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.

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.

E-collars and the Alley Monster

monster

(Image credit – http://deivcalviz.com/2012/11/01/sketches-and-study-muffins/)

Some of you may or may not know that I was a Police Officer in my former career. I joined the Police as a part time officer in 1992 annd then full time from 1997 until 2015. When I joined, I worked with a fair number of cops who had joined the police in the 1970s and even a few in the 1960s. Attitudes were different in those times and there were not as many female officers. In my intake at The Scottish Police College in 1997, a third of my class were female and this had risen to half by 2005 (or thereabouts). One of the attitudes I would hear fairly often from some male cops, young and old, was that while they had no problem working with a female offiecer, they questioned their ability against the 16 stone (226lbs/102kg) angry man in an alley who needed to be arrested. Looking at it objectively, I would question the overweight, out of shape, 30 cigarettes a day male officer’s ability against that mythical alley monster as well. He was very often the one making the remarks.

I’ll get to the point. In my 10 years full time working in uniform patrol in a busy, high crime area of Glasgow I only once came up against the alley monster and looking back with hindsight, the situation could have been dealt with much less violently than it was. I’m not saying that there were not violent people who we came across in our work, but they were so rare that statistically it made no sense to use this as an excuse not to work with, or be apprehensive about working with, female officers.

And to dog training. One of the excuses/reasons I see often for the the justification of the use of e-collars is that the dogs the trainers are using them on are the last resort, need to be sorted now or they’ll be euthanised alley monsters. To date, I have over 4500 hours of client based experience and at least 50% of those hours are dealing with dogs who are aggressive and reactive. Now, statistically, those numbers would throw at me a higher number of alley monsters than I have seen, if they in fact existed in the numbers e-collar trainers claim they do. Again, I am not saying they do not exist, I’m just stating, from my experience, they just don’t exist in those numbers.

Three times in the last month I have worked with dogs whose owners have said I was their last resort. All three of these dogs were showing  aggressive or reactive behaviours and all three of them are making massive improvements with positive training methods. All three of them had been to other trainers too. I can almost guarantee that those three dogs, had they gone to e-collar trainers, would have had an e-collar out on them with the justification that it was the only option. It wasn’t the only option, we showed that.

Some police officers like the fact that they occassionally deal with and have to defeat alley monsters. I know as a young man I did. It pays into your ego, your sense of toughness, your bravado. Once you have done it a few times, however, there should be enough personal growth and self knowledge that you can do it if required but you should be looking for a less violent solution to the problem. Less violence means less injuries for everyone, less paperwork, less complaints and less lawsuits. A wonderful female detective I worked with used to state “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. If I never have to experience violence again in my life I’ll be happy, I’ve seen more than enough to last me several lifetimes.

The same is true for some trainers. They like dealing with the “violent” dogs. They like seeing them become less aggressive and with some of them, the only way they now how to do this is by using violent means themselves. I get tremendous professional and personal satisfaction when helping owners turn aggression cases around because everyone, including the dog, is less stressed and more peaceful. In committing to a more positive, less violent world, I have to know how to apply less forceful training methods to achieve the same results. It can be done if you commit to learning it and doing it. I know this, because I have.

Happy training.