for caring about my little dog.

Day 8: Catching some rays

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

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A Dog with Spinal Cord Concussion: Zani’s Recovery on Video

 

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IAABC Writing Mentorships With Eileen Anderson: 2018

I’m pleased to announce that I am offering writing mentorships for trainers and behavior professionals through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) again this year. The mentorships will enable professionals to improve their writing and better represent their businesses. Mentees who make the most of the course will leave the mentorship with documents they can immediately put to professional use.

The mentorships start on January 14, 2018. During the eight-week course, I will provide individual coaching to up to 15 mentees with writing projects of their choice. The projects may already be in progress or may be started during the mentorship. There will be print and video course materials and a weekly videoconference. I will provide startup assignments and information on typical business documents for mentees who want help with writing but don’t know where to start.

There are also spots for auditors. They will audit in the academic sense. Auditors will be able to view all written discussions in the classroom between the mentor and mentees, will have full access to the supporting course materials, but will not take part in the videoconferences or submit their own projects.  

Read the official mentorship course description and register here. 

The above link will tell you “who, what, when, and where” about the mentorships. But here I’m going to tell you the “how and why.”  How will they work and what will it be like for participants? And why should you sign up?

How Will the Mentorships Work?

The mentorships will take place in an online classroom. The classroom allows for several kinds of interaction. I’ll be posting videos and files. I’ll provide resource lists, cheat sheets, and sample assignments. Mentees will upload their individual projects so we can work on them together. Auditors and other mentees will view our discussions and the editing process. Mentees and auditors will be able to chat with each other. If time is available I may answer auditors’ questions related to the mentees’ projects. The mentees and I will have weekly videoconferences.

Documents we can work on include but are not limited to articles, blog posts, class handouts, behavior assessments, biographies and other marketing materials, announcements, press releases, grants, reports, and books. Fiction is welcome as well.

Prepared course materials will cover style sheets, time management, motivation, organization, voice and audience, writing tools, editing tools, search engine optimization, references and plagiarism, and collaboration.

How Will Things Work for Participants?

Here are the three most important things mentees need to know:

  1. I will be your hired coach. You can tell me the types of assistance and critique you want, or you can turn me loose and say, “Help!” We’ll figure out the best way to work together. My goal will be to help you improve your writing skills so you can turn out some great documents. My help won’t be painful or embarrassing.
  2. I will not be grading anything. We’ll all push aside the “write-it-for-a-grade-and-hope-the-teacher-likes-it” paradigm. That’s not what this is about.
  3. Our chat content will not be subject to critique. We will do a lot of communicating in a chat interface. Even though this is a writing mentorship, the spelling and grammar police are not invited to the chat conversations. Abbreviations, shortcuts, and other chat conventions will be fine. If we don’t understand something, we’ll ask. Nothing in the mentorship will be critiqued except the mentees’ projects, and then only by me unless a mentee requests feedback from others.

A Note for the Introverts

There has been a trend in organizations for a few years to adopt an extroverted educational model. Boisterous entertainment. Aggressive engagement. Required participation. Making everything into a game that no one can decline.

You introverts don’t need to worry. You can keep on being introverts. I’m one, too. We’ll have fun. We will have some contests and games. Write a paragraph in exactly the wrong voice! Submit the dorkiest bio! But there will be no required or forced participation. You get to have your own definition of fun. However you choose to take part, I’ll do my best to make it interesting and fun for you.

Why Professionals Need Coaching and Mentoring

Writers need coaches!

Top-level professional singers usually use vocal coaches for their entire professional careers. Professional athletes in individual sports such as tennis likewise retain personal coaches throughout their playing careers. Having an expert outside observer and teacher is essential. It allows professionals to get more information about their tasks and feedback on their skill sets. It prevents them from falling into idiosyncrasies. It gives that invaluable second pair of ears or eyes.

Coaching is a successful model for a writing mentorship. Calling on a mentor doesn’t mean you are helpless or unprofessional. It’s not about getting a grade. It doesn’t have to hurt your ego. It’s about getting an outside perspective and expert feedback.

Better writing will help you communicate better with your peers, provide clearer instructions to your clients, and present a more polished public appearance.

Register for the writing mentorship here. 

 

Writing Samples

You can read my bio on the mentorship page linked above, but I’m also providing some writing samples here. Since my voice in the blog is moderately casual, I’ve included some documents that demonstrate more formal styles.

Copyright 2016 Eileen Anderson

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