Nine Steps to a Calm, Relaxed, Quiet Canine. Have a Go at DRO.

I like quiet, calm dogs.  Most owners I know want quiet, calm dogs.  Visions of a dog cuddling during a relaxing evening shatter with the reality of a pushy, loud, obnoxious pest.  Where classes are concerned, pestering pups embarrass owners.  I like my classes quiet so I don’t have to yell over the ear piercing, migraine inducing screaming of an out of control, demanding dog.

Typically, owners are offered a long list of tips ranging from increased exercise, busy toys, supplements, gadgets and massages.  Sufficiently exercised, some dogs fall asleep.  A sleeping dog isn’t well mannered.  It’s just sleeping.  When they wake, we’re back to pestering.

Owners can feel like they have become the dog’s personal entertainment center. Perhaps we should use training instead? Many owners try rewarding an incompatible or alternate behaviour.

For example, the dog that is lying on a mat cannot be clawing at your legs.  However, I like to use something a little different because DRIs and DRAs can create behaviour chains.  The dog swings back and forth between good and obnoxious behaviour like a pendulum on a clock.  Pester – treat – pester – treat – pester – treat.

When I get noisy, hyperactive, unfocused, pushy, pestering dogs in classes, I start them on a Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviour (DRO) plan.  It uses positive reinforcement to reduce unwanted behaviours.  The absence of a specific problem behaviour over time is reinforced. DRO’s work on a wide array of problems from barking, pawing, pushing, bouncing at the end of a leash and more.  I do not however use it with dogs with fear and anxiety problems that would be better served through desensitization and counterconditioning.

What many fail to realize is that a DRO rewards TIME, not RESPONSES. Simply reinforcing the absence of a problem doesn’t address that we want the dog to behave for a prolonged period of time.

Let’s use barking as an example.  We do not want to create a dog that barks and hushes, looking for a treat each time it quiets.  We want a dog that stays quiet.  Our criteria is not the absence of problem behaviour.  Our criteria is the absence of problem behaviour over time.  Dogs can absolutely learn time based or temporal criteria.

Back to our barking dog, we might begin by rewarding short periods of quiet.  It does not matter if the dog is sitting, standing, spinning, chewing a bone or doing a headstand.  If the dog remains quiet for a pre-determined length of time, they earn their reward. Gradually, we would ask the dog to stay quiet for longer and longer until barking rarely, if ever, happens.

Close attention to passing time prevents the dog from learning that they can bark and hush to get a cookie.  That’s because we are being very clear that our criteria is not the act of becoming quiet, but the act of staying quiet.  The dog is free to do any safe, appropriate behaviour it likes – so long as it is quiet.  The same goes for any other nuisance behaviour we seek to eliminate. dro A well executed DRO follows a process and some rules. There are variations based on the type and timing of reinforcements.  This is the one I typically use in classes and at home with my dogs.

The Process

Step one:  Identify the problem behaviour with clarity.  (My dog barks when near other dogs.)

Step two:  Measure the frequency of the problem to create a baseline.  How often is the dog barking?  (My dog barks when near other dogs on average every 2 seconds.)

Step three: Set the length of time your dog needs to “behave” in order to earn a reward.  This should be slightly less than your baseline.  (I will reward my dog every time he is quiet for 1 second.)

Step four:  Use a reward that motivates the dog.  (My dog likes meat.)

Step five:  Allow the dog to engage in normal activities that are safe and appropriate for the context of the situation.  You are not asking the dog to do anything.  Count quietly in your head and reward the dog each time they meet your criteria.  (One Mississippii – treat.  One Mississippi – treat.  One Mississippi – treat.)

Step six
:  Aim for A level student grades.  The dog should be right at least 80% of the time.  We want the dog practicing appropriate behaviour, not rehearsing the problem.

Step seven:  Continue to re-evaluate progress and measuring the dog’s responses.  Ask for longer duration of appropriate behaviour as the dog demonstrates that they are ready.  Stay at each level until the dog is consistent.

Step eight:  Switch to a random schedule when the dog has developed sufficient duration.

Step Nine::  Generalize the behaviour in various locations as needed.

Now for the rules:

  • Count!  Do not eyeball this exercise.
  • As your dog improves, you can increase criteria more rapidly.
  • If the dog misbehaves before time is up, get their attention and re-start the time.  (Do not reward the attention back to you.)
  • If the dog is not hitting A student level, decrease your expectations.  Make it easier.
  • Be careful not to reinforce other nuisance behaviours.  For example, if you want to eliminate barking, be careful that you are not rewarding pawing or jumping.  If the dog engages in too many alternate problem behaivours, reduce your time criteria.
  • Problem behaviours may initially increase before dropping off dramatically.
  • During initial stages,ignore other training goals.  Once problem behaviour disappears, you’ll have plenty of time to teach new things.
  • If the problem fails to improve, communicate with a qualified pet professional.  It is possible that the dog is misbehaving due to medical problems or anxiety issues.

Perhaps one of my favourite parts of executing a DRO in group class is watching the dogs.   Young, powerful, adolescent dogs barking en masse and too distracted to learn anything start to breathe.  Their muscles relax and the room goes still.

The owners are stunned that for the first time ever , their hyper dog has gone from a maniac to sane – a cool dude lying by their feet.  It happens in a class of other dogs.

A DRO is how we taught Kipper the ex-crotch ripper to settle quietly at the end of a busy day. Sometimes we get so focused on telling the dog what to do, we become micro-managers instead of teachers.  Sometimes we forget that we often don’t actually care what a dog is doing, so long as it’s appropriate.

Often we forget about counting – the time factor.  It’s a shame we don’t focus on time more often because frankly – it’s really effective.  Results are often dramatic and can come quickly.  If you want to eliminate any number of nuisance behaviours, remember to keep one eye on a clock.

Your Dog Ain’t No Jesus – Even He Lost His Shit

People want the perfect dog.  They want Lassie.  Lassie is a bit like the Jesus – holier than average.  Perfect most of the time.  I say most of the time because even Jesus lost his shit.

I don’t particularly care to enter any religious debate.  Truth is, Jesus has a reputation and most people have heard of him.  He fed the hungry, saved baby lambs, taught children and washed the feet of prostitutes.  “Turn the other cheek”…that would be Jesus.

Despite the cheek turning, there is an exception.  In a fit of righteous indignation, Jesus charged into the temple, turning over tables. He used a whip to drive out the moneylenders and the animals.

On a scale of one to ten, Jesus was at eleven.

Yet owners are told that no dog should EVER show ANY sign of aggression.  Dog aggression is pretty cut and dry.  Dogs that bite rarely get second chances.  Holy heck, we want our dogs to act better than Jesus did.

Never mind that they are animals and have no moral code to abide by.  Pets certainly cannot write letters to newspaper editors, nor can they protest or unionize.  Our expectations of what dogs should tolerate are high.  We want them better than Jesus no matter what the circumstances.

Dogs - expected to behave better than Jesus.

Dogs – expected to behave better than Jesus.

Quickly glace through social media, pictures of kids riding dogs like horses or shoving macaroni up their poor animal’s nostril.  Infants grasp handfuls of fur as they yank the dog closer for a hug and kiss.  Why?  So parents and owners can post pictures online captioned with phrases like, “So cute!”

No, it is not cute.  It is bullying.  That dog ain’t no Jesus that will turn the other cheek indefinitely.

Other dogs live a life of unpredictable expectations and nagging.  Mom invites the dog up on the sofa.  “Daddy’s gone – come and cuddle.”  When dad gets home, the dog is scolded for being on the couch, and then labeled as being stubborn and dominant.

No, it is not okay.  It is confusing and stressful.  That dog ain’t no Jesus that will turn the other cheek indefinitely.

Aggression begets aggression.  That should not be hard to understand.  Retaliation is no surprise.  We should expect that with repetition, a dog is going to bite the hand that strikes it.

No, it is not discipline.  It is hitting.  That dog ain’t no Jesus that will turn the other cheek indefinitely.

As our dogs grow older, illness can trigger aggression.  Even in youth, routine care can be painful.  Unwell dogs often have a short fuse.  Unwell people often have a short fuse too.  It’s understandable when a human is the one suffering.

No, reacting to pain and illness is not disobedience.  It is a dog that needs empathy.  That dog ain’t no Jesus that will turn the cheek indefinitely.

Even the perfect dog can get scared.  Fear keeps us safe from things that can legitimately cause us harm.  Many dogs spend too much time chained, penned or avoiding life.  They fail to receive adequate socialization that will help them learn that the world is a safe place.  Humans need to help dogs out of legitimately dangerous situations while teaching dogs to feel safe in normal daily life.

No, scared dogs are not spoiled.  These animals did not get the advantages that socialization offers. That dog ain’t no Jesus that will turn its cheek indefinitely.

At the end of a day, we can aim for Lassie.  Rare genetic factors and past history aside, the burden is mostly on us.  We socialize to prevent problems.  We condition our dogs to various handling.  We step in and prevent our dog from harm and bullying.  Dog lovers should ask permission before petting dogs.  Owners should condition dogs to accept touch as a precaution.

We do this because our dogs have to put up with us.  Too many dogs have to put up with too much provocation from humans.  We expect dogs to take it and take it and never protest. A steady stream of grievances chips away at our dog’s patience, wearing it thin.  We should be surprised and grateful that dogs tolerate as much as they do.

Therefore, it is a good reminder to realize that even “perfect” Jesus really lost his shit.  Your dog ain’t no Jesus.  Maybe we should rethink what constitutes provocation instead of assuming that dogs will tolerate us indefinitely.  Maybe, sometimes, we need to have their back, ensuring that expectations are realistic.  Realistically speaking, no one can expected to endure repeated provocation and not eventually blow up.

Science says … a lot of things.

There seems to be an explosion of science circulating through dog training groups, and that is rather exciting.  I started collecting studies over a decade ago.  I am a huge fan of science and seem to have gotten a reputation as a go to person for links.  Often I receive messages that say:

“Do you have anything that proves that…..<insert topic here>.”

The truth is that you could insert almost any topic and I probably have something.  Heck, I could send you study links to “prove” that aliens exist.

Where dog studies are concerned, I have studies that show negative reinforcement is linked to stress.  However, I also have studies that show no increase in cortisol – a stress hormone – in dogs trained with negative reinforcement.  Pick any topic and there will likely be studies that draw very different results.

I can “prove” both sides.

Science is a lot like Lego.  Each block is important.  You can’t see the whole of the structure by looking at just one block.  Research studies are the pieces.  Together they give you a complete structure.  As you stand back, you might see that some don’t fit quite right.  Some pieces for whatever reason don’t work in a given spot.  Sometimes you might even get one of those cheap knock off bricks that doesn’t fit anywhere at all, except perhaps the trash bin.
IMG_8216 copy

There are knock off studies – pay to publish.  Money talks, sometimes a little too much.  Not all research is free from the dilemma of who pays and why.  We live in an era where corporations can hire researchers to “test” their products.  How biased those studies are depends on the construction of the study.

Other times statistics pose problems.  Small or pre-screened samples create a huge margin of error.  Who cares if one or two pre-screened dogs act a certain way?  One proverbial guinea pig is not a large scale study with blind controls and random assignment to groups.  That is rather important if you want to know how the average dog behaves.  That is not to say that small studies are bad.  It is what it is.

Scientists question studies, trying to replicate interesting findings.  If only one research team is getting a particular set of results, we should probably ask why.  It’s not personal, nor is it an insult.  Questions are good.  Researchers do it all the time.

Let’s not forget that mistakes can happen.  Media outlets reported that neutrino particles moved faster than the speed of light (apparently an amazing physics discovery).  Testing and re-testing confirmed the results.  Yet, other scientists kept digging into the controversial finding.  Eventually it was determined that a loose cable caused faulty results.  In the age of the internet, you can still Google the obsolete (2011) results.  Quote it all you like, it’s wrong.

Questioning research doesn’t make one a jealous Debbie downer.  The scientific process is all about throwing stones.

The question is whether we allow our own opinions and bias to determine which studies we blindly accept, and which we evaluate with a critical eye.  Searching for studies is not the same as searching for truth.  Validating our own choices, or heaven forbid our own business product is biased and self serving.

Don’t get me wrong, Google Scholar has a place.  But it’s not really a place where we should hunt down support for our own opinions.  “I knew I was right, I found an obscure abstract, skipped over the flaws and quoted one paragraph that proves my point.”  Of course, no one ever phrases their findings using those words – making the practice difficult to spot.

Instead, we should be looking at all studies with the goal of ascertaining truth.  If we have made an error in our thinking, we can seek to correct it, or wear blinders, plugging our fingers in our ears chanting “na na na na I can’t hear you.”

Our dogs deserve better from us.  They deserve us to care enough that we look for truth.  By doing so, we can see that conflicting studies just give different representations of information that might oddly fit together.

Returning to the negative reinforcement example from the beginning, there really is no controversy.  We know that successful avoidance of aversives can provide temporary stress reduction.  Both outcomes are possibly true under different scenarios.  Conflicting results can support one another.

It’s like saying that I don’t fear spiders in my home because I bug bomb regularly.  Does that make bug bombing is a good strategy in treating spider phobias?  No.  It can reduce my stress levels inside my home until it is time to spray again.  Conflicting results have surprisingly logical explanations.

The goal should be to keep asking questions, discarding pseudo science and disproven theories.  We should aim for the very elusive goal of seeking truth – ever mindful that we all carry a bias.  The antidote to that bias is to kick the studies that appeal to us with just as much ferocity as those that offend us.

That goes double for studies quoted by other people.  Read the studies.  Read the opposing points of view.  Simple truth: If you believe everything that comes with a link, you’re letting other people do your reading and thinking for you.  That is an idea that I just find, unthinkable.

Feb 21st:  Great blog done by another great writer – Eileen – on the subject.  Has some excellent links on assessing the qualify of journals.

YOUR Dog is Stressed! MY Dog is Doing Calming Signals.

Many years ago, I went to a seminar by Turid Rugaas.  She pointed her finger at me as I struggled with my dog and said, “That is stress.”  My dog was energetic and young, bouncing and pulling at the end of the leash.  Kiki was friendly to embarrassing extremes.

During the two days, those were the only three words she spoke to me.  She said it only once.

“That is stress.”

It had a strong influence on the way I perceived seemingly happy, playful dogs.  The squiggly “OMG I did it! I did it!” dog that people think is happy – might not be happy.

No, I didn’t feel insulted.  I felt relieved.  Kiki was the dog by my side when I started out.  While I could have been insulted, it made more sense to consider that our struggles might, possibly be rooted in stress.  The hardest but most valuable pill to swallow is self-reflection.  Turid writes in her book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals:

Find the reasons for your dog to be stressed.  By looking critically at yourself and your surroundings, you can often find out a lot all by yourself. Sometimes it can be helpful to ask someone to help you see the situation from the outside. We often become blind to what we do.

It’s really quite simple.  If you see calming signals, look deeper.  Identify the root of the stress.  Deal with the root of the stress.  Do not be blind to stress in your own dog as it can easily happen.

Reading other people’s dogs looks easy.  People point a crooked, denouncing finger at pictures and videos of other people’s dogs.  “YOUR dog is stressed.  He gave a whale eye.  She looked away.  Your dog sniffed the ground.”  Funny how sure people are with their accusations when they are pointing away from themselves.

Assuming to KNOW what other dogs are experiencing in short video clips is presumptuous.  It is about as accurate as saying that someone who bites their nails IS stressed.  It’s equally possible that the person has a hangnail or a long standing habit.  Nail biting MIGHT mean stress or it might not.  Context is important.  An intimate knowledge of the subject also matters.

For example, I can take a series of SLR pictures of my dogs.  One second they look happy.  Less than a third of a second later, the white of the dog’s eye is exposed, their head is turned away and their mouth pinched tight.  Some might scream, “Whale eye! Tight mouth!  Looking away!”

Kip slr
Little do you know that the cat walked by.  My dog turned his head, looked sideways at the cat and closed its mouth in order ascertain the cause of the noise to its side.  My dog is not stressed in that instance.  My dog is looking over its shoulder.

Here is where things get interesting.  Some people reinforce calming signals during training.  They put the dog into a position where the dog WILL give off calming signals.  Accusatory fingers point at others: “YOUR dog is stressed – but MY dog is doing calming signals.”

Stop right there.  OTHER dogs are stressed but YOUR dog is happily self-soothing and using calming signals?  Maybe it’s time to revisit Turid’s warning that, “We often become blind to what we do.”

The problem with opinions is that my opinion is just as valid as your opinion.  If your pointy finger is aimed at my dog while you wrinkle your nose clucking “Stress,” then I can just as quickly point at your squiggly, seemingly happy (I say twitchy) dog and retort right back.  “No, YOUR dog is STRESSED.”

Opinion only really leads to wars.  Pity, because there is a way to know if your dog is using calming signals or showing stress signs.  Read the definitions and apply them.  The quagmire of word choice isn’t that difficult to navigate.  Several words are used in similar contexts and here is what they mean:

Displacement Behaviours:  Behaviours that bring a dog comfort when conflicted.  Observing displacement behaviours is considered a non-intrusive way of measuring stress, potentially indicating a negative effect on the animal.

Calming signals:  The signals are used at an early state to prevent things from happening, avoiding threats from people and dogs, calming down nervousness, fear, noise, and unpleasant things.  The signals are used for calming themselves when feeling stressed or uneasy. (On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals)

Appeasement gestures:  Stereotypical gestures made in response to threat gestures that tends to inhibit an attack.

Stress signs:  Signs of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.  To subject to pressure or tension.

The differences between these words amounts to hair splitting.  Stressed dogs use calming signals.  Calming signals may indicate stress.  How is one better than another?

All of these terms describe stress, discomfort and adversity.  The difference between stress signals, displacement behaviours and calming signals should not be the direction your finger is pointing.  The use of these words should not be a marketing strategy, making stress signs more palatable by making these behaviours seem desirable.  Really, that is the key difference.  Calming signals sounds warm and fuzzy.  Stress sounds bad.

I respect Turid’s observations, and have for many years, enough that I am not going to candy coat or change the definition she created.  She says that dogs often do these things when yelled at, threatened or scared.  Look for the root of the problem and solve it.  If you believe that calming signals/stress signals/displacement behaviours are important indicators of stress, then changing the definition for your dog (or your friend/guru’s dog) is more of a reflection of personal bias than objective analysis.

I also respect another mentor.  Many years ago, when I wanted to capture and reinforce my dog’s yawns she said, “You’re going to let your dog feel stressed so you can reward them for yawning?  How exactly will you know when the dog is actually stressed or just wanting a cookie?”

Harsh questions are good questions.  I’ll never forget that one because it did make me feel pretty lousy.  For an instant I forgot that capturing a calming signal meant that I would need to cause my dog discomfort.  Calling a stress sign a calming signal doesn’t change a thing about that moral dilemma, regardless if it sounds better when spoken out loud.

Layman’s Dictionary of Dog Jargon in Rehabilitation

layman

Technical jargon can sound impressive, scary, intimidating or any combination of the above.  I get that there are proper, technical definitions.  However, using jargon to explain jargon isn’t very helpful to people that are new to dog training and rehabilitation.

Think of this as a stepping stone, one that I recognize is taking liberties.  The concepts are accurate, but the words are less formal.  Hopefully you won’t need migraine medication after looking up a definition.

If you’re learning about learning theory, I hope this layman’s guide helps get you over the initial hump.  From there you can progress to more technical versions.

Please note, just because a strategy is included in the dictionary, it does not mean that it is effective, without risk or appropriate for your dog.  This is just a glossary of terms with examples.

Classical Conditioning (AKA Pavlovian Conditioning AKA Respondent Conditioning)

Take something meaningless  and pair it repeatedly with something good or bad.  Meaningless things take on meaning by association.

Easy example:  I run the can opener.  I repeatedly feed the cat a can of food.  The cat starts salivating when it hears a can opener.

Or, you could just click here and watch this clip from The Office where the neutral Window’s sound is paired with Altoids.  That leads to the Window’s sound triggering dry mouth.

Dog example:  Get the leash, go for a walk.  If the dog likes walks, it will become happy and excited to see the leash.  Be careful, if the dog is scared of walks, the dog can become scared at the sight of the leash.

Process:  You can teach your dog to like things through careful association.  The word, “yes” makes the dog salivate because “yes” has been paired with treats.  Conversely, “No” can be paired with a leash correction, triggering fear.

Conditioned Emotional Response (CER+ or CER-)

Learned emotional reactions that come from our experiences.  They can be pleasant, neutral or negative.  We learn that things predict “good”, “bad” or neutral feelings.  We develop feelings about things that predict these outcomes.

Easy example: A special phone ring tone means a loved one is calling.  We feel happy when we hear that ring tone.  (Or the opposite if we associate the sound with someone that we dread talking to.)

Dog example:  Sight of training gear such as a collar, treat pouch or special leash means fun times.  Dog feels happy at seeing these things.  (CER+)  The dog can also learn that the sight of nail clippers means pain, so they feel dread or fear if they see nail clippers.  (CER-)

Extinction:

When you break previous conditioning by NOT following through with the consequence..

Easy example:  The neighbour’s car alarm repeatedly goes off which used to mean danger.  The alarm keeps sounding for no reason, so now it means nothing.

Dog example:    Your dog has learned that the sound of the clicker means food.  You click but do NOT give food.  Eventually the dog realizes that the click has become meaningless.  A second example would be a dog that received attention for barking.  If attention is no longer given, the dog stops barking because it is no longer rewarded.

Process:  Present the trigger and do NOT follow with the expected consequence.  You can extinguish associations, and you can also extinguish behaviours.

Counterconditioning:

Take something that has previously been classically conditioned.  Pair it with something different to change the reaction.

Easy example:  You hate loud rock music.  You have a child, that child decides to take up drums and play in a rock band.  You get so much joy out of watching your child play, you start liking rock music.

Dog example:  The dog is afraid of strange people.  Each time your dog sees a stranger, you give them special, tasty treats.  With repetition, the dog starts feeling happy when they see strangers.

Process:  Present the scary thing, and then give something that the animal can ENJOY in that moment.  The dog leaves the situation while enjoying the experience.

Desensitization

Gradually expose the animal to something it fears in baby steps while teaching it to relax.  Begin with easy steps and work toward more challenging exposures.

Easy Example:  You are scared of spiders.  You learn to relax while looking at a fat lazy spider in a locked box.  Later on you learn to relax while looking at a fast moving spider that jumps around, while the spider is locked in a box.  You learn to relax while the fat lazy spider is in an open box.  You learn to touch the fat, lazy spider.  You learn to relax while looking at a medium speed spider in a partially opened box….etc.

Dog Example:  You teach a dog that is afraid of other dogs to relax when faced with other dogs.  At first, you might work at a distance, with a very slow moving animal that is facing away.  Then you expose the dog, but approach a bit closer.  You then teach the dog to relax while the slow moving dog is far away, but facing each other.  You work toward situations where the dog has to face fast, unpredictable dogs in close proximity…etc.

Process:  The dog is slowly exposed to things it fears, working from easiest to hardest.  The dog leaves the situation while it is relaxed.  The dog learns to relax at each step or level prior to moving on.  Important note:  Easiest to hardest does not mean farthest away to closest, nor does it mean you work in chronological order.  Different dogs have different triggers.  Triggers are actively worked in the order in which the dog finds easiest to hardest.

Negative Reinforcement (R-)

Something unpleasant ends when the dog engages in a specific behaviour we want to encourage.

Easy example:  Your spouse is nagging at you to do chores.  They keep nagging until you do what they want, at which point the nagging stops.  You do what is wanted to make the unpleasant nagging stop.

Dog example:  The dog learns that by standing calmly, it will be allowed to move away from scary things.  The dog stands still more often because that is how it has learned to escape.

Process:  Show the dog the thing it fears.  Wait for an appropriate behaviour.  When the dog does what you like, encourage the dog to leave.  The dog leaves when it feels uncomfortable enough to want to leave, thus feeling relief.  Dogs can learn to stop things like pain as well.

Flooding

Immerse the patient into something scary.  Prevent escape until they get over the fear.

Easy example:  Lock a person that is afraid of spiders into a room teeming with spiders.  Do not let them out – no matter what – until they are fine with spiders.

Dog example:  Take a dog that is scared of other dogs.  Drop him off into a crowded dog park.  Do not let him leave until he is over his fear of other dogs.

Process:  Take the dog and force it to face what it fears.  Prevent escape regardless if the dog becomes aggressive, loses bowel control – nothing can allow the dog to escape.

Habituation

A rather passive process where one is accustomed to something until they no longer notice it.

Easy example:  You move near a set of railroad tracks.  With time, you no longer hear the trains.

Dog example:  A dog hears a dog bark on television and reacts.  As the dog is exposed to more television, it realized that dog noises from the television are irrelevant.  The dog barely notices them.

Process:  Keep repeating something until the dog fails to notice it any longer.

Sensitization

Process of becoming more sensitive and aroused to things after repeated exposure or exposure to highly aversive stimuli.  Individual usually becomes more aroused to all stimuli, not just the one in question.

Easy example:  A repeated and annoying sound starts to get on your nerves.  As you become irritated, all sounds start to grate on your nerves.

Dog example:  Dog hears scary noises.  As the sounds repeat, the dog because more aroused, more jumpy.  May start to startle at other noises

Positive Punishment (P+)

Adding something unpleasant to hopefully decrease a behaviour you do not want.

Easy example:  Spanking.  The child has a tantrum.  You spank the child in the hopes that they do not do misbehave in the future.

Dog example:  The dog reacts at the sight of another dog.  You leash correct the dog in the hopes that the dog will stop reacting at the sight of another dog.

Process:  The dog is allowed to react/misbehave and is corrected for doing so.

Differential Reinforcement (DR)

Using positive reinforcement, reward a behaviour you would like to increase, while ignoring behaviour you do not want.  There are various ways you can do this.  For example, you could reward incompatible behaviours.

Easy Example:  Giving stickers and attention to a child when they sit at their desk working quietly instead of running.  As the child sits quietly more often, running about reduces because sitting is rewarded more.

Dog Example:  The dog is rewarded for sitting instead of jumping.  The dog cannot be sitting and jumping at the same time.  The dog sits more often because it is rewarded more.

Process:  Teach the dog a behaviour by rewarding it.  Continuing rewarding that behaviour so it takes place of a problem behaviour.  Often times, unwanted behaviour is prevented to ensure safety.  For example, you might have the dog on a leash to ensure Grandma isn’t knocked to the ground.

Negative Punishment (P-)

Take something away that the animal wants, suppressing an unwanted behaviour.

Easy Example:  Take away television privileges when the child swears.  The child learns to reduce swearing so they do not lose further television viewing time.

Dog Example:  Put the dog into timeout when it jumps for attention.  The dog loses the opportunity to get attention and social contact.  In the future, the dog learns to jump less often.

Process:  When the dog misbehaves, take away something they value.  The dog has to lose something, and not just be waiting to earn the next reward.

Positive Reinforcement (R+)

Giving something pleasant that increases the chances that the dog will do something you want.

Easy Example:  Give a child a sticker for completing a homework correctly.

Dog Example:  Give the dog a treat or play session when the dog comes when called.  The dog starts coming when called more often.

Process:  When the dog does something that you like, follow that behaviour with something the dog finds rewarding.

You could watch this clip from The Big Bang Theory for a visual example.

Extinction Burst

When an animal is going through extinction, but the behaviour increases before it decreases.

Easy example:  A child has a temper tantrum.  That tantrum escalates before it stops.

Dog example:  An owner decides to ignore all food begging at the table.  The dog pesters more, insistent on getting food before finally quitting.

Process:  Although not something one usually strives for, it happens as a by-product of extinction.

This list offers a good overview of the main strategies used in dog training and rehabilitation.  There are others that I’ll add to the list as they come to my attention.  Let me know if there are terms you want to see!

One important note.  These strategies are not based on intent.  It is always the dog and their reaction that determines which strategy actually happened.  For a more detailed explanation, click on this previous blog post.  For example, owners might intend to reward their dogs with praise and petting.  However, if the dog is scared, human contact might be punishing.  Look at the whole picture when deciphering which technique is at play.

Negative Reinforcement – The Bill Collector Quadrant

Many people seem to know what positive reinforcement means.  People assume that negative reinforcement means exactly the opposite – that you do something nasty like hit or yell at the dog.  This is not true.

Negative means subtract.  Reinforcement means to strengthen.  Put them together and it means that you take away something nasty in order to increase a particular behaviour.

Negative reinforcement stymies even pet professionals. An example would probably be helpful.  By viewing this quadrant from a human situation, we can better recognize negative reinforcement – how it acts and maybe even how it feels.

Watching television, I saw an excellent example:

“Are you tired of calls from bill collectors?  You can make them stop!”

past due

This is negative reinforcement.  You can escape repeated phone calls, making them stop, if you increase your bill paying behaviour. Yes, it is true that collectors must start calling in order to stop.  Stopping the discomfort is key element doing all the work.  That is how we know it is negative reinforcement.

People with sufficient money with perfect payment histories might never feel the stress of collection calls.  They AVOID nagging calls and letters.

Most people slip up at least once.  They ESCAPE the uncomfortable nagging by paying the bill.  They feel relief.  Anxiety goes down, at least temporarily.  When the next bill deadline looms anxiety resurfaces  It’s potentially a roller coaster of highs and lows.

Those that run into a financial crisis face waves of calls and letters that go on and on and on.  There is no peace or reprieve.  Those unable to pay have no real means of ending the barrage.  One can easily start to understand how the inability to ESCAPE could make some people snap.

Calls and letters can only be stopped one way – through paying bills.

Unless you’re dealing with the mafia, bill collectors are not abusive.  Phone calls and letters aren’t typically traumatic.  These things are part of daily life.  It is interesting that people often complain about the HARASSMENT from bill collectors.  No disrespect meant to those that do the job.  However, one can easily see how repetitive nagging can be upsetting.

Relief that comes from getting that monkey off your back is a sweet – sweet reward.  While it might be a “reward” and it might feel good to feel the relief, people generally don’t like bill collectors or the process.  The exception being if you hired bill collectors to work on your behalf.

In dog training, we don’t use bill collectors.  Some trainers offer relief from pain, discomfort or fear.  You can generally recognize negative reinforcement if something is stopped or removed when the dog complies.

If you come when called, I will STOP the continuous shock.
If you take the dumbbell in your mouth, I’ll STOP pinching your ear.
If you sit calmly, I will let you MOVE AWAY from something scary.

Dogs learn to obey faster and faster in order to stop the discomfort sooner.  If the dog happens to become PERFECT, they might obey so quickly they avoid discomfort altogether.  Other dogs fail to comprehend, in which case the discomfort is unrelenting.  Like the person facing bankruptcy, the dog just snaps or gives up.

Can it work?  Sure.  Bill collectors “work” at least some of the time.  If all you want is your money, you might get it.  They do not work all of the time.  If your goal is teaching financial responsibility and money management, you might want to consider another strategy.  Bill collectors do not call teenagers, giving them a taste of what might come if they mess up in their adult lives.  That task rests with parents, teachers and even lenders.

Even lenders want to avoid the use of collection agencies.

The question should never only be if it works.  We need to compare the results to the risk.  Clearly, there are risks; so many that they are best left to a blog of their own.

When it comes to understanding negative reinforcement, these are some points to remember:

1 – Perfect pups may look happy – like perfect bill payers.  You can’t necessarily read a dog’s body language accurately and determine if coercion was used, especially if the dog has learned to completely avoid the aversive.

2 – Negative reinforcement does not need to be violent or abusive in order to cause significant discomfort.  Bill collectors aren’t abusive and neither are most dog trainers.

3 –Negative reinforcement might make you comply, but it doesn’t mean you like it – or the person/thing dishing it out.  Compliance is driven by the desire to “make it stop – make it go away.”

4 – The inability to escape can send you over the edge, and it can send your dog over the edge.  Some have referred to this as a “ticking time bomb dog.”  Jean Donaldson’s webinar on negative reinforcement touches on this.

Nevertheless, the real question is:

Do you want to live your life as a bill collector?  Would you choose that road if an alternate existed?

Are you positive? Ask your dog.

I think most dog owners want to be as kind, gentle and humane as possible, while still effectively training their dogs.  If you read training blogs, you might start to think that withholding rewards is rather…punishing.  Others claim that rewards and punishments have a ying yang relationship.  You cannot have one without the other.

Many of these blogs have a technique-centric approach.  For example, cookies are positive.  Hitting a dog is punishment.  Verbal corrections (No! or Eh eh) are punishment.  Petting and praise are rewards.

If you think this is true, then you would be very wrong.

The DOG determines if you are using the carrot or the stick.  You, the human, trainer, owner do NOT get to determine what is naughty or nice.  Technique-centric trainers are wrong because they are presuming to know how the dog feels and thinks about various consequences.  They are painting all dogs with the same brush.

All dog training (not rehabilitation – different ballgame) uses carrots and sticks.  The technical terms are reinforcements and punishments.  You can giveth or taketh them away.  Not everyone has the same likes and dislikes.

For example, some people hate snakes while other like them.  Offering Johnny a trip to the snake exhibit for cleaning his room is a pleasant consequence only if Johnny likes snakes.  If Johnny refuses to clean his room despite a trip to the snake exhibit, you would be foolish to ignore that reaction.  The smart move is to consider that Johnny may be terrified of snakes.

So too it is with our pets.  Fasten your seat belts and leave your ego at the door.  It is time to ask the dog for some feedback on what they really think.  Here are some examples to consider:
Petting and praise for sitting.

  • If the dog sits more often, you have used a carrot.
  • If the dog sits less often, you have used the proverbial stick.

Your touch could be repulsive to a dog.  Puppy mill dogs and other under socialized animals cringe in terror at being touched.  Other dogs may tolerate your advances but really do not like it.  Some pets develop pain issues and no longer enjoy touch like they did in the past.  Never assume someone welcomes physical contact.

Push the dog off when it jumps.

  • If the dog jumps lesKip and Ic intense plays often, you have punished jumping.
  • If your dog jumps more often, you have rewarded it.

Many dogs love rough, physical play.  Rough handling can be play.  Pushing, shoving, grabbing – are fun for many dogs.   Being physically pushed is better than a slab of steak for many dogs.

Leash correcting a dog for pulling, then rewarding when the dog comes back to your side.

  • If the dog pulls less often, then the correction has punished the pulling.
  • If the dog stays right by your side, then you are reinforcing the dog for being at your side.
  • If your dog yo-yos between pulling and walking at your side, then you have rewarded pulling on the leash.  The dog has learned that pulling gets a correction.  The dog willing takes the pain in order to get a reward.

Dogs will learn to misbehave to get rewards.  You always get what you create.  The dog is not lying.  If you do not like having a yo-yo dog, look in the mirror because you probably created this problem behaviour.  I certainly hope no one would intentionally do this, but it does have some practical uses.  Think needle at the veterinary clinic means cookies.

Ignoring barking

  • You ignore barking.  Your dog’s barking worsens and then eventually stops.  You have used extinction.
  • You ignore barking and the dog quickly stops barking.  You have punished the dog by withdrawing attention the dog finds valuable, much like a timeout.
  • You ignore barking and barking escalates.  The dog probably wants you to go away.

You do not necessarily punish a dog by ignoring it.  If a dog wants you to go away, ignoring them is a carrot.  Even the happiest married couples probably realize it’s nice to see your spouse leave so you can have a bubble bath.  Love you – go away – come back later.  Do not assume your presence is always a gift to the universe.  You’re special, but not THAT special.  None of us is.

The point being that in order to aspire to compassionate – to be more humane and kinder, we need to stop talking so much and we need to start listening.

We listen by watching the dog’s reaction.  When you reach to pat a dog on the head and see that slight ducking and shying away, then take note.  Look for escape and avoidance behaviours.  They can be hard to spot.  Relief can look oddly similar to joy.

Avoid a technique-centric approach and choose communication.  When you stop – really stop – and listen, you realize that all dogs respond to positive reinforcement.  Unfortunately, too often, the human thinks they are being positive and the dog firmly disagrees.  You must truly hear what the dog is saying.

If you do that, you realize that the dog will tell you which quadrant is in play.  Open yourself up to the dog’s answer, even if the truth might sting a little.

Side note:  I love technical, jargon filled blogs.  I just happen to think that most people fall into a coma reading them.  Would recommend an introductory psychology text as a good source of information for anyone wanting to learn more.