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.
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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.
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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 >
Kay Laurence is a master trainer who points out the obvious in this blog: We are always training our dogs no matter what we are doing. Happy reading!
by Kay Laurence
I had not really considered the props we use as significant objects for the dogs when competing in a ring or training environment. We are aware of using bedding or crates to give the dogs a sense of security, but our props can change the unfamiliar ring environment into something familiar – provided they have a really good history of reinforcement, carefully trained.
I love cross learning! Both Alex and I spend hours closely examining perfectly normal protocols in each of our own areas of training but are refreshingly new viewpoints of looking at training. In this blog Jen Digate clearly shows that for horses away from their herd has a different response than for dogs.
We always have to be considerate when training the dogs at the Barn. Our usual practice, certainly for play, is individual training for each dog one after the other – this gives everyone a chance to have the whole barn, without the worry of watching dogs, or the stress caused to watching dogs.
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