Quadrants schmadrants

learningquadrant-300x259Ah, the quadrants. The source of many, if not the majority of trainer wars on social media. Several months ago, I nearly caused a riot on my Facebook page with these six simple words

“The quadrants are not a thing”.

I had people unfriending me, calling me names (both in front of me and behind my back, adults, grown men and women), threatening to cancel coming to a couple of presentations I was doing the next month. It all got a bit out of hand. The point of the post was yes, to be inflammatory, but not just for the sake of being so. It was to provoke discussion. My position; overuse and over reliance on the term “quadrants” is limiting and fails our dogs.

Let me go back a stage. The following photographs are from a couple of books by two of the best minds in behaviour, Paul Chance and Susan Schneider. I have read both books, refer to them often and continue to digest them. Paul Chance’s book is a behaviour textbook, referred to in Universities (that’s the places where we teach accountants, engineers, doctors etc). Dr Susan Schneider’s book, although not a textbook, was over ten years in the making and has hundreds of citations. These are people we should be learning from.

I have had the pleasure and honour to have learned from Dr Susan G. Friedman on numerous occasions. Another brilliant mind in the field of learning, Dr Friedman’s advice is to learn behaviour from textbooks and then learn how to apply it from skilled technicians. She further advises not to do the bulk of our learning from opinion pieces (like this one, yes, I know). In doing so, we will excel. Dr Friedman has spent over 20 years working with the best animal trainers in the world and applying ABA to hundreds of species of animals.

So, back to the quadrants. The two authors mentioned, these photos are from their books

and

Look carefully. No mention of the term “quadrants”. Now, yes, Chance refers to positive and negative punishment in this index. No, still no mention of quadrants. From the photos, look at the other terms. How often do you ever hear anyone but the most advanced trainers, or trainers learning from them (like me) refer to these other terms? My bet is rarely, if ever. When we limit ourselves to discussion the “quadrants” and that alone, we ignore the whole breadth and depth and richness of behaviour analysis as a field of study and our dogs (and us) suffer for it as a result.

The next time you get involved in one of these car crash discussions on social media, ask if your opposite number knows what the matching law is. Or a discriminative stimulus. And ask if they further know how to apply it. And if you are reading this and don’t know, then I urge you to find out. If we are going in from the cold, are we seeking warmth or to escape the cold or both? If so, the negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement are at play at the same time. Do you know the difference? Is it always both or sometimes can it only be one? Find out, examine it, study it, think about it and discuss it with people who know more than you do.

Concentrating only on 4 possible outcomes of behaviour (while ignoring extinction) and failing to take into consideration antecedents (distant, intermediate and proximal) and the effects of classical conditioning makes us look foolish. We cannot pick and choose the science we like. Yes, aversive training methods like prong collars and shock collars work, that’s why they are used and continue to be used. But they come at a cost and nearly 100 years of research tells us so. If you revel in the use of all 4 quadrants, read a book on the effects of punishment on the individual. B.F. Skinner wrote all this stuff down.  He was also a man who, having researched this stuff, interacted and taught using positive reinforcement as the driving force. How do I know this? Because I have heard it from his daughter, Dr Julie Vargas, who spoke at the WOOF Training and Behaviour Conference this year.

Stop limiting yourself to discussion of graphic which was used to simplify the glorious study of behaviour as a starting point. Do you still want to be at that starting point a year, 2, 5 or 10 years after you started? I know I don’t and I know I’m not.

Love and peace and good training and learning.

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Logan – Part 30 – much progress

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It’s been a while since I’ve published an update on the boy’s progress. We have been working hard over the last few months and I’ve also done load of CPD which has been very helpful. We attended practical workshops with Kamal Fernandez and Kay Laurence over the last few weeks, and I hosted Sarah Owings from California a couple of weeks ago and we talked at length about how to progress his training. Sarah has been through a very similar process with her dog, Tucker over the last few years.

I’ll write more about the detail of what we have been doing when I have more time. I’m also presenting at the IMDT Conference on Logan as a case study next weekend so I don’t want to give away too many spoilers!

Bullet points I have been helped identifying over the last few months

  • he needs a constructive outlet for his energies (I was doing this to a certain degree but focused what I was doing)
  • different toys for different games; Kongs seem to be too arousing for him if he is chasing them but ok of he is searching for them, soft toys are good for chase and games where I play a bigger role
  • play more co-operative games with him
  • teaching him release cues to fluency so he knows exactly what is expected of him
  • he is not the same dog as he was this time last year, so the reasons for doing stuff or not doing stuff may (and very often are) either not there at all or very different.

Stay tuned for more over the next few weeks, I have plenty of video and thoughts to share.

Thanks for reading.

It’s all (well mostly) about reinforcement

Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog. I asked a question on my Facebook page the other day.(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Glasgow-Dog-Trainer-and-Behaviour-Consultant/137403276291620?ref=hl) What is the single biggest issue you have with your dog? On looking through the answers, there was a common theme about trying to eliminate unwanted behaviours. I’ll address some of the issues as best as I can. When dealing with any dog behaviour/training issue, it’s always absolutely essential that we have at least a basic understanding of reinforcement. Reinforcement simply means that the behaviour is likely to reoccur. If behaviours are reinforced, they will continue. If they aren’t reinforced they won’t. Here I’m only going to address reinforcement. Punishment (the scientific term) is the is about reducing behaviour. Behaviours which are not reinforced will go away. If the dog continues to do the behaviour you don’t want, he is still being reinforced on some level for doing that behaviour, or has a sufficiently long reinforcement history for that behaviour that he’ll continue to keep doing it, with the hope of accessing reinforcement.

If your dog doesn’t have access to reinforcers, he can’t be reinforced for the behaviour which allows him access to it. If the behaviour isn’t reinforced, your dog will stop the behaviour. This may take time, depending on your dog’s history of being reinforced for that behaviour. One of the sometimes frustrating rules of learning is that behaviours which are randomly reinforced, are resistant to extinction i.e they won’t go away. Think of it like a fruit machine at a casino. They pay out randomly to keep you playing. So if your dog has had a history of being reinforced for jumping on people, and you now try to stop it, but your dog is successful on average one time in fifty, this may be enough to motivate your dog to keep trying because sometimes it pays off. Sometimes dogs will work for one chance in twenty, others one time in one hundred, it depends on the dog.

So, to address some of the issues which came up. These are general points designed to illustrate principles of learning and aren’t exhaustive.

1. Jumping. Dogs find attention reinforcing. When a dog jumps, people will generally talk to (shout at), touch (pull) and look at the dog or a combination of the three. The three things which have occurred, are reinforcing to the dog, he now knows jumping gets a reaction and will do it again the next time. If you are still doing these things time and again, and your dog is still jumping up on people, what you are doing isn’t working and we need to try something else. Dogs I work with often jump on me on greeting them the first time. The client generally does a combination of the above. The first thing I ask them to do is just to ignore the dog. If the dog is on leash, I talk a step back, so I’m out of range (the dog can’t touch me) I don’t give eye contact and the dog isn’t reinforced. As soon as the dog stops jumping, or trying to jump on me, I reinforce the “four on the floor” with attention, praise, treats etc. The other technique I use very often is to stand on the leash. I use 6′ leashes for training. This is a good length for a number of things. What it allows me to do here is to drop the leash towards the ground while still holding it in a relaxed manner, and stand on it. I’m not pinning the dog to the ground here, there is still slack so the dog can sit or stand comfortably, but what he can’t to is jump. I’m stopping him from jumping, so he cant be reinforced for it, and behaviours which aren’t reinforced will go away. In this instance, I’d also combine reinforcing the wanted behaviour, four on the floor. this way the dog learns the jumping doesn’t work but four on the floor does.

This can be done for dogs jumping on visitors. Have the dog on a leash when they come in. Calm behaviour allows access to visitors, excited, jumping behaviour doesn’t. If the dog is calm and you release her to say hello and she jumps, you take her back to where she doesn’t have access. Consistency is the key. Remember the rule of random pay off.

2. Barking and growling at kids, visitors, strangers, men, other dogs, cyclists, skateboards. Again, this is a general description based on your dog being fearful/anxious of these things. Give the dog enough distance that he feels safe (generally, the distance that he isn’t reacting). Give him tasty treats or throw a toy for him. Generally, what happens here is that your dog feels scared/anxious and has learned that barking/lunging/growling causes the scary thing to go away. The dog doesn’t realise that the scary thing is likely to go away anyway. What we want to do is keep the dog feeling safe and make him feel better about the scary thing. overtime, we can decrease the distance as the dog feels better about the scary thing. Another approach is to kong train your dog. Every time a visitor arrives, you give the dog a “super” kong filled with the best food. Allow the dog to take this where he wants. He will make the association of visitors coming in with the kong coming out. Make sure the visitor comes in first and don’t give this “super” kong any other time.

3. Attacking the mail. Management can solve this. An external post box means the dog can’t access the mail, can’t attack it, so can’t be reinforced. A basket which the mail falls into helps also. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the most easiest.

Ian Dunbar tells a story of being asked how to stop a Yorkshire Terrier from messing on the bed by a woman at a seminar years ago. He asked her how long this had been going on, to which she told him “every day for 9 years”. He told her to shut the bedroom door. She was delighted. If we stop access to reinforcers, we stop behaviour. Management should always be our first step in training or behaviour modification. This is because it’s easy with some thought and imagination, least aversive for the dog, allows the dog to think, and therefor allows the dog to learn.

If your dog is doing something you don’t like, think about what she is being reinforced with. The more we understand this, the more successful we will be and the more successful our relationship with our dog will be.

I’ll address some problems with recall next week.

Preparing your dog for a new baby

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The arrival of your baby is a tumultuous time for everyone. When we decide to have children, we are making a life changing decision. This impacts us all and certainly has consequences for your dog. You will now have less time on your hands than you did before. From my own experience with my children, you very quickly forget what you did with your time before they arrived and in the first few weeks it wasn’t unusual for me still to be in my pajamas at 11am despite getting out of bed at 6 am.

Most of us know that our baby is arriving well in advance of the due date. This gives us at least 6 or 7 months to train our dog to do all the things we need our dog to do when the baby arrives. Most of us only need the dog to entertain himself for a while when we are doing something else, so we can attend to the baby’s feeding, bathing and changing.

To start with, I would recommend feeding your dog most, if not all of her food from Kongs or similar stuffable dog toy. Please see the attached link for how to go about this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EuY98sRPb8

Along with training your dog to eat from her Kong, I would also recommend that you give a clear indication to your dog that your attention is now unavailable. An easy way to do this is to but an item where your dog can see it. I would suggest something like a clock or large picture frame. This way, your dog will make the connection that when the clock comes out, you now don’t pay the dog attention. To condition your dog to this, practice once or twice a day, every day. Vary the amount of time you leave the clock out for, sometimes a few minutes, sometimes up to half an hour. Put the clock out and ignore your dog. I would advice giving your dog his kong most of the time at the start (to keep him entertained), and then vary between giving him the kong when the clock is out and not giving him the kong. This way, you are teaching him that sometimes he will not have his kong when the clock is on show, as there will be times when you will not be able to put his kong out when you are dealing with the baby. The only thing the clock/picture frame means to the dog is that your attention is unavailable. He gets his kong very often when the clock is out, but sometimes he doesn’t. When you put the clock away, make a big fuss of him, pet him, tell him he’s a good boy and maybe give him a treat. This will let him know that he is allowed to comes and  say hello again.

Your dog also needs to become accustomed to the sound of a crying baby and your actions around her. There are loads of sounds you can download from the internet of crying babies. Stick them onto your ipod or phone. Buy or borrow a realistic looking baby doll. Wrap the doll up in a baby blanket, put the ipod on top of the doll and let your dog hear the “baby” crying and see your actions when she does. This will go some way to getting him used to the new arrival crying and your bizarre new actions. You can put the clock out at this time or not, but if you don’t, remember that the dog is allowed to approach you if he wants to.

When the baby arrives, take an extra blanket to the hospital. Your husband or partner can then bring this blanket home and let the dog smell it. The blanket need to be held in your hand and encourage the dog to be gentle around it rather than boisterously investigating it.

Your new baby coming into your home is a wonderful time but it can be stressful. With a little planning, forethought and some training, you can reduce this stress for both you and your dog.

Classical conditioning vs NILIF

Play with your dog
Play with your dog

 

Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF), Learn to Earn. You may be familiar with these terms. They were devised, probably by well intention people, to allow you to use what your dog routinely gets in his life as ways to train him. The other thing some NILIF advocates is that your dog is behaving in a poor manner because he has unlimited access to resources, is spoiled or thinks he’s the “boss” or you are not the “pack leader”.

Now, some of what I say in this blog may seem contradictory as you read it, but it’s the reason why we are doing it, and the scientific reasons for it’s success/effectiveness which are important.

Following on from last week’s blog, I’ll define a couple of terms again, in simple terms (very simple)

1. Classical conditioning – learning by association.

2. Operant conditioning – learning by trial and error

3. Reinforcement – anything which causes the increase in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour

4. Punishment – anything which causes the decrease in the duration/frequency/intensity of a behaviour

5. Positive/negative – adding(+)/subtracting(-) something from the dog’s environment. In training/learning, it     doesn’t mean good or bad. We have positive and negative punishment and positve and negative reinforcement.

Proper understanding of the terms is important, because it allows us to have a greater understanding of what we are doing during training and why we are doing it.

So, to get back on topic. NILIF protocols advocate taking everything away from your dog if he isn’t behaving the way you want him to behave. The dog has no free access to food, toys or people for petting, playing etc. Further, every time your dog wants something, he has to earn it. You can’t just give your dog something, like a rub on the ear, just because he’s your pal and you want to. He has no access to toys he can play with himself, like chewing on a nylabone or kong, or playing with a squeaky plush toy to keep himself amused. Every morsel of food, every game you play with your dog, every time you want to pet her depends on her doing something you want her to do like sitting politely or coming when called.

The NILIF protocol says that when you decide you want to, you give the dog all the good things, and don’t when you don’t want to. What can happen here, is that if owners can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to interact with their dogs, they now have permission not to. It further recommends that if your dog approaches you for attention, ignore him, but when he walks away, then call him back and pet him then. That way, you are dictating access to you, not the other way around.

Now, if you haven’t already thought about this, this can lead to a very sad and frustrated dog. The day before you instigated this programme, your dog was fed regularly, had toys to play with, could come and say hi when he wanted to and you’d say hi back. Now his whole life has been changed, and as far as he’s concerned, not for the better and he can become depressed. The dog can also become demanding if this happens as he is trying desperately to get attention.

The other side of this, is that we can do very similar things to NILIF, but for different reasons and obtain hugely different results. These are all training programmes I’ve learned from the best trainers in the world such as Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Ken Ramirez and Kathy Sdao, among many others. Your dog has to eat. Hopefully, you like going out for walks, playing with your dog and giving them attention and petting. Your dog likes, and needs, these things too. So let’s use them for training. This is where it does become different.

1. Your dog’s food – food is a primary reinforcer. So let’s use it to train our dog. It reinforces behaviour, so when your dog sits, give him a piece of kibble so he’s more likely to do it again. Take your dog’s food out on a walk with you. Sit on a park bench and every time a person or dog walks past, give him a piece of food. This way he learns dogs and people means food comes out which makes him feel good and with enough practice, dog’s and people approaching makes him feel good with there being no food present (classical conditioning) and you are reinforcing him for paying attention to you when people or dogs are around (operant conditioning using positive reinforcement).

2. Your dog’s toys. Let him play with his own toys. He has his, I have mine. Mine are a couple of balls on ropes and a tug toy. He gets to play with his by chewing on them, maybe throwing them in the air and catching them. I let him play with mine, but only when I’m there and there are rules attached, but mine are more fun, beacsue I’m involved in the play. My toys move, I throw throw them and I tug on them. She gets to chase them and tug on them back. The rules are be careful with your teeth, and give them back when I ask you to. I don’t play with my dog’s toys but I do allow her to play with mine, because they are fun (for both of us) and because I can train her when playing.

Your dog enjoys playing tug or chasing a ball, you play tug or throw the ball, your dog will now enjoy playing with you (classical conditioning). You give your dog a game of tug or throw the ball when they come back to you you are now using positive reinforcement to train a recall.

There’s also loads you can do for free for your dog which is still training your dog and classically conditioning you to him in a beneficial way. Playing long games of tug in the garden with your dog, for no reason other than having fun, classically conditions your dog that you are a great, fun guy to be around, Further to that, now when you give your dog a short game of tug after a recall or a down stay, he has that long history of big tug games to refer to and it is much more powerful. Similarly, petting your dog for 40 minutes in the evening when you are sitting reading or watching TV means that clapping your dog when he does something you like now has more meaning.

One of the main differences between this approach and NILIF is that it doesn’t give you permission to do nothing. Your dog needs daily exercise and stimulation for a full life. The more we use our dogs food and play and attention for training, the better trained our dog will be. If you use a quarter of your dogs food for training, rather than all of it, you will only get a quarter of the benefit. That said, you don’t need to hand feed it all, put what you don’t use in a Kong or other stuffable toy and you are now teaching your dog to entertain herself, chew an appropriate item and be calm. The minimum we can do with this, if we’re motivated to is to give all daily food in toys or food puzzles so you are at least getting that benefit from it.

A programme like this leads to a well trained, sociable dog, and a truly deep relationship with you.