Trade-offs and controlled exposure

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Last week consisted mainly of trying to get Lily back to being a nice, sociable dog (success, the barking and bolting has stopped) and teaching Brian that if I ask for something and he does it something nice happens.

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A reward should never be confused with a bribe. I praise the dogs when things are well, give them some fuss, spend some time playing with them or give them a treat. They get it after the good behaviour. It’s a marker of my approval, a sign I appreciate their efforts.

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I expose them to stress, too -on purpose. The aim is to teach how to cope with situations they are not too sure about. Both Lily and Brian are fearful, Lily had some serious issues, though I guess the mixture of genes and their background levels it all up. Lily’s naturally curious and reactive, she’s more of a fighter, but her story is much sadder than Brian’s. Brian hasn’t got that many bad memories but he’s naturally much more shy.

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So, Brian’s learning how to accept people. In various places, at various times, in various circumstances. Lily seems absolutely fine now, but I make sure she experiences new things and she stays calm and relaxed no matter how alien the situation.

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And when we have to go to the vet and it’s not entirely nice we go for a super special trip and we keep sniffing the fading scent of hares, squirrels and other monsters till all the bad memories disappear. Because, all in all, the world is a beautiful place and it’s good to be alive.

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27 thoughts on “Trade-offs and controlled exposure

  1. For any readers who are curious, it is easy to distinguish a reward vs a bribe:
    A reward is a treat given after the fact.
    A bribe is a treat given before the fact.

    Bribing a dog is an invitation to problems later as it may well become demanding and uncooperative …. because of its training! i.e. It has every reason to do nothing until it gets its treat!

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    1. Well, a bribe is also just waving the treat in front of the dog when you want the dog to cooperate. It’s the attitude. I don’t want my dogs to behave because they hope to get something from me. I want them to understand there’s a desirable behaviour-so all the rewards are just a way of communicating: ‘I like that, I’m happy’. Rewards help, they make the training much easier and faster-but they will never be anything more but a mean to an end. My soft-eyed smile is a reward as well-and I’ve never been accused of ‘bribing’ the dogs with it πŸ˜‰

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    1. Not sure how my comment reads, but I was basically agreeing with you (just extending the definition a bit). What I mean is: even if you give the treat after the fact it doesn’t always make it a reward (especially if you focus on conditioning). Thus the success of clicker training (perfect timing in marking the good behaviour is vital) and the warning given by ‘positive trainers’ to dog owners to change the frequency of the rewards distribution (not every single good behaviour is rewarded, especially if treats or toys are involved). Btw: I’d probably bribe a dog into something if his life depended on it, I don’t really care much about labels.
      Anyway, to sum up: a dog performs a desirable behaviour because he’s conditioned to do it-rewards are used to strengthen the conditioned reaction (and they can be withdrawn at any time without the risk of the dog not performing the conditioned behaviour because of that). Bribes are a tool in training, too. Desperate, last resort tools, but tools nonetheless.
      So, they question is: does the dog behave as I want him to because he knows he’ll get a treat or because he’s conditioned (he ‘can’t help it’ he feels the need to perform the behaviour).

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      1. Giving a dog something good immediately after the fact is always a treat. A huge part of training a dog is to see it all from the dog’s perspective, and when the dog does something and then gets a piece of (e.g.) liver…. he had a treat regardless of what you call it. So many people don’t get this and I see so often the following scenario:
        Fido is 20ft away from his owner when he gets a hand signal to sit. He sits. His owner calls him over to reward him for sitting upon request. Fido however relates the treat to the last thing he did…. he responded to a “recall” request. A dog’s perspective can be very different from ours!

        The main advantage of clicker training is its “clean” and immediate sound. It is faster and more effective than most human voices. The dog will be alert immediately and it is then up to the trainer to react accordingly. Treats are not necessary every time simply because canines are opportunistic. Once they have learned a behavior, the treats can be slowly withdrawn. From a dog’s perspective “No treats this time? Oh well…. probably next time!” (Humans can learn so much from that attitude!)

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      2. Hah, now I’m slightly confused πŸ™‚ I was actually thinking about rewards in general. I do use food as reward, but it’s probably about 30% of rewards in total. Now I’m not entirely sure what you mean by ‘giving a dog something good immediately after the fact is always a treat’. Anyway, when we remember that our behaviour can be a reward we avoid situations such as: a dog’s barking-the owner shouts at the dog-thus: the owner joins in, the undesirable behaviour has been rewarded and is likely to be repeated (it’s simplified, the dog would have to be ‘reactive’, with high levels of energy and the tendency to guard, but I hope it serves the purpose of illustrating that rewards vary in their forms).
        I think even the best dog behaviourists still hesitate when they talk about the dog’s perspective. Dogs react to rewards but not all dogs react to rewards in the treat (food) form. Brian doesn’t-I have never used treats (food) in his training. Lily does-so I use treats (and toys, and my attention, and verbal cues that are associated with something good) to teach her.
        I use hand gestures instead of clicker/verbal cues, so I think a dog who reacts to a gesture from a distance is actually well conditioned and would definitely not need a treat (or, indeed any immediate reward). But then, my assumption is based on the classical trainers training (we use gestures along with voice, then rely on gestures more, extending the distance and so on). Well, I guess we mean the same: a reward is not a bribe πŸ™‚ In the post the reward in question is a day trip to the hills. To be associated with the preceding trip to the vet. What I wanted to achieve was: the vet is not scary πŸ™‚

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      3. I think that we are generally on the same path here with semantics probably being the issue. On the subject of hand signals, and while they are great, they cannot be relied upon simply because they are totally dependent on you having the dog’s attention to start with. One must always have an audible back up.

        Ray’s vet visits are preceded by “happy visits”! He goes and gets spoiled with treats and meets the vet and techs. After a couple of those, he can’t wait to visit again! Ray is highly food motivated which is why we lean heavily on that aspect (edible treats) of his behavior training.

        While I am pretty sure that you know all this stuff, I am expanding on it for the benefit of your readers some of whom may be getting a rather simplistic view of dog training. I am constantly meeting people who believe that dog training is nothing more than common sense and intuition! From my perspective and experience, anybody who thinks that they can intuitively train a dog is quite simply a very misguided fool.

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      4. I always appreciate your input and I’m grateful we can discuss various issues I wouldn’t include in the post (my blog is not giving advice on how to train dogs, it’s more of a personal journal). I often assume people know ‘the obvious’-I’ve always had many dogs around me, so I do take it for granted other people have some experience, too. I honestly hope no first-time dog owner relies on blogs as the only source of information on dog training. I’ve met thousands of dogs in my life and every single one was different. So, even if I do apply the same principles when working with them, I wouldn’t dare to pretend I’m an expert on all dogs (I haven’t met most dogs in the world).

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  2. Beautiful post with lovely photos, and I am going to put my paw in: one of the most effective special education strategies is Token Economy which is essentially a menu of target behaviours and rewards, i.e. you do this – you get that, and if you don’t do this – you don’t get that. Even the most severely developmentally disabled children understand this. Eventually, after many repetitions, target behaviours form dynamic stereotypes, and rewards could be gradually fazed out. Isn’t that what you are doing with the dogs?

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    1. Thank you for putting your paw in, I do appreciate it πŸ˜‰ You are the first to spot all my techniques-but I don’t make a secret out of it, so I’m happy you do. All modern dog training is relying heavily on classical (or operant) conditioning. You can easily see it is the basis of my training, too -in principle. But as much as I like simplicity, I don’t think everything works for everyone, thus all the tweaks and using all my life experience (not only in education) to work out the best way to work with the dogs. I would hate it if people thought I’m advising on how to train THEIR dogs – everyone needs to learn to watch and listen to each individual (well, a dog or a person, to be honest). We can apply various techniques and some will work with some dogs but not with others. You might also notice I use Multiple Intelligences theory ( I see the flaws in it, but I use the principles), when I instruct the dogs I include bits of Cognitivism, Behaviourism, Constructivism (I do Piaget’s tests on my dogs). Well, anyway, rewards are important as a tool for communicating what we expect, but the behaviour needs to become a norm eventually. (I do digress a lot, sorry) πŸ™‚

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      1. Digress all you like – I am enjoying it! Remember, I asked you about Skinner quite a while ago? Turns out, he is not on your bookshelf but in your head. When I start a semester, I usually quote Proverbs to my students: “Educate a child according to his ways.” I can see that you are applying the same principle to the dogs. What I really want to know, though, is how you do Piaget’s tests on dogs. We’ll be doing Piaget’s tests with pre-school kids about a month from now, and I’d love to share it with students!

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      2. Logical operations – dogs can ‘count’ (more treats far win with fewer treats near, most dogs can do it well with numbers up to 10 when the difference is one or two pieces-so 6 wins with 5 for example). Object permanence – when the ball rolls under the sofa most dogs know it still exists (they sit there waiting, try to get the ball out, come some time later). These (and others) can be used to asses trainability (‘intelligence’) but I’m more interested in how dogs cognition develops. Dogs assimilate and accommodative, just like babies. So, in a way they learn by experiencing and applying the knowledge they have to new situations. More later, I can’t type with a dog and a cat on my lap…Brian Hare’s in his book ‘Dog Intelligence’ uses theories of human development to test dogs.

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      3. I was just wondering what do you mean by the following?
        Cognitivism, Behaviourism, Constructivism (I do Piaget’s tests on my dogs)
        I’d love to find out more if you have any good resource on how to learn about this specifically in reference to dogs? I would know basics of positive reinforcement like DS & CC etc but have never really came across these terms. And as I’m starting the dog behaviour course soon I’d love to get clued in on this. Don’t feel compelled to give a detailed response if you don’t have time though!

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      4. I’ve never seen them used in reference to dogs (well, Piaget’s tests are adapted to test dogs cognition-but it’s something very recent, it’s in the research phase, not yet a theory in dog training). Dolly (koolkosherkitchen) knows I’ve been a human teacher/lecturer most of my life, so I was merely explaining I exploit my teaching experience and applying various techniques to dogs as well πŸ™‚ Hopefully within reason-I don’t expect my dogs to analyse their own behaviour or think about moral aspects of their actions πŸ™‚ However, if you’re really into some very new ways of dog training I’d recommend looking into techniques of testing human babies and their brain development (and language recognition in the pre-natal period). Babies don’t speak, so scientists have ingenious ways of testing their cognition. Like monitoring sucking (something babies do even before they are born- so, to see if an unborn human baby reacts to something you check the strength and frequency of sucking).

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      5. Ah right! Thanks for explaining it, I’ll definitely check that out as I’m always up for learning more. I find all of that research quite interesting so can’t wait to see what I can learn – it was only recently I learned about babies being able to learn sign language before talking and I was just blown away!

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  3. I love reading your posts πŸ™‚ Three weeks ago I got a rescue dog from Romania and it’s so interesting to learn from your training advice. Tonight Siggi managed to sit perfectly after days of trying. It’s the best feeling ever see him happy and keen to learn. Thanks for inspiring me to try to create a stronger bond with Siggi. Whatever happened in his past I hope he’ll grow up to be confident and happy in his new pack πŸ™‚

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      1. Absolutely right! I was only used to labs before, but it’s so much fun learning how this little husky/greyhound mix sees life! DEFINITELY not as food orientated as a lab, that’s for sure πŸ˜‰

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  4. Having adopted several dogs, most recently a five month old Chihuahua named Roo , I really appreciate all this valuable advise. Roo ( and the other dos) came with some very bad habits. One book that really helped me was “No Bad Dogs” by a British author whose name escapes me. After all, it’s worth the training and effort! Digas are such playful, loyal, forgiving companions!

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    1. The book is by Barbara Woodhouse πŸ™‚ Classic πŸ™‚ Every dog owner knows her here, I think πŸ™‚ I’m glad you decided to adopt- all dogs are loving and loyal but I’m a great supporter of adoption (and I’m a proud owner of two rescues). Thank you for reading and commenting πŸ™‚ x

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