Monday, July 14, 2008

Something Doesn't Click

I got an e-mail yesterday from Summer's Mommy that I thought warranted a full post rather than a reply buried in the comments section. It's, once again, about some of the problems with behavioral theory.

Something Doesn't Click
Hi Lee. I didn't want to further hijack your thread on your blog.... :) But I still had some questions if you don't mind...

As I mentioned I have a good friend who is a hardcore +R clicker devotee in the Karen Pryor Academy, so she's access to all the theories etc that we've been discussing.

She talks about how +R clicker training proofs the behavior in the dog. First you teach in a no distraction zone, then as the dog showing 80% compliance (but OH they hate that word!), then you introduce distance and/or distraction, ad nauseum until the behavior is proofed.

In SchutzHund (and elsewhere) they talk about three levels of training:

Right. And here's my description of these three stages.

LEARNING – where a new behavior is introduced, and there are few or no distractions, and everything should be positive (no punishment, no force). I’ve always likened this level to “Here’s a game called sit…”

NARROWING – where nuances to the behavior are taught through not rewarding the dog unless the behavior is done exactly right (which +R trainers call “negative punishment,” meaning that what they do is not “all positive”). Narrowing could be anything from teaching the dog that she has to always sit in front of you, not to one side, that she has to face you directly, or that she has to have both front paws resting on the ground, etc. I call this level “Here are the rules of the game…”

PROOFING – where the dog has to obey no matter what else is going on, squirrels running up his backside, buckets of KFC strewn all around the park, etc. This is where corrections are allowed if necessary. And it’s at this level that the idea of “positive-training-only” tends to break down with some dogs. I call this stage: “The rules always apply.”

The problem I see with dominance trainers is they often start the force and punishment right at the 1st level. That’s not good because you don’t a dog’s first experience with any command to be a negative one. The problem with +R trainers is that their ideology prevents them from being really good at getting results at the 3rd level with some dogs.

Trust me, no +R trainer would’ve ever gotten to the same level you have with Summer…

My problem with that idea is that unless you are training ten 3-min sessions every day of the week, it's hard to get any improvement out of the dog. So I guess it's while they are proofing, +R trainers are inadvertently working in tandem with the dog's natural predatory motor pattern without knowing, as you put in your post?

No. Anytime you get the dog to produce a behavior which relates to a predatory motor pattern, or "modal-action pattern," it has its genesis in the hunting behaviors of wild wolves, you’re stimulating the prey drive, whether you’re aware of it or not. So it doesn’t matter if you’re at the final stage of proofing the stay, or teaching it right out of the box, it’s always related to the “eye-stalk” behavior.

Also there’s a bit of folklore in dog training circles that “active” behaviors like “heel” and coming when called can be taught with toys, while the dog is energized, but that “passive” behaviors like “down” and “stay” are better learned through food rewards, while the dog is calm. But as you probably know, it’s actually much easier for a dog to learn the “down,” and particularly the “stay,” when she’s been energized before the training starts.

It SOUNDS like a nice way of training, but do you think it's possible to also inadvertently dampen drive if say, your clicker timing sucks? 

Yes, but it’s not just the timing of the clicker that’s the problem. Remember, Karen Pryor doesn’t really know anything about dogs. She was a dolphin trainer, one who believes that all learning for all species is basically the same process. So she sees a ball throw or game of tug as no different, essentially, from a food reward; it’s just another form of positive reinforcement. But if dogs learn best through reduction of internal tension related to an unexpressed prey drive, then the +R model falls apart. Yes, being given an opportunity to chase and bite can be viewed as a positive reinforcement, but it’s not the same kind of reinforcement as a food reward.

However, what the clicker does well, at least in dog training, is it provides a means for isolating a specific moment in time when the dog does something right. And yes, that takes perfect timing, and yes some dogs can be driven nuts if the timing is not perfect. (There are seminars now on how to avoid hyper-anxiety in clicker-trained dogs.) And while it’s great for teaching dogs to do tricks, that’s not what dog training is really about. At least I don’t think so.

Another reason I dislike the clicker is that the “learning” happens too quickly. It doesn’t allow the dog to process the information through his instincts and emotions. It’s all run on nervous, not emotional, energy. The reason some dogs do well with it is that they have a more flexible emotional-response system, one that can accommodate any kind of training. But clicker training kind of forces the dog to do too much of the emotional work on his own.

Here’s what Bob Bailey has to say on the subject: 

I am not a clicker trainer. I have used a clicker, and quite successfully. Keller and Marian Breland were using clickers in 1943. In the modern use of the name clicker trainer, punishment, especially positive punishment, is "disallowed." I allow myself to use punishment if I believe it is necessary to accomplish the task and if the task merits the use of punishment.

I am not a fan of the "ever-clicking" approach to training. The proper application of the clicker is that akin to using a scalpel to make fine cuts. However, the increasing use of reinforcement to get behavior is good, so I guess the prevalence of sloppy "clicking" is a price paid for trainers thinking more about reinforcement rather than punishment. Most pet owners seldom have need for a clicker, in my opinion; a clicker can easily get in the way of getting good behavior.

Animal training, and animal behavior, has consumed a large part of my life. Clicker training has had little impact on what I did, or what I will do. [And it] has not taught me a whole bunch, other than that people can get wrapped up in fads and catch phrases. 

I agree with Bailey that the +R movement is good, in that it has reduced the amount of fear, force, and punishment commonly used in dog training. But there’s also been a backlash, one that Angela mentioned in the comments section of my last post: many dog owners are finding out that +R doesn’t work very well with their dogs.

“Or you practice things like avoidance JUST as a dog is displaying a high drive behavior that's inappropriate (like barking at rollerbladers), and because they're practicing avoidance, they're not providing appropriate drive release at the crucial moment?”

Of course they’re not providing drive release at critical moments, at least not intentionally. That’s because their focus is on using positive reinforcement. And “positive” in the Skinnerian argot doesn’t mean that “something good” reinforces the behavior, it simply means that something is added, like food or praise, not subtracted, like internal tension or blocked drive, etc., to reinforce the behavior. (It’s hard to remember this so just try to remember that “positive punishment“ means that pain or fear is “added” to achieve learning; there’s nothing positive/good about punishment)


And since +R trainers are so focused on the idea that food and clickers are not only “positive” but “good,” that it’s hard for them to see that reducing a dog’s internal tension by providing appropriate drive release (as you put it) - which is technically a form of negative reinforcement - is the real agent of learning. And anytime you mention negative reinforcement to these people their minds automatically go to the ear-pinch as a means of teaching a dog to drop what he’s retrieved. (I think there’s a lot of Orwellian brainwashing going on +R circles.)

I hope you don't me asking these to you. I am still trying to improve as a trainer...

As you can see, I don’t mind. These are important questions.

BTW, I've taken a few steps back and asking Summer for more HUPS on walks, whenever I see her ramp up her energy outwards, and it's helping her rebalance much quicker. Yesterday she freaked at a pittie across the street who went apeshit on her, I said, NO NOT YOUR JOB, and asked for a HUP instead, and even though she delivered the hup visibly (and audibly!) distressed, right after the HUP the distressed energy diffused and she was back to walking normally. The raised scruff was gone, no more whining. Amazing how that works... A block later when we approached a leashed dog walking towards us, I just said quietly, Not Your Job, and she snapped her head to look at me in a tight formal heeling pattern.

That’s great. And I’m not sure how your friend at the Karen Pryor Academy would interpret that. She’d probably say that Summer is making a positive mental association with the pit bull because of the rewarding feeling she gets from jumping up on you. (?)

Can't wait to show you her heeling - she's doing amazingly well. I don't think she'll ever have the precision of a SCH 3 titled dog, but I really think we will nail the CD Novice Title, and in the fall when it cools down, I'm going to be teaching her the Broad Jump. We started some preliminary tracking exercises too. I never imagined I would bring her to this level... Remember how spazzy she was?? She does a kick ass recall to Front and Finish too.

From what I hear she’s the brightest doggie star in Fort Greene Park!

"Changing the World, One Dog at a Time"

20 comments:

Angela said...

This is all so informative, though a lot for me to process. If you have time, could you clarify this:

"it’s hard for them to see that reducing a dog’s internal tension by providing appropriate drive release (as you put it) - which is technically a form of negative reinforcement - is the real agent of learning."

I am having a hard time understanding how it is a form of -R.
Cheers!

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I'm not sure why you're having a hard time. It may be a difference between the new and old definitions of negative reinforcement.

The current definition of a negative reinforcer is anything which removes or takes away an unpleasant experience. I think in Skinner's day it meant anything that prevented a behavior from being or learned or caused a behavior to be extinguished.

Taking the modern definition, if a dog's hedonic state is improved by a sudden release of tension or stress, then whatever actions or experiences caused that reduction in tension would be a negative reinforcer.

Going back to what I wrote in the post: a positive reinforcement or positive punishment ADDS something to the dog's experience. A negative reinforcer or negative punishment works by SUBTRACTING something from the dog's experience.

Does that help?

I know it's all very confusing. I visited a website run by Kellie Snider, who I think has a PhD in this stuff. Anyway, I found a post of hers where she had to correct something she'd written earlier because she got the definitions of several bits of the Skinnerian lingo wrong. Even she admitted having trouble understanding all of it.

LCK

summerinbrooklyn said...

Hi Lee! Thanks for posing my email! I have more questions and comments, but will write them up later. For now, wanted to answer Angela's question. This is how my +R friend defines it:

+R = adding a positive outcome/reward. self explanatory

-R = removing a negative stimulus so that the desired behavior is offered. She gives the eg of the ear pinch to teach the forced retrieve. Another example I can think of is say, if you tighten a collar on a dog who is reacting until he stops, then the reward for him stopping is the removal of the tight collar.

+P = adding a punitive stimulus to get the desired behavior. So say your dog likes to bark at passing cars on the street, and you throw a can of pennies at him, and he stops, that's +P.

-P = removal of a rewarding stimulus to get the desired behavior. "Oh you don't want to sit? Then I'm turning my back to you!!" that kind of thing.

All +R trainers will tell you that they use ONLY the +R and the -P quadrants in their training, and some of them use the extinction quadrant. (They seem to have this idea that if a behavior is undesirable, but is also not "self rewarding" to the dog, and if you ignore the behavior, it will go away on its own. My take on this is, since when does a dog do something of his own volition that isn't inherently self rewarding??)

The way I understand it from reading Kevin's book and Lee's blog etc is that -P is when you get into trouble because people don't always go beyond that step and offer an appropriate avenue for the dog. So say they take to teaching the puppy to sit by turning their backs, but they don't teach the puppy that he is allowed to express his natural drive to jump. So the puppy feels shut out.

I made those same mistakes with my own Summer when she was puppy. I took her to a clicker class not knowing any better when she was 6 mths and I got in return a very frantic very confused puppy who didn't understand that it was OK to express drive. I successfully shut her down in some respects. :( The happy ending is, I found Lee, I learned about training in drive, and now she is miles better! :) Hey I uploaded those videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/summerinbrooklyn

let me know what you think! :D

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

SummerinBrooklyn: "She gives the eg of the ear pinch to teach the forced retrieve."

See! I TOLD you that's what her example would be. It's like there's some +R Karl Rove behind the scenes, giving these people talking points!

Look, negative reinforcement is the removal of any negative experience. That's really it. By framing it as a negative STIMULUS rather than a negative EXPERIENCE the implication is that it only includes things that impact the dog from the outside. But a stimulus can come either from the outside (like the noise of a firecracker or the taste of a cookie) or it can come from within (like an increase of internal tension due to hunger or a lack of exercise, etc.) Neither the firecracker nor the cookie have any impact on the dog unless the dog experiences the noise or the taste. So it's always about the dog's experience. (+R trainers like to say, "We're not mind readers; we can't really know what the dog's experience is," but that's a cop out because when they talk about the negative impact that force and punishment have they're always VERY concerned about the dog's experience -- and to a degree, rightly so.)

Again, they (the Pryorites) always look at things from Pavlov's and Skinner's pov, instead of from the rat's pov. For example, does anybody ever talk about how unhappy Pavlov's dogs were to be forced to salivate every time they heard a bell ring? Do they consider the fact that Skinner's rats were half-starved then put in boxes with no possible external stimulus BUT the lever and the light?

Look, there's no question that positive reinforcement is an excellent model for teaching new behaviors. Like I said before, Kevin was the first trainer from the traditional field to recommend using food and conditioning techniques. But how accurately does a rat's experience in a Skinner box reflect that of a well-fed dog in the outside world, with tons of natural stimuli impinging on his consciousness? NOT VERY WELL!

It's true that we can't know with 100% accuracy exactly what the dog is feeling, but we CAN know where his energy is focused. Using the energy theory (or drive theory) we can see shifts in mood, shifts in attention, and shifts in drive. It's all there. And Kevin describes it all perfectly in his book (well, perhaps not perfectly, but it's all there if you can decode it).

In my view it's extremely UNscientific to claim that what +R trainers do is based on science. There's a very remote connection between those lab rats and salivating dogs, and what happens in the real world. Besides, "What we do is based on science" is the same argument dominance trainers used (some still do) because ethologists have "proven" that alpha wolves control the behaviors of all other pack members.

So if you ask me, *I* think Kevin's energy theory is the closest thing we have to any REAL kind of science in the dog training world. The problem with it is what Thomas Kuhn called the principle of incommensurability: it's not possible to understand the principles of a new paradigm through the structure and language of an old one.

That's why Pryorites have to frame the definition of negative reinforcer incorrectly. To them it's the only definition that makes sense because their belief system is essentially not about the underlying scientific principles as much as it is about being right, and making anyone who doesn't agree with you wrong or inferior* (hence the Karl Rove reference up top). So they rewrite Skinner and Pavlov, and read the dog's mind when it serves that agenda, and they don't understand that the dog's predatory nature is the bedrock of all his behavior.

Jean Donaldson is starting to see into that paradigm a little, but she still doesn't get the essence: that all behavior, learned OR instinctive, is the result of an attempt by the animal to reduce his internal tension or stress. I mean, really: put some well-fed rats in a Skinner box, give 'em a good dose of Prozac or Valium, and THEN see how interested they are in pressing that lever. The "learning curve" would go way down.

And by the way, why did those rats REALLY learn to press the lever?

We're told it was to get a food reward. Right? Well, perhaps, but I think that's only half the story. The other half is that just being in the box created tension and stress, and pressing the lever reduced that tension. Yes, learning that the lever was the key to getting food reduced the tension even more. But look at "The Misbehavior of Organisms," by Keller and Marian Breland. The animals in that experiment weren't locked in boxes. They all quickly learned that the way to get food was to press a button. But after a few days, they lost interest in the button and began producing their own instinctive food-related behaviors instead, even though NONE OF THOSE BEHAVIORS GOT RESULTS. The chickens pecked at the floor, the raccoons obsessively "washed" their hands, and the pigs rooted around in the dirt. The experiment with the pigs had to be stopped or they would've starved to death! And they had "learned" that the way to get food was simply to press a button. They'd been doing it for several days and getting good results!

There's a lot more to training than Skinner's rats and Pavlov's dogs.

LCK

*Watch Victoria Stillwell's snooty, stick-up-her-ass responses to most of the dog owners on THE GREAT AMERICAN DOG (if you can stand to watch the show). She's so self righteous about anyone who doesn't train or treat their dogs the "right, modern" way. Now, maybe it's just routine these days to hire a Brit to play the Simon Cowell role on these types of shows, and so perhaps she's just playing the role they're paying her for, but she takes it much further than Simon Cowell does.

summerinbrooklyn said...

Haha I kept thinking of, "The smoking gun will turn into a mushrooming cloud"... talking points indeed...

I have a question re. the idea of corrections in the proofing stage. Tyril and I actually butt heads in that dept too. I prefer to think of it as a little bit of extra stimulation to narrow down the pathway through which the drive flows - when I make leash pops, or in some instances, the key jingles. He thinks of it as, "She's playing the fool, and the pops will snap her out of it." Essentially, the result is that she drives at me harder when I pop her lightly during heeling. So whatever the case is, however we think of it, it comes out right.

But what do you think of it? I still hedge at the word "correction" because I makes it sound punitive, when I don't think the pops are punitive in my mind. But what about Summer's mind? What are the pops like for her? I'm not entirely certain she enjoys them, but I do know that when I pop, it snaps her out of her unfocused drivey haze and into a narrow laser focused drive. And the more we pop her lightly, the more intensely she wants to work.

Sometimes she does this crazy waah-waah sound and it sounds like she's complaining - it DOES sound like she's playing the fool. Or is it just she's nervous and confused and the pops jolt her out of her confusion and refocuses her?

I did some exercises with her when she had to maintain a Look at me despite other people calling her name and whooping. Everytime she looked away, I gave her a light pop. SO in a sense, it WAS punitive, but I thought of it more like, Hey, pay attention. Is that what you mean by correction?

Re. active vs passive behaviors - I use food to work the heel more so than toys. Summer's attraction for toys sometimes spikes and then it wanes, so it's erratic. And when it spikes she gets all frantic - "GIMME BALL GIMME BALL GIMME BALL!!!" So with food, I have used Chase Me to work teh heel, and it's effective. I basically ask her to HUP for cheese, then after one HUP, she still wants more, and I dash away from her quickly, and she'll chase me down. I manouver her to my left, still running, then suddenly make a series of about turns, and she'll spin around in chase. When I do the Chase Me, her heels are more energized and precise.

Another question: how do you feel about the ear pinch to teach a retrieve? I reread Pat Burnham's Playtraining book again recently, and she talks about using the ear pinch, but I'm not convinced.

BTW, I have the Barwig/Hilliard schutzhund book, and it's brilliant. I'm interested in the Schutzhund Training In Drive book though. Tyril who's been training schutzhund for years now, says the B/H book is a good intro to the sport.

summerinbrooklyn said...

Oh, can you say "ass" in blogger world? SWEET!!!

I watched the first ep of Greatest American Dog on sat. It was kind of weird. I mean, how did some of those dogs get on the show?? They couldn't even respond to basic commands!

Angela said...

Thank you both for your responses. I am familiar with the four quadrants of learning theory but I guess I get stuck on -R...specifically, how is providing drive release (let's say, a game of tug offered when another dog goes by and my dog tugs instead of reacts) a form of -R? Wouldn't I be adding something instead of taking something away? Or, am I taking away my dog's internal tension? In that case, would I be using + AND - R at the same time?

I'm sorry to get so nit picky!

ANYway...I'm so glad to 'meet' others that are on the same path, so to speak, in working with dogs. I live in SF, home of Jean Donaldson's training academy, and +R only trainers abound...BUT, I'm noticing a slight shift since many of these trainers don't stay in business or people find a more balanced trainer (one who may use, gasp, a prong) to get the help they need for their dog. Or, people just give up and live with problem behaviors. I AM noticing less GLs and less nasty stares at my dog's prong.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

It can drive you crazy trying to figure out all the jargon. I think it's very simple: since all behaviors, learned or instinctual, are the result of an attempt by the animal to reduce his internal tension and thus achieve a more hedonic state, and behaviors which are successful at changing the animal's hedonic state by reducing tension and stress are favored over those that don't

ALL LEARNING TAKES PLACE THRU NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT.

To S's Mom,

"Playing the fool" is an anthropomorphism. The reason dogs behave this way is because they lose their focus. The reason they lose their focus because their drive isn't flowing freely. The reasons for drive not flowing freely are too numerous to mention. (Now I'm starting to sound jargonistic!)

From the NTD pov there's a distinct difference between a dog's emotional system (which tends to FUEL his drive) and his nervous system (which tends to shut it OFF). They run on two different types of energy; one is close to pure attraction, the other is closer to pure resistance. When Summer gets into that state she essentially doesn't know where to direct her drive and gets a tiny bit panicky. The "shock" from the collar or keys does "snap her out of it," but I wouldn't say she's "playing the fool" because that doesn't get at the essence of her dilemma. The prey drive is essentially designed to operate on the energy created by stress. Remember, wolves don't like or want to hunt animals that could very well kill one of them. In order to motivate them to go hunting Nature designed a system where when the stress builds to a high enough level, they can't help themselves. That's they the prey drive works, that's the way the sex drive works. Both drives essentially put the individual animal in a vulnerable position, so part of the purpose and/or nature of drives is to overcome fear from the nervous system.

By the way, if you go back to the time before Skinner's American apotheosis, before he hogged the behavioristic spotlight, Clark Hull was another psychologist who offered an alternative view of behavior that he called drive reduction theory. It's not exactly the same thing that Kevin describes, but it's in the general ballpark.

From WikiPedia:

"Hull conducted research demonstrating that his theories could predict and control behavior. His most significant works were the Mathematico-Deductive Theory of Rote Learning (1940), and Principles of Behavior (1943), which established his analysis of animal learning and conditioning as the dominant learning theory of its time. Hull is known for his debates with Edward C. Tolman. He is also known for his work in Drive Theory. Hull’s model is couched in evolutionary terms: Oranisms suffer deprivation. Deprivation creates needs. Needs activate drives. Drives activate behaviour. Behaviour is goal directed. Achieving the goal has survival value."

[Achieving the goal -- which isn't necessarily the goal of the organism, by the way, but of the drive itself -- reduces internal tension and stress--LCK]

"Hull's formula for determining motivation, is Ser = Shr * D * K

"Ser = strength of habit/drive sHr, is determined by the number of reinforces Drive strength, D, is measured by the hours of deprivation of a need K, is the incentive value of a stimulus.

"In experimental psychology, he created the 'hypothetic-deductive' systematic method, after the observation and elaboration of hypotheses. This method brought him precise definitions and conceptualised axioms which helped him develop his theories. He believed that behavior was a set of interactions between an individual and their environment. He analysed behavior from a perspect of biological adaptation, which is an optimization of living conditions through need reduction."

LCK

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

To Angela: Your example of redirecting the dog's attention and energy away from "attacking" another dog and into a biting a tug toy might indeed seem to be both +R and -R. And if you were using food treats to attempt a behavioral change, you would see it more clearly (though wrongly in my view) as being solely the result of +R.

But even though you're "adding" the game of tug to change the dog's behavior, it's still -R because the behavior comes from tension and the tug toy successfully reduces that tension. And in general it does so more successfully than a food treat.

If you think of it in energetic, rather than psychological terms, it makes more sense. Dogs are looking for an outlet for their energy. I mean this is one of the essential dilemmas of most dog owners, particularly those of us who live in an urban environment. When dogs find a behavior that reduces their internal tension and stress, they go back to that behavior. This simple rule explains ALL behaviors, not just how to teach tricks in a puppy class.

LCK

summerinbrooklyn said...

Hey Lee, so can I say that in training, we are artificially creating a certain level of stress by increasing drive, and then teaching the dog the appropriate outlet for release (which would be the desired behavior)? So that when the dog finds herself in a stressful state that suddenly elevates her drive, she'll default to the behavior that we trained for?

I never really thought of it in that way before. I mean, I understood about the need to build drive and I do see that when I bother to do a little pushing and Hupping right before training, she does it with greater precision, and she actually looks like she's enjoying it a lot more.

Based on that idea you wrote, is it possible for them to actually enjoy the training? As in, before the actual exercise, when I'm still prepping (getting the leash, doing some pushing, asking her to come into Heel before we start), is it possible for her to start feeling that excitement and look forward to the training? When she makes that waah-waah sound, I know she's stressed and confused and doesn't know how to alleviate that stress. It happened this morning. She saw a dog across the street that immediately piqued her interest, and I could see her body go tense. So I backed up and called her and asked for a hup. Her body followed me, but she kept facing that other direction, and her mind wasn't on me. So I just repeated the Hup cue and popped her lightly. She sat in front of me, gave a couple of high squealy waah-waah noises and finally she jumped and planted her feet on my chest. She did seem a lot calmer after that. But I wasn't sure if I did the right thing by insisting she HUP instead of turn her head at the dog. My thinking was, even if she didn't react, she would feel that unresolved tension from seeing the dog, and that wouldn't be good. Did I do the right thing?

Thanks so much for talking about this! The only other people who talk about training all tend to be +R people, and it's like they're speaking Icelandic - I just don't get what they say...

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

S'sM: “Hey Lee, so can I say that in training, we are artificially creating a certain level of stress by increasing drive, and then teaching the dog the appropriate outlet for release (which would be the desired behavior)? So that when the dog finds herself in a stressful state that suddenly elevates her drive, she'll default to the behavior that we trained for?”

That pretty well sums it up.

One of the things that irritates me about +R trainers (and there are quite a few) is that many of them have this aversion to doing anything to stress the dog. I’ve had +R trainers refuse to do the “eyes” exercise because it would stress the dog. I’ve had others who were “willing” to try the pushing exercise, but didn’t feel it was necessary to follow all the rules. “It might stress the dog too much.”

And all the while they’re not realizing that clicker training can be very stressful, for one thing. And how about the desensitization “cure” for separation anxiety? Go out and come back in again, over and over, slowly increasing the amount of time you’re gone each time you leave. And every time you leave, your dog, who tends to go into a panic state whenever he’s left alone, has to go into that panic state over and over and over. That’s not stressing the dog? Just being alive is stressful. And look at Pavlov’s dogs! The +R crowd thinks this was a great achievement in dog training, but it was enormously stressful to those animals. They were not happy campers. So it’s another area where their prejudices are conditional on their ideology.

S'sM: “Based on that idea you wrote, is it possible for them to actually enjoy the training? As in, before the actual exercise, when I'm still prepping (getting the leash, doing some pushing, asking her to come into Heel before we start), is it possible for her to start feeling that excitement and look forward to the training?”

Absolutely. It’s hard for them NOT to love it. It answers the deepest question of their existence—“How do I resolve my predatory feelings and not get hurt and/or hurt anybody else in the process?”

S'sM: “When she makes that waah-waah sound, I know she's stressed and confused and doesn't know how to alleviate that stress.”

She may be getting that from you. Maybe she feels that YOU'RE stressed, or that you don’t know how to alleviate your OWN stress. The waah-waah could be some internal stressor or anxiety or your own that you’re unaware of, and she’s just expressing it for you. Think of the waah-waah as a biofeedback mechanism so that when you hear it, take a moment to clear your head, take a deep breath, whatever, and see if you get any impressions about how YOU'RE feeling that she's picking up on. (Just a suggestion, if you're interested.)

S'sM: “It happened this morning. She saw a dog across the street that immediately piqued her interest, and I could see her body go tense.”

Right. And how did YOU feel at that moment? What were you thinking about? “Oh, Summer. I have enough to think about right now! I don’t need this from you…” Maybe?

S'sM:“So I backed up and called her and asked for a hup. Her body followed me, but she kept facing that other direction, and her mind wasn't on me.”

Right. Maybe because your mind wasn’t on her, at least not in a good way.

S'sM:“So I just repeated the Hup cue and popped her lightly. She sat in front of me, gave a couple of high squealy waah-waah noises and finally she jumped and planted her feet on my chest.”

The squeally waah-waah may have been her last ditch effort at communicating something to you about what YOU were feeling. It may NOT have been, but that could be a factor here.

S'sM: “She did seem a lot calmer after that. But I wasn't sure if I did the right thing by insisting she HUP instead of turn her head at the dog. My thinking was, even if she didn't react, she would feel that unresolved tension from seeing the dog, and that wouldn't be good. Did I do the right thing?”

Yes and no. I remember teaching you in Carroll Gardens that jumping up is a way to alleviate the tension and stress the dog feels at not being able to connect with another dog. But you might want to take a step in the other direction and ask if some of this behavior isn’t a reflection of your own internal states.

I would do the hup if I’m walking the dog and as I start to get closer and closer the proximity increases her tension, or if as we’ve walked past she still feels unresolved tension about not being able to make contact. But if I’m far enough away—which it sounds to me like you were this morning—I would probably praise her first to see if that would be enough to turn her emotions around.

As for what I said about the possibility that YOUR internal states may be the cause of some of her behaviors, that idea is the theme of my book about my life with Fred (which I've barely started). He was the one that taught me that sometimes training had more to do with MY feelings than his.

S'sM: "Thanks so much for talking about this! The only other people who talk about training all tend to be +R people, and it's like they're speaking Icelandic - I just don't get what they say."

Yeah. They'd think we're from Mars, though. It's that business of incommensurability.

LCK

summerinbrooklyn said...

Lee: "She may be getting that from you. Maybe she feels that YOU'RE stressed, or that you don’t know how to alleviate your OWN stress. The waah-waah could be some internal stressor or anxiety or your own that you’re unaware of, and she’s just expressing it for you. Think of the waah-waah as a biofeedback mechanism so that when you hear it, take a moment to clear your head, take a deep breath, whatever, and see if you get any impressions about how YOU'RE feeling that she's picking up on. (Just a suggestion, if you're interested.)"

AH!! I see it now! It's true, come to think of it. In the past few days, I've taken to asking her to HUP for time I recognize a potential stressor, and for the most part, I've been relaxed and confident about the fact that Hupping WORKS. Those times, she automatically Hups, no problem. Sometimes we do pushing on the spot. Sometimes just the Hup. BUT, there have been times when I'm at the end of my tether (and it's always due to outside factors, but they end up reflecting back on my interactions with Summer...) and she does reflect my own irritation with agitation on her part...

One thing about praise... I've tried that when I see her tense up, but she doesn't usually respond to it. Maybe I'm catching it too late, and also maybe by that time I catch it, I'm already tense myself. So she's not responding to my own tense state. But I'm not entirely certain how to overcome my own tension. It gets to the point where if I can successfully walk her past a leashed dog, I can physically feel my muscles relaxing, I'm that tense. Although, with each successful event, I'm more relaxed about just walking with her. (It wasn't too long ago when I was still dreading having a leashed walk with her - she's great off leash.)

Is it a case where I have to be supremely confident and relaxed, despite setbacks? What should I do if, say, I'm praising her and cocksure she will not react, but she does anyway? Do I just hold her leash firm and ask for a Hup AFTER her explosion? Or try to still distract her in mid explosion with praise and light leash pops and ask her to Hup?

Mid explosion is that nebulous zone where I'm never sure what to do and how to react.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

S's M: "Is it a case where I have to be supremely confident and relaxed, despite setbacks?"

I don't think anyone could or should reasonably expect themselves to be supremely confident and relaxed at all times. If you ask me that's setting yourself up for some bitter disappointment right there. The most you can do -- at least as far as I'm concerned -- is to simply try to be aware that there are two of you in this relationship, and that Summer will always reflect something back to you about how you're feeling that you might not be aware of. It's what dogs do for a living. They fetch things for us. In this case they sense our inner frustrations, and without knowing the causative factors, they alert us to what's going on. The only thing I'm suggesting you DO is to try to remember this simple, but little-known fact about canine behavior if it's all possible to do so. If not, it's no big deal, you'll get another chance later on.

DOGS ARE DESIGNED TO WANT TO HELP US BECOME BETTER HUMAN BEINGS

This may not be true of all dogs, or all dog/owner relationships. But when I see the kind of energy and effort you're putting into Summer's training it reminds me of myself back when I was trying to solve Freddie's panic attacks. It's only now, especially since I've started writing my memoir, that I realize what he was trying to teach me, and looking back I see that he was actually successful at teaching him as much if not more than I ever taught him. I don't think Summer is any different.

S's M: "What should I do if, say, I'm praising her and cocksure she will not react, but she does anyway? Do I just hold her leash firm and ask for a Hup AFTER her explosion? Or try to still distract her in mid explosion with praise and light leash pops and ask her to Hup?"

You can only do what you can do in the moment. I don't mean to be mysterious and Zen about this, but all you can do, really, is pay attention as much as possible to how your feelings might be impacting on her behavior. If that causes more frustration, then fall back on what you already know. At some point, if you allow yourself to be open to it, a glimmer of something you'd never thought of before will come to you. That's what happened that day with Freddie and the chicken breast ("Using Praise as a Correction" for those of you reading this that haven't looked at that article). I don't think that idea came from me as much as it came from the Fredster himself. It certainly changed our relationship; he opened up to me and "trusted" me a lot more after I "discovered" that principle...

I have three dogs here right now, and as I was writing this two of them were growling -- playfully, but a bit excessively -- so I stopped typing, took a long slow deep breath, and things settled down almost immediately.

I tried it again just now, and it didn't have the same effect. So there's no hard and fast rule or formula to it. You just have to occasionally remind yourself, if you can, that one of the factors affecting your dog's behavior may very well be your own internal feelings of friction and stress.

We live in New York City, after all. Tension and stress aren't going away any time soon.

I'd better sign off now before people start mistaking me for the Dogggie Lama!

LCK

boywunder said...

I know exactly what you mean about being aware of how you are feeling, and what your dog is reflecting back to you at that moment. It took me a long time and a lot of personal reflection to finally let myself off the hook and say, hey, there's going to be good days and there's going to be some bad days. But it's not a negative reflection of me or my dog. It's just the way things happen sometimes and I'll always have another chance tomorrow. Once I let myself and my dogs off the hook, everything started to change as I started to relax. Though I do have to catch myself sometimes still. No one's perfect after all:)

I have a story to share that reflects just how much our own emotions can affect our dogs. Roxy is incredibly dog reactive. I mean she only needs to see a glimpse of a dog to get wound up. Of course it also is dependent upon her energy level too, since she's more relaxed when she's had a chance to go chase tennis balls in the morning.

Anyway, one evening I decided to take both her and one of my other dogs, Jackie, for a walk after sundown. Now normally I don't take Roxy out with one of the other dogs since it doesn't give me the chance to work with her individually if there are 2 dogs with me. But it was late and I wanted to take them out and figured there wouldn't be anyone out at that time. So we're walking down the street and then to my surprise, I hear a voice less than 10 feet ahead of me say "Hello, how's it going". It was a gentleman I've met before who lives down the street who has a wonderful German Shepherd named Molly, who loves to play with Jackie. Though I'm not so sure the feeling is mutual:) Anyway, his and Molly's presence surprised me and caught me off guard, to the point where I didn't have a chance to get tense or apprehensive about there being a dog there so close. I just stopped, exchanged pleasantries for a minute, then told him it was nice to see him and Molly, and how Roxy can get stressed out around new dogs and people, so I would just move on and walk around in an arc so she has some space.

Now, this entire time Roxy didn't act like the Roxy I know at all. Normally if she were that close to a new dog she would be going nuts. The whining, the pulling, and potentially exploding depending on how wound up she got. But in this moment she just sat there, only about 6 feet from this dog and person she's never met, a double whammy. And yet she was perfectly calm and still, and completely relaxed. No tension on her leash, and not even a single whimper or whine.

It wasn't until later after I had time to process what had happened that I realized just how much my own energy plays into her reactions in these situations. Because their presence was such a surprise, I didn't have a chance to get myself worked up, and so Roxy didn't get worked up either. It was a pretty amazing and transforming experience. I haven't been quite able to duplicate that moment since, but having gone through it really opened my eyes and taught me that I need to settle myself down first.

I've also noticed around the house that when I get frustrated by something, namely my computer (any PC user will empathize:) )that I don't have to make a sound, or say anything. Just the tension that builds up inside me is enough to get the dogs to come over and start licking me.

Dogs' ability to feel and connect with our energy is an amazing and powerful thing.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

I think these are excellent insights, boywunder.

LCK

Amanda said...

It's the same with Henry. A handful of times Henry has woken me up in the middle of the night to go outside to use the bathroom. I live in Brooklyn with no backyard, so I have no alternative but to get dressed and take him out to the street. I'm always VERY nervous doing this alone at 3:00 a.m. When we go out Henry spends most of the time growling and making very low bark. This make me even more tense because I just want him to hurry up so we can get back inside and safe from all the muggers and murderers! :) At first I thought he was doing this because it was quieter than usual at this time at night, but now I'm pretty confident that he feels how nervous I am.
Also few night ago, It was around 12:30a.m and I had just gotten home so I took him out. I turned down a street and nobody was on it. I was leaning over to pick up Henry's poop and what seemed out of nowhere came two men started walking in my direction. I immediately started to feel nervous. Henry broke away from me ran over to the men and was barking and flashing his teeth at them like crazy a dog. He NEVER barks at people. Scared the living daylights out of the men! I felt so bad. But it does give me a little bit of comfort to know he has my back!

summerinbrooklyn said...

I've been mulling over what everyone has been saying about how Summer is my little emotional mirror on four legs, and it's made me so much more astute of my own emotional state when I walk with her! And to a great degree, it's helped a lot. She had a few moments of clear confusion and agitation with her waah-waah sounds, but once I stopped for a moment and cleared my head, even if it was just for 5 seconds, and then immediately asked her again energetically for a HUP, she gave me a big jump and pushed her paws forcefully onto my chest.

I do have to say though, that she gets into a state where it's hard to reach her and she doesn't want to make eye contact even, much less Hup. She had a moment like this two days ago. But I kept insisting and gave her a few light pops, and backed up, and did this for close to half a block, and it finally got through to her. She hupped onto my chest, and she gave her strong eye contact, and I threw in a Speak to get her more focused. About a block later, we saw an approaching dog, so I backed up a couple of steps and asked for Hup. This time she flew up, pushed against me with all her weight, but the best part was, her face was all lit up, ears forward, big grin, and all I needed to do was start saying the Speak command, and she let loose a giant deep resounding RUFF! It was like that moment, something clicked inside her doggy brain and she understood the Hup better.

Since then, she's been hupping no problem, which makes my own emotional state more balanced. A synergistic effect, if you will.

Thanks for the fascinating discussion!

Angela said...

"DOGS ARE DESIGNED TO WANT TO HELP US BECOME BETTER HUMAN BEINGS"

SO true which is why the only prayer I say is "Let me become the great human my dog thinks I already am"

I used to hate, hate, HATE, my dogs' aggression issues. Looking back, it's no surprise they continued to display aggression. "I" was being aggressive, in a way, in how I was living my life at the time. When I calmed down, life calmed down, I found a great trainer who helped me, and now the dogs are calm with no aggression issues.

In the end, while I hated all of the behavior problems, I also would never have learned as much as I did or met the people I've met if my dogs came to me 'normal'. I'm a better trainer and companion to them.

I just can't fully explain why this summer I am able to take my dogs anywhere on and off leash around other dogs, whereas 6 months ago I never dreamed that would ever be possible. We meet 20-50 dogs a day with not one issue from my dogs. In fact, Roman has been the recipient of aggression from other dogs but makes the choice to come to me.

On our (off leash) walks, I hardly talk to them, but we are 'together' more than ever...silently. They are always looking to me and I only have to give a hand signal to change directions. So, while I do want to advance them in rally obedience and get some titles, this peaceful experience is so much more rewarding and what makes life with dogs wonderful.

Lee Charles Kelley, said...

Angela: "On our (off leash) walks, I hardly talk to them, but we are 'together' more than ever...silently. They are always looking to me and I only have to give a hand signal to change directions."

This sounds exactly like what happened with Freddie after I started "hunting squirrels" with him. Before that when he was off lead he was always aware of where I was and would generally stay with me (due to the fact that I'd played "hide-and-seek" with him when he as about 5 mos. old), but after I started the squirrel-chasing behavior, he was actually WITH me, not just physically, but in spirit.

It's a great feeling.

LCK

Margot said...

I like that this discussion has taken a metaphysical turn. My dog’s communication with me started during toilet training, I would get flashes of green grass and know he needed to pee. Toilet training was too easy.

What is most important in this level of communication is trust, to not let your logical mind interfere with what your dog is telling you, because as NDT tells us, dogs do not have logical minds. Yesterday morning that trust was put to the test and I failed – but Butters, my Tibetan Spaniel, passed.

Our morning walk takes us along the road to a small fishing village, on a path behind the village to the harbour, and then back home along the beach, which is not much of a beach because it is overgrown with reeds, grasses, and other plants. We took a slightly different route due to unexpected high water which eliminated the ‘beach’ for the first 200 meters. Regardless, Butters went straight to the waters edge – I thought to myself, I will meet up with him at the beach in a little while. For those who do not know the breed Butters is small so it does not take much for him to disappear. I took the next trail down to the waters edge and looked for him but could not see him.

I continued on thinking he was probably close, but he did not check in with me as he usually does. I called him - still no Butters. Then I got worried but forced myself to calm down and try to connect with him mentally. I got an image of him waiting for me where two paths meet a distance further on. But then I noticed two elderly ladies back toward the harbour looking for amber and thought he might have gone to greet them, but they had not seen him. Then I saw a man walking with a large dog at the harbour and worried that he might be there. Instead of believing the mental image I had received, I returned to the harbour. No Butters. So I thought to myself, just trust your dog and go to where you know he is. I got there but he was gone, so I feared he had taken another path over the field back to the village to visit his golden retriever friends. But then I saw him walking in the direction of home in my mind. So I was torn – stay and make sure he has not gone to the village, where he can get into all sorts of trouble, or trust what I was seeing now and just meet him at home.

So I called my neighbour, who’s house he would need to pass to get home, and asked her to look out for him or send someone to the beach to catch him because I was quite sure he was on his way home. I would stay and check the village just in case.

They planned a military style operation but they never got the chance to execute it because they met him walking up the path from the beach just as they were setting off. My neighbours 8 yo daughter gave him a thorough medical examination and, other than a green nose from the pollen from the beach vegetation, declared him fit and healthy.

If I had just trusted the first mental image I had of him and had continued to the intersection of the paths I am sure I would have found him there. I think he got tired of waiting while I was checking with the old ladies and at the harbour, or unsure because I must have been sending him all sorts of conflicting messages, so he decided to head off home. Smart dog!! Not so smart me, I let my logical brain interfere with what I was receiving from Butters.

On this mornings walk he stuck close by me, probably did not trust me to not loose him. He also climbed a large rock for the first time – or probably the second time. I got the impression from him that this is what he had done yesterday, hoping to see what was keeping me.

By the way – I discovered that Butters does indeed know when I am coming home a la Sheldrake. A friend was staying for a few days and I left them in the garden while I went to the shop. I got back and my friend complained that Butters had lain at the gate while I was away and he could not get him to play. I asked if he had lain there the whole time. He said no, just the last 5 to 10 minutes, which is how long it takes to drive home from the shop. Even though Butters is my hairy Tibetan monk in miniature and I already suspected that, it is fun to have confirmation.

Maybe instead of asking, how can I encourage my dog to do the right behaviour, we should be asking, what should I be feeling so that my dog wants to be in a state that connects us – wherein we are pure co-operation.

So what is Butters telling me about my state when he attacks my trouser legs? Something to ponder....