How and where we deliver reinforcement makes a difference in the learning process and can help us set up our learner, whether they're a dog or a horse, for successful repetitions of the behaviour - or set them up to struggle....
I wanted to use some clips of training Jedi to demonstrate this, as with a horse everything is generally a bit bigger and slower, so it's very easy to see the process in action and spot mistakes.
In this video I have put together clips from a couple of sessions where I am working on teaching movement from one cone to another. It's useful for teaching horses to "lunge" without the need for a lead reign (they just move around the targets on their own) and to eventually turn left and right on cue. You may have seen previous videos of me teaching Jedi to target a cone in my hand, then transitioning to on the ground and finally moving to the cone from a short distance away, so this is a continuation of a lot of initial work.
Something I read recently has been bothering me and I think it is important enough to address, even though it may be a confusing subject. While I have written in-depth previously about the importance of emotions in behaviour and learning, I wanted to address two specific ideas that have come up repeatedly recently, as I think they are potentially misleading and are vast oversimplifications of a complex subject. They are:
1. Emotions do not cause behaviour
2. Emotions cannot be measured – only behaviour can be measured and therefore we should not attempt to evaluate emotions in training and behaviour modification.
Most of the people putting these ideas forward are followers of APPLIED BEHAVIOUR ANALYSIS or RADICAL BEHAVIOURISM – a school of thought pioneered by BF Skinner, based on the premise that behaviour, rather than mental states, should be the focus of psychology. They include some really excellent trainers, people who I admire and follow, because they are force free, positive reinf...
A client was asking me about another dog in the class they attend who is doing so well in training that it stands out obviously to anyone observing the class. In fact, the assumption was made that this adolescent husky (yes, a husky - for all those who think they're untrainable ) could not possibly be the first dog this person has trained. In fact, this is the first dog they've had from a puppy and the first they've trained. Added to that, this young ball of energy had two homes in his short life, prior to the current owners taking him in - so not necessarily the easiest start to life.
Yet his performance in class is nothing short of brilliant: He is attentive, focused, highly motivated and learning at a rapid rate. We're all seriously impressed by this new dog/handler team and the question is "Why are they doing so well?"
The answer in my opinion lies in one main crucial area: RAPID RATE OF REINFORCEMENT. The handler part of the team is always ready to reinforce the behaviour we're work...
We are all learning all the time and our dogs can be great teachers if we are willing to listen.
A while ago, Cruz ran into a sand dune at full speed and injured his shoulder – just a soft tissue injury, but being the high-energy dog that he is, he hid it well and ended up needing physio. So, sitting and being fiddled with, prodded, manipulated and massaged became a regular part of his life over the last 8 months.
Cruz’s physiotherapist is wonderful and we are very grateful for her absolutely top-notch, expert treatment. This journey with Cruz has taught me a few things that I kind of thought I knew, but which I possibly needed to be reminded of: Listening to your dog always pays off!
Cruz is an incredibly easy-going dog from a handling point of view. In his 5 ½ years he has never so much as growled or given a cross look at anybody for touching him in any way. I have accidentally stood on him and had to nurse an open wound on his toe which was clearly painful, yet his only response when c...
I wanted to write one more post on why the idea of “Fixing” dogs is problematic. I have already written about why, as trainers or behaviourists, we would be foolish to give guarantees when it comes to “fixing” behaviour problems and I have explored the complexities of why certain problems cannot simply be “fixed”. What I really want to focus on in this post, is why the very notion of wanting to “fix” a dog, often causes us to neglect what is really important for the dog, in favour of what we think is important.
As dog owners, we tend to fixate on a problem behaviour and feel that if we can just tackle that and sort it out, then all will be well and our dogs will be the way that we want them to be and will be able to do the things that we want them to do. The problem with focusing on the problem behaviour and devoting all our energy to “fixing” that one thing, is that we tend to neglect other things which are actually far more important.
The problem behaviours that we are most often asked...
Last week I posted about why there are no guarantees when it comes to working with behaviour problems and I would like continue this, but looking more at the unrealistic expectations that are often placed on dogs (as opposed to those placed on behaviourists and trainers).
There is a strange, but pervasive view that all dogs, at any stage of their lives, can be “corrected” into becoming perfect specimens of sociability and behavioural perfection, and can adjust to any new set of circumstances, with the right training. I am not sure whether it is that we as humans give ourselves too much credit i.e. we think the dog will just fall into line under our expert guidance, or whether we don’t give dogs enough credit i.e. we view dogs as blank slates and whatever was written on them in the past, we can simply erase and then write what we want instead. There is little recognition given to the individuality of dogs and to how their genetics and life experience has shaped them.
How do I define training success? Is it winning a competition? Is it having a dog that responds to every cue first time or executes every behaviour perfectly? Is it a dog that always waits for a cue before offering any behaviour?
To me training success is about having a switched-on, fully engaged and happy learner. Training success is about enjoying every moment you work with your dog, mistakes and all. Training success is having a dog who offers behaviours freely, because they are a partner and active participant in the training process.
Yesterday was a good reminder of what is important to me as a trainer as I filmed Rosie and Cruz's entries into the Rally Free World Wide Event. Their rounds were not perfect: Rosie completely missed the back away exercise (she really didn't know what I wanted for that particular exercise in that context - it is one I need to train a lot more) and Cruz anticipated his roll over in the send to mat free choice move. I used too many hand and body posture c...
I had a rather unpleasant experience recently with a person who wanted help with a reactive dog, but wanted me to guarantee that I could “fix” the problem, before agreeing to book a consultation. When I tried to explain that I could not make such guarantees and sent the person details on how we would approach this type of problem, as well as factors that might influence the outcome, to help her make an informed decision as to whether she wanted to proceed,she refused to read the information (because, in her own words, it was too much effort) and insisted again that I guarantee a result. At that point I responded that I was obviously not what she was looking for.
The problem is that there are “behaviourists” and trainers that do guarantee results. One popular local expert states on their website that they will fix any problem in one session. So, what is wrong with this? Should we not be confident in what we do? Surely, if we know what we are doing, we can solve whatever problem the perso...
I've recently seen quite a few posts against bullying in the equestrian world. These are part of an effort to try and teach children participating in equestrian sports to support each other and treat each other with respect, rather than to trample over and bully each other to get ahead.
My question is, in a world where children are taught that it is perfectly acceptable to bully horses (the use of positive punishment and negative reinforcement is still sadly the primary means of training at riding schools), how can we possibly expect children to have respect for each other? If it's okay to use pressure and pain to get a horse to do what you want and to win a competition, why is it not okay to treat your fellow equestrians in a similar manner?
In stark contrast to the majority of the equestrian world, stand organizations such as Funda Nenja, The Underdog Programme and the Humane Education Trust, where children are first taught to show respect for animals they are working with through the...
Traditional thinking has always been along the lines of “You should control your dog; they shouldn’t control you”. People seen to give into their dogs’ requests were told disparagingly that they were allowing their dogs to train them. Furthermore, dogs were expected to jump through all sorts of human-designed hoops before they received anything from us at all (e.g. nothing in life is free programmes).
But there has thankfully been a revolution in how we raise and train dogs and one of the things we are so much more aware of these days is the importance of control when it comes to emotional wellbeing. Being able to exercise some control over things in life is empowering. Having no control over anything can lead to frustration, stress and eventually depression.
Imagine moving to a country where no one spoke your language and you did not have a clue how to communicate your needs. Imagine that every time you attempted to gesture that you needed something or tried to help yourself to somethin...