Monday, January 09, 2017

This "Fad" of positive training ....

I honestly can't even recall who first ignited my interest in positive training ... I suspect it may have been a university prof's reference to Skinner and his work with operant conditioning  watching old old film of pigeons choosing to do behaviours to earn pellets of food fascinated me - why would anyone train a pigeon?  

Perhaps it was learning about the Baileys and their work - particularly around shaping - oh how I do love shaping ...

It wasn't Don't Shoot The Dog - or Karen Pryor - although once I decided that I needed to know more about positive training I certainly read everything of hers I could get my hands on 

Anyhow - all this is a roundabout way to say I am not sure when I started thinking about it ... but it's been decades since I have been exploring the formal elements of positive training. 
Positive training helps all the animals in the family accept new things with equanimity

You really can't grasp the real meaning of being a positive trainer until you have a working knowledge of the Operant Quadrant developed by Skinner (google seems to think) 

reinforcement increases a behaviour - it is not a treat unless that treat increases the behaviour that came before it 

punishment reduces behaviour 

in the context of the quadrant the terms below get very confusing for some people - but think of it like math 

positive means you ADD something

negative means you SUBTRACT something

these examples (adapted from may help you understand or they may confuse you thoroughly  - sorry if it's the latter!

Positive punishment (P+) – we are adding an [aversive] stimulus which will reduce the frequency of behavior. Spanking, shouting, and hitting  can be examples of positive punishment.

Negative punishment (P-)- we are removing a [desirable] stimulus to reduce the frequency of behavior. If a dog jumps on a person to greet them, and the person walks away when the dog jumps, negative punishment has been employed – that person is removing their attention to reduce the frequency of jumping in the future. 
Positive reinforcement (R+)- we are adding a [desirable] stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior. A dog sits and gets a click and a treat. A horse gets a wither scritch for good under saddle work. You go to work, and are reinforced with a paycheck.
Negative reinforcement (R-)- we are removing an [aversive] stimulus to increase the frequency of behavior. Your alarm clock goes off continually until you get up to turn it off – the behavior of getting up to turn off the alarm clock has been negatively reinforced. A dog runs away from the handler and an electric shock is administered until the dog begins to return to the handler (removing the shock to increase the frequency of dog checking in). Spatial pressure on a horse is removed to encourage a horse to load into a trailer"
Pressure has been the heart of horse training for years ... I am not trying to train with no pressure and release at all - I am trying to say Thank you  sincerely and honestly as often as I can  and being as responsive to my horses needs as I want them to be to mine 

Many "positive trainers" use three (or less) of the four quadrants  and stay away from positive punishment (thanks for the great catch Blanche!), others work hard to stay in R+ only. Dog trainers are further along  the spectrum than horse people  in terms of numbers who are aware/working to consciously choose a quadrant to operate from.  
With this cute face around who could be punishment oriented?

Why have I embraced positive training? It's a great question and the answer is layered. I like having a positive relationship with my team. All species. I have a nasty temper - well managed and diminished now but still in my core and my temper doesn't make me feel good. Training in anger feels wrong to me. Putting anger out of the equation makes me a more thoughtful, planned and organized trainer. It's helped me set goals more concretely and it reminds me respect is a two way street. 
It has changed my life for the better - and because of that I hope it has changed my animal's lives and my student's lives. I am not perfect. I yell. I get cross - I have smacked a horse or dog a couple of times in the last two decades but positive training has made me a better person and I am grateful for it. 

Just a few more random thoughts that I feel bear mention in any discussion of positive training: 
Positive  Training is not clicker training - although clicker training is positive  - to hear someone say they are a positive or R+ trainer does not automatically mean they use a clicker ... 
Positive training is not permissive

Positive training respects that only the learner can determine what the reward is ... 

Rewards are not necessarily food although food can be very effective for many situations

Timing is everything (no matter the species)

Reward placement makes a huge difference to impact ... (again no matter the species) 

The last two statements are why so many people struggle with, or fail at positive training ... no matter the species they are working with. 

Sally would not have been the star she was filming Saving Dinah without positive training. 

So many good links on this for people who might want to read more  (so many amazing dog trainers discussing positive training!) (horses and general clicker thoughts) (dogs and the foundation pillars on which positive training should be built) (well stated blog that covers my feelings when I get slammed for working to live in a positive training realm) (me on a soap box about flexibility and patience in training all species)

Some videos you might enjoy  (horses and reinforcement  discussing food)  (an aamazing example of timing - and one way to teach "drop")

Friday, January 06, 2017

The thing is ...

When you ask me what you'd do and then do the complete opposite that's your prerogative  ... your right ... your choice ...

Ask me often enough and ignore what I say, suggest, and/or recommend you run a pretty serious risk of getting written off as an askhole ...people who ask questions for the sake of hearing themselves talk not for the sake of listening to the answers,

Sampson listens well. 

I enjoy discussion, I love conversation, I appreciate opposing points of view but when it comes to keeping your animal companions as healthy as possible I don't offer my point of view casually or lightly - I offer it, more often than not with explanation, for a reason.

Little people are on lead line here. Period,. Don't like it? Get off. 

That reason is to protect you, and your animal partner. And, your relationship.

Winning big ribbons at Nationals

Asking animals to do more than we would do ourselves in similar circumstances (work through sickness say) is not thoughtful or kind, or relationship building. Asking them to do what we might CHOOSE to do ourselves (run when sore is a good example) is a clear statement about hierarchy and power. They don't get to choose in that situation,  they are stoic and amicable and want to do what we want them to.

Stop asking me for advice and change the conversation to self justification ... you may not feel better but I will ....

Soap box away., for now!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Building to success ....

So you've got this dog.
It's a nice dog. It's a sports dog.

But it's not the same dog at trials or in class as it is at home.


What to do? What to do?

Well, if you've known me for any length of time at all you know what I'm going to say I bet. Set some goals, make a PLAN and get to it!

Let's take one specific thing to illustrate my meaning.

Seeing as how this is my agility blog let's talk about weaves.

You've got weaves, let's say in your garage, no problem... offside, near side, calling to you, sending away from you whatever you do you get nice looking weaves with some action ....

I thought I might be able to play in our garage ... umm I can hardly walk in our garage now!

You can work around the clock there with nary an issue  ... but oh lord anywhere else and you'd think you'd never taught weaves before ....

the struggle is real and you are not alone (be it weaves, scenting containers, dumbbell work, recalls, stays, contacts or whatever) and there are specific concrete things you can build into your program to help you .... honestly - let's break it down!!

So - your goal is going to become some variation of: doing whatever it is as well else where as at home!

Things to think about building in and upon

distractions - things that flap and move, things that our dogs would rather have (food, toys, other dogs, people). Build distractions up AFTER your dog is comfortable doing the weaves (or whatever) in each setting...

here is a little video example of toy distractions being scattered around

footing changes - concrete, padded floor, carpet, dirt, grass - all are very different to our very olfactory motivated canines! this is so much more important than people think of ...  I know when I started trialing I would have panicked to find myself on a horse arena floor - now I'd relish the challenge.

terrain changes (uphill, downhill?) if you always do things one direction the first time you turn it around you may feel like you are starting all over ... that said it will go much more quickly!

So in the above example  I might open the garage door one day and work weaves, then a few days later throw a couple of toys out and work weaves,... then perhaps both open the door and throw toys out ...  suck a friend or family member to come and putter in the garage for 3 minutes and weave then, ask them to stop and stare at us another time, put a big piece of carpet under the weaves another time .... tape the poles to change colour or pattern or put little balls on the top of the poles another time

While I was building distractions in the most familiar place ever I might also take the poles out of the garage one day - on the driveway, on the lawn, in the dining room ...  I might take the poles to our beer store (see number 6 in the link to understand that comment!)

If I was expecting weaves in a new location (let's say class) at the same time as this was going on I'd have one of two choices and what I'd do would depend on the dog and our mutual experience ... umm actually I'd do one ... but that might involve renting the space, or privates or something other people might not be able to do

1) I'd keep it really broken down and simple  ... start as if i was starting all over again ... I'd expect it to take much less time than the first time it was taught but I would teach weaves again as a discrete skill

2) I'd pretty much take what I got and ignore the weaves ... so run past them if they got missed or whatever ... if I chose to take the time to "fix" the weaves in a run I would then work on weaves alone for the time I had - in other words move towards 1 again!

I would absolutely NOT be worried they'd never come because at some point I'd be sure to  do number 1 and then all would be good again ;)

I also wouldn't fuss too much when they didn't work at a trial or in class -I'd just back up a degree and build confidence again.

What would you do?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Just posted a new page over to your left ...

Because I just, with a great deal of pushing, prompting and editing from my co-author, just wrote  a little book on gratitude to help you find yours!
Written with animal sports people in mind there is lots to think about and even more to DO!

The Page is called Love The One You Are (With)   which is the title of the book  so hopefully that is a logical name for it!

You probably will find it a pretty good investment of $10 (Canadian even!) and I am quite positive you'll like the images and ideas. When you buy the book you get added to the Love The One  FB group too - always a fun way to find like minded supportive and often amusing people!

We are doing final final edits but go ahead and order yours today ... we will be able to send them out in plenty of time to kick start 2017 on a great foot - if you want to get one  as a present for a friend just include that in a note with their email and we'll be happy to send it along to them :D

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why is play so hard sometimes

I was house cleaning this am ... with half an ear on the radio and caught the very tail end of a author discussing play. I am pretty sure he was talking about human play - but you all know me well enough to know my mind went to dog play right? 
A few of my friends and my students have commented recently that play is HARD for them. 
This makes me sad, for them of course,  but also for their dogs. 

So,  a couple of thoughts ... 

1. Search play on this blog - I've been writing about it a very long time (including a post on 50 ways to play with your dog)  

2. Be observant - watch your dog in playful moments and THINK about how you could engage in that play without shutting them down, or distracting them. 
Games with less teeth action for me please!

3. Be spontaneous - if you are walking past your dog and the time seems right to play - go for it - play can last mere seconds and be successful and if it isn't natural or easy for you I truly recommend playing for 10 seconds or less ... leave you both wanting MOAR! It's much easier to build up to longer and longer success than to try to keep a game you don't quite get going ...
Maybe we should play now eh Thea?

4. Be imaginative ... our imaginations get squelched as we age .. sigh ... 
What do I mean by this? I mean just because you haven't seen somebody do it doesn't mean you can't, try it. Maybe imagine yourself as a dog and think about what would get you happy and playing.  Test something one way, then test it another - wave a toy up like a bird taking flight, then twist it along the ground like a snake minding it's own business. 

 Dora quite likes dress up 

5. Be open - don't get stuck in YOUR definition of play. Play is a partner's game. No one partner gets to say what's RIGHT and either gets to say it's WRONG. So if you hate a game your dog loves (teeth on a pant leg leaps to my mind - thanks puppy fosters) it's ok to not play it ... but it's not fair to then insist that ruffling your dog's fur backwards is a great game if they don't like it;  A little mutual respect goes a long way here. 
Singing is one of Sally's favourite games, Sigh, 

What makes play hard for you?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

hay ho hay ho

It's back to play we go ....
the last 11 weeks flew by - I was income earning in multiple ways - which was wonderful but had significant overlap of some time absorbors ... so was pretty much working from 5 am til 10 pm with an hour of commuting and some stuffing my face breaks in there - basic feeding and grooming happened for the animals but that was about it ... cannot wait to get everybody back into working out .. maybe we'll have some nice enough days Big T will join us again!

Last Sunday Sally was invited to go to the premiere of Saving Dinah .... she was so very very good  letting her adoring fans pat her and set her up for photos - a true little star ...

it amuses me the way she can put on whatever hat is needed in a situation ...

such a good good girl, particularly given a total lack of direct attention in the last couple of months

Friday, November 18, 2016

Seasons change ... and so must I

Here comes winter.


Urban winter was often wet, and cold, and miserable.

Rural winter is often beautiful and striking and cold and a little frightening.

In the city we holed up and turned up the heat and ran from covered, heated space to covered heated space.

Here we all bundle up, light a fire earlier and earlier and shovel. A Lot. A Whole Lot.

I used to hate winter pretty passionately. I am not a fan of being cold.
I still don't like being cold but I love warming up. Winter makes me appreciate so much in life.

The early early dark? That's a whole other story!