By Susan Claire, CPDT-KA
This very fearful dog is showing that he does not want to be approached via his hunched position, flat ears, whites of the eyes and very slight curling of the top lip. Ignore his signals and you may get bitten. Photo: Susan Nilson
If you own a dog, then you teach English as a second language. A dog’s native tongue is body language. Yet, dogs adapt and learn our English words with remarkable ability. There are many emotions that we share with our canine friends, and some that we project onto them. It’s in our best interest to learn about how our dogs really think and feel and learn. If you insist your dog learn your language, then it’s only fair you make the effort to learn his. This will facilitate mutual understanding and communication.
The Myths of Spite and Guilt
Humans love to attribute these two motives to dogs. In reality, dogs experience neither guilt nor spite. When returning from a hard day’s work, you might get annoyed walking into a foul-smelling house and finding a cold pile on the floor. Perhaps you yell at the dog and punish him by rubbing his nose in it. Or maybe you’re more evolved than that, and just scowl, sigh, and complain loudly as you clean it up. Either way, your dog knows you are angry and it’s scaring him. He has no idea why, however, because he had that potty accident hours ago. And he did it simply because he had to go and no one was there to let him out. That’s it- no ulterior motive. How very silly to imagine dogs would use their urine and feces to make a point, or “spite” us. Really, what species does that? Oh, that’s right, primates do.. ( ever been to the zoo?) Luckily for us, dogs are not spiteful, as they’d have all day to plan their revenge- and I imagine it would be far worse than a little potty accident on the floor!
Read full article >
by Pam Hogle
Photo by Nancy Garrett
A few weeks ago, I was part of an amazing experience — the first-ever continuing education weekend seminar for guide dog teams that included trainers and puppy raisers, as well as 80 teams. The weekend was organized by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate council. Actually, it was two members of the council and their partners (including me). It was a lot of work to pull it off, and as the teams started arriving, we all had a moment of panic. But the weekend was an enormous success — and it made clear how much of a need and desire there is for continuing education among these teams.
Eighty grads attended. They traveled from all over the U.S. and Canada. The registration filled up within days, and that was more than a year before the conference. Even with inevitable cancellations, every grad space was filled. There was a waiting list. We limited puppy raisers to one per region (40 total). We could easily have had many more.
The school was generous, offering some funding and lots and lots of staff assistance. More than thirty trainers attended. Every grad team had the chance to work on issues they were having, whether with dogs being too interested in food on the ground or other issues common to working Labrador teams. Most of the teams are Labs; a few are German shepherds.
Read full post here >
by Pam Hogle
More than fifty years ago, Jane Goodall made a discovery that shook some scientists — particularly those that had long lists of all the things that made humans unique and superior to nonhumans. She saw Chimpanzees using tools.
Since then, other researchers have found other nonhumans using tools, from dolphins who use sponges to protect their beaks to elephants using tools to scratch itches, reach food, and plug water holes. Even crows use tools. But, as far as I know, no researchers have studied whether dogs use tools.
I’d argue that Koala, a guide dog educated at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, uses tools.
Koala had a problem. When she tried to chew on her antler, it would move. Sometimes it would slip out of her paws — oh, if only she had thumbs — and skitter across the floor. She loved the noise it made (especially when Deni was on the phone), but it was not efficient. She wanted to chew.
Read more >
by Eileen Anderson
Is “choice” a code word for negative reinforcement?
It can be. Seems like that’s the context where I see it pop up the most.
I’ve written a lot about choice. Two of my major points are:
- Many people are confused about using choice as an antecedent vs. a consequence; and
- People are rarely referring to choices between positive reinforcers when they write about their animals having a choice.
But here’s another thing that gets under my skin. These days it seems like many people who use the language of choice to describe their training are referring to the fact that they permit the animal to leave as relief from a difficult task. For instance, in a husbandry session, the dog may receive a food reinforcer for cooperative behavior. That constitutes positive reinforcement if we see cooperative behavior (usually staying still or focusing on something) increase or maintain. The dog is allowed to leave as often as she wants. The session starts back up if she returns. The leaving constitutes negative reinforcement if we see leaving increase or maintain. But remember: escape is only a reinforcer if the activity is unpleasant.
Letting the dog leave is a good thing. But there is a big drawback if it is planned on as an expected response and built into a protocol.
Building escape behavior into a protocol can provide a disincentive to the human to make the process as pleasant for the dog as possible. Rather than working harder to create a situation where the dog doesn’t want to leave, the trainer can focus on saying that the dog is “empowered” by the ability to leave. On the contrary, some trainers, including myself, consider a dog repeatedly leaving as evidence that we have not worked hard enough at making the experience pleasant. It’s a failure, not a goal. It means we didn’t set up our antecedents and graduated exposures well enough.
Forced vs. Free Choice
I have written about forced and free choice before. Forced choice applies to our husbandry example. The dog can stick with the session and get food or another appetitive stimulus, or the dog can leave. Leaving usually leads to an environment that is bare of other positive reinforcers, or has very weak ones. We deliberately set things up that way as an incentive for the dog to stick with the session. There is no shame in that. Controlling other reinforcers is a part of positive reinforcement-based training … Read more >