I’ve been using a nail board (custom-made by Bob Rogers–thanks Bob and Marge!) with all three of my dogs for a few years now. I use it as an adjunct to trimming and Dremeling, and the dogs enjoy getting part of the kibble in exchange for scratching.
This isn’t a how-to post; it’s mostly another “Do as I say, not as I do,” post. In other words, I’m going to tell you about a mistake I made. Continue reading →
Thank you to GoPetFriendly for the Pet Blogger Challenge. This is my third time doing the challenge. I always enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to being introduced to some new blogs from other participants. Continue reading →
New Year’s Eve is coming. You can make a plan and take action now to help your dog be a bit less afraid of the unpredictable scary sounds of fireworks, firecrackers, whistles, and even guns.
Here are some things you can do today.
Get some great treats and start carrying them around. Whenever there is any kind of sudden or startling noise, including stray bangs and booms aspeople start to test their noisemakers, rain treats down on your dog. Use those special treats only for noises; don’t pass them out for nice behavior (use something else for that!), and don’t ask for any particular behavior from your dog when the noise occurs. Just give the special treats. 1)You may wonder why I am not recommending buying an app or CD with fireworks sounds to “practice” with. Performing desensitization/counterconditioning with sounds is tricky. The chances of getting successful conditioning in the three days between this blog post and New Year’s Eve are slim, and there will be a huge tendency to rush. People who haven’t done DS/CC before are far more likely to scare their dogs further than to help them. This is why I am recommending only Step 1 above, which consists of counterconditioning without systematic desensitization, using environmental noises that were going to happen anyway.
Make (or adapt) a safe place for your dog. Keep in mind that the flashes of light that come with big fireworks displays can be scary too, so consider a method to temporarily darken any windows nearby. Also, low-frequency booms can’t be “soundproofed” for except with materials that are much too big to use inside a house. Get the best protection you can in a basement or your most internal room. Despite the marketing, dog crates with walls a few inches thick can’t dampen low-frequency sounds to an effective degree.
Experiment with sound masking or music to find out what is the most helpful for your situation. There are two contrasting methods here. Some people find that slow, quiet classical or easy listening music is soothing to their dogs. If you have already found that to be so, use it, but don’t try it out for the first time when the fireworks are going on. It does not work for all dogs, and you might even get “reverse conditioning” and make the music scary to your dogs if it predicts fireworks. The other method is to use some kind of recorded white noise, natural noise, or music to mask the pops and booms. (Even a noisy food toy can be helpful.) This “mechanical” approach is more to my liking. And here’s a tip: the lower the frequencies included in the masking or music, the better it can hide those low-pitched booms. So if your dogs are already used to pounding rock music or some other music with a lot of bass or percussion, play it! It can mask some of the scary noises from outside your house more effectively. I have a taiko drumming CD that is great for this. But if you try that, be absolutely certain that the music on the CD itself doesn’t scare your dogs first. If they are already sensitive to booms, it probably will. You’ll need to find the line of best fit for your dogs.
Make a plan for taking your dog out to potty. Do you know when the noise is usually at its worst and can you work around that? Are your fences and/or leash and harness secure? Dogs who are usually sedate have been known to panic and run off on noisy holidays. Don’t let that happen. Keep your gates locked, your dogs’ ID tags on, and put some redundancy into your safety system.
If your dog gets extremely anxious about noises and you have never talked to your vet about it, do so today. He or she may be able to prescribe something to help. Sound phobias are not something to be taken lightly.
LOSE that idea that there’s something wrong with comforting your dog. You can’t reinforce fear, and helping a dog through a tough time is not “coddling.” Assess what is most helpful to your dog: a cuddle, some lap time, sweet talk, being in their crate with a food toy, or hiding by themselves in a secluded place. Then help them do it.
You may wonder why I am not recommending buying an app or CD with fireworks sounds to “practice” with. Performing desensitization/counterconditioning with sounds is tricky. The chances of getting successful conditioning in the three days between this blog post and New Year’s Eve are slim, and there will be a huge tendency to rush. People who haven’t done DS/CC before are far more likely to scare their dogs further than to help them. This is why I am recommending only Step 1 above, which consists of counterconditioning without systematic desensitization, using environmental noises that were going to happen anyway.
I am proud to announce that my book, Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, has been nominated for a Dog Writers Association of America’s Maxwell Award 2016. My book is one of three nominees in the category of Behavior, Health or General Care.
The winners in all categories will be announced at a banquet in New York City in February.
How About a 30% Discount?
I’ve been thinking about discounting the PDF version anyway, and this seems like a good time to do it. The PDF is available for purchase on my website, and I’ve marked it down from $12.95 to $8.95.
This version is designed for both pleasant online viewing and a nice print copy. The print is large, at 14 points, and the photos are in color. It’s a version that can be used two ways, and right now it costs less than all the others. Here’s a sample page. The discount will run through midnight on January 1, 2017.
My book is also available as a print book and in Kindle, Apple iBook, Barnes & Noble, and Google digital formats. You can purchase all the formats here.
Please feel free to share this announcement with anyone who has a senior dog. My book can help!
Do you have a new puppy or know someone who does? Then Marge Rogers and I have a present for you.
Dog and puppy training have changed a lot over the years. We recognize that not everyone is aware of those changes. So when my friend, trainer and behavior consultant Marge Rogers got her new puppy, I wrote blog posts to go with each one of her first six puppy training videos. I was thrilled with her first lessons for Zip and wanted to share them far and wide. And now they are in a book as well!
The book with embedded videos is available exclusively as an iBook and can be read on iPhones, iPads, and Macs with iBooks. 1)If anyone knows of a book reader for PC that will work for iBooks, let me know and I’ll list it here. Having the videos embedded means you can download it and have everything available even when you aren’t connected to the Internet.
By popular demand, I have also released a PDF version. It doesn’t have the videos embedded, but they are linked. Otherwise, it is the same as the iBook.
Best of all, they are both FREE!
Find out what a dog training professional teaches her puppy first–and why–in Lessons for My Puppy.
Latent learning has a precise definition in learning theory and it’s not what many people think. It’s not magic learning that happens during downtime–at least not in the way people assume. It is not a sudden better performance after a break between training sessions. It’s not when everything suddenly comes together after we sleep on it.
Here’s the definition:
[Latent learning is] learning that occurs during non-reinforced trials but that remains unused until the introduction of a reinforcer provides an incentive for using it.–Lieberman, David A. Learning: Behavior and Cognition. Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 1990.
Note that the definition includes nothing about making sudden cognitive leaps. If we are struggling with teaching our dog something and in the next session she has improved vastly–this does not fit the definition of latent learning.
One reason we can be sure it doesn’t fit is that when training we are regularly reinforcing the behaviors we want or reinforcing the closest approximation to them that we can get. Again, latent learning deals with “non-reinforced trials.”
The First Latent Learning Study
The study that prompted the definition and exploration of latent learning took place in 1930 by Tolman, Chace, and Honzik.1)Tolman, Edward Chace, and Charles H. Honzik. “Introduction and removal of reward, and maze performance in rats.” University of California Publications in Psychology (1930). Rats were divided into three groups and the individuals in each group were put in a maze. The rats in Group 1 received a food reward when they reached the end of the maze. The rats in Group 2 never received food; they just were put in the maze and wandered freely for a certain amount of time for 10 days. The rats in Group 3 wandered the maze with no food for 10 days, then on the 11th day they started receiving a food reward for finishing the maze. It took them only one day to catch up to the Group 1 rate of running the maze. This was believed to show that they had been learning to navigate the maze during the period of no food, i.e., no reinforcement.
A real-life version of latent learning could go like this. Say I have no interest in bicycles or cycling. None. Nobody in my life does that. And say there is a bicycle repair shop in a little strip mall that I pass sometimes. If I notice that, there’s nothing in it for me. No reinforcement.
However, let’s say I have a new friend who is into cycling. She cycles to my house one day, and just as she arrives something goes wrong with her bike. She needs a repair. If at that moment I remember the location of that bike repair shop, that is latent learning. Learning about the location of the bike shop was not valuable earlier. There was no reinforcement available for it. To repeat the definition: The knowledge was “unused until the introduction of a reinforcer provided an incentive for using it.” In this scenario, the potential reinforcement is that I can help my friend.
What Should We Call the Other Thing?
OK, so if that’s latent learning, what should we call that thing that happens when we wait a little bit, then it all comes together? When everything gels and we, or our dogs, “get it”? It’s a great thing when it happens; no wonder we want a name for it!
Candidate #1 could be the so-called Eureka effect, where a perplexing problem becomes clear all at once in a flash of insight. But the focus on this term is not on the passage of time, except that a period of sleep is sometimes mentioned. Also, it’s not usually applied to animals.
Candidate #2 could be memory consolidation, a concept in neuroscience.
Consolidation is the processes of stabilizing a memory trace after the initial acquisition.–The Human Memory
It involves converting something we know from short-term to long-term memory. It could contribute to fluency in knowledge and possibly tasks. It is even known to correlate with getting some sleep. I am pretty far out of my league here, but it seems like it could apply, for example, in something like cue recognition. It could account for a notable difference in correct cue responses from one session to the next. But I’m not sure whether that merits that dramatic change we are usually talking about when something all comes together.
Here’s a good review article if you want to read about memory consolidation: Memory–a century of consolidation.3)McGaugh, James L. “Memory–a century of consolidation.” Science 287.5451 (2000): 248-251.
Candidate #3 could be that some dramatic improvements we observe are related to longer inter-session intervals. Since the early 20th century, learning and behavior researchers have been studying the effects of tinkering with the times between sessions of learning.4)Shea, Charles H., et al. “Spacing practice sessions across days benefits the learning of motor skills.” Human movement science 19.5 (2000): 737-760. That time period is referred to as the inter-session interval (and yes, occasionally the time between is referred to as inter-session latency, just to build in some confusion). But I’m not aware of a zippy term for the advantages of a longer wait, although said advantages are common. Somehow, “benefit of a longer inter-session interval” isn’t sexy.
But What If There’s No Such Thing?
It gets more complex. There were later studies that countered the latent learning effect. There were researchers who argued strongly against it. They claimed that the rats in the maze without food were getting some type of reinforcement and that their behavior could be explained under standard principles of behaviorism. You can read about that point of view in this article:
After reading that article, I almost decided not to publish this post at all. But I still think it could be useful. I’ll let eager researchers make their own decisions.
So, in summation:
Latent learning has an official definition and it might not be what you thought.
There isn’t a sticky term for what you thought was latent learning, but I mention three possibilities.
Oh, and latent learning (as per the definition) might not exist anyway.
But Eileen, Language and Usage Are Always Changing!
Here’s the part where you can get after me for being stodgy or old fashioned. It could be that “latent learning” is on its way to becoming an acceptable term for a sudden improvement in performance after some downtime. I have seen one recent journal paper that uses the term that way.
I don’t know if popular usage will bleed into academia or not. But learning about the original definition turned me on to some pretty cool research, and I hope you enjoy it too.
This post started life as a rant about terminology on the Facebook group Canine Behavior Research Studies. Thank you to the people who contributed to the discussion there, particularly הדס כלבי ה, who suggested the term memory consolidation, and Sasha Lazareva, who brought up the “other” controversy about latent learning and cited the Jensen article mentioned below.
Most of us know that a dog’s tail can be a fairly good indicator of mood. We can observe whether the tail carriage is low, medium, or high and whether it is loose or stiff. Whether and in what manner it is wagging. We can often draw some pretty good conclusions from those observations, keeping breed in mind.
A dog wagging her tail loosely at a low angle is possibly friendly. A dog holding her tail upright, wagging it stiffly from side to side is one to watch out for. A dog with her tail hanging straight down or tucked between her legs is usually afraid or unhappy.
Zani focused on a Kong with her tailtucked
Except when she’s not.
I have a popular YouTube movie called Kongs for Beginners, in which I show how to make very easy Kongs for puppies and inexperienced dogs. All four of my dogs from that time demonstrate. A viewer commented that Zani looked unhappy because her tail was tucked. I hadn’t noticed. I agreed and put a note in the video description about it.
But over the years I’ve changed my mind. I’ve noticed that Zani tucks her tail in certain situations in which I know she is not unhappy. She does it when she is working with a food toy, when she is digging, even when she licks a plate. It seems to happen when she is very focused on a task in front of her.
I’m letting this be a reminder to me to look at the whole dog and the whole situation and not just one obvious aspect. And don’t forget: breed can make a big difference in tail carriage and other aspects of body language.
Zani’s tail may be tucked in those situations, but the rest of her body is not spelling out “misery.” She is animated and her ears are forward, and in two of the clips, she is eating.
How about the rest of you? Anybody else’s dogs tuck their tails when they are probably not upset? The reason I finally published this is that I did find one other person whose dog does the same thing. Thank you to Johnna Pratt, who also has a dog who tucks her tail when working hard on something. We’d love to hear about some others.
Zani working to “bury” a Himalayan chew in the pillow, with her tail firmly tucked
But here’s another thing that gets under my skin. These days it seems like many people who use the language of choice to describe their training are referring to the fact that they permit the animal to leave as relief from a difficult task. For instance, in a husbandry session, the dog may receive a food reinforcer for cooperative behavior. That constitutes positive reinforcement if we see cooperative behavior (usually staying still or focusing on something) increase or maintain. 1)This also applies to sessions of counterconditioning where the food is not contingent on behavior. I am setting that aside for now. The dog is allowed to leave as often as she wants. The session starts back up if she returns. The leaving constitutes negative reinforcement if we see leaving increase or maintain. But remember: escape is only a reinforcer if the activity is unpleasant.
Letting the dog leave is a good thing. But there is a big drawback if it is planned on as an expected response and built into a protocol.
Building escape behavior into a protocol can provide a disincentive to the human to make the process as pleasant for the dog as possible. Rather than working harder to create a situation where the dog doesn’t want to leave, the trainer can focus on saying that the dog is “empowered” by the ability to leave. On the contrary, some trainers, including myself, consider a dog repeatedly leaving as evidence that we have not worked hard enough at making the experience pleasant. It’s a failure, not a goal. It means we didn’t set up our antecedents and graduated exposures well enough.
Forced vs. Free Choice
I have written about forced and free choice before. Forced choice applies to our husbandry example. The dog can stick with the session and get food or another appetitive stimulus, or the dog can leave. Leaving usually leads to an environment that is bare of other positive reinforcers, or has very weak ones. We deliberately set things up that way as an incentive for the dog to stick with the session. There is no shame in that. Controlling other reinforcers is a part of positive reinforcement-based training. But bragging that escape offers the animal empowerment when the other option is bare of interesting activities is a bit strained.
Also, the presence of food can be coercive. The husbandry session may be unpleasant but the food quite good. Hence, the dog is putting up with discomfort to get the food. Again, sometimes we have to perform medical or husbandry tasks that are painful. But why start out that way if we don’t have to?
On the other hand, free choice is a choice between two appetitive stimuli: two good/fun/nice things. Two things the dog will work for. For instance, stay inside and be petted (for a dog who likes that) or go outside and play ball. Play with this toy, then that one. Dig in the yard or lie in the sunshine.
Is there a way to offer free choice between two appetitive stimuli in a husbandry session? Sure, and I tried it. My dogs LOVED it.
Summer watching to see if the Manners Minder will pay out
If You Really Want to Give the Dog a Free Choice…
…you have to stop controlling other options for reinforcement. Instead, offer another option. In my case, I set up for a husbandry session, but provided another reinforcement option in the form of a Manners Minder, an automated treat dispenser.
I loaded it with the same treats I was using and placed it a few feet away. I set it to eject treats on a variable interval schedule. My intention was for the Manners Minder’s rate of treat delivery and mine to be similar. It would eject treats every so often no matter what the dog was doing (no contingency from me). But the dog’s behavior of leaving the husbandry session could be positively reinforced.
I started a nail clipping session with the video camera running.
This unedited movie shows the very beginning, where Zani is still figuring out what the deal is. Is it OK for her to run to the Manners Minder in the middle of our session? (Yes.) Is there a good reason to return for nail clipping? (Yes, because there were gaps in the Manners Minder schedule.) Zani has a genius for optimization and was soon going back and forth.
I was super pleased that husbandry sessions are pleasant enough to her that Zani happily came back. If she hadn’t, that would be valuable information. It would mean I needed to work more on making husbandry pleasant for her. In the meantime, to get the job done, I could stack the deck a little in my favor via treat value or rate of reinforcement. I would have no problem with the ethics of that. In my opinion, it’s still far superior to the scenario where the dog’s only other option is escape to a boring room.
During my other dogs’ first sessions, I needed to call them back a few times. They both tended to get stuck in one place or another because of their reinforcement histories. Thinking it through, I don’t think calling them affects the balance of the two options much. The sound of the Manners Minder is a very strong cue that food is available. Likewise, my calling my dog is a strong cue for the same. I reinforced the dogs for coming back to me when I did so. They were free to leave again right away, but they usually stuck around for a nail clip or two, or until the Manners Minder produced another treat.
In the movie with Zani you can see me using the remote on the Manners Minder. I am turning the down-stay variable interval setting on and off. But in subsequent sessions (not filmed) I just set it and let it alone.
Choice Doesn’t Apply Only To Negative Reinforcement Protocols (Even Though That’s When You Often Hear About It)
One of the things that often gets lost in the discussions about choice is that we offer our dogs a choice every time we give a cue for a positively reinforced behavior. When I call my dog while she’s digging in the dirt in the yard, I have offered her a choice, whether I’m happy about that or not. And it’s a choice between two nice things. But this type of choice is often overlooked because the reason we train dogs is often to get them to do things we want. Offering a dog a choice between two appetitives can be inconvenient for the human. Whereas offering a dog a choice to leave an uncomfortable husbandry session doesn’t cost us much. We know the dog will probably come back because we are the source of R+ in the room. It seems pretty self-serving to me to promote choice primarily when it is easiest for us.
If a trainer or a protocol focuses on choice, ask questions. What are the choices? Ask the trainer or author to operationalize them. Are the choices antecedents or consequences? What will your animal be choosing between? The trainer should be able to tell you whether both of the choices lead to positive reinforcement, or if one leads to positive reinforcement and the other to negative reinforcement (escape).
Don’t Necessarily Try My Experiment at Home
This was an experiment. Our success with the dual reinforcement setup had a lot to do with the dogs’ history with me. Offering a powerful reinforcer for leaving a husbandry session could backfire if a dog didn’t have a strong reinforcement history for staying. I’m not necessarily recommending it. I wrote in another post about the down side of offering a dog between two positive reinforcers and how it can be tricky. That risk is very clear in my game with the Manners Minder.
Another issue is that the dual reinforcement setup as I presented it is not workable for procedures where the dog must stay still, perhaps as in a jugular blood draw. But that’s true for any method that allows the dog to leave. Most of us at some point also train the dog to stay still.
I tried this out because I was curious. I am publishing it because I want folks to see what it can look like for a dog to exercise free choice in a husbandry session. I’m continuing to do it because it makes toenail trims downright fun for my dogs.