Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Teaching a dog previously kept outside to be calm inside the house

I have published the first tip of 25 for this year on my website.  You can view the article by following this link:
Teaching a dog previously kept outside to be calm inside the house


25 dog and puppy training tips 
25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips:

For each month of the year, I will release 2 training tips that will be accessible for free at dogmantics.com.  If you simply cannot wait for the information to be published online, you can buy the collection of all 25 training tips in an ebook format here: 25 Dog and Puppy Training Tips
This is a list of all the tips included in the ebook, and that will be eventually available online:
  1. Teaching a dog previously kept outside to be calm inside the house
  2. The problem with ignoring unwanted behaviors
  3. Fading a lure
  4. Adding a verbal cue or changing a cue
  5. Dogs and babies
  6. Socializing tips- Our world can be a scary place!
  7. What to do if your puppy bites you OUTSIDE of a training session
  8. Changing your thinking from “I don’t like” to “I need to work on”
  9. What to use as reinforcement
  10. Treat deliveries
  11. Teaching your puppy appropriate greetings on leash
  12. Teaching “All done” for training sessions and dinnertime manners
  13. Variety is the spice of life… and training!
  14. Teaching your puppy to walk off leash
  15. Don’t let your dog free feed
  16. Don’t only work on one behavior at a time
  17. Separation training tips
  18. Monkey see, monkey do- Take advantage of social facilitation
  19. Always remember to release your dog!
  20. The importance of handling
  21. Chewing
  22. Teaching “Drop” and “Get it”
  23. What to do if your puppy sits and refuses to budge on a walk
  24. Generalizing
  25. Training your dog to do absolutely… NOTHING!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is it harmful to attach a leash to your dog’s neck?


 Is it harmful to attach a leash to your dog’s neck?
By Emily Larlham
(Note: This article is a work in progress- the more I research, the more I will add to this work.)

People who live with dogs for companionship and friendship all want what is physically and psychologically best for their dog.  We get dogs as companions in order to experience friendship, trust and to take care of another living creature that depends on us for their wellbeing.  Many of us have a sense of pride when it comes to taking care of our beloved dogs, so finding out about information that conflicts with how we are already caring for our pet can feel like a personal affront.  

I used to walk dogs with the leash attached to a collar or slip lead until I was confronted by someone who suggested I use harnesses instead to prevent neck injury.  I felt harassed, annoyed and in disbelief that this ‘know it all’ dare lecture me on how I take care of dogs, because I love my dogs dearly!  I also felt a feeling of shame from the social interaction of being told I was doing something wrong by a stranger in a public place.  Although the information hurt, a seed was planted in my brain and it began to grow.  It has only been a handful of years since I started using only harnesses on dogs and wince when I see a dog hit the end of their lead on a collar.  

In this article I will attempt to convince you for your dog’s quality of life and physical wellbeing to not to attach a leash to your dog’s throat.  Be it for any reason such as obeying leash laws, managing behavior, or being in a serious rush to get out the door.  I strive to put forth the information in a way that will not cause the reader the feelings I felt when I first was asked to consider using a harness instead of a collar.

Aren’t dog’s necks constructed differently than ours?

A main argument I have heard for the use of collars is that dog’s necks are sturdy, strong and not like our necks at all.  In actual fact, the neck of a canine is physiologically similar to that of a human.  Our general anatomy is so similar to dogs that human medicine has been tested on dogs.  Get down on all fours and gently feel your dog’s neck while you are feeling your own.  Both of our necks contain the trachea, oesophagus, thyroid gland, lymph nodes, jugular veins and spinal column relatively within the same places.  Both contain muscles in relatively the same places.
 


A dog’s skin is very similar to ours too.  Obviously dogs are hairier than us and do not sweat, but the skin is almost exactly the same apart from the epidermis of a dogs skin being only 3-5 cells thick when our top layer of skin is 10-15 cells thick.




Can attaching a leash to a collar on your dog’s neck be physically harmful? 
Attaching a leash to a dog’s collar can indeed cause physical harm to your dog if the dog were ever to hit the end of the leash or pull on the leash. This is because the neck of a dog is full of very delicate and important physiology that keeps your dog healthy.  The thyroid gland for example is located in the front of the neck below the larynx. Just one incident of pulling on a collar could possibly cause severe damage to your dog’s health in the same way as damage to your own neck could cause lasting health issues for you.  Why would you take that risk?  The only real benefit of having your dog wear a collar rather than a harness is that it is faster and easier for the dog’s handler to put on for a walk.

The Dangers of Using Collars:

Neck Injuries- Just one incident of pulling or running fast to the end of the leash could possibly cause serious neck damage.  Neck injuries could include bruising, whiplash, headaches, crushed trachea, damage to larynx, and fractured vertebrae. A neck and spinal cord injury can cause paralysis or neurological problems.

In a study of 400 dogs by Anders Hallgren published in “Animal Behaviour Consultants Newsletter” in 1992, he found that “Pulling and jerking on the leash affect especially the neck and throat in the dog.  As expected, there was no correlation between leash handling and thoracic/lumbar defects.  However, one of the clearest correlations in the whole study was between cervical (neck) damages and 'jerk and pull'. 91% of the dogs who had neck injuries had also been exposed to jerking on the leash by the owner or been allowed to pull hard on the leash for long periods of time.”  “Playing is harmless but warm up first.  Dogs that often run, play with other dogs, jump out of happiness or over obstacles, showed no correlation with back problems. This is encouraging.  However, dogs should be given massage and a chance to warm up before strenuous activities, whether it's before rough playing, hunting or agility.”

Ear Issues- In the study by Pauli AM, Bentley, E Diehl, KA, Miller, PE ‘Effects of the application of neck pressure by a collar or harness on intraocular pressure in dogs’, it was found that pressure in the eyes “was significantly increased from base-line values when a force was applied to the neck via a leash to a collar, but not to a harness, in the dogs of this study.” This type of intraocular pressure can cause serious injury to dogs already suffering thin corneas, glaucoma, or eye injuries.

Eye Issues- Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM states in an article ‘Dog collars can cause disease and possibly lead to cancer’ which can be found here: http://www.peterdobias.com/community/2011/07/dog-collars-can-cause-disease-and-possibly-lead-to-cancer/, that “Ear and eye issues are frequently related to pulling on the leash. When dogs pull on the leash, the collar restricts the blood and lymphatic flow to and from the head.”

Hypothyroidism- The collar rests on the neck in the area of the thyroid gland.  As Dr. Peter Dobias says in his article, “This gland gets severely traumatized whenever a dog pulls on the leash, it becomes inflamed and consequently “destroyed” by the body’s own immune system when it tries to remove the inflamed thyroid cells.  The destruction of the thyroid cells leads to the deficit of thyroid hormone – hypothyroidism and because the thyroid gland governs the metabolism of every cell. The symptoms may be low energy, weight gain, skin problems, hair loss and a tendency to ear infections and organ failure.”

Malfunction of the nervous system in the forelimbs- Another health issue that Dr. Dobias points out in his article on collars is the possibility of malfunction of the nervous system in the forlimbs.  He states, “Excessive paw licking and foreleg lameness can also be related to your dog’s collar.  Leash pulling impinges the nerves supplying the front legs.  This can lead to an abnormal sensation in the feet and dogs may start licking their feet.  These dogs are often misdiagnosed as allergic and all that needs to be done is to remove the collar and treat the neck injury.”

Behavioral Problems-  It is commonly believed that in all animals with a brain, behavior is linked to health. In Anders Hallgren study published in “Animal Behaviour Consultants Newsletter” in 1992, he found correlations between injury and behavior.  Anders writes, “That dogs are so similar to humans may come as a surprise to many.” “A common cause of behavioral troubles in dogs is disease or pain.  According to those who work with problem dogs, the most usual source of pain
and disease is damage to the muscles and bones.”  Anders study was focused on back injuries.  Of the group of 400 dogs, 79% of the aggressive dogs had back problems, while 21% had no back problems. Of the reserved shy dogs 69% had back problems while 31% had no back issues.  This study shows that there is a correlation between physical health and behavioral problems.

If it’s damaging their necks, why don’t they stop pulling?!

 

If pulling on the collar is damaging to dogs’ necks, why don’t they stop pulling?!  Dogs are not humans and do not operate behaviorally in the same way we do. It would be commonsense for us humans to stop when we hear ourselves gagging.  Our anatomy is similar physically, however our brains are very different.  We cannot make assumptions about dog’s behavior based on how we behave.  If you grabbed an office worker by the tie, he wouldn’t suddenly start madly puling in all directions going red in the face to get to the walls to pee on them or strain and scream to get to the female office workers in the building or repetitively hit the end of his tie again and again to see if they could reach the free doughnuts in the lunch room until he flipped himself onto his back.  I have seen dogs walk on their two back legs with their weight shifted onto the collar to get somewhere.  I have seen dogs pull so hard that they cannot get a breath into their lungs and dogs drawing in rasping breaths.  I have also seem people jerk their dog so that their dogs whole body lifts off the ground, and as soon as the dog is on the ground again, he is hitting the end of the leash to get to that other dog on the other side of the street. 

Some dogs would chase a ball or herd sheep until they died from overheating.  I know dogs that have broken off their teeth trying to get through fence or crate, and dogs that have ripped out their toenails scratching at the door when an owner left for 5 minutes.  My border collie ripped off the pads of her feet while playing in the desert and did not show any behavioral signs of injury until she got up from a nap, and I realized the pads of her feet were gone.  If you have watched the show Animal Cops you might have seen abuse cases of ingrown collars and severe neck lacerations, where dogs are walking around normally as if nothing happened with a huge gaping neck wound.  Dogs do not exhibit or react to injury in the same ways we do.

How can we know what a dog is experiencing?  Is there a way we can measure pain or suffering?

There is no reliable way of measuring suffering or pain in animals, or humans for that matter.  The most reliable way to measure pain and suffering in humans is through verbal communication with the patient.  MRI scans of the brain can also shed some light on how others feel.  Measuring cortisol levels or stress hormone levels have proven to be an unreliable way to measure pain or suffering, as they are just too unpredictable in studies.  For example, in human abuse cases stress levels could either be higher or lower than average and conclude nothing.  The same unpredictable results can happen when measuring stress in dogs.  Therefore at this point in time there is no reliable way to scientifically deduce the psychological implications caused by wearing a collar.  All we know is that behavior can be affected by the physical health of a dog.

If dogs bite each other shouldn’t it be natural for us to emulate them to train them?
 

It all depends on your morals and ethics whether inflicting intimidation or pain on an animal is an acceptable behavior. It is part of human behavior in a society to bully, rape and kill each other, but that doesn’t make it moral or give one the right to do it to other people. Because dogs and wolves bully, fight, and kill each other does not make it acceptable for us to emulate their behavior towards our own dog.  Dogs play-fight using their mouths, see the photo above left, but that also doesn’t give us a right to use collars or intimidation to manage or train dogs.  Jerking a dog on a collar could suppress a behavior from happening, but it can also cause behavioral side effects such as aggression and frustration.  Non-violent ways of training dogs exist that don’t have unwanted side effects.  There is a myth that all dogs correct each other.  There are some dogs that correct other dogs, and other dogs that don’t.  You can train multi dog households to cohabit the same spaces peacefully and actually enjoy being in each other’s presence using Classical Conditioning, instead of letting the dogs work in out on their own.

Jerking a collar around a dog’s neck does not emulate the biting of another dog physiologically either.  Many trainers hope to emulate dog corrections to train a dog to stay with them or train new behaviors, but dogs do not bite one another to get the other to stay with them or to train them to offer specific behaviors through out the day.  We don’t even know if dogs consciously know their actions affect another dog’s behavior in the future.  There is the
possibility that dogs correct each other as a reflex, or simply because it has been reinforced in the past.  Also, one should be warned that some dogs will become aggressive when other dogs bite them no matter what the reason.


Then how do I punish my dog if he pulls?
 
There is a way of training animals that involves no form of physical or psychological intimidation called Progressive Reinforcement Training.  Please read the Progressive Reinforcement Training Manifesto at www.dogmantics.com for more information.

To solve leash pulling you can reinforce your dog for being at your side with well-timed treats and the reward of getting to move forward.  You can then “punish” the behavior of pulling, by not moving an inch in the direction that the dog begins to pull in and instead move backwards.  There is no need to intimidate or hurt a dog to teach him to walk on a leash.  The main goal is to never follow a dog on a tight leash, even one inch, as it will teach the dog that leaning into the leash will yield the reward of getting to where he wants to go and he will repeat the behavior in the future.  Leash pulling problems can also be the side effects of other behavioral problems such as fear, anxiety or over arousal, so a trainer needs to get to the heart of the problem rather than work on only the side effects.  There are multiple free leash walking tutorials here if you need assistance: www.youtube.com/kikopup
Here is one basic leash walking video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFgtqgiAKoQ

But my dog never pulls on leash… 

Yes, perhaps there is a dog out there, that will never ever pull suddenly towards a smell in a bush, food on the ground, an old friend or another dog.  But there might be some time in that dogs life that the dog might need to be pulled, perhaps a car mounts the sidewalk and you need to jerk your dog out of the way or perhaps a car back fires and your dog runs forward.  We would never attach a leash to a child’s neck to keep him safe, why would we attach a leash to a dog’s throat when there is the option of a harness.  In the same way a human’s neck could get severely damaged if we fell forward onto a collar attached to a lead, a dog can suffer the same harm.   

Make a choice for your dog’s wellbeing- Choose a harness!
Myth: Harnesses make dogs pull.  Truth: People who follow dogs in harnesses make dogs pull.  Yes, in a back clipping harnesses dogs can get more force behind their pulling, and so when they do pull they can pull with more leverage.  The only reason that dogs can’t pull as hard in a collar is because they are using their delicate organs and their spinal column to pull forward.  There are many harnesses on the market today specifically for extremely strong dogs.  If you clip the leash to a front clipping harness the dog cannot get as much leverage as clipping it to the back of a harness, and it is easier to reorient your dog towards you than when the leash is attached to the back of the dog.  If you want your dog to pull you sometimes but not others (perhaps on a skateboard or in a wheel chair) you can put the behavior on cue or you could simply allow pulling when the harness is clipped to the back and not allow pulling when you clip the leash to the front of the harness. 

Choose a well fitting harness that distributes weight evenly and that does not pinch or rub specifically on one area (for example in the armpits).  Make sure not to buy the type of harness that tightens like a slip lead when the dog pulls in order to cause discomfort or pain. Halters that fit over a dogs head could also cause neck injuries but in a different way than a collar, as the neck is twisted to the side or back if the dog were to hit the end of the leash.  Don’t buy a harness that rests on your dogs neck as it could be just as damaging to the throat as a collar, making wearing the harness instead of a collar pointless.  Many suggest a prong collar is more humane as the dog will not pull, but if the dog were to pull once, all the pressure of the collar will rest on a few tiny points on the neck. What if that point were to rest perfectly on the center of your dogs’ jugular vain, or larynx.  Shock collars are also not a solution because of the behavioral side effects that can occur.  Shock collars are under investigation in many countries for being inhumane and banned in many parts of Europe (including Sweden where I live).

In conclusion

If humane is defined as having regard for the health and wellbeing of another, then I believe that attaching a leash to the collar on your dog’s throat is not as humane practice as attaching the leash to a harness.
Walking a dog with a leash attached to their neck is just not worth the risk of the physical damage to your dog’s delicate neck, the organs housed within the neck, and the rest of the body that is affected by pressure on the neck. 
 

On a final note, TRAIN your dog to walk with you.  Don’t just put your dog in a harness to prevent pressure on the neck.  Training a dog is a wonderful way to spend time bonding and interacting with your dog and should be one of the joys of companionship.


Please spread the word.  Use a harness when you need to attach a leash to your dog! 

  
Above pictures are of the author's dogs Trisch, Lacey, Tug, Splash and Kiko in their harnesses.


References:

Pauli AM, Bentley, E Diehl, KA, Miller, PE.  Effects of the application of neck pressure by a collar or harness on intraocular pressure in dogs. J.Am.Anim.Hosp. Assoc.2006:42:207-211

Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM’s article ‘Dog collars can cause disease and possibly lead to cancer’ http://www.peterdobias.com/community/2011/07/dog-collars-can-cause-disease-and-possibly-lead-to-cancer/
“Dr. Peter Dobias has been in Veterinary Practice since 1988. In 2008 he sold his thriving holistic veterinary practice in North Vancouver, BC Canada to pursue his passion for educating the public about disease prevention and natural treatment methods.  He also started a not for profit society aimed at animal welfare, holistic cancer research and educating the public on the dangers of choke and prong collars.  He believes that together, we can create a healthy and long life naturally. Visit him at www.peterdobias.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/drpeterdobias.”

Boyd JS (1991) Color atlas of clinical anatomy of the dog and cat. Mosby, London

Mielke, Kerstin (2007) Anatomy of the Dog In straitforward terms, Cadmos, Germany

Evans, Howard E., deLahunta, Alexander (2004) Guide to the Disection fo the Dog, Saunders, United States of America

Anders Hallgren, Swedish Vet. Study; Animal Behavior Consultants Newlsttr; July,1992, V.9 No.2.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Errorless Learning versus the use of No Reward Markers


Errorless Learning versus the use of No Reward Markers

Errorless learning is a type of training that sets humans or animals up with the goal of a 100% success rate while learning.  Today, not only zoos, marine parks, and dog trainers use errorless learning, but also teachers of children and people with learning disabilities use it with their pupils instead of trial and error learning.   
This type of training was first introduced by Herbert Terrace in 1963 in a discrimination experiment with pigeons. Terrace was trying to find a way to reduce the emotional behavior that interferes with operant behavior when an animal makes an error in discrimination training.  He trained pigeons to discriminate between two squares of color.  With one group he used errorless learning by creatively setting the pigeons up to succeed in offering the correct behavior right from the start, while with the other group he used trial and error learning.  The group of pigeons set up for errorless learning offered an average of 25 incorrect behaviors during the testing period, while the pigeons trained by trial and error offered the incorrect behavior between 2,000 and 5,000 times.  His astounding results have paved the way to more precise learning procedures with less unwanted side effects, benefiting a wide variety of learners, from people suffering from Amnesia, bomb sniffing dogs, to performing killer whales. 

Errorless learning as opposed to trial and error learning has been scientifically proven with animals and humans to:

*Minimize the number of errors in the training session
*Decrease time spent learning a skill
*Reduce future errors, as they have never been practiced
*Create less frustration, stress, and aggression
*Not inhibit behavior
*Not create a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment to any part of the behavior or task
*Not create a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment to the trainer or the training environment

An example of errorless learning:

Perhaps you have taught your dog to touch a target with his nose, and also step on a target with his paw.  After repeating the cue of touching the target with his nose with the target 1 foot from the ground, you then put the target on the ground.  Most dogs will be highly likely offer foot targeting as well as nose targeting because of the situational cue of the target being on the ground, unless they have worked on stimulus control for both behaviors.  Instead of using a no reward marker or another type of punishment for an incorrect behavior, you can simply set the dog up for success from the start.  You could do this by lowering the target gradually, shaping approximations of the final behavior so that nose targeting continues successfully until the object is on the ground, or you could prevent errors by having the dog stand on a stool with his paws to keep them in place when you put the nose target on the floor.  Plan and think creatively to create precise, reliable, and highly reinforced behaviors using errorless learning!

Why do dog make errors in training?

Behaviors can deteriorate because of incorrect criteria, timing, and/or reinforcement.  Animals naturally vary behavior and so it is impossible to achieve no errors.  Regression is also a natural part of learning in all creatures.  A context shift can also affect behavior, as dogs do not generalize well.  For example, if your dog “knows” sit in the kitchen, your dog might not “know” sit in the yard on the grass, sit while another dog is playing Frisbee next to you, or sit in the dog park.  So if the trainer wants stimulus control over the behavior (a reliable behavior in all the situations the trainer asks for it), the behavior must be proofed and reinforced to the degree the trainer wishes in all the scenarios he wishes.

Other reasons that errors may occur are if your animal is over aroused, sick, tired, full, injured, overweight, out of shape, fearful, nervous or stressed.  The environment and distractions could also be disrupting your training session.  Your reinforcement could be to blame by not being of a high enough value, or too predictable.  Reinforcement in scientific terms, increases behavior. So if the behavior is not increasing- it’s not being reinforced.   

What do you do when errors start popping up? 

When training using errorless learning, a warning sign that your plan needs to be modified is when your animal starts offering too many incorrect behaviors.  Instead of punishing the dog by using a no reward marker to give the dog information that he was wrong, modify your training plan to set your dog up for continued success.  You can use shaping to reinforce approximations of the desired behavior.  

When proofing and adding new criteria, you must lower the level of existing criteria.  You can use the environment, props, cues, previous training, as well as reinforcement placement to set your dog up for faster success.  If your training plan is not yielding results, stop doing it and think creatively!

If your dog is failing in the middle of a behavior chain, go back and reinforce the behaviors that are faltering to create a stronger chain.  All behaviors in behavior chains need to be equally reinforced or the chain could fall apart at its weakest link.  The area of a chain that falls apart the fastest, tells you which area is the weakest and needs to be reinforced the most.

For using errorless learning in not just training sessions but also everyday life, you can use these guidelines:

Reinforce- the behaviors your dog is already doing that you find desirable and they will increase.
Train- new behaviors as alternate behaviors to replace the ones you don’t like.
Interrupt- behaviors you find undesirable so they don’t attain a reinforcement history.  You can do this by using a previously trained with positive reinforcement recall, attention noise, leave it cue, or asking for a different behavior from your dog to interrupt the undesirable behavior from continuing.
Prevent- your dog from practicing unwanted behaviors by using management.

For information on solving behavioral problems and interrupting undesirable behavior inside and outside of training sessions without using physical or psychological intimidation, read the Progressive Reinforcement Training Manifesto here:

What is a No Reward Marker?

A No Reward Marker is a trained Secondary Punisher, or in other words a Conditioned Punisher that predicts no reinforcement is to follow.  With enough conditioning of a word or sound to be the predictor of no reinforcement, the word itself will create a conditioned emotional response in the animal similar to the disappointment of not being given the reinforcement he was expecting.  After conditioning, when this word is used during training, it will cause the animal to be less likely to repeat the behavior he was doing in the future (if conditioned correctly and if the behavior isn’t self reinforcing).  Trainers use NRMs to punish, or in other words suppress behavior with the hopes that they will cause the behaviors to be less likely to be repeated in the future.  Examples of NRM’s are “no”, “eh-eh”, “oops!”, “wrong”, “sorry” and “try again”.

The problems with using No Reward Markers:

* NRMs can cause frustration, stress and even aggression.
*They can inhibit behaviors you dislike, but also inhibit behaviors you had wanted to keep.
*They can create a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment to a cue or a behavior (known as a poisoned cue) if used often.
*They can create a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment to the trainer and/or the training environment if used often.
*They can give the trainer the idea the dog is to blame rather than a faulty training plan.
*If your dog is over-aroused, stressed, confused, fearful or sick your dog might perform a behavior incorrectly, and punishment will only mask the underlying problem.
*Using NRM’s are positively reinforcing for the trainer- meaning that a trainer might unconsciously start using them more often in training sessions as they give a feeling of instant gratification.  Making a trainer less likely to modify the training plan and more likely to punish the dog instead.

Look at the dog in the picture.  Imagine the trainer had said “Oops!” the moment the dog sat down in front of her, because the dog sat too slowly.

The next time the trainer asks for the cue the dog could offer an even slower sit, or perhaps offers another learned behavior like a down, or an alternate dog behavior like jumping up, whining, barking or growling. There is the possibility that the dog could offer a faster sit, but what if the dog doesn’t?

Perhaps the dog understands the concept of a NRM but superstitiously responds by acting as if it was the eye contact that was incorrect, perhaps the dog associates the punishment with being too close to the fence, or perhaps that he should not be in front of the trainer. Perhaps it was a combination? Perhaps the trainer does not want the dog to sit ever again, as when the dog had jumped on the trainer the NRM meant to never do that behavior ever again. 

Instead of using a NRM, the trainer could reinforce the dog’s fastest sits to build the muscle memory and a reinforcement history of the desired speed of sitting.  Instead of having the dog guessing about what he shouldn’t be doing, the trainer could reinforce him for doing what she wants him to be doing, and building a stimulus response association of only the correct behavior.  The trainer could set the dog up for success by making him more likely to sit fast by playing tug and getting the dog excited before asking for the cue, not asking for the behavior when the dog has just woken up from a nap and luring the dog into a fast sit with a treat until the dog is sitting at an appropriate speed prior to asking the cue.  

Classical Conditioning occurs in your training whether you like it or not.

If you say “down” and your dog sits, and then you say “wrong”, a secondary punisher follows the behavior of a sit.  This not only punishes a sit offered in response to the cue “down” but it also causes the behavior of siting to be conditioned with the secondary punisher.  This means that the next time you say “sit” your dogs brain might activate the memory of the NRM associated with the behavior in the past, and it could lead to confusion down the line as well as illicit a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment if NRM’s are often used in training.

In the video below Tedd Judd, PHD, Board Certified in Clinical Neuropsychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology, shares a great example of how using trial and error learning as opposed to errorless learning with an Amnesia patient caused the incorrect behavior to be more likely to occur in the future, rather than the desired one:






In the video Tedd Judd gives the example of a patient with Amnesia, in the hospital. The Doctor asks the patient, “Do you remember my name?” The patient says “No” and the doctors replies “Well, take a guess”, and the patient answers “Dr. Smith?”.  The doctor then answers, “No, It’s Dr. Judd”.  The next morning the Doctor asks the same question. “Do you remember my name?” and the patient replies “No”, and the doctor says “Can you take a guess?”, then the patient replies “Was it Dr. Smith?” Then the doctor replies, “No, it’s Doctor Judd”.  Then the next time the doctor goes past the patient the patient says “Oh, hi Dr. Smith!!!”  This happened because the patient was remembering their mistake, instead of the appropriate response. 

This same scenario can happen with dogs, a dog can remember and build muscle memory for the incorrect response even if a NRM was given.  With errorless learning where your goal is to shape successful approximations of the final behavior, the dog will not have the opportunity to think of, learn or practice incorrect responses.

An example of this is using trial and error training with No Reward Markers while teaching a dog to weave through agility poles.  During trial and error training the dog could zoom through the poles incorrectly, and you could say “Whoops!”, try again, and then the dog gets it right.  Perhaps you do 10 repetitions and the first time the dog was incorrect, then correct, then had 3 more errors, but then was successful the last 5 times.  It could seem that your dog has learned from his errors, however there is a higher possibility that the dog will repeat the mistakes he just repeated 4 times in the trial of 10 and than if you did 10 trials using errorless learning where the dog only make a mistake 1 out of 10 times.  This is because the dog has practiced doing the error more times.

Using a NRM in the middle of a behavior chain can not only punish the behavior in the chain, but can also punish the behaviors previously done in the chain, and can cause the cue to become poisoned (create a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment to the cue or the behavior). 

If you used a NRM for the dog exiting the weave poles in the middle of the poles, instead of completing the weaves correctly, and for some reason you had to use the NRM multiple times in this exact area of the weaves, your dog could start to have a conditioned emotional response associated with punishment when reaching that area of the weave poles that have been continually punished and your dogs behavior could change because of this conditioned response.

As Ted Turner, an internationally renowned Animal Behaviorist and marine mammal trainer says, regarding the use of punishment in training; when you reinforce your dog for something “you are putting money in a reinforcement account.   If you put a punishment in there, you drain your savings.  If you put too many punishments in there, there will be nothing to draw from.” 

In my opinion, it is easier to compete with the environment and distractions and be the most reinforcing option for your dog when you do not use punishers or conditioned punishers, as you have not “drawn from your reinforcement savings”.  To condition a behavior as secondary reinforcer (which means the animal will more readily do it without primary reinforcement in the future), stronger conditioning occurs if the behavior is only paired with reinforcement and never punishment, such as a NRM.  After many repetitions using errorless learning, the cues and behaviors your dog does should elicit a conditioned appetitive emotional response, in other words the dogs feels a similar feeling when he hears the cue of the behavior and completes the behavior to the feeling of being reinforced.

No one said training with errorless learning is easy.  It is much easier to watch an animal and say ‘yes’ when you like what they are doing and ‘no’ when you don’t like what the animal is doing.  It is much harder to create a training plan and adjust the plan using creative thinking when things go wrong.

In my opinion only the most talented trainers should implement such a complex method such as No Reward Markers into their training plans, and if the trainer is that talented, then they shouldn’t be making that many errors in the first place to need NRMs.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A new beginning...


Since Kiko got her right eye removed she has become a different dog.  It's as though we went back in time to when she was 2 years old.  She is playing more and more active.  Today she kept up with all the other dogs on our hike in the woods,  usually she would walk only a couple of minutes before needing to be carried.  She has been blind in her right eye for some time, so it has not been a shock for her not to be able to see.  So life has only gotten better, as she is not in pain any longer.  The lens of her eye had detached and was knocking into her cornea and even with drops that were supposed to keep the lens in place, she acted miserable.  Her eye used to bother her all the time.  Kiko is a joy to behold.  She is even going up to say hi to dogs she would usually avoid, like an excitable Flat Coated Retriever the other day.