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
Temple Grandin and Mark Deesing's paper, "Distress in Animals: Is it Fear, Pain or Physical Stress?", reviews the most current understanding of two of the most basic types of suffering - fear and pain - only to arrive at an unexpected conclusion: in most vertebrates, fear causes greater suffering than pain.
Just think about that, think about all the times we see pets that are not physically hurt but are scared or fearful!
Fearful of being alone!
Fearful of being punished!
Fearful of being isolated!
Fearful of loosing safety or security!
Fearful of meeting a stranger!
Fearful of meeting or encountering a strange dog!
Fearful of loud noises or bright flashes
The list goes on .....
Why are we quick to administer medications for physical pain but not for mental suffering? If a dog is suffering from fear we must remedy it as quickly as possible. We can either use the appropriate non fearful approach to conditioning a new emotional response and/or administer medications with the help of a veterinarian to help bridge the gap so a behavior change program can work. We cannot train out fear, it's not a behavior it is a emotional response! Niki Tudge.
If putting a human, by nature a social being, in jail or solitary confinement is intended as punishment, then surely, isolating, chaining or tethering a dog will have the same effect on the canine soul. Dogs are domesticated, the most domesticated animal there is. Bred by humans to be companions and work partners, we have selected and bred dogs with highly social genes. Because of this selective breeding, dogs now have personality traits that need our attention, our time and our kind benevolent leadership. If our attention and participation in their lives is missing then dogs become lonely and bored. This loneliness leads to frustration and stress that in turn leads to behavioral problems. Excessive barking, pacing, self-mutilation and other destructive behaviors are all symptoms displayed by a dog that is not having its mental and physical needs met.
Dogs are not only social beings they are also very inquisitive and enjoy exploring. They need to interact with their environment and with other dogs. From these interactions, dogs benefit from the mental stimulation of new challenges, sights and sounds. If they are restricted from companions or there life is reduced to a tedious limited environment then they can suffer mental stress. For a dog, loneliness is abandonment. Many dogs find themselves reduced to a life isolated from their human pack because they lack basic behavior and social skills that are needed to live peacefully in the human environment.
Below is an example of the downward spiral we see in a dog's behavior when it does not receive the training, exercise and social interaction required:
The dog enters the home as a puppy or a young dog. The owners are excited, the dog is a bundle of fun but no management or training plan is put in place. There is no housetraining plan and at the same time the dog is being handled by each of the family members differently and the wrong behaviors are being rewarded. Puppies are inadvertently encouraged to jump, pull and nip. As the puppy grows those small potty accidents become more annoying and the puppy is punished for the bad behavior rather than being shown and guided to the right behavior.
Puppy romps on a leash turn into walking nightmares. As the puppy grows in size and strength it is no longer fun to run behind a small ball of fur. The leash pulling becomes annoying and dangerous to the owner and the dog. The leash walks become less frequent since nobody enjoys walking the dog and the dog’s energy levels build. This results in an overly energetic dog with high levels of frustration and no appropriate physical outlet.
A lack of daily physical exercise results in destructive and irritating behaviors. The dog is more frequently left alone and for longer periods of time. Attention seeking behaviors prevail and the dog’s behavior spirals downhill and out of control leaving the owners with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. The dog has become an inconvenience and a chore and the owner-dog relationship breaks down. The dog will be punished and this is justified by the owner to help alleviate their own feelings of inadequacy. The owners convince themselves that they have done everything possible; their dog is dumb, stupid or both.
To save the family home the dog is now reduced to living in the yard with minimal contact with its owners. The dog now engages in behaviors such as digging holes, chewing at outside furniture or attempting to escape its life of solitude. In some cases the dog’s behavior becomes such an aversive for the owners that they physically restrain the dog in a kennel run or on a tether. This is a very sad outcome for the owners and a devastating and cruel outcome for the family pet.
The solutions are simple. From the outset, right off the bat, invest some time and money and enroll your dog into a well run and organized puppy class. You will save hours of future frustration, eliminate damage to your home, your furniture and your yard. You, as a responsible pet owner, will teach your dog how to successfully share your home – surely that was your goal when you made the decision to bring a dog into your family. A well run puppy class will teach you how to house-train your puppy, prevent problematic nipping and biting, socialize your puppy so it’s safe around other dogs and people and if you take the time you will learn the obedience basics including sit/down/stay and walk nicely.
Before you spend hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars on your pet dog and all its accompanying equipment, toys and outfits think about how you plan to train your dog. More pet dogs are euthanized due to behavior than illness. Don’t let your pet dog become another sad statistic in our animal shelters.
Many people working professionally in the pet care industry have different letters or alphabet soup as I term it behind their names, in their email signature and on their business cards. There is a selection of colleges, online schools and professional workshops that will issue credentials to pet care professionals. These credentials vary and range from credentials for dog training, pet care and/or dog behavior counseling.
If you are thinking of becoming a pet care professional or opening your own pet care and dog training business it is important that you have a solid theoretical background in a selection of topics. You will need hours of hands on skill training for both dogs and humans and you will need to align yourself with an organization with supports your continued growth and has an invested interest in your success. A strong business mentor is a huge asset to any small business. You will also need a selection of business skills to support your operational skills. Marketing skills are crucial so you can strategically position your business and deliver your products and services to your clients. A basic understanding of business finance is also critical to the success of a small business, you need to make sound financial decisions and remain solvent.
One of the most important questions you must answer is whether you want to be a dog trainer, a behavior counselor, a pet care provider or a pet care expert who can offer a wide array of services across all three disciplines. As an individual thinking of moving into the pet care business this is a critical question as a huge number of your clients will require both dog training expertise and behavior counseling knowledge.
Dog Trainers can help their clients build dog obedience behavior repertoires. Training involves teaching a dog new skills such as teaching a ‘sit/stay’ to prevent the dog from begging at the table or teaching the dog to ‘come’ when the owner wants the dog to return to them. Behavior Counseling is when you work with a client to change an existing problematic behavior; you teach the dog an alternative response to a set of circumstances.
Many behavioral problems present themselves with some element of fear often exhibited as an emotional response such as anxiety, anger or frustration. Fear is a very normal “self protective” response for dogs. In order for dogs to survive they have to be good at adapting to and reacting to dangerous situations. Fear in dogs is either innate fear, which means it, has an evolutionary significance such as a fear of loud noises, strangers, isolation or fire or the fear is ontogenic with means it has been learned through experiences. Changing a problematic behavior, a conditioned emotional response requires an understanding of learning theory and a selection of behavior change protocols.
A national survey completed in 1996 by Goodloe and Borchelt found that fear is the common emotional factor motivating a dog’s behavior. Fear is elicited by a variety of unconditioned and conditioned stimuli like any other form of emotional arousal and reflex actions. This is one of the key reasons why aggression in dogs cannot be handled with aggression by humans. If the underlying factor of the dogs aggression is fear then being rough handed or using other methods that elicit fear in the dog only compound the problem.
The results of the survey conducted by Goodloe and Borchelt showed that from a pool of 2018 dogs,: 38% said their dogs showed some fear toward loud noises, 22% reported fear toward unfamiliar adults, 33% were fearful toward unfamiliar children and 14% exhibited fear toward unfamiliar and non threatening dog. Because of this if you are considering a career in dog training you need to look at options that educate you and support your growth as a dog trainer and a behavior counselor. Your clients will appreciate it and your bottom line will benefit.
Sign up for one of our individual webinars so you can begin to develop your behavior change skills
by Niki Tudge
The buying behavior of individuals is so complex that now business schools offer PHD’s in this subject. Buying behavior both pre and post the actual purchase is a fascinating study in psychology. The methodical buying process a client will go through before actually purchasing a service or product can be looked at in five stages. These five stages are not clearly separated and people do not always operate as methodically as this model suggests. But, most clients when deciding to purchase a new service or product do move in some way through one or all of these stages.
Understanding this client buying process will help you as a pet industry business owner design your educational marketing activities so they are effective in converting the “problem solver” prospect into a new client.
Think carefully about numbers 2 & 3. This is where all your marketing efforts should come into play. And come decision time, number 4, how easy is it for your clients to purchase from you once they have made the decision? It is important to eliminate all the potential purchase barriers. Amazon is a great example of a company that has removed all the barriers. It is so easy to part with money when just visiting their website; evidence of this can be found on many a credit card statement.
Whether your clients use all five stages of the buying process will depend on their actual buying situation.
During the buying process the following will also influence your prospects
In summary, understand your potential clients buying process given the different buying situations and how your prospects are influenced in these situations during their decision making process. This knowledge will help you develop effective marketing plans and sales activities.
Much of what we do in everyday life is all about choices. At any given moment we can work or we can do something more pleasurable, let’s say take our dogs for a walk. I can choose to do some work or train my dogs. I could then go to the beach or go to the store. I could food shop or go for a massage. I could deposit money in my bank account or buy a lottery ticket. I could train my dogs or schedule a session with a client.
There are a number of variables that exert control over my responding in these choice situations such as the reinforcement rate, the quality of the reinforcer, the reinforcement magnitude, and whether there is a delay with the reinforcement. For example if working at my computer (a powerful reinforcer for me) can be done now but scheduling an appointment with a client is not urgent then I will choice to work at my computer. If my client appointment has a deadline and I am due to get paid by them for 8 x one-hour lessons then I am more likely to schedule the appointment now as the reinforcement has greater magnitude or is qualitatively a more potent reinforcer even though it is delayed.
Choice situations arise when concurrent schedules of reinforcement are available in our environment. Training my dogs, visiting the spa, going to the beach, working at my computer, these all operate on their own schedule of reinforcement. But there is a choice between the response alternatives.
One phenomenon which was identified in laboratory studies using nonhumans is the “matching law.” The matching law theorizes that given two concurrently available response alternatives the relative rate of responding equals the relative rate of reinforcement. In other words if there are two response options and response option 1 provides two times the rate of reinforcement provided by option 2 then there will be two times the rate of responding on option 1 as appose to option 2.
A good human example is consider the possibility that you need to speak to a friend, and there are two telephone numbers available for this friend, home or cell. If in your experience you are twice as likely to get through to your friend on the cell number as you are on the home number then you are likely to call the cell number twice as often as you would the home number. This is matching law.
So how does this affect how we train our dogs? We have all heard of errorless learning, I like to think of it as guided learning. I believe we should offer our dogs, during acquisition of a new behavior, as much help and assistance as possible. The more often they get it right the more reinforcement they receive the more likely they are to choose that response in the future.
Let’s look at the “sit” behavior. In a training session we can “lure” or we can “capture” I always ask the question of our student trainers. How many “sits” can you lure and reinforce in 60 seconds? How many “sits” can you capture and reinforce in 60 seconds. More importantly when you are not offering guided learning in between your capture trials don’t be fooled into thinking your dog is not getting reinforced for sniffing, standing, moving, breathing, looking at you. Your dog is getting reinforcement from somewhere, elsewhere, everywhere. Yes a concurrent schedule!
Herrnstein, R.J. (1970). On the law of effect. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 13, 243–66.
How important is it to teach your canine companion what you would like them to do so that you can live a happy life together?
At DogNostics Career Center, we believe it is extremely important but what is even more essential is that you teach in a way that doesn’t cause any stress; that you teach in a way that is fun for both teacher and student; that you teach in such a way that each ‘lesson’ is easy to understand; that you teach in a way that not only encourages learning but enhances it and that you teach in a way that makes all learning feel like a game!
We also maintain that in order to successfully teach any companion animal, you need to understand animal learning theory – you need a good foundation of the knowledge and skills that underpin science based, rewards based, force-free training!
Whether you are looking to reduce unwanted behaviors; would love your pet to learn some cool tricks; need some effective management strategies; would like to expand your class curriculum or want to know how to teach your buddy to walk on a loose leash, the philosophy behind all of your interactions with the pets in your care should be the same: A philosophy based on our belief that we do not need to punish our companions in order for them to learn – a philosophy based on the latest scientific research!
We are not implying that you need to be a scientist in order to teach or care for a pet and we are not implying that you need to study all the latest literature. We are not even implying that you need to ‘master’ every single ‘positive’ training strategy that is available for you to use. We do, however, believe that you should have a foundation of knowledge and skills.
Misinformation abounds about the ‘best’ ways to ‘train’ a dog. The access to information has never been easier. Unfortunately, much of the information available isn’t based in fact and worst still, a lot of it could prove extremely detrimental to a pet’s physical and mental well-being and the relationship you share with each other. You only have to read some of the posts on Facebook, Instagram or any other social media to be inundated with ‘advice’ on how to deal with a specific problem or how to teach a specific behavior. Do a search on the internet and you will, without doubt, find the answer you are looking for or will you? You may think that you have the answer but, if you don’t have at least a basic understanding of learning theory, how will you know that the answer is the right one?
There are many ways to teach a behavior but not all of them are going to promote a healthy, happy bond for you and your canine companion. Not all of them are going to be in the pet’s best interest. What appears to be a ‘quick fix’ may be anything but when the consequences of your ‘teaching’ methods resurge at a later date.
Whether you are a pet dog guardian who is interested in learning how to teach your pet or you are a trainer who would like to improve your skills and knowledge and perhaps introduce a new ‘trick’ or 'manners’ program to your training curriculum, you should consider enrolling on the DogNostics Dog Training Certificate course. This is a comprehensive force-free dog training program that will give you the knowledge and the skill-set you need to teach your dog, or your clients, everything they need to know! The program is suitable for beginners, seasoned trainers and other pet industry professionals.
If you would like to continue your studies and become a Dog Behavior Consultant then the DogNostics Dog Behavior Practioner Program focuses on both the theory of dog training, associative and non-associative learning and the necessary mechanical skills to be a competent and ethical professional.
DogNostics also offers a host of individual programs to suit everyone's needs. Why not Learn to Speak Dog; become a Fun Scent Games Instructor; earn your TrickMeister Title; become a Certified Pet Care Technician, or simply sit down and watch an individual webinar?
The money you spend now will put you on the right path for all your learning and interactions with the pets in your care. It could even increase your business’s future revenue!
What is Conditioning?
Conditioning is a process of changing behavior.
Involuntary behaviors, also known as respondent behaviors, are elicited due to a person’s emotional reaction to a situation. In a process known as respondent conditioning (or classical conditioning), the presence of one stimulus begins to reliably predict the presence of a second stimulus. As a result, the association, through conditioning, starts to affect how a person responds emotionally to the first, eliciting stimulus. If the conditioning process is aversive, an initial pleasant or happy emotional response can change into a negative conditioned emotional response, such as fear or anxiety. It can work the other way around too, in that a negative emotional response can be changed to one of happiness and joy, i.e. a positive conditioned emotional response.
The wonderful thing about respondent conditioning is that when we grasp the scientific principles behind it, we can then use it in the workplace and our training lessons to modify a trainee’s behavior. We can counter-condition a problematic response to one that is more readily acceptable to all concerned
A Dog Training Method .........
There are always rumblings on social media about different dog training methods and their names and acronyms. Everyone seems to have comments and opinions on why one method is better than another. In some cases, in fact long Facebook threads, arguments breakout that become extremely aggressive and rude. Comments like
I am often asked what do I think? Do I approve of this method or that method? Well I never get pulled into these types of conversations or share my opinions and thoughts on one method versus another for a couple of simple reasons.
So, I just don’t do it, I don’t think we can make these kinds of general statements about a hypothetical dog training method because of reason x, y or z!
I remember one discussion about a method that had two different people passionately promoting it. Both individuals provided links to videos they had of their training in action. When I watched the videos of their actual training session and I functionally analyzed what was happening they were both very different. One was a -R protocol and one a +R protocol, yet both were promoting the training method as examples of great positive reinforcement training protocols.
So, to summarize. Rather than make general sweeping statements about one of the many training protocols is it not more accurate to observe a training session and functionally analyze what is happening. What is the targeted behavior, what are the consequences and how are they affecting the behavior and is the behavior as a direct result of the consequences increasing or decreasing. Then you can quietly decide if it’s a protocol you would choose to use in you practice.
If we are committed to implementing a quality training process to transform our workplace into one of purpose and productivity, then it makes sense to educate ourselves on how to be effective trainers. Equally, if we are really dedicated to training and transforming our employees in ways that benefit them personally and professionally, it makes sense to know as much about them as possible.
Human beings have, in general, an intrinsic desire to understand other people, their emotions, their thought processes, and thus, their actions. We no longer need to worry about being chased and killed by saber-toothed tigers and our survival no longer depends on our abilities to run fast, climb a tree or throw a spear. Instead, we survive “based on our abilities to detect the needs and intentions of those around us. Our primary environment has become other people.” (Cozolino, 2015, p. 13).
Because this is so important to us we tend to label people whenever we lack understanding. Understanding them, however, can help reduce the level of uncertainty we might feel about meeting and interacting with them. Our own uncertainties can cause us to make false assumptions about how our employees or trainees will react or behave towards us which, in turn, affects how we behave towards them. This is a damaging, dangerous and unnecessary cycle.
A key part of our effectiveness as trainers is being able to interact positively with our employees. This means we must present ourselves as accessible professionals and communicate appropriately with all team members.
When meeting new people, we perceive and interpret stimuli based on our sensory impressions. A cycle of perception and behavior follows and, if we get it wrong, can lead us to fundamentally misunderstand others’ motives, goals and actions. As individuals, we tend to apply identification rules to the moods, attitudes and intentions of others from the stimuli we receive. In other words, we stereotype. All of us do it to some extent. Once we have created these inaccuracies and drawn our own conclusions, we then expect others to behave in certain ways. This not only affects how we treat them but also how we communicate with them. Instead, we should be treating everyone with respect, fairness, integrity and – yes – interest. If we are to coach others effectively, we need to be invested in them as individuals, not just their goals.
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