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
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.
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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!
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DogNostics is the sister company to and provides the key education for DogSmith Licensed professionals.