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

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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.

Hannah Branigan in Glasgow

The Awesome Hannah Branigan will be in Scotland for the first time (first time in the UK as well) on the 3rd and 4th Aug. There are a few auditor/observer spots left so please don’t leave it until the last minute if you are thinking of booking as I’d hate for you to miss out.
Hannah is the host of the fabulous Drinking From The Toilet Podcast and author of Awesome Obedience
 
This will be an amazing weekend of dog training with a brilliant and entertaining speaker.

Humility, progress and provocation

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DEEP THOUGHTS (not really)
 
As a dog training community, whether online or in person, we have a number of objectives and interests. We have to educate the public and our clients as best we can and provide them with information which they can actually use. There is most likely a way to stay away from scientific jargon without dumbing down the process of training and why we train without corrections.
 
Then we have discussions to make us better ourselves. By having a better understanding of the science of dog training, keeping up to date with new research which comes out, examining whether things we did 5, 10 or 15 years ago are still valid, needs updating or needs thrown in the bin and to build a tribe of like minded individuals who can we can have these discussions with. This is a big ask and each of us are better at some elements than others but other than a few truly unique individuals (Dr Susan Friedman), none of us are better that all of them than everyone else.
 
Sometimes the two objectives above are at odds with each other, and that’s ok, we can continue to improve until they are not.
 
I would much rather spend the time I have available online discussion how to get better at positive, effective, ethical training with my peers, so I can provide better content and better training than to debate whether we should still be using aversive training methods with others. There are other people out there who are more willing and better able to do that than me.
 
Terms and themes which I think need discussing
 
– the need for our dogs to sit for everything
– the need for our dogs to walk on the left hand side
– the use of the terms quadrants, impulse control, arousal, drive and a few others.
 
My journey with the spectacular dog in the photo has made me consider loads of stuff which I thought was gospel. This can only be a good thing. The need for discussion of the list above has been inspired by Logan and many other great human teachers who I have been honoured to have learned and continue to learn from. The list is only my opinion, it is no less or no more valid than anyone else’s.
 
I hope the picture of his nibs made you smile.
 
Peace and love.

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.

Replacing a problem behaviour

Stella is a young Staffordshire Bull Terrier who comes to work with her human. When Mandy is working, Stella looks for attention by barking and jumping up. When that attention is given in order to settle her, her jumping and barking is inadvertently reinforced, perpetuating the cycle.
There are a number of ways to train this behaviour but we have chosen to train the building blocks individually and then put them together. There are a number of things to consider
-amount of time on her bed
-how far away her person is
-what her person is doing
-what else is going on in the room
-being able to understand the cues she is given
All of these are elements which make this exercise more or less difficult depending on how they are combined. By understanding these elements, and adjusting them accordingly, we can make good progress towards the desired outcome of Stella being settled in her bed while Mandy works.
Once this is achieved, we can use other reinforcers such as petting, smiles, kind words and opportunity to play or go oustide and move away from food.
Also note that we can train this behaviour extremely easily off lead. There is no need to have Stellan on the lead and physically move her in order to achieve this. The above steps were trained in the space of 30 minutes. If Stella doesn’t achieve what we want and gets up, we only need to go back a few steps and build it up again, no need for verbal corrections, no reward markers (ahah or oopsie!) and no need for physical corrections.
Positive reinforcement training in action.

A question of ethics – part 1

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I was at the office today (our local park) doing a consultation with a man and his Labrador, working on recall and loose lead walking (connection). We have a really nice community at the park on weekday mornings, the professional dog walkers, the power walkers without dogs, the recreational cyclists and the dog people walking their own dogs.

There is a fella who I see who has two GSDs who he has trained to a high level from the brief glimpses I get of him (I see him several times over the month). He appears to use positive trainng methods from what I can see. He uses food to reinforce the behaviour which he likes and I’ve never seen him physically correct his dogs. When he asks the dogs to do something though, he’s not really asking, he’s telling.

This fella knows I’m a dog trainer and from reading his body language (he never says hello to anyone etc) I get the impression that’s he is trying to show me how it’s really done. Today (and every other dog he sees me), he put his dogs in a sit stay in the middle of the path and walked away. There were other dogs and people around walking past his dogs. The dogs were transfixed by him and then he called them, they raced towards him and then held a heel position targeting his hands for about 50m or so. They were then reinforced with food. Impressive? Yes, maybe. Ethical? I’m not so sure. If this had been in competition for a dog sport, then yes, it’s impressive. If it had been in preparation for that dog sport competition, then yes, cool also. My issues is that it’s done for the benefit of all those watching and at the dogs’ expense to boot.

For me it would be far more impressive if his dogs were walking with him off lead, moving forward in front of him, sniffing, moving with him when he walked on and behaving in an appropriate social manner with dogs and people. But they’re not. The appear to be automatons, with little choice and not allow ot behave like dogs (I’ve never seen them sniff when out)

Training with positive methods isn’t enough. We need to train with an ethical mindset too. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Until next time, have a great Christmas.

John and the Glasgow Dog Trainer Team

THE most important thing you can ever do with your puppy

Proper socialisation is the most important thing you can do with your puppy until he is 16 weeks old. Inadequate or poor socialisation is something your dog may never recover from. Here are a couple of videos discussion what to do and what not to do.

 

How the environment effects your dog’s behaviour.

A short video on how your dog acts and what they feel is a direct result of what is happening in the environment at that time.

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.