The words we choose to use in our training and behavior change sessions and written client plans impact the way we are perceived.
Our words Impact our credibility and thus our ability to work alongside our peers and our industry partners, particularly those who hold more senior credentials such as Board-Certified Behaviorists and Veterinarians.
In any profession whether you are a presidential speech writer, a career orator or an individual service provider working with clients transferring skills and knowledge, words really do matter. The nomenclature we choose to use matters and impacts how we are perceived. This perception can impact our effectiveness as educators, our individual credibility and the trust that resonates and reflects on us all as professional animal trainers and behavior consultants.
We should always consider how we choose to communicate with our clients, across our different peer groups and with professionals in our industry, particularly professionals with a recognized higher-level of knowledge or skills. The latter are the very professionals that we may need to refer clients too or be helped or mentored by.
There are several terms in our industry that can be, quite rightly, ‘hot buttons’, as they are terms that are reserved for medically qualified individuals because they have specific clinical definitions. Examples of these hot button words are prognosis, diagnosis & treatment.
A simple definition of ‘prognosis’ is the likely course of a disease or ailment. To ‘diagnose’ is the identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms and ‘treatment’ is the medical care given to a patient for an illness or injury.
We as dog trainers and behavior consultants also have a specific language that is appropriate for us to use, the language of applied behavior analysis. We can speak to antecedents, consequences, behavior and its topography, the different observable dimensions such as frequency, intensity and duration and of course not forgetting latency!
We can analyze and pull apart components of the antecedent package such as motivating operations, setting events and eliciting or evolving stimulus. We can focus in on the postcedent package using functional assessments to pinpoint the all-important consequences. If necessary, we can develop single subject experiments whereby we functionally analyze stimuli and the effects they have on the target behavior, so we can build effective and efficient counter conditioning and desensitization plans.
We really don’t need to, nor should we, infringe on the terminology used by the medical community. Let’s be transparent folks and use the correct words to help us gain credibility and ensure accurate meaning for ourselves and our profession.
Checkout the DogNostics ABA Dictionary
We all know that many of us set New Year’s Resolutions and as the year progresses they begin to fade. This leaves us feeling frustrated, first we have not accomplished what we set out to do and then we feel like a 'loser' as we have failed our own expectations.
I don't know about your but in our home, I always put other things as a priority before myself, 'they say as women we tend to do this". Anyway, this year I thought it would be fun to develop some New Year’s Resolutions for my pets as I never let them down. So, I now know if all else fails with my other resolutions I will at least have accomplished some.
Here are my top 6 New Year’s Resolutions for you to accomplish with your Dog. They are not in order of priority, just the way they came out when I began to think about it.
6. Get A PAL Tag Research has shown that most pets that are lost and returned home safely are wearing a collar or tag with their owner's contact details. Here at the DogSmith® our number one priority is to keep your beloved pet safe and secure. This includes helping you find your pet in the event they are lost. DogSmith Pet Care & Training clients are eligible for a complimentary identification tag and free registration on our DogSmith PAL® database. The identification tag is imprinted with a unique serial number. Over the years many pets have been safely returned to their owners through this program. If you are not a DogSmith client, then please be sure that your pet has the sufficient ID so it can be returned home to you in the even it gets lost.
Anger is a natural emotion that usually stems from perceived threat or loss. It’s a pervasive emotion and it affects our body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Anger is often described in terms of its intensity, frequency, duration, threshold, and expression.
Anger typically follows a predictable pattern: a cycle. Understanding the cycle of anger can help us understand our own anger reactions, and those of others. It can also help us in considering the most appropriate response. When you work in a customer service field and one so emotionally charged as the pet industry, having an understanding of anger and its cycle and help you manage client interactions and dialogue.
Illustrated below are the five phases of the anger cycle: trigger, escalation, crisis, recovery, and depression.
The trigger phase happens when we perceive a threat or loss, and our body prepares to respond. In this phase there is a subtle change from an individual’s normal/ adaptive state into their stressed state. Anger triggers are different from person to person. The triggers can come from both the environment and from internal thought processes.
In the escalation phase there is the progressive appearance of the anger response. In this phase our body prepares for a crisis after perceiving the trigger. This preparation is mostly physical and is manifested through symptoms like rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and raised blood pressure. Once the escalation phase is reached there is less chance of calming down as this is the phase where the body prepares for fight or flight.
As mentioned above the escalation phase is progressive and it is in the crisis phase that the anger reaction reaches its peak. In the crisis phase our body is on full alert and fully prepared to take action in response to the trigger. During this phase logic and rationality are limited, if not impaired because the anger instinct takes over. In extreme cases the crisis phase means that a person may be a serious danger to themselves or other people.
The recovery phase happens when the anger has been spent or at least controlled and there is now a steady return to a person’s normal/ adaptive state. In this stage individual reasoning and awareness return. If the right intervention is applied the return to normalcy progresses smoothly. If an inappropriate intervention takes place then this can re-ignite the anger and serve as a new trigger.
The depression phase marks a return to a person’s normal/ adaptive ways. Physically this stage marks below normal vital signs, such as heart rate so that the body can recover equilibrium. A person’s full use of their faculties return at this point and the new awareness helps the person assess what just occurred. Consequently this is the stage marked by embarrassment, guilt, regret, and or depression. After the depression phase a new trigger can start the entire cycle all over again.
How long each phase lasts varies from person to person. Some people also skip certain phases or they go through them privately. Do you recognize any of these phases in your own anger? Do you have good coping mechanisms and anger management strategies?
All behavior takes place given setting events and within a framework of motivating operations. Behavior never happens in a vacuum, it interacts and is affected by each of the environmental components. The antecedent package, what comes before the behavior, is considered to contain the cue, setting events and motivating operations.
James O'Heare says that setting events provide a context and influence target behaviors ( 2007 p 320). So we can manipulate the environment to make the behavior easier and to also prevent problematic behaviors by changing the setting events. . Change the environment and the behavior will change. Think also of other context stimuli that may set the occasion for the behavior such as the location, the presence of a certain person or the time of day. In many situations if this context stimuli is removed or changed then the behavior is less or more likely to occur. So understanding the setting events can be a critical part of the behavior puzzle. We always need to know and understanding what is eliciting a problematic behavior if we are to attempt to change the behavior in a positive manner!
Motivating Operations affect and influence the value of the reinforcer and therefore increase or decrease the likelihood of the discriminative stimulus to evoke the behavior (O’Heare 2007).
Motivating Operations are “environmental events, operations, or stimulus conditions that affect an organism’s behavior by altering
(a) the reinforcing or punishing effectiveness of other environmental events and
(b) the frequency of occurrence of that part of the organism’s repertoire relevant to those events as consequences (Michael 2003).
Medication, injury, satiation, deprivation and fear can all affect the value of a reinforcer. As dog trainers we can manipulate motivating operations by training a dog when they are hungry or holding special toys just for training sessions. We can directly impact the value of the reinforcer or punisher to help our behavior change program.
Why are Conditioned Emotional Responses Considered Motivating Operations?
Remember behavior is behavior and emotions are emotions. These are very different. Emotional responses contribute to an animals motivation and the visible behaviors we see and can measure. Emotional responses motivate whether an animal will attempt to escape, avoid, appease, approach or run from something because of their conditioning or reinforcement history. If the emotional response is fear that is going to motivate a considerably different behavior than if the pet is happy!
Remember emotional responses motivate a measurable behavior.
Change the emotion of fear and the escape behavior is no longer valid or necessary. Because emotional responses motivate behavior in this way they are considered to “serve as motivating operations” (O’Heare 2007 p 229). They directly impact the value of the reinforcing contingency.
O’Heare, J (2007) Aggressive Behavior in Dogs, DogPsych Publishing, Ottawa Canada.
Transparency to me implies openness.
This is an obligation to accept responsibility for your own actions and to disclose these actions in a transparent way. Most true professionals have a clear set of individual values to which they manage their professional lives. Professionals maintain decorum, they respect client confidentiality, they implement and manage informed consent, they operate a ethical, fiscally responsible and socially upstanding business. Professionals stay away from intra- and inter-organizational conflict and they focus on the professional delivery of their own services and products while protecting their own professional values. Companies, organizations and associations also have a part to play in accountability. They have collective accountability for their members, employees and stakeholders. Organizations also need to determine a standard of core values that participants will be held accountable to and an operational system for managing the accountability. So are you and your business fully transparent, do you operate within the parameters of your professional competency and do you align yourself with organizations that have compatible value systems so you are comfortable being part of the collective accountability?
The reinforcement contingencies are usually left undisturbed by the concurrent arrangement of contingent punishment. Therefore the punishment just superimposes additional consequences which happen to be aversive. So when the punishment stops, you the punisher are removed from the situation, the behavior recovers in frequency under the control of the undisturbed reinforcing contingencies that have remained in place throughout punishment process!
Teach your dog new behaviors that are more appropriate rather than punishing problematic behaviors. If you can teach your pet new ways to access the initial reinforcement that was maintaining the problematic behavior then you have a very powerful solution.
Copyright Niki Tudge 2017
There are fundamental differences between the behavior analytic approach to assessing problem behaviors in our pet dogs and the medical model approach.
The behavioral approach to problem behavior is far more effective and efficient than the medical model because it is based on the science of learning theory and follows scientific processes to identify the antecedents and consequences of the behavior. The behavior analytical approach does not rely on guess work, trial and error tactics or anecdotal recommendations but systematically identifies the functional relationship the behavior has with the environment. When these relationships have been identified then efficient and effective solutions can be developed. The behavior analytical approach is called a functional assessment and this is an objective and systematic way to explain, describe and control (modify) behavior. Please note that a Veterinary Behaviorist will use both models!
The Functional Assessment
There are several components to a functional assessment starting with the informant interview. During this interview anecdotal information about the problem behavior is obtained. For many of us this information is learned during our first consultation with the client. The next component of the functional assessment is the direct observation phase. This is where the dog’s behavior is observed and the relationship between the variables is measured and correlated. The final part of the functional assessment is the functional analysis. The intended final product of the functional assessment is a contingency statement that the dog trainer has confidence in. The contingency statement details in simple terms the antecedents, behaviors and consequences in measurable terms. This contingency statement clearly defines the problem behavior, how it is evoked and how it is maintained. The contingency statement identifies the stimuli, SD, that reliably evoke the behavior and the more distant antecedent that motivate operations and set the context for the behavior. The postcedents are also identified and those that are functionally related to the behavior are labeled as consequences.
Let us look in more detail at each stage of the functional assessment.
• The Informant Interview
The informant interview is the interview process between the pet dog consultant and the animals’ guardians. The goal is to collect information from the animals’ guardians to assist in developing a contingency statement. During the interview the consultant has to take the answers provided by the animal’s guardian that are often interpretations of behavior, and convert their answers through additional questioning into clear descriptions of the actual observable and quantifiable behavior involved. This means no labels are attached. The behavior is described in an operational way.
During the informant interview there are several components of information that should be established. The consultant must develop a clear concise, measurable description of the problem behavior or behaviors. It is also important to understand the setting events – the context that makes the problem behavior more likely. It is necessary to understand the motivating operations that influence the value of the consequences such as satiation, deprivation and any conditioned emotional responses such as fear or aggression. Discriminative stimuli should be identified alongside the consequences that follow the behavior. We need to be able to answer the question, what does the animal get out of this situation?
The consultant should rate the efficiency of the problematic behavior particularly if there are several problematic behaviors at play. The history of the behavior should be sought and the results, if any, from previous behavioral change programs. During the interview it is also advisable to ask the animals’ guardians what alternative behaviors they would feel are more appropriate and acceptable.
Examples of groupings of questions.
When the informant interview is complete the consultant can develop a preliminary contingency statement that will help with developing further questions (Tudge, 2016).
• The Direct Observation Stage
The goal of direct observation is to pinpoint the source of the problem by factually understanding the functional relationships between the antecedents, behavior and consequence. The measurement process provides quantitative data which cannot infer causal relationships but it can identify correlations between the different variables.
When collecting baseline data it is important to have a data collection plan. The plan includes a data collection form that identifies the stratification areas of data to be mined and operational definitions that accurately define what the behavior is and what is a problematic behavior, so what do we need to record on our data collection plan. The data collection plan clarifies which dimensions of the behavior will be measured; frequency, duration or intensity. As it is not always necessary to measure all the dimensions the behavior consultant should consider which is the most important and which dimension will give us the most salient information.
Barking. Barking could be measured as a duration behavior, an intensity factor or the frequency. We could also measure the latency, when does the barking occur in relationship to the trigger. It would be a waste of resources to measure each of these separately. It would be more effective to determine which dimension is significant in terms of the clients goal. so if a client said ” i don’t mind how often my dog barks (frequency) i just have a problem with the duration (how long the barking lasts) that would help you determine what to measure (Tudge, 2016).
Data is best obtained from as few trials as possible without limiting the quality and accuracy of the data. Measurement should continue until trends emerge. It is, by the same token, as important to decide who will be responsible for the data collection. The data collector will need to be trained on the data collection process and the necessity to remain non-intrusive during the collection process so the data is stable, precise and unbiased. If the problem behavior is dangerous or poses a safety risk then the consultant must use their best professional judgment as to whether direct observation should even be carried out. In many cases you may be able to document this information from the clients every interactions with their pet.
When the data has been collected it will be essential to revise the contingency statement developed during and after the informant interview. The data collection process may, and often does, reveal new evidence and information about the functional relationship between the variables.
• The Functional Analysis
The functional analysis stage is a single subject experiment that tests the consultant’s hypothesis – the contingency statement. The two most common single subject experiments that are used to analyze behavior are the reversal design and the alternating treatment design. The suitability of each experiment is determined by the hypothesis being tested.
The functional analysis is designed to test the relationship between the hypothesized controlling antecedents and the behavior and/or the hypothesized maintaining relationship between the behavior and its consequence. The functional analysis sets up different independent variables and confirms or refutes their effect on the dependent variable, the actual behavior. The goal is to analyze what is and what is not evoking and/or maintaining the behavior so an effective behavior change program can be designed. The experiment should only cover areas of the contingency statement that are unclear and not everything. The consultant must also take into consideration, during the experiment, that setting events and motivating operations should not be overlooked as they can “contribute indirectly to the contingencies” (O’Heare 2007 p 212).
The functional analysis should only be carried out if the initial interview and direct observation does not reveal trends in the problem behavior and/or components of the contingency statement are still unclear. When embarking on a functional analysis the benefit and precision of the analysis must be weighed against the effort, time, skill required and potential fallout of behavior rehearsing (O’Heare 2007). A functional analysis should only be performed by a trained professional with a minimally invasive approach, a clearly defined plan to test only what is necessary, a tangible goal and with careful consideration to the safety and security of all involved. The analysis should only be carried out if the important variables can be controlled throughout the experiment or the experiment will be flawed and there must be consent gained from the animal’s guardian.
The functional analysis experiment should only test areas of the contingency statement that are unclear and not everything. If the consultant is unsure about the relationship between the antecedents and the behavior then the consultant would test the antecedent package until the evoking, discriminative stimuli were identified. Likewise if the lack of clarity in the contingency statement came from understanding which consequences were maintaining the behavior then these would be tested (Tudge 2016).
At the end of the functional assessment you should know:
1. What are the distant and direct antecedents? What is the SD, the setting events and the motivating operations?
2. What is the actual observable, measurable, problematic behavior? What are the problematic dimensions of the behavior, intensity, frequency or duration.
3. How is the behavior being reinforced +R or –R.
When planning for your behavior change program be prepared to ask yourself:
4. What is the behavior change goal? Is it realistic and does the client agree with the goal?
5. What primary and secondary reinforcers will you use?
6. What behavior change protocol will be most suitable to reach the agreed goal?
7. How and what will you measure during the behavior change program so you are sure that your intervention is actually having the desired effect on the problematic behavior?
O’Heare, J (2007) Aggressive Behavior in Dogs, DogPsych Publishing, Ottawa Canada.
Tudge, N.J (2016) Get Coaching Now. Published Ingram Sparks, USA.
In 2014, I published a blog post entitled Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards in which I discussed the different reinforcers I use when training and the ‘value’ they have for my learner. In my article entitled Rewards and Positive Reinforcement Consequences, I discussed the meaning of rewards versus reinforcement. In this article I would like to take a look at “hierarchies”.
When needs are not being met, animals will be motivated to try and fulfil those needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival, and this will be the first thing that motivates our behavior. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us.
The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:
It is important to note that Maslow's (1943, 1954) five stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b) as follows:
Why is Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory important? It has made a big impact on how we teach and manage our students in school. We know that behavior is a response to the environment but Maslow’s hierarchy also looks at the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs and how they impact learning. The hierarchy also clearly shows us that before an individual’s cognitive needs can be met, we must fulfil the basic physiological needs. I often tell my clients that although we want to use food as reinforcement that does not mean that I want anyone to not feed their dog. A hungry learner will find it very difficult to focus on learning! I also believe we should show our learners, both human and canine, that they are valued and respected and ensure we work with them in a safe and supportive environment. We need to meet the esteem needs of all our students so that they can quickly progress with their learning!
The Hierarchy of Dog Needs adapted from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by Pet Professional Guild member, Linda Michaels, is a hierarchical model of wellness and behavior modification in which first we meet our dogs’ biological, emotional and social needs and, once these foundational needs have been met, we use management, antecedent modification, positive and differential reinforcement, counter-conditioning and desensitization to modify behavior.
Although not a hierarchy, before I get back to my Hierarchy of Rewards, I would like to mention Brambell’s Five Freedoms, which put responsibility on the animal care taker to make sure they provide animals with a good welfare environment. I learned about the Five Freedoms and other animal welfare frameworks as part of my Animal Behaviour and Welfare course, University of Edinburgh.
In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation, led by Professor Roger Brambell, into the welfare of intensively farmed animals. The Brambell Report stated that: "An animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty, to turn round, groom Itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs". This short recommendation became known as Brambell's Five Freedoms. Because of the report, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee was created to monitor the livestock production sector. In July 1979, this was replaced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and by the end of that year, the five freedoms had been codified into the recognizable list format. Although developed for farm animals, Brambell’s Five Freedoms can be adapted to pets. The Five Freedoms are:
In addition to Brambell’s Five Freedoms other animal welfare frameworks such as the Duty of Care Concept need to be foremost in our minds when caring for and working with any animal. The Duty of Care Concept focuses on providing animals with a safe happy environment which they can enjoy and encourages legal responsibility for those animals.
Now back to Jambo’s Hierarchy of Rewards (Stapleton-Frappell, 2013) If you have read everything above, you will understand that before beginning any training, the trainer should make sure that the learner’s basic needs are met. The trainer can then make use of both primary and secondary reinforcers but must bear in mind that the ‘value’ will be ascertained by the recipient and not the provider as, although I use the name Hierarchy of Rewards, I am referring to a hierarchy of positive reinforcement consequences.
Whether teaching Jambo or any other learner a new behavior, or reinforcing behaviors that have previously been taught, I use that learner’s own personal ‘hierarchy of rewards’. Each individual’s hierarchy includes lower ‘value’ reinforcers which are consequence stimuli that will serve to reinforce simple known behaviors in that individual’s home environment or other non-distracting environments; medium ‘value’ reinforcers which will serve to reinforce slightly more difficult behaviors or behaviors in slightly more demanding environments, and finally, high ‘value’ reinforcers - those reinforcers that are at the ‘top of the tree’, the real ‘top guns’ that we use to reinforce more demanding behaviors and behaviors in environments where there are a lot of competing stimuli.
My go-to reinforcer when teaching a new behavior or when I need lots of repetitions is always food - small pieces of tasty, easy to chew and easy to swallow food – as I can deliver it quickly and maintain a high rate of reinforcement. It is also more effective to use smaller reinforcements more frequently rather than large reinforcements less often. However, I also make good use of ‘non-food’ items, which include everything from balls to tug toys to life rewards - access to things my learner wants, such as going outside, sniffing a patch of grass, greeting someone… Whether using food or non-food reinforcers, primary or secondary reinforcers, one thing is certain - reinforcers are not all equal and the ‘value’ of an individual reinforcer is not static. The ‘value’ to the learner will change depending on such factors as:
There are variables affecting reinforcement and affecting the value of each reinforcer at any given time, in different environments and with different individuals. We also need to bear in mind that If we use the higher ‘value’ reinforcers too frequently for easy behaviors in non-distracting environments, we could find that not only will our learner no longer be motivated to ‘work’ for lower value reinforcers, but also that we dilute the value of those reinforcers that were previously at the top of the Hierarchy, making them less effective in more demanding situations or with more demanding behaviors. We should make sure that we have a variety of reinforcers on all levels of our learner’s Hierarchy so that we have something to call upon of appropriate value in all situations. Varying the reinforcement consequence that is offered, will also help to overcome satiation – at some point, we have all eaten enough of that delicious cake but that doesn’t mean that we would say no to an ice-cold bottle of beer!
If Jambo were reasonably hungry and we were working in a non-distracting environment, he would probably find kibble (dry dog food) to be of sufficient ‘value’ and it would serve as an adequate reinforcement consequence. If, however, we were to try and do that same behavior in a more distracting environment, at a greater distance or perhaps when Jambo had just eaten, then the kibble would have very little, if any ‘value’ and would not serve to positively reinforce a behavior. If Jambo were in a playful mood then his tug toy would have a much higher value than if he were tired and ready for bed.
The opportunity to sniff a nice patch of grass might serve to reinforce the behavior of coming close to me on a nice summer’s evening but on a dark and wet winter’s night, the opposite would be true – If I wanted Jambo to leave my side and go over to a piece of smelly grass, then it might be returning to my side and the protection of my umbrella that would serve as a reinforcer but maybe even that would not be of high enough ‘value’ and he would simply decide not to carry out the behavior. Perhaps performing ‘send-aways’ in the rain, calls for roast chicken?
This is the second in a series of three posts from the article: “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine. Part one can be found here: Rewards and Positive Reinforcement Consequences. In part three we will take a closer look at motivating operations; Jambo's personal Hierarchy of Rewards, and some of the primary and secondary reinforcers we can all make use of in our training.
by Niki Tudge
I spend about an hour each day, broken down into short time periods, on social Media. Most of my postings are on Facebook and Twitter as I prefer these two platforms. Many of my business posts are done remotely through a social media software and are scheduled in advance. But, each AM, mid-day and PM, I do enjoy short sessions scrolling through my news feed, keeping up with friends replying to comments and responding to any tags.
On any given day I cannot tell you how many times I go to post something on social media and then delete it. Not necessarily something elicited through anger or frustration but just an opinion, a thought, a quote or something I deem noteworthy!
I can also confess, that on any given day, I begin a reply to a post and stop, rethink and delete it. These responses I begin are not to an angry post, just a reply, I temporarily consider relevant.
Why, you may ask, do I take the time to draft a post and then delete it?
Well there are several reasons for this and they all identify with differing circumstances. Before I give you some examples of these circumstances I want you to think about the following, with which I think we can all identify. This list is in no way exhaustive and based on my humble opinion and experience about who I believe my social media audience may be when I post. Many of us may vacillate between several of these.
There are so many people on social media that may connect with you through your work, school or personal circumstances that are just “observing”. They follow, read and observe our behavior, posts, rants and opinions. From their observations they form a picture about us in their minds that will then affect how or even if, they interact with us.
· Social Media Gurus
SMG’s are everywhere. They react, rant and comment on everything and anything and do so in the heat of the moment with unbridled passion and energy. They are the self-proclaimed experts on any given newsworthy topic. One minute they are gorilla experts and then parenting gurus. Their expertise spans everything from African politics to community neighborhood watches and they are happy to dispense advice on it all, anytime and to anyone.
· Punishment Junkies
PJ’s hover, awaiting a post or opinion they can jump on. They strongly argue their opinions when they feel slighted. They don’t hold back individual names and or businesses. These public diatribes often serve only one purpose, to punish and publicly humiliate someone or inflict damage to a business or person. Punishing people through angry words surely only achieves, for the writer, emotional gratification in the moment. What about the long term?
· Reinforcement Junkies
Hastily pounding our keyboard in anger and responding to issues on Facebook affects our personality. Our behavior is reinforced through the reactions we elicit from our followers and friends. This further strengthens our behavior. But ask yourself if the behavior you are demonstrating is healthy for you and/or your business? Studies have likened our behavior and posting on social media to gambling. We post, watch, revel in likes, gain the feel-good factor and move on. Its addictive and can become a problem if not managed and moderated.
· The Tell Alls
We all have those social media friends who tell it all. It seems like each and every life event is aired publicly. Every thought, problem, opportunity, success, complaint, gripe and compliment is shared. Same goes for their family members. There is no filter or consideration for who or when this information is being displayed, read, interpreted and used by others.
Your Personal Illustration!
Whether we like it or not our words have consequences. If not immediately then in the future. What we say and write can create a collective energy over weeks and months. Our words create patterns and pictures for others about who we are, how we behave, and how we treat others. How is your public image?
Now, here are a few examples of situations where I have typed, deleted, reset!
Supporting posts by angry “friends” can be perilous. How well do you know them or their situation? Are other parties involved in this scenario watching and reading comments. May your response appear to slight, insult or bully another party who may have the truth on their side! How is this impacting your persona?
Entering into discussions with SMG’s often leads to unconstructive, social media debates where posts are made with little consideration to word choice or use. Facts are not checked, and opinions run rife. Observers are also here and how you respond in the limited time and space allotted may contribute to an inaccurate perception of you and your position. Gurus can only be so if they have an active audience
3. Tell All’s
I realized several years ago that as a business owner I lost some liberties and a certain amount of privacy in my community, whether that be where I live or socially where I interact. This is a small and not so worrying price to pay for being a business owner. But I do have to always be cognizant of the fact that I am not only judged as Niki Tudge but also as The DogSmith, DogNostics, Doggone safe, Pet Professional Guild etc. My opinions, beliefs and attitudes have a direct impact on me and any organization I proudly represent. Think about how your posts may impact the behavior of others towards you, your company and your family. Think about how your posts create the tapestry of your persona and the perceptions this allows.
Don’t be fooled, words have consequences and can do untold damage to others, to your relationships and to your business. Words can dig a deep enough hole, too steep to climb out of. Think before you type. Look at word choice and use. Step away if emotional or angry. Type-Delete-Reset
The language we use when discussing our training methods can sometimes be slightly misleading. Much discussion is given to the use of terms such as force-free, rewards based and positive reinforcement. Sometimes there will be shared-meaning and at other times, these terms will be used and attributed to diametrically opposed training methods. The words 'reward' and 'positive reinforcement' are often used to describe the same process but are they really the same?
Let’s begin with a definition of reinforcement and a few other terms you are likely to come across when reading about rewards based, science based, force-free training. The term to reinforce means to strengthen and it is used in behavioral psychology to refer to a stimulus which strengthens or increases the probability of a specific response. Behavior is the function of its consequences and reinforcement strengthens the likelihood of a behavior. To qualify as reinforcement an experience must have three characteristics: First, the behavior must have a consequence. Second, the behavior must increase in strength (e.g. occur more often). Third, the increase in strength must be a result of the consequence (Chance, 2013 )
When comparing rewards to reinforcement, I am referring to one of the quadrants of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement. Positive means that a stimulus is added. With positive reinforcement, a behavior is followed by a stimulus (which the subject seeks out/will work to receive) which reinforces the behavior that precedes it, resulting in an increase in the frequency, intensity and/or duration of that behavior. To clarify, a reinforcer is a stimulus that, when it occurs in conjunction with a behavior and is contingent on that behavior, it makes that behavior occur more often. But what if the behavior doesn’t increase in frequency, strength or duration? What if the behavior continues to occur with the same frequency or occurs less often? In this case, we can reliably say that the consequence stimulus would not qualify as reinforcement.
Is a reward the same as a reinforcer? The simple answer is no, it is not. Although, when simplifying our language, it is often useful to advise our clients to mark and reward (click and treat/mark and pay), a reward and a reinforcer/reinforcement consequence are not the same. Let’s look at the definition of a reward:
The key here is in the definition. I may be given something in recognition of my hard work but that does not necessarily mean that I will work harder in the future. If my reward for all the extra hours I worked were a simple thank you – would that act as reinforcement? What about if my reward for all the hours I worked were a big cash bonus – would that serve as a reinforcement consequence?
A reward may or may not positively reinforce a behavior. There are a few reasons why, one being that the giver of the reward is who decides what to give and denotes it as a reward.
Rewards often come with some sort of judgement on the person or animal they are directed at whereas reinforcers are linked to the behavior not the giver nor the recipient. Just like rewards, reinforcers can be delivered by people but they can also be delivered by the environment. Suppose for example that one morning your dog manages to slip out of the door and chase the neighbor’s cat. The dog has a wonderful time and the next morning flies out of the door as soon as it is opened. That one act of joyfully chasing the neighbor’s cat has effectively reinforced rushing out of the door as soon as it is opened! If the neighbor’s cat never ventures into your yard again, the behavior may undergo extinction but this is unlikely as the act of running at full speed out of the door and across the yard is undoubtedly self-reinforcing – offering intrinsic reinforcement and serving as wonderful motivation! What if the behavior is put on a variable schedule of reinforcement i.e. the cat is occasionally available to be chased? You can probably guess the answer. The behavior of rushing out of the door will go from strength to strength as it is being extrinsically reinforced in the same way as playing on a slot-machine is – you know that if you keep playing, you are sure to win again at some point!
Although, I have clarified that rewards and positive reinforcement consequences are not the same, that does not mean I am never going to tell people to reward their dog. I also tell people to pay their dog. That doesn’t mean I want my clients to throw a wad of cash at their dogs and my clients know that! My clients are intelligent people and some may wish to delve deeper into the world of behavioral science but many are happy to stick with the world of click and treat or mark and reward.
However, as pet industry professionals, I do believe that we should have a clear understanding of terms such as ‘positive reinforcement’ and recognize that just because we have ‘rewarded’ a dog with a throw of a ball or a tasty treat, that does not necessarily mean we have positively reinforced the behavior. Only the future will tell us that!
This is the first of a series of three posts from my article: “The Hierarchy of Rewards – Delving into the World of Positive Reinforcers” for BARKS from the Guild magazine.
Louise Stapleton-Frappell 2017
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