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!
Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016
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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.
Don’t panic. This is a common problem and it often has a pretty clear path to a solution. Most important: you can still use positive reinforcement based training. It is not a dealbreaker!
I write a lot about how we can help dogs address life-limiting fears by performing desensitization and counterconditioning. It’s always important to keep the dog in her comfort zone (under threshold) when doing any kind of exposure work. One of the ways people assess whether a dog is comfortable in a situation is whether she will take food. This is an imperfect method since some dogs will keep eating food when they are starting to get upset. But it’s a start.
But if a dog refuses food, she isn’t necessarily afraid. There are other common reasons this happens. In this post, I’ll mention the possibilities and recommend a fix for the most common one.
How Do I Tell the Difference?
It is vitally important to know whether your dog is refusing food because he is scared, excited, has a medical problem, or is more interested in the environment. I’m sorry to say that I can’t answer that for you and your dog in a blog post. At the end of the post, I’ll include some body language resources. For some dogs, it can be hard to tell. If your dog refuses food when away from home and you are not sure why, you should get help from a positive reinforcement based trainer. If she refuses food more generally or it happens suddenly, a vet visit is in order.
The suggestions in the rest of this post pertain to dogs who refuse food in new, interesting situations but are not scared or ill. That scenario is also what you will see in the embedded movie.
The Common Culprit: Competing Reinforcers
Let’s say you have trained your dog to respond to a few cues in your living room. Perhaps you have trained “sit,” “down,” “target,” and “stay.” Maybe even walking on leash. You decide to take the show on the road and take your dog to a local park. You bring some good food and your clicker if you use one.
You get your dog out of the car and cue him to sit. But your dog is at the end of his leash, straining to smell something on the ground. You cue him again. Nothing. He doesn’t even seem to hear you.
You wait about five minutes. He is scanning, sniffing, and straining at the leash. But as it happens, you finally get a little scrap of attention from him. You click the eye contact and start to offer him something yummy. But at the sound of the click, he turns away and starts sniffing again. He ignores the food completely. Or if you get it into the vicinity of his mouth, he lets it fall out.
This is perplexing. At home, your dog is a real food hound. He will do anything for food and loves his training sessions. What’s happened?
If your dog is not afraid, what has likely happened is that there are competing reinforcers. That means that there are things that are more attractive to him right now than the food. New places are thrilling to many dogs. Novel odors! New things to see, like dogs, other animals, or even people! These can all overpower the attractiveness of food.
We can’t decide for our dogs what is the most enticing thing in a particular moment. Often it’s something other than what we are offering.
Guess what is most reinforcing to Zani right now?
Show and Tell
I emphasize in this blog that I am not a professional trainer. It’s obvious from my dogs’ leash walking. Zani, who is featured in today’s video, actually has the best leash manners of all my dogs. But only when we are in my own neighborhood or somewhere else familiar to her. I don’t take her new places often enough for her to succeed in that situation (see below about practice!). So when I take her somewhere new to give her a little adventure (as opposed to training), I use a harness. I do let her pull me around somewhat. But I still reward richly for loosening the leash, offering attention, or walking at my side.
She does those things intermittently. But she won’t always take the food. So in the video, you’ll see her “ignore” my marker and just continue along. Sometimes she’ll turn for the treat, then decline it. You’ll also see her take treats after a nice behavior as well. (Hey, it wasn’t all bad!)
Sorry about Zani’s clunky, mismatched getup. This was an unplanned outing and she was wearing a borrowed harness.
What To Do About It
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. A keyboard player doesn’t start her studies by playing Liszt or Rachmaninoff. She starts with simple pieces. She works on scales. She attempts harder things gradually, usually under the tutelage of a teacher. If she is going to be a performer, she also widens her playing experience gradually as well. She plays on different types of pianos. She plays in different settings and for different groups of people. She learns to handle herself in lots of different musical situations.
Likewise, taking a dog who has practiced behaviors only at home (and maybe in only one room of the house) to a park and expecting perfect performance is like taking the first year piano student to Carnegie Hall, aiming her at the stage, and saying, “Knock ’em dead!”
She’s not ready. And neither is your dog.
Instead, teach your dog behaviors in your living room. Then in your kitchen. Then in a room with an outside view. Then on the back porch if you have one. Then in a boring part of your back yard. Then in an interesting part of your back yard. Then on your front porch. Then in your front yard. Then a few steps either way toward your neighbors’ houses. (I have a friend who had a big van with some open space in it, and she taught her dog to perform all of his behaviors in the van! How cool is that?)
You can also practice asking for your dog’s attention as part of her “getting out of the car” routine. Also even going out your front door. Both of these are common times for dogs to get excited and unreachable.
Be generous with the reinforcement. You are gradually introducing competing reinforcers, so yours needs to be good.
When you do get to the park, set her up for success. Pick a time when most people are staying home. Go to an area where you can practice on a parking lot or the pavement before you venture into more exciting areas. If you do mat training, bring the mat. Help your dog practice getting out of the car and straight onto the mat. Keep the first lessons short.
High-value food is your friend when you are going new places with your dog. But it’s important to note that food is not a cure-all. You can’t just skip to a distracting environment and count on liver brownies to save the day. You and your dog will still need to work up to it. And some days, for some dogs–there just isn’t a high enough value food. Dogs are animals. We don’t live in a perfect world.
But It’s Her Walk!
That’s right. It may be important to you to offer your dog as much freedom as you can. You may want to give her time to acclimate and explore whenever you go somewhere new. But those goals are not incompatible with what I am describing here. My own teacher has encouraged me to see on-the-road training as a safety issue. I don’t have to have my dog’s attention all the time–far from it. But I need to be able to ask for it and get it.
Here is the place where someone is going to suggest the Premack principle. That principle says that you can reinforce statistically less likely behaviors (walking nicely on leash) with more likely behaviors (sniffing). After all, if the thing your dog wants the most is to sniff new odors, why not use that for your reinforcement?
It can be done, but it’s more complicated than it sounds. If you are a beginning trainer and your dog is so entranced by odors that you can’t get his attention for love or money, how can you get him back after you let him go off sniffing?
I do use sniffing as a reinforcer for my dogs when we are on my own street and other familiar places. I have it on cue and it works pretty well. The second link above describes how I did it. But I rarely try it in a brand new place. Again, because we haven’t practiced enough for Carnegie Hall.
The other day I was pondering the trend of talking about teaching “self-control” and “impulse control” in our dogs. I got to thinking about “leave it,” both the term and the behavior. I realized a couple things. First, the term “leave it” doesn’t pass the dead-man test. (I’ll get to that below.) Second, the behavior “leave it” is not just one, but several behaviors. Third, I realized that this combination of problems could present some difficulties when training.
What is your dog actually doing when she successfully “leaves it”?
You know what that means: I’m going to write about it!
Negative vs. Positive Descriptions
When describing how we would like dogs to act, how many times do we start with the word “doesn’t”? (Or worse, “shouldn’t.”)
The dog doesn’t counter-surf.
The dog doesn’t jump on people.
The dog doesn’t bark inappropriately.
The dog doesn’t pee or poop in the house.
You get the picture. And as people with a little (or a lot) of experience with positive reinforcement based training, you know what good trainers will do first. They will decide–and describe–what they want the dog to do. Like this:
The dog lies on a mat when in the kitchen.
The dog keeps four feet on the floor for greeting.
The dog barks once and runs to a family member when the doorbell rings.
The dog eliminates outside.
I could have made the second group of descriptions more specific and precise. You can consider them a rough draft. But with the descriptions I was taking the first steps toward something called operationalization.
Operationalization and Dead Men
Operationalization is an important concept in applied behavior analysis. To operationalize a behavior is to describe it in observable, measurable, objective, and specific ways. (That description is from this article about behavioral interventions with children, but most definitions are similar.) For some reason that is difficult for humans to do. We want to conceptualize and label things instead. The dog is being naughty; the dog is being dominant; the dog is getting back at us; the dog is acting guilty.
None of these phrases tells us what the dog is actually doing. And if we are going to observe, analyze and modify behavior, we have to know that.
When you operationalize behavior, you can’t define it as a negative or an absence of something. Attempting to define a behavior by what it isn’t fails the “dead-man test.” Ogden Lindsley coined this term in 1965 and you can read about it here: From Technical Jargon to Plain English for Application.1)Lindsley, O. R. (1991). From technical jargon to plain English for application. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 24(3), 449-458.
The bottom line is that if a dead man can do it, it’s not a behavior. Look at my top list of problem dog “behaviors.” A dead man could do all those things. For instance, dead men are really good at things like “not counter-surfing” and “not jumping on people.”
Attempts at behavioral descriptions that start with the word “doesn’t” usually aren’t real behaviors at all. They fail the dead-man test.
The dead-man test comes in handy because it clues you in to times when you are going down the wrong road. For instance, when discussing negative reinforcement, I have had people tell me that all other behaviors besides the one that’s being negatively reinforced are automatically being punished. For instance, let’s say I have dirty hands. I wash them. My hands are now pleasantly clean and washing was negatively reinforced. Having dirty hands was aversive to me and I removed that aversive via washing. But my correspondent wrote that also, “not washing hands” was positively punished.
Whoa! What does “not washing hands” look like? Ask a dead man. He’s doing it right now. If there is no behavior observed and described, we can’t identify punishment occurring. (By the way, there could have been positive punishment in this scenario. But there’s not enough information in my description to know.)
Exploring “Leave It”
And that brings me to “leave it.” We tend to think of “leave it” as being a single behavior. We casually define it as the dog not getting that thing that we don’t want it to get. But wait! “Not getting the goodie”? That doesn’t pass the dead-man test.
When we talk about “leave it,” we actually may be talking about one of several behaviors. Watch this video of baby Clara learning “leave it” (a.k.a. Zen in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.) She does great, despite some poorly timed markers on my part. But what behavior is she learning?
When we teach Zen or “leave it,” we usually mark and reinforce the first thing the dog does after she stops mugging and licking the hand. So I marked (late, but it worked) when Clara pulled her head back. I then dropped the treat, and she got it off the floor. The very next time around, Clara pulled her head away and looked at the floor. Clever pup. And that’s the behavior I reinforced for most of the rest of the session.
So at that time, Clara’s experience with “leave it” was:
When a fist with a treat inside it appears in front of your face…
look at the floor…
and a treat will appear.
She also learned that licking or even approaching the hand with the treat in it didn’t work. Those behaviors started to extinguish in that context.
Here are three more examples of “leave it.”
What are my dogs doing in this picture?
We call this “leave it” but what are the dogs doing?
If I operationalize it, I would say that they are lying on their mats with their heads up, watching treats roll by. I could improve on the term “leave it” by calling this behavior a down stay or a mat stay with distractions. 2)Ironically, stay, especially considering Lindsley’s original concerns and description, could also be considered to fail the dead-man test. But notice that I stipulated that the dogs are holding their heads up and watching something.
What is Summer doing in this picture? (Those are pieces of mozzarella cheese on the floor.)
We call this “leave it” but what is Summer doing?
Summer is walking with me on leash, keeping her head and shoulders in line with my left side and within two feet of me such that the leash stays loose. She is doing this with a major distraction of cheese on the floor. AKA “leave it.”
When I call her, Clara lifts her head up from the food she was eating, turns, and runs to me. It’s a challenging recall. But it’s also “leave it.”
Can we specify that “leave it” consists of one of these four things?
Continue another duration behavior
Relax the jaw muscles to release an item
Did I miss anything?
So What? (Part 1)
Sometimes we can train ourselves into a corner if we don’t operationalize what the dog is actually doing. Clara learned (after the above puppy video) that a reliable way to get a reinforcer in a “leave it” situation was to move away from the tempting item. She put distance between the item and herself. This worked fine until I started using food as a distraction on the floor and she actually had to go close to the food to do what I was asking of her. Then I realized that I had taught “leave it” as “back away” when what I really wanted was “hold your head up and keep your mouth closed.” Those are pretty different!
The embedded movie in that post shows Clara struggling when I ask her to get on her mat with a treat in the way. This was harder for her to learn than it was for my other dogs. That was probably because backing away from the treat had been so heavily reinforced.
Anybody want to suggest how I could have made the transition with less stress for her?
So What? (Part 2)
This post started off as a rant prompted by the use of the terms “self-control” and “impulse control” in the dog community. I have used those terms myself, plenty of times. That’s how we conceptualize what we want from our dogs. We don’t want to have to order them around all the time. We would like for them to perform the behaviors we like almost automatically (with reinforcement from us, of course).
But I am becoming a little concerned about using the constructs of “self-control” or “impulse control.” They have an almost moralistic edge to them. The typical definitions of those things for humans involve urges, emotions, and morality. More important, we tend to see self-control type behaviors all under one big umbrella. I think that with our dogs we do better to talk about specific behaviors. Just as we shy away from using constructs such as “guilt” in dogs because of the harm that can be done under that assumption, I think we might want to hesitate in using these general terms about self-control. We don’t know that the dog conceives it that way. What we do know is that we can successfully reinforce certain behaviors.
I truncated my rant when I found out that the term “self-control” does have a valid definition for animals. It’s a big topic, so I’ll address that in the future.
In the meantime, here is my encouragement to operationalize, operationalize, operationalize! Figure out specifically what you want the dog to do. Figure what it looks like. Define it. Describe it. Then teach it.
And for fun: does your dog do anything quirky as part of “leave it”? I bet there are some cute ones out there.
Lindsley, O. R. (1991). From technical jargon to plain English for application. Journal of applied behavior analysis, 24(3), 449-458.
Ironically, stay, especially considering Lindsley’s original concerns and description, could also be considered to fail the dead-man test. But notice that I stipulated that the dogs are holding their heads up and watching something.
This post started out as one thing and transformed into another as I went along, as many of mine do. I have been familiar for a while with the term local enhancement for a type of social learning in dogs. I had some videos that I felt were good examples. But while researching this post and putting the clips together into a movie, I learned that the concepts and definitions were a lot less cut and dried than I thought.
This topic is up for lots of interpretation and discussion in the literature and I have found it to be underrepresented in discussions about dog behavior. I felt that at least an introduction to the subject would be helpful. I have gone with the most thorough, most recent, and most cited sources. I am open to additional information and hope for a good discussion.
Terms and Definitions
There are several different types of socially facilitated behaviors and social learning. These are two separate terms since behaviors can be socially facilitated without subsequent learning (Heyes, 1994, p. 214). Also the types of social facilitation overlap, and more than one can be going on at the same time. Among the types are behavioral contagion, local enhancement, stimulus enhancement, observational conditioning, copying, emulation, and imitation.
I got interested in local enhancement since I was pretty sure I saw it happening with my dogs. Like most of the other types, it involves animals performing similar behaviors as a result of observation or other perception of another animal. But it is not classified as imitation.
Here are a definition and an example of local enhancement from textbooks:
Local enhancement occurs when, after or during a demonstrator’s presence, or interaction with objects at a particular location, an observer is more likely to visit or interact with objects at that location (Hoppitt, 2013, p. 66).
…When local enhancement is in play, a model simply draws attention to some aspect of the environment by the action he undertakes there (for example, digging for worms). Once the observer is drawn to the area, he learns on his own (Dugatkin, 2004, p. 154-5).
Note that the observer animal doesn’t have to see the demonstrator animal. The observer can happen upon odors the demonstrator left or other signs of its actions in the area.
But if you have more than one dog, I bet you have seen local enhancement now and again.
Socially Facilitated Behaviors Without Learning
One thing that tripped me up is that it turns out local enhancement doesn’t have to involve learning (Thorpe, 1963, p. 154). Sometimes behavior is elicited socially but there is no behavior change in the future. The examples in my movie are probably of this type.
Some researchers say that local enhancement only takes place if the observer animal interacts at the location after the demonstrator has left (Heyes, 1994, p. 215). That is true in the first of my video examples but is not required by most definitions.
William Hoppitt (2013, p.66), whose definition I included first above, believes that the term local enhancement should be inclusive:
…We suggest that local enhancement be retained to refer to all such location effects, irrespective of whether they result in learning.
He also includes in his definition that the demonstrator animal may be either present or absent. Under that definition, both of the examples in my movie would qualify. When the demonstrator animal is still there, the classification of the observer’s behavior is more difficult. If the observer is interacting at the location at the same time as the demonstrator, we could be seeing general social facilitation. This is the tendency of animals to behave as others in their group are doing (Shettleworth, 2010, p. 467). Consider such contagious behaviors as yawning in humans and barking or fence running in dogs. In one of my examples in the movie, the dogs are attracted to a location but also running around excitedly in a group. There is probably both local enhancement and social facilitation going on.
Thus, local enhancement can end up with two animals doing the same thing at more or less the same place. But it is different from imitation or emulation. These are separate and precisely defined learning methods.
Not Imitation or Emulation
The term imitation has a specific meaning in learning theory.
Imitation: Performing the same action as a demonstrator by virtue of having seen the action performed. The action must be novel… (Shettleworth, 2010, p. 468)
Some definitions stipulate that the observing animal must use the same body parts to perform the behavior they observe. For example, in one study, marmosets watched a demonstrator open a canister. The marmosets that observed a demonstrator using its hands to remove the lids used only their hands. The marmosets that observed a demonstrator using its mouth also used their mouths to remove the lids (Voelkl, 2000). That difference marked their behavior as true imitation.
Emulation means that the observer copies only some of the elements of a complex action (Shettleworth, 2010, p. 468). The behavior by the observer may be different and may or may not achieve the same end as the demonstrator.
Local enhancement is a much looser concept than both of these. But the more I read about it, the more obvious it seems to me that since animals of the same species would respond similarly to the same stimuli in the same location, it would make sense for them to pay attention to what their conspecifics are doing and where. This could be advantageous and selected for.
When Do We See Local Enhancement?
Almost all studies of local enhancement in the natural environment involve foraging behavior. For instance, one animal will see that another has found a good source of food and will go to that area. Or an animal will happen on the scent of a conspecific and will learn to consume the food in that area or of that type.
Lab experiments follow this model as well. Rather than involving foraging, they generally involve a learned behavior that results in food.
Several domesticated species respond to humans in ways that involve local enhancement. One study shows local enhancement behaviors in horses as a response to the presence of a human near food (Krueger, 2011). There are several studies with dogs. Some of the human gestural and pointing studies with canids may involve local enhancement.
One of my examples shows two of my dogs investigating a spot in the grass after another dog had appeared to snap at and possibly eat an insect there. The two other dogs waited until the first dog left, then both went to the spot and sniffed for a while. Anthropomorphically speaking, here’s what I imagine going through their heads. “That was interesting. Is it something I need to know more about? Did she maybe leave a piece or is there another one of those? Do they live here?” In the second example, one dog discovers something alive and exciting under a step on my back porch. This is the one where you can see both local enhancement and socially facilitated behavior. After all the dogs arrived, they ran around excitedly and tried to get at the animal (which stayed safe).
There is a tendency in the dog training world to treat social learning as exempt from learning theory. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depending on the type, social learning includes antecedents, behaviors, consequences, and/or classical associations. It’s just that some of the elements are a little different from what we are used to.
How about your dogs or other animals? Do you see local enhancement? How about between different species?
Dugatkin, L. A. (2004). Principles of animal behavior (No. Sirsi) i9780393976595). New York: WW Norton.
Heyes, C. M. (1994). Social learning in animals: categories and mechanisms. Biological Reviews, 69(2), 207-231.
Hoppitt, W., & Laland, K. N. (2013). Social learning: an introduction to mechanisms, methods, and models. Princeton University Press.
Krueger, K., Flauger, B., Farmer, K., & Maros, K. (2011). Horses (Equus caballus) use human local enhancement cues and adjust to human attention.Animal cognition, 14(2), 187-201.
Shettleworth, S. J. (2009). Cognition, evolution, and behavior. Oxford University Press.
Thorpe, W. H. (1956). Learning and instinct in animals.
Voelkl, B., & Huber, L. (2000). True imitation in marmosets. Animal Behaviour, 60(2), 195-202.
Thank you to Yvette Van Veen and Debbie Jacobs for leading me to some good resources on this topic. All conclusions are my own.
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). 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 15, 2017. 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.