January 13th, 2014
Trainers who focus on positive reinforcement are often quoted as saying that you should “ignore” unwanted behavior, and this is often confusing to people who are new to positive-training mindset. Critics often use this phrase to pour derision on positive trainers, because it makes it seem like we're not interested in addressing “bad” behavior at all. But the problem is that the word “ignore” is used as a shorthand for a bigger concept, although it’s usually heard in a more common sense of the term.
We don't mean “don’t pay attention to it, pretend it doesn't exist and maybe it will go away”. We're not in denial. We mean, “Don't feed it; don't give it fuel to grow”.
The motivations that drive a behavior or class of behaviors may have two components (although they overlap) – an emotional component, and a consequence component. A dog that is acting out of fear, for example he’s lunging at strangers, is motivated by the negative emotion of fear; often the consequences of the action is that a scary thing is removed so the consequence is a reinforcement of the behavior. A dog that is acting out of loneliness or boredom – destroying garden hoses, for example – has an emotional driver and a boredom-relieving reward.
So when your dog is doing a behavior you don't like, don't do nothing. By all means, interrupt it in the moment. Then, if it’s an ongoing behavior, take some time to think about the underlying emotions and the possible consequences that might be driving it.
If your dog is working to gain some consequence, try to prevent that consequence from happening. This is easiest if the consequence comes directly from you, for example if the dog is barking at you to get attention from you, or jumping up on you to greet you. One way to prevent unwanted consequences from reinforcing unwanted behaviors is to avoid the situations that you know will produce the sequence – don’t approach scary strangers when you’re not prepared to train. Don’t interact with your dog when he’s jumping on you in greeting – unless you're prepared to direct him to do some other behavior that will (for the moment) pay off even better (such as cueing the dog to “sit” and then rewarding that with attention AND a food treat or a toy or some other consequence that will make a big impact).
If your dog is bored or lonely, finding a way to make his alone time more interesting (food toys, more exercise before and after so he spends more time sleeping) will help. If the dog is working out of “negative” emotions – fear, pain, loneliness, boredom, confusion – you should find some way to alleviate these emotions. This is why so many behaviorists are now encouraging you to comfort your dog when he’s scared – if you add a positive emotion to a negative one, it merely reduces the negative emotion. This is why it’s important to not scold or attempt to punish behavior that is derived from negative emotions – although you may feel like at least you’re doing something, and it may temporarily stop (interrupt) the behavior, you're still feeding the sequence, adding fuel to the engine that is being run on negative emotion (usually fear).
Have a training plan, so that when the behavior you don't like shows up again, you are prepared to deal with it – without fueling it, or feeding it, and inadvertently making it stronger. That’s what we mean by “ignore unwanted behavior”.
July 2nd, 2013
I’m reading the Whole Dog Journal
’s October 2012 review of canned foods
. It just happened to be the issue on the top of the pile when I grabbed for catch-up reading material, but it’s great timing. A few months ago, my lovely mother-in-law gave me a big can (22 oz) of Purina Alpo dog food – somehow it ended up in her possession and as she doesn’t have a dog and I do, she gave it to me. And I spent months trying to decide what to do with it. I didn’t want to feed it to my dog – that’s like taking my child for a week’s worth of McDonald’s, I thought. But it didn’t feel right donating it to a shelter – stressed dogs in shelters deserve better food. But then any donation would be good, right? In the meantime it sat in the garage, not far from my dog’s food. And this morning my dear husband, in a completely good faith effort to be helpful, opened it to add to our dog’s breakfast.
So now I have this opened can of Alpo, as well as an opened can of Nature's Variety "Instinct Rabbit Formula" (which I had painstakingly picked out), and an article on what to look for in canned dog foods.
WDJ suggests that you avoid unnamed meats, meat by-products, wheat gluten and other starchy thickeners, and added colors and flavorings. Guess what Alpo has! Oh yes – all of these. WDJ recommends looking for whole, named meat sources as the first few ingredients (they said that good-quality foods can
include water as the first ingredient), named organs, limited grains. Guess what Instinct has! All of these.
Instinct had one ingredient that I didn’t know about: Montmorillonite clay. A quick google search got me a quick approval
and of course I was able to find it mentioned in several other WDJ articles on food (like this one
for example) – as a source of minerals.
Here's what the two cans had on their labels.Alpo Chop House
– “100% complete and balanced”
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 8%, fat (min) 2%, crude fiber (max) 1.5%, water (max) 82%
Ingredients (in order):
Wheat gluten (fourth ingredient, really?!)
Corn starch modified
Natural t-bone steak flavor
Chemical soup (a lot of chemicals that I couldn’t bother straining my eyes to read, especially as it’s black print on a red background!)Instinct Rabbit
– “complete and balanced”
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 10%, fat (min) 7.5%, crude fiber (max) 3%, water (max) 75% (plus various vitamins)
Ingredients (in order):
Dried sea kelp, salt, potassium chloride, taurine, minerals (various)
Artichokes, cranberries, pumpkin, tomato, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, kale, parsley – these were the last of many ingredients so “not contributing much” in the words of Whole Dog Journal, or “homeopathic amounts” as my husband would say (he is not a believer in homeopathy).
My conclusion – I’m glad that I normally feed my dog something like Instinct (that’s not always what I get, but I always get something similar).
I still don’t what I’m going to do with ¾ can of Alpo in my fridge…
June 19th, 2013
Sometimes, the hardest animal for a behaviorist to train is one’s own self. I’ve been experimenting with three programs that are supposed to help with that.
The first one I tried is a website called Funl, at www.goFunl.com
. In Funl, you set up any number of Habits and you give each one a dollar value or “financial incentive”, then you set up any number of Rewards, and you can decide which habits will feed into which rewards. In other words, you can assign “Go to the gym” a dollar value of $5, say, and pick a reward of “Buy new shoes” which cost $90 (I’m making this up; I neither use the gym nor really buy shoes).
Of course, the money you’re dealing with is all yours – Funl is not actually paying you for your habits, but instead giving you a way to “monetize” your habits. When you do spend your own money to splurge on your reward, you at least feel like you’ve earned it. Funl’s creators are also hoping to reduce “the world's reliance on credit card debt…. [and] decrease impulse buying behaviour.”
Funl does not as yet have a dedicated smartphone app, but you can put a shortcut to their website on your home screen to take you there to easily check off the habits you’ve done that day – helpful for immediate reinforcement if you’re on-the-go and forgetful.
I started by setting a low value of $1 on one habit, Practicing Buugeng (Buugeng are s-shaped staffs that are spun around while dancing – see, for example, the master/inventor demonstrating here
) and the goal of saving towards a big ticket item – in this case a $98 Laser Star Projector
(that I’ve been coveting for a while but couldn’t justify spending my money on). I figured that if I practiced daily, I could earn this toy in three months. However, this was a dumb starting move – it was lumping, not splitting, setting a high criteria before reaching my reinforcement. Having a low-probability behavior (one that you’re not likely to do anyways) priced at a low value, combined with a high-value reward is a bad combination to start with. I would recommend, going forward, starting with a behavior/goal combination that can result in a small reward with five or fewer repetitions. If I were starting over, I’d probably say something like 5 repetitions of this habit would earn me a nice new purple Sharpie pen or something like that. Nothing too extravagant, but I can easily afford it, I wouldn’t be buying it otherwise, and when I used the new pen I’d be reminded of how I earned it.
Another option is to combine the habits – you can have more than one habit that can feed into the same Reward. You could “earn” money towards your goal by any of the habits you might do, for example, practicing a dance, weighing yourself, drinking 8 glasses of water in a day, and replying to all your emails. This would get you to your goal much faster. However, I have a feeling that this would “dilute” the value of each practice. With just one habit, you’d know that you’d earned your reward due to your diligence in that behavior. With several habits feeding into one reward, you might think, I don’t need to do this one habit, because I’m still earning my Reward through all these other habits. However, I can see combining various habits within a category, such as “dance practice”, “physical fitness”, “good business practices”, “family time” etc.
Funl doesn’t really give advice on what kinds of habits to use, so you have to have some awareness of what does and doesn’t work. With any behavior, it’s important to quantify it. You want to avoid vague behaviors like “eat less” or “exercise more”; you want something that you can say without question that you did it (or not), such as “eat less than 1500 calories a day” or “walk for 20 minutes”. It’s OK if the habit that you write down is vague (like “Process Daily Folder” or “Practice Buugeng”) as long as you know what that means (going to each day’s “tickle file” folder, taking out all the paperwork that’s in it, and process them, refilling any pages that need it; or “practice spinning Buugeng for at least 10 minutes”).
Funl tells you your overall total for each habit; it does not tell you your frequency. So if you’re doing your would-be daily habit only once a week, it will still add up (slowly) and you won’t really be shown the difference.
One of the problems with self-reinforcement is finding a reward you can afford – either financially, or in terms of time, or in terms of letting go of other priorities. After all, if it was something you could easily give yourself, you’d do it already. On the other hand, if the reward matches the habit, it could work out. For example, if the Habit is “stay under calorie goal each day”, and you have to do a week’s worth, and the reward is “reasonably-sized bowl of ice cream”, it might be a good rare reward, rather than being counter-productive. If the goal is a financial stretch, habits that help you save money (packing a lunch instead of buying it, ordering water instead of drinks in a restaurant, planning a week’s purchases) might in fact earn you the reward. Of course you can put a dollar-value on an otherwise free indulgent experience, such as “take a bubble bath”, “take a day off of work and go to the beach”, or “watch a trashy TV show”.
One disadvantage of Funl is that there does not seem to be a social component. Although there’s an option for each habit to make it “public”, I didn’t see any way of accessing other users’ habits or giving them feedback. This means there’s no one to hold you accountable if you haven’t practiced your habit in a while, and there’s no one to give you props when you do. Social support can also be a vital component of non-financial rewards, such as someone agreeing to take your kids for a few hours so you can indulge in a bubble bath, or a circle of friends who offer to buy you lunch if you reach your goal.
This social aspect is the advantage of Lift. Lift is a website
and a smartphone app. You can pick a habit that others have created and join in, or create your own. Plenty of people have already put in things like “weigh daily”, “go to the gym”, “inbox zero”, and practices of various sports and musical instruments. I added “Practice Buugeng” to this app, too, as well “Weight Daily”, “Process Daily Folder”, and “Go to sleep by midnight” (this last one should actually be more like “Be in bed with the lights off by midnight”, in my opinion, so that’s my description of it in my head. I can’t actually control if I’m ASLEEP by then, only if I’ve made a good faith effort to get off the computer and put down the book).
Lift shows you an accumulation of what you’ve done, but it doesn’t have a way of showing that you’re approaching a goal the way Funl does. Of course, you can still say “once I’ve done this 45 times, I can indulge in this particular reward because I’ll know I’ve earned it”. In Lift, you can connect with friends and follow their progress, and anyone sharing the same “goal” (habit) can also give you feedback. Lift itself will prompt you to do at least one of your habits daily, and will give you little R+ messages like “you’ve reached a mini milestone” and “Way to go!”.
One other program I’ve been using for a over a year (with great results) is MyFitnessPal
. This is a website and smartphone app that tracks one thing: your calorie accounting for the day. You can put in what you’ve eaten, and what exercise you’ve done. It will give you several metrics, including whether you are over or under your goal, and how your intake breaks down in terms of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and even a few vitamins and minerals; it tracks your weight as you input it, and will announce when you’ve lost weight and how much you’ve lost overall. It will note how many days in a row you’ve completed your food/exercise diary (although if you skip a day it resets so you don’t get a cumulative count or a count per week, month, or year).
It is also a social app; you can connect with friends and they can see when you’ve completed your accounting for the day (and if you choose, you can even let them see what you listed that you ate), when you’ve logged for a milestone number of days, how much weight you’ve lost (but not gained!), and if you’ve been absent for a few days – presumably so that they can encourage you to get back to it. While it’s sometimes tedious to write down everything you’ve eaten, a lot of brand name foods are already programmed in (chain restaurants, supermarket foods) and you can even scan the barcode of packaged foods. It will also remember your frequent meals and what you’ve eaten recently, making the logging of leftovers or habitual meals very easy.
It’s easy enough to say to yourself, “When I reach X weight, I will reward myself with Y”, but it would be kind of nice if MyFitnessPal did this the way Funl does.
In short, I’d love an app or system that combines all three – the multiple behaviors of Funl and Lift, the social components of Lift and MyFitnessPal, and the counting towards a reward of Funl.
Then I’d have no excuse for not achieving all of my behavioral habit goals!
April 24th, 2013
This is a review and summary of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. This is another book that I “read” on audiobook on loan from the library – but then I liked it so much, I went out and bought a hard copy. Here are some notes from it.
Willpower can also be thought of as impulse control, self-discipline, focus, resisting temptation, and decision making. Willpower can affect many aspects of “success” in life. Willpower can allow us to reach long-term goals by overcoming short-term difficulties, distractions, and temptations.
Willpower can be depleted in the short term through tests of discipline, focus, and resisting temptation, but can be temporarily restored somewhat with blood glucose (sugar for short-term gain, protein for longer) and of course sleep. The depletion is not intuitively obvious, but you can look for symptoms – such as moodiness or intensification of feelings, reluctance or laziness, being more easily annoyed or frustrated, having a harder time making decisions. (I have noticed myself that when I’m hungry I have a terrible time deciding what to eat and I’ll often give in to lazy impulses such as buying really lousy greasy fast food). If you notice these symptoms, you can try to avoid decision-making or pay greater attention to long-term consequences.
Baumeister called the “diminished capacity to regulate their thoughts, feelings and actions” as “ego depletion”, after Freud’s idea of the part Self that regulates and controls the other two parts (id and superego). I find this an awkward phrase but perhaps better than “akratic”, from the Greek word akrasia
meaning lacking command over oneself, acting against one's better judgment, not doing what one genuinely wants to do. This is “the problem of knowing the best thing to do but not doing it”
. According to Wikipedia
, “it encompasses procrastination, lack of self-control, lack of follow-through, and any kind of addictive behavior”.
Interestingly, there’s a whole section on how women dealing with PMS have a harder time with impulse control, and this is explained in that the body is putting more energy – and blood glucose - into the ovaries and supporting systems, causing a craving for more fuel and leaving less for the willpower system. (The authors do note that women generally less likely to “suffer from lapses of self-control” than men, but they stop short of explaining that during this luteal phase, women become almost as impulsive and short-tempered as men.) This reminds me of my friend’s joke that Nutella comes in three jar sizes – small, large, and ovulating!
The good news is, willpower can be strengthened over time through almost any discipline exercise. Any time you practice willpower, self-control, decision-making, focus, etc., you are strengthening it for the long term – just like a muscle, which can be tired after a workout but will eventually grow stronger if you keep working it regularly. During a moment of willpower strength, you can plan new habits such as exercising regularly, learning a new skill, planning healthier eating habits. Take a long-range view of how you want your life to change.
Because there’s a limited supply, you’re better off setting up good disciplined habits so that you don’t have to devote much effort to routine expectations. Self-control is best used to develop effective habits and routines, to avoid emergencies rather than to deal with them; to “play offense instead of defense”. Or, as the authors say, “The best way to reduce stress in your life is to stop screwing up”. This is where a knowledge of how to build and maintain habits comes in handy; the authors didn’t go into this very much but that was outside the scope of this book (see, for example, The Power of Habit
Disciplined habits take less energy and conscious efforts – so the more you practice disciplined behaviors, the easier they become (and the less strain they make on your daily allotment of willpower). They will also cause you spend less of this reserve on decision-making.
Some other hints:
You can use pre-commitments to help you stick to your habits. These make it unthinkably immoral, disgraceful or sinful to break your resolve. Make it “impossible, in advance, to fail through weakness of will” as Stanley’s biographer wrote. You can make your commitments public (literally or by disclosing them to a few friends) for a social check. The authors mention the website StickK.com as a place to set a goal – and a financial punishment if you do not meet it (you pledge to donate money to a cause – either one you love, or for even more incentive, one you hate. I first heard about this concept on a RadioLab episode
where a woman quit smoking to avoid her pledge to donate to the KKK if she didn’t!).
Neat and orderly surroundings promote self-discipline (even if someone else created the neatness).
Procrastination seldom pays off – people feel they work better under deadline pressure but their work is often of less quality and the stress can be bad for their health. You should make an honest assessment of how long similar tasks have taken and plan the next project accordingly. Procrastinators usually justify it by doing other tasks, even if these weren’t their priorities (or even detrimental); one option is “the nothing rule” (a “bright-line” rule) of “I will work on this task or I will do nothing.”
Unfinished tasks tend to sap your willpower supply, but making a specific plan of how and when you will take the next step will be less taxing. You can follow the “getting things done” method of making specific steps and putting them on a list.
Be aware of the hot-cold empathy gap – the inability to realize what you will feel like in the moment of temptation; cool deliberation vs heat-of-the-moment reactivity. You can precommit with bright-line rules, declarations, and lofty goals. This is what RadioLab
called “You versus You”
You can use distractions to avoid temptations. Even just looking away from a temptation will help in the short term, but some of the best distractions are focusing on ultimate or “lofty” goals. Narrow, concrete here-and-now concepts works against self control; broad, abstract concepts and enduring ideals support self-transcendent thoughts and control. Feeling that you have a “sacred task or duty”, or are devoted to or guided by a Higher Power or deity will help with self-control. So will social support – it helps if you speak your goals out loud to an audience, especially peers who are also achieving the same or similar control.
Self-monitor, and reward yourself often. Remember, habits are set into place through rewards. Rewards do not have to be substantial, but they should be meaningful to you. And it goes without saying that the rewards should not be detrimental to your goals – don’t pig out on ice cream to reward yourself for healthy eating! Rewards can also be negative reinforcement – you can give yourself a break from a less-desired task as a reward for doing another task (as in the inventor who gave herself 5 minutes off her daily hour of swimming).
There is a chapter on raising disciplined children (comparing “self-esteems” raising methods with teaching good habits). As a parent, I appreciate this chapter. The authors suggest offering money rewards to students for getting good grades, and as an animal trainer (and parent) I have to disagree with them here. I’d recommend rewards for doing their homework or spending time studying, for having disciplined habits and for planning out projects (especially in light of the author’s discussion of how people often underestimate how much time it will take them to do a project). It’s more effective to reward someone for something that they have control over – the effort they expend on something – than something they do not have complete control over – the grade that the teacher eventually gives them.
I love the fact that the authors had a whole section on the special case of dieting. Dieting is particularly difficult for a number of reasons, physiological and mental. Physiologically, willpower and self-discipline are harder when you’re hungry (low blood glucose). Mentally, many of the ways we try to change our diets are putting more strain on our willpower reserves. Some hints:
- When your nutrition needs are not healthy, your body has a harder time with all aspects of self control. A healthy diet (and good sleep) go a long way towards having more willpower.
- Set realistic goals; most weight-loss plans fail because the goals of how much or how quickly are too unrealistic.
- Avoid the “what the hell” effect – if you break your eating rules, don’t throw the rest of them out, just keep going
- Relearn your body’s cues for when you are hungry – and full. Don’t deny yourself food when you’re hungry, just eat healthy food
- Plan your meals, snacks and “bright line” rules when you’re “cold” (not willpower-depleted). Plan to serve yourself a certain limited amount, or eat when you can pay attention (not while watching TV). Rules like “I will only eat ice cream from a bowl, never from the carton”; “I will only go shopping after a meal”; and “I will not buy potato chips.”
- You can use “implementation intentions” and “If-then” rules to prepare (for example, “if there are cookies at the party, I will only eat one” or “if I’m hungry between and 2 and 6 PM, I will eat a pickle”.)
- Use positive procrastination: I will have some of that LATER (this might also work for other temptations, such as TV shows you’d rather watch or websites you’d rather surf instead of doing work).
- Self-monitor – log your food, be aware of what and how much you’re eating (disregard healthy claims such as “fat free” or “low salt”) and weigh yourself daily. Keep in mind that alcohol reduces self-awareness, and that larger plates and glasses make servings look smaller.
- Postpone rather than deny treats: Not now, but later. Not today, but tomorrow.
I picked up this book because I felt it followed well with the last two books I’d read – The Power of Habit
, and The Science of Consequences
. I read it for hints on how I could improve dog training – either to effect the dogs themselves, or their owners. Many of the dogs I work with are “impulse challenged”; they have little self-control and are quick to react, sometimes irrationally, to many triggers. This book reinforced the idea that impulse-control, resisting temptation, and focus can all be learned (although the book does not focus at all on animal training – as can be judged from the subtitle). But I found the book immensely satisfying on a personal level as well. I highly recommend it!
March 27th, 2013
The Human Half of Dog Training
by Risë VanFleet
There have been a few books out there that focus on how to deal with clients (such as Nicole Wilde’s “It’s Not the Dog, It’s the People!
”), and a few that compare how humans and dogs perceive the world (such as Patricia McConnell’s excellent “The Other End of the Leash
” and Alexandra Horowitz‘s “Inside of a Dog
”), but this is the first book I know of that really addresses the vital skills that dog trainers really need to effectively, professionally, and sympathetically communicate with our clients.
In essence, VanFleet is proposing that the trainer should see the owner as a collaborator in helping the dog. Dog trainers should give their clients hope for success, should make them feel that they are up to the task of solving their dog’s problems (with the trainer’s help). This is not a huge leap since most of us generally see trainer, owner and dog as all on “the same team”. But it’s that mindset that really helps. Then she gets down to some incredibly practical hints.
A lot of the book has to do with learning and practicing forms of active listening
, to really hear what a client is saying – and to let them know they’re being heard. Once you’ve heard their concerns, you can explain to the client how you can help them meet their needs, and then you can come up with goals to focus on. Suggestions should clarify how the training will meet the client’s needs (and the trainer has to set aside her own goals and use active listening to truly hear what the client’s needs are). Phrases like, “You’ve told me that you want…” can be followed by “I’m going to suggest things that you can do so that [you can get what you want]”.
I think that positive reinforcement trainers are used to reframing clients’ goals from negative into positive: teaching “sit” instead of “don’t jump” or “walk on a loose leash” from “stop pulling”. We want to teach the dog what to do rather than just somehow squashing what they are currently (usually instinctively) doing. VanFleet points out that it’s important that we make it clear to the client that this meets their needs, without making them feel offended. So for example, instead of launching into a long discussion about the fallacies of dominance theory, you can tell a client “You want your dog to listen to you and walk without pulling”. There’s a whole section on dealing with clients who are too caught-up in faulty dominance theories; she suggests reframing their need to be a “pack leader” as, “You want a dog who respects you and does what you ask” (p.55). This is critical during the initial meeting with the client; you need the client’s buy-in so that they participate in the program (to whatever extent you’re expecting – this is still vitally important in “day training” or board-and-train situations), not to mention needing them to commit to paying you! If you can get them to commit to a relationship with you now, there will be time to discuss the theories behind dog behavior later, and agreeing that you want some of the same goals as the client will help. VanFleet stresses, “by listening carefully to the actual needs behind the labels, and then reframing them into positive statements of goals, the behaviorist [can shift] the conversation to what really mattered to [the client] – a well-behaved and responsive dog” (p.33).
In essence, this positive statement of a client’s goals that VanFleet is describing is also what Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of “Switch
”, calls a destination postcard
– “a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible” (Switch
, p. 78). Painting this picture for a client can help get client and behaviorist on the same team.
VanFleet has a very insightful chapter on “cognitive distortions”, ways of looking at the world that might affect someone’s perceptions – both in the client and the trainer. She notes that if you feel you have strong negative emotions about a case, “It can be a cue to look for distortions in your own thinking, either about yourself or about he client, or even about the dog” (p. 43). Your own feelings of frustration or annoyance might be a cue to use empathetic listening to find the client’s feelings below their words. You can be more rational about it with active listening and looking at the facts and details from various angles. One piece of advice I particularly liked was replacing any thoughts that included “should” with “I prefer” or “I would really like” (p. 44).
VanFleet uses a phrase I’ve been using for years to figure out a client’s priorities: the “magic wand”. I usually say, “If I had a magic wand and could instantly fix one thing about this dog, what would it be?” I’ve learned to not be surprised when the client’s number one goal is not what I’d expect. I usually then go on to say, “Actually, you get three wishes. What are the other two going to be?”. If I feel strongly that they’re missing something – they don’t seem to mind the dog growling at the kids or hiding behind them whenever a stranger reaches out – I’ll still bring it up. But I’ve learned that often barking, housetraining, and not bolting out the doors may be the keys to an individual client’s feelings of contentment about their dog.
There are some great sections on empathic listening – not just listening to find out what a client’s goals are, but to have an understanding of the client’s feelings. VanFleet suggests that you acknowledge such feelings in words, without judgment, saying, “You were upset” or “You’re frustrated, you’re at the end of your rope” or “You feel sad for your dog” or “That feels awful for you” (p. 67). This can be hard to get in the habit of, especially if it’s not being modeled by people around you. Although I don’t think VanFleet suggests this, I have found that an easy way to practice these sorts of things is with the dogs themselves. I’ll say things like, “You’re so frustrated that you can’t greet that other dog” or “Strangers trying to touch you are scary for you” (it doesn’t matter if I’m alone with the dog or not. If the client is there, then they get some added experience in empathy for their dog. If there is no other human with me, then what the heck – I’m a crazy dog lady anyways!). This gives me a chance to practice using these kinds of phrases without risking the embarrassment of saying it to a client (or my child) – just like we practice how a dog will act around a trigger without presenting the trigger at first!
To a certain extent this book (like some others) reminded me a lot of one of my favorite parenting books, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. I liked this book and thought so much about how to apply these methods not just to kids but to clients, that I presented a webinar
on it. VanFleet seems to have taken a lot of the same idea and combined it with a lot of her personal knowledge and experience both with human psychology and with being a dog trainer.
As I was getting near the end of the book, I happened to coincidentally stumble upon a TED talk by Julian Treasure called “Five Ways to Listen Better
”. Treasure uses the acronym RASA (which means “essence” in Sanskrit) to abbreviate
- Receive (pay attention)
- Appreciate (Ah, Hm!)
- Summarize (So…)
- Ask (Ask questions afteward)
Receive means to pay attention. Appreciate is like the active listening that VanFleet recommends; Faber and Mazlich suggest that simple phrases like “Ah!” and “I see” are good ways to let someone know you’re listening. When you summarize you can say, “So, what I think you’re saying is you’re frustrated by X, and what you want is Y” (using the reframing that VanFleet proposes). Treasure and VanFleet both suggest that you not interrupt a speaker with questions; you can ask questions to clarify details later.
VanFleet (like many others) suggests abandoning general praise for pointed praise. Examples are phrases like “I like how you kept watching your dog as you did that” and “I can see that you’ve slowed things down and are not bending over her so much anymore. That’s super.” Remember that the power of a marker signal (like a clicker) is that it can highlight a precise moment of behavior and so be more influential than general praise or a treat given without precise timing; human language can act in the same way to highlight specific actions or moments. This kind of praise has been shown by many people to be more effective than a generic “good job” or “you’re doing great”. You can use phrases like “I like that you did…”, “I see that…”, “It was nice when…” and “The dog responded well when…”.
There’s an extensive section of how to tell clients what needs to change, including “At the end of every training session, it is valuable to summarize several things that the person did well and give them just one or two things to concentrate on for the next time” (p 108).
Then there’s a fabulously useful section on dealing with children in dog training situations, including how to stop parents from overly-criticizing their kids (“That’s okay, I’ll give feed back as she goes along…”) and how to deal when kids do potentially hurtful things to the dog (by describing the dog’s reaction and naming the dog’s probably feelings). And there is another section on dealing with group classes and the different personality types that you might encounter there.
Overall, I found this book to be a fabulous resource – even though I feel like I have heard some of the advice before, it was great to have it tailor-made for the situations that I and my colleagues deal with every day. I strongly recommend it for any professional dog trainer!
March 24th, 2013
This isn’t so much a book review as it is a series of notes from this book, The Science of Consequences
by Susan M. Schneider. Overall, the book was very good. It covers the familiar basics of operant conditioning in a fresh way, and dives into some of the more detailed mechanisms of how the neurology works. It even goes into some fascinating discussion of how consequences (rewards and punishers) effect genes and how they’ve effected and been effected by evolution. This is really “chewy” stuff and I highly recommend it to fellow geeks!
The chapters on the application of all this theory – to animal training, parenting, and self-control – are all important subjects (and close to my heart), and well done. However, it is not a training or parenting manual.
In the beginning, Schneider talks quite a bit about how having control over the one’s environment, being able to operate on it and create predictable consequences, can in itself be a reinforcer for behavior. Controlling another animal’s behavior is highly reinforcing. As an aside, this may explain, in part, why people who use punishment are reinforced for their own behavior even when they “feel bad” about the aversives they’re applying – this would be in addition to any form of negative reinforcement of having unwanted or annoying behaviors end).
Schneider gives as an example of the pleasure of controlling another this game:
The “eyeblink game” illustrates the enjoyable process of giving an animal companion the pleasures of control. Try it with a pet bird: Wait for a blink, then immediately close your own eyes, holding for longer than usual before reopening them. Reinforce each eyeblink this way, and shortly you should see a marked increase in the bird’s eyeblink rate – often within five minutes.
However, she warns that: “too many choices can be a downer”. This is probably something that few animal trainers have to be aware of. It is possibly more likely to affect kids (especially as they get older and have more responsibilities) – it definitely affects parents! This is sometimes called (by other authors) “decision fatigue”, and can sometimes outweigh the “satisfaction of control” (p. 30).
In a fascinating section on consequences and evolution, she describes some experiments which seem to prove Lamarck’s theory of how evolution took place. You may recall from high school biology that Lamarck postulated that an individual was able to pass on changes that had been acquired in her own life; for example, giraffes who stretched out to eat high leaves were able to pass on longer necks to their offspring. This has been pretty much disproven in general, and since the time of Lamarck and the group of evolutionary theorists which included Darwin, we’ve gained a huge understanding of genetics. But Schneider included a few stories of how learned behaviors might become instincts as learned behaviors which are adaptive get selected through natural selection.
The examples she gives are more of biological structures that were changed due to the experience of ancestors, but the possibility of the coding for behavior changing due to experience is intriguing.
Another interesting note: “Boredom”, she says, indicates a lack of reinforcers, not a lack of stimulation (p. 22)
Some important factors for animal trainers to keep in mind:
It’s important in most animal training to start with a high level of reinforcement and move to a lower level of variable reinforcement (ideally with variable rewards). However, Schneider notes that in lab animals, stress levels increase when schedules go from rich to lean. She points out that aggression can result from extinction schedules if they’re not handled well.
Time-outs, Schneider notes, are a form of removing an expected reinforcer, or at least removing the opportunity to earn an expected reinforcer. “Extensive research shows that even brief timeouts from positive reinforcement can be an effective alternative to more drastic punishment” (p. 171). Note that for this to work, it has to be in the midst of a high rate of reinforcers, and ideally with clear opportunity to earn reinforcers – something that parents and teachers as well as animal trainers should consider well. And of course timeouts, like all punishment techniques, do not teach desired behavior (as Schneider also points out).
Matching Law – essentially says that how much time or effort is spent in an activity depends on how much reinforcement is expected from it vs the cost. Some of the consequences – reinforcers or punishers – might be delayed, or only dimly perceived, or only probable. The amount of time or effort should match the expected rewards.
In a section on parenting, Schneider invokes a few of my favorite authors: Karen Pryor
(of course) and Faber and Mazlish
. In my humble opinion, all parents should read (and re-read) both of these authors.
Commitment for self control: “make a commitment far enough in advance that you choose wisely and avoid later temptation”. Somewhere else I heard this as “present self setting things up for your future self” (a RadioLab
episode, maybe?). This could be setting up management tools for context-setting (hiding the chocolate, or pre-slicing vegetables) or having reinforcers obvious (putting the DVD you want to watch on top of the pile of bills).
A note on improv:
“Skinner also noted that extemporizing on the piano was most successful when he found a happy medium between controlled and automatic behaviors. Some awareness was required, but too much conscious planning for chord changes slowed things down. In the same way, improvisational theater or jazz is a blend of the consciously controlled and the well-learned automatic. When it works, the effect is brilliant” (P. 134).
Finally, I love this quote she gives; it kind of summarizes training for me:
To make anything a habit, do it.
To not make anything a habit, do not do it.
To unmake a habit, do something else in place of it.
- Epictetus (p.135)
February 26th, 2013
Current Music: Rush - Freewill
I just finished Chales Duhigg’s book, “The Power of Habit” (full disclosure – I “read” this book on audio CD). It’s a good book and highly recommend it, even though in the end I was a bit disappointed – I’ll get to that.
The first section, on the neurology of habit with a few case studies, was fascinating. Though I’d known for a while that habitual behaviors were “stored” in a different part of the brain than behaviors that are not-yet learned or that have to be “consciously produced”, it was nice to get a more in-depth explanation of it (there is also quite a bit of this in Susan Schneider’s book, “The Science of Consequence”, which I’m still in the middle of). Duhigg says, “…a habit is a choice that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day”, and how different parts of the brain are activated for this is fascinating.
The section on how corporations can install habits in its employees to great effect was also good. There was an interesting point made in that once the trigger is perceived, the brain “expects” the reinforcement – and begins, in fact, to crave it. This craving can be very strong, which is what makes rewards so powerful, and which also can make it hard to change a habit. This is important to animal trainers. Early trainers used deprivation to make a reward more powerful – keeping your sea lions thin so that they’d be more eager to work for fish, or keeping your hunting dogs kenneled so that they’d be more interested in your social interaction. Now we know better, but in any case it’s important to realize that just creating a habitual behavior we increase the animal’s desire for the expected reinforcement. This has implications for “weaning” off of reinforcements (but we already know that a schedule of reinforcement that is too thin, or one in which reinforcement ends, will cause the behavior to extinguish).
Then there was a section on Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. This was a more detailed history than I’d ever heard and I’m glad to have heard it. But, I’m still completely unconvinced that the social ties that made Parks’ act into a community-wide movement can be classified as “habits”. Similarly, in the second-to-last section there’s a case study of a man who suffers from “sleep terrors”, in which an unconscious person can be triggered by a dream into performing instinctive acts, sometimes to their later horror. Again, I was unconvinced that these instinctive behaviors can be considered “habits” if they’d never been practiced before.
All of us want to improve ourselves and our own habits, and some of us are in the business of improving the habits of others (in my case, mostly dogs, and to a certain extent, their owners). So surely the last section, the part on how you can harness the power of habits for your own betterment, should be the dessert – the reinforcement for the behavior of reading the book. The last section was inspiring, telling us that we can use the power of free will to break unwanted habits and build new ones. Duhigg quotes extensively from psychologist William James, who convinced himself to spend a year acting as if he had total free will, and turned his life around from near-suicidal depression to success. The point is that you can recognize that you have a habit, and you can change it. This is powerful stuff.
So, why was I disappointed? I was hoping that at the end he’d return to the beginning, and really stress that each habit started with a behavior and a reward, and that it then acquired a trigger. I wanted him to stress that you can figure out each habit’s trigger and reward; then if you want to change it you can address any of those three parts: the cue, the routine behavior, and the reinforcement. He goes over this beautifully in a little video
that can be found on his website
. There’s also two great little flowcharts – How to Change a Habit
and How to Create a Habit
Maybe the problem is that the audiobook did not have the Appendix – although fortunately this is thoughtfully provided on Duhigg’s website
. This “guide” notes that since there are so many different habits driven by different cravings (different reinforcements), that there can’t be one prescription. The example the guide uses is the same one as in the video (Duhigg’s own habit of eating a cookie each afternoon at work) – the appendix is essentially a written recap of the video.
Here are my take-home points from the book:
Usually we are aware of our bad habits, and we need to figure out the cues and/or rewards. But sometimes we are not even aware of it – as example Duhigg used of a habitual nail-biter. I tend to bite down on the fingers of my left hand when I’m in front of the computer but just using my right hand for scrolling – I’m usually not aware of it until I get up from a computer session with an aching jaw and tooth marks in my fingers. Becoming aware of it – for example, by counting each time it happens – can help. If you’re trying to establish a new habit, counting each time you perform it is great, too – that’s why kids and parents like sticker charts, a to-do list with lots of pieces crossed out is a thing of beauty, and “tagulators
” work so well.
Figuring out the reinforcement for each habit isn’t always that easy. In Duhigg’s example, it wasn’t the mid-day cookie that made his habit strong, it was taking a break from work to chat with colleagues. We often think that reactive dogs (dogs who show aggression towards other dogs or people) are acting out of fear, and the reward is making the Scary Thing go away. But sometimes it might be the adrenaline rush, or the extremely focused attention of the owner, or maybe it’s the oh-so-familiar and beloved command “sit” that the owner might suddenly break out in (very familiar cues can act as reinforcers in themselves – that is how Premack chains work). This is something to consider when doing a behavior modification plan for a reactive dog.
It seems that figuring out the reward is usually easier than figuring out the cue (or trigger) for some behaviors. Do you snack because you’re hungry? Bored? Because you always eat when you watch TV? Or is it just snack time? Is it the words or the tone of voice in your kid that makes you snap angrily at her? Is the dog peeing on the carpet because his bladder is full, or because he’s scared, or because he’s just not housetrained, or because it’s an authentic antique Persian rug and it smells of camel urine?
Just practicing a new habit isn’t enough – there must be some reinforcement for it. I think sometimes we parents forget this – we hope that if we just keep reminding our kids to make their beds every morning, they will develop the habit of it. But then they are responding to the cue of our reminder, and what is the reinforcement? I can tell you that just as my dog does not consider sour flavors much of a reward (even though I love lemon- and some vinegar-flavors), my child (and I’m guessing most children) doesn’t consider a neatly-made bed a reward in itself. Over time, a neatly-made bed might gain a Pavlovian association with some more intrinsic reward – a parent’s praise, a sticker, even a food treat.
One story in The Power of Habit was about how the makers of Febreeze were able to market their product as the reward for housecleaning – a sweet-smelling finishing touch. The first time I heard about Febreeze it was through an unfortunate and unfounded internet rumor that it was poisonous to dogs. Even though I later found out it was false
, I still had a “negative CER” (conditioned emotional response) – plus, I hate the idea of a product that covers up bad smells with a perfume so strong it essentially knocks out you ability to smell. It turns out, that is false too: Febreeze actually has a way of neutralizing smells, and the perfume scent was added only after the company started marketing it as this “after housecleaning treat”. Even though I still don’t like the smell of it (another association is of public bathrooms), my nine-year-old daughter does. For her, spraying Febreeze on her newly-made bed might act as a reward, a substantial enough reward that it might reinforce the behavior enough to make it a habit.
We’ll have to see!
February 7th, 2013
I've just started reading "The Power of Habit"
by Charles Duhigg, and I've come across one gem so far, as pertaining to dog training.
The brain, Duhigg rights, "lights up" in a certain way with the pleasure of receiving a reward during the beginning of a training task. After a while, though, researchers can see that when the brain "lights up" gradually changes, from the moment the reward is perceived (acquired), to when they realize a reward is coming (if there's a reward marker or secondary reinforcer), to when the behavior is performed. That is, the performance of the behavior itself incites feelings of pleasure in the brain, because it is associated with the reward. Not only that, but then the pleasure areas start to activate as soon as the cue that signals the behavior (the discriminative stimulus) is perceived. The cue itself begins to cause pleasure.
Think about training your dog to "sit". At first the dog gets some pleasure from the reward - a food treat, petting, getting a toy, hearing praise, etc. Then the dog gets some pleasure just from the act of sitting, because they are anticipating the reward (you can see this in some dogs, in their shining eyes as they comply with your cue). Then the dog gets pleasure just from hearing you say "sit" (or giving the hand signal), because merely hearing you say sit lets them know that as soon as they've completed a very simple routine, they will get the reward. The cue (or discriminative stimulus, SD), becomes associated with the reward.
Now think about counter-conditioning a fear-aggression response in a dog. You start with a dog who sees other dogs and barks, growls or lunges. The sight (and often sound) of other dogs acts as a trigger for these aggression behaviors. But then you start rewarding your dog for small slices of behavior, such as looking at the trigger calmly, without growling, barking or lunging (the "look at that" training program); or looking away from the trigger to focus on you instead (the "watch me" or "leave it" training program)*. As the new behavior ("look at that" or "watch me") becomes a habit, the dog's brain will start to associate first the reward with pleasure, then the action ("look" or "watch") with pleasure, and finally, even the trigger is associated with pleasure. In effect, the dog sees another dog and his brain goes "Oh good, we can start the "look" habit and get a reward here!".
Now this overall finding should not come as a surprise to any student of psychology - it is yet another example of what we call, "Pavlov is always on your shoulder". It's classical conditioning - the trigger/cue/SD is paired with a unconditioned stimulus (something the animal naturally "likes") and becomes associated with it. It's how Premack chains work - giving a cue for a well-established behavior acts as a reward for a previous behavior because the cue in itself is associated with pleasure.
Duhigg then goes on to say that a behavior becomes a habit when the brain starts anticipating, or craving, the pleasure of the reward as soon as it perceives the cue. This is the small twist to a familiar subject that inspired me to sit down and write here. Imagine that this is the goal for counter-conditioning fear-aggression responses - that the dog begins craving
the reward as soon as he sees the trigger, the trigger that used to cue an old habit (which resulted in the reward of feeling safe because the scary thing was driven away), but which now cues a new habit which will result in a new reward which the dog craves. You'll end up with a dog who sees other dogs and looks at them and at you with those shiny eyes. I've seen this accomplished before - and now I understand it just a little bit better.
*(Note that both of these actions need to be trained when the dog is "below threshold", that is, far enough away from the trigger that are not overwhelmed by their old responses - that is, their old habits. Note also that there is a lot of finesse in doing this sort of training, and there are alternative methods of dealing with fear aggression. I'm just using this as an example.)
July 6th, 2012
Ivan Pavlov’s famous experiment was that he noticed that if he rang a bell before presenting meat to a dog, the dog would soon react to the sound of the bell the same way he’d react to the presentation of meat: He’d start to salivate. This is well understood.
Still, it can be a bit confusing for those of us even more familiar with operant conditioning, first described by BF Skinner. In operant conditioning a behavior changes in “strength” (more or less likely to be repeated, or repeated more or less frequently, or with more or less vigor) as a result of the consequences of the behavior. For example, if a dog is presented with a piece of meat each time he sits, he’s more likely to sit in the future. You could even use the sound of a bell, associated through Pavlovian conditioning, as a marker signal to indicate that the behavior “paid off” and that the meat is following soon after; OR you could use the sound of the bell as a cue to indicate that the behavior could pay off at this moment. In either case, Pavlovian conditioning is also happening: The bell becomes associated with the meat, but in one case it also becomes a secondary reinforcer (the marker) and in the other it becomes a discriminative stimulus (the cue), through operant conditioning.
However, even though both examples use a dog, a bell, meat, and a behavior, they are not the same process. Pavlov’s classical conditioning is about forming an association between two stimuli (events); there is no behavior required to be performed (or suppressed). However, outside observers can’t tell if an association is formed in an animal’s mind; we can only tell from observable, outside reactions. So if a dog acts one way when he expects to get meat, and then acts the same way when he hears the bell, we can make a guess that the bell is now associated with meat.
Let’s step away from dogs and meat for a moment, and use another example. If you blow a gentle puff of air at a human’s eyes, the human will blink. This happens even if the puff of air is repeated over and over; it’s a natural, unconscious, autonomic response. If a bell is rung just before the puff of air is blown, and this pairing is repeated a few times, the human will blink upon hearing the bell.
The eye blinking is not reinforced (strengthened) or punished (reduced). It is still an involuntary response to a stimulus. You could argue that the puff of air is aversive, and that it should act as a punisher for some behavior, and perhaps if the puff of air was connected to a particular behavior, that behavior might be reduced with the consequence of the air-puff OR the bell.
The person might not even be aware that the bell is associated in her mind with the air puff, or she might not even be aware of the action of blinking. Or maybe she is, and if you ask her she might say, “Oh yes whenever I hear the bell I know that puff is coming”. But unless you ask her, the only way you know that she understands the relationship between the two is to see what her body does when it encounters the bell sound stimulus. You can do the same with a non-human animal (with eyelids) and get the same result, except that you cannot expect her to tell you in words that she understands the association. That is why we must use observable behaviors. It is quite probable that animals form all sorts of associations between stimuli in their environment but with no external reactions, we don’t know. My current dog probably knows that when the phone rings, I will answer it, but my answering the phone doesn’t elicit a behavior from him so neither does the ring. My childhood dog used to love to chase me to the phone because I had to run up the stairs to it – this was before wireless phones or answering machines, and she was a Sheltie. For her, the ringing of the phone was significant and you could observe the connection that she had learned.
In theory, classical (Pavlovian) and operant (Skinnerian) conditioning are separate processes, and they can be studied separately in the controlled conditions of a laboratory setting. But in reality, anyone doing animal training (including modifying the behavior of humans) will find that they are intertwined. Trainers who rely on operant conditioning remind themselves that “Skinner is always on your shoulder” (or “along for the ride”) because the aversives or rewards that you choose will become associated with stimuli in the animal’s environment, in effect transferring some of their emotional effects to those other stimuli. A trainer who uses rewards will not only increase a behavior but will associate the surroundings – the location, the props used, the trainer herself – with the positive feelings that rewards have. A trainer who uses aversives to decrease a behavior will create associations between the surroundings and negative feelings.
Many trainers consciously use classical conditioning and operant conditioning at the same time, especially when dealing with emotionally charged behaviors like fear-based aggression. In a typical canine fear-based aggression case, a dog might be afraid of men and respond to them by barking and lunging, which causes a distance to be created between the dog and men as owners drag the dogs in one direction and men with any sense move the other way. The dog experiences fear at the sight of men, and the behaviors of lunging and barking are reinforced with the increased distance (this is technically negative reinforcement). When the trainer steps in, she can have a few choices.
One choice would be to punish (reduce) the lunging and barking with the application of an aversive, such as tightening a choke collar or turning on an electric shock. The barking and lunging will probably be reduced, but the presence of men might now be associated with the discomfort or pain of choking or shocking. If the dog realizes that choking or shocking will only happen under certain conditions (being on-leash, wearing a shock collar), the barking and lunging may no longer be suppressed and the fear of men may be increased even more by the expectation of discomfort.
The other choice would be to reinforce the behaviors that happen just before or after the lunging and barking with the application of a reward, such as pieces of hot dog or a favorite toy. Those behaviors usually include looking at the men, or looking away, or looking at the handler. The presence of men might now be associated with the fun or pleasure of food or toys. If the dog realizes that food or toys will only happen under certain conditions (trainer with food in her pockets or a toy nearby), the looking calmly might not be elicited, but the fear of men might be decreased by the expectation of food and play.
In each choice, both operant and classical learning have been in play. They overlapped, but they were not the same thing. The classical conditioning did not affect the behavior, only the underlying emotional response. The operant conditioning did not affect the underlying emotions, just the observable behavior. But both were working at the same time. The consequence chosen – choking, shock, food, or toys – acted as BOTH a consequence to a behavior AND an unconditioned stimulus that gets associated with the trigger.
There is another choice, and that is to recognize that the presence of men is in itself an aversive, and to use the removal of that presence to reward more acceptable behavior. In this case, if the dog is looking calmly, looking away, or looking at the handler, the dog or the man is moved away so there is a more comfortable distance between them. In this case there IS a consequence – calm behavior results in distance – but there isn’t really an unconditioned stimulus introduced. Pavlov is still along for the ride; the dog will still associate the presence and the removal of men with the trainer and her surroundings, but they will in effect cancel each other out. You’re not getting an advantage from Pavlovian conditioning (as you would if you introduced a pleasant stimulus as well), but you’re not getting a disadvantage (as you would if you introduced an aversive), either.
And one more choice: You could present a man at a distance that is close enough that the dog is aware of his presence, but not so much that it elicits the behavior, and you could then associate this scary trigger with something the dog has naturally good feelings about – again, usually food (though I bet you could quickly turn around a stud by associating the scary trigger with a receptive bitch in heat!). Although the presence of men was previously associated with t
Let’s look at another example. When kids see lit birthday candles, they start to sing “Happy Birthday”, and then they eat cake. If I’m wearing my Skinner hat, I see the candles as a cue (discriminative stimulus) to perform the behavior of singing “Happy Birthday) to earn the consequence of the cake (positive reinforcer). If I’m wearing my Pavlov hat, I see that the birthday candles (the conditioned stimulus) are associated with the cake (the unconditioned stimulus) and while cake does not elicit singing, cake does elicit salivation, and so do the candles. The act of singing is reinforced, and the candles are associated with the cake, and if you ask young kids if “Happy birthday” is one of their favorite songs they will probably say yes because it has such a strong association with cake.
(Note: I’ve never seen an image of Skinner wearing a hat, but I imagine he owned at least one nice Stetson. My Pavlov hat is a Russian fur hat, but made with acrylic faux fur, in purple.)
A less appetizing example: Once as a kid I had the stomach flu, I stayed home from school and spent most of the day watching TV. I was bombarded with ads for Mexican food, and each presentation of Mexican food was associated with my feelings of nausea. For a few years, I could not see or smell Mexican food without being nauseous. This was pretty pure classical conditioning; tacos were linked with nausea. Later, I’m happy to say, I experienced some counter conditioning; now tacos are more likely to be linked with margaritas (in moderation, thereby not inducing nausea!). There is no behavior that is reinforced (increased) or punished (reduced).
Classical conditioning very rarely stands alone, and neither does operant conditioning. They are usually hopelessly intermingled. But it's important for a training professional to understand the differences.
February 9th, 2011
Current Mood: accomplished
I am SO pleased with how Flip did today when we went out to work on his fear of drains and access covers. The unplanned break that we took for several months seems to have actually helped, as the last few weeks have seen a lot more progress.
He will now go towards
most cement access covers, sniffing or targeting on the indentations that they get lifted out by, and seems to do this with ease and confidence. He is still wary of metal plates that move, although he will walk on metal plates and doesn't panic when they move (it helps that I click and offer a treat as instantly as I can). What he is still afraid of are the PG&E plates that have metal bars in them:
These are often in a row. He will target them, the bars specifically, but he does it warily:
The Big Scary is still storm drains. He will not pull towards them at all, even with that "morbid curiosity" he has developed towards all the previous scary drains. But he will approach them, very warily, if cued.
Thank doG he is both "clicker-savvy" and still a treat pig. In addition to that, I think the relief of being able to move away after every click/treat is also very reinforcing (even if it's negative reinforcement):
We also had better success going into stores with various floors. He reluctantly walked across the tile parts of the Bathworks store, eagerly entered Gussied Up (cement) and Details (tile and carpet) to beg treats from the ladies in those stores, made it from one door of Domus (laminate wood) to the other, and even walked up to a man standing near the counter of WG Coffee Roasters (black and white checkered linoleum). He then panicked a little and wanted to run back out WGCR's door, but once he reached the mat by the door I was able to convince him to come back into the store a little further. He made it almost to the end of the counter, and almost to the couch in the opposite direction. Even the barista was impressed. I am very happy!