Bomb proofing mistakes

Publicado el 19 de March de 2015

Isn’t it surprising how easy a clean conduct varies and yet how hard it is to modify flawed conducts? Proofing mistakes embedded within the trained conduct is a common problem among animal trainers of all levels.

Take a defective heeling behavior for instance, when dogs either walk crossing their handlers’ path, or behind or in front of them. A further example would involve those far from brilliant static shifts of position, when the latency before offering the behavior is really terrible. Why is it so difficult to get rid off the problems just described? It is as if it was only easy to modify a behavior that is satisfactorily shaped from the start!

So what is the explanation? As it is usually the case in animal training, the truth is that it is our fault. There are two reasons behind.

On the one hand, the technique applied to shape the behavior is of the utmost importance here. We should keep the final behavioral goal in mind and refuse any beginnings which are incompatible with it. Trainers may experience something similar to the “blank page syndrome” when they start working with a new animal. Just as writers do, it is normal that we are fraught with anxiety when contemplating the long road that lies ahead of us. There remains so much to do before being able to present our work that the task looks daunting!

When we face difficulties the temptation to take easy shortcuts is strong. We don’t want to get stuck with that particular exercise and hence we settle for a downgraded version of the original behavioral goal. In a previous post (“Less is more”) I wrote on this subject. What I want to emphasize now is the importance of reflecting on the influence that today’s training session will bear not on the training session tomorrow but in those that will be carried in two or three years time, once most of our work plan will be in place. In other words, will then the lessons taught today help us or will they hinder further learning so that it will be necessary to clean up the dog’s head before progressing?

Let me illustrate this point with an example: imagine that I want my dog to lie down by moving backwards in order to make the final behavior look faster in execution as well as to prevent the dog from gaining ground when he is supposed to keep a perfectly static position. Having set that objective, suppose that I start rewarding my dog for offering a two-stoke lie down. In other words, I reward the dog for sitting down before lying down. My laziness will increase the amount of work for both of us at a later stage. Thus it would be wiser to be a bit more patient and wait for the particular lie down behavior I am after. In fact it would be a far better policy to reward an approximation to the correct behavior than settling for a complete but flawed behavior.

On the other hand, there is a further and more fundamental problem for even after teaching a behavior with mistakes to a dog, there must be the possibility to get rid off the flaws. Theoretically, it suffices to reinforce those instances where the dog gets closer to the set behavioral goal. Why is it then that the mistakes become sort of bomb proofed?

“Frailty, thy name is dog trainer.” May be we just attended a competition (either as part of the audience or as competitors) and with the boost in motivation we adopt the firm decision to become stricter in order to correct the problematic heeling. We start training without rewarding any flawed repetitions. However, after a busy week, we lower down the criterion once again and settle for the behavior as imperfect as it used to be. Subsequently, perhaps we attend a training workshop where we learn a wonderful technique than can help us in sorting out the problem. Again we experience a boost in motivation and start training with a stricter criterion in mind. But progress may be made at a slower pace than expected, so we relax the criterion again and go back to square one. To feel better we may think that John Smith had a flawed heeling behavior too and he won the world championship anyway. Few persons ask themselves if the rest of the pack is as good as John’s…

Anyway, the point is that this sort of vicious circle goes on and on. At the end of the day the result is that the incorrect forms of the conduct are subject to a variable reinforcement schedule whereas correct behaviors are typically kept under a continuous reinforcement schedule. Remember that behaviors on an intermittent schedule are less susceptible to extinction. That is why we cannot get rid off the mistakes no matter how much effort we think we are putting.

The conclusion is that you should never train behaviors under intermittent reinforcement schedules until you have reached their definitive form, at least if you work solely on conditioning processes. Otherwise the behavior will be harder to modify. This is an extremely important piece of advice for new trainers, but one that is often overseen. In fact, in Spain I have heard just two instructors regularly underlining this fact in their classes, Carlos Bueren and Javier Moral. I think it is an extremely important point that we all should emphasize and clarify to novel trainers.

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When less is more

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Imagine the following situation, a dog trainer is teaching a dog to sit. It is one of their first training sessions, may be the first one. In order to teach this particular conduct the trainer has decided to rely on a certain technique which he masters well. For the purpose of this discussion it is irrelevant which training technique it is used, whether it involves a clicker, luring or helping the dog with the hands. All that matters is that the dog sits and hence things seem to be working for our tandem.

However, a few repetitions later the trainer realizes that the dog is standing up immediately after sitting down: “Damn it! Let’s do a few more trials to see if we can sort the problem out.” But the problem does not fade away and the dog keeps on standing up. So the trainer introduces a small aide in the hope this will help them overcoming the hurdle. Eventually he manages and proceeds to the next training step, teaching the dog a second behavior, lying down.

Again our tandem faces problems. Notwithstanding the techniques applied by the trainer seem to work at the beginning and the dog lies down, the latter refuses to stay in that position. The trainer then decides to put in practice a technique that he learnt at a workshop. He did not like the course that much because the underlying training philosophy was far away from his, but he thinks that this particular technique can do the trick here. Et voilà, … it works! So he finally manages to make the dog stay in the position.

The trainer in our tale is incurring what I believe is one of the most frequent mistakes during the initial stages of animal training: he is adding rather than subtracting. In fact, he is asking the wrong question, “What can I do to promote that the dog remains in the position?” as opposed to what the more fruitful question would be, “Why does the dog stand up?” or “What is causing this second adjunct behavior?”

The fact that the dog willingly sits down after the first training sessions means that we are on the right track. However, why does the dog stand up so fast? The dog offers this second behavior for a given reason. Something is happening either: (1) in the physical sphere, may be the dog feels uncomfortable on the surface we are working or is experiencing pain; (2) in the mental sphere, the dog might believe that needs to move to obtain something; or (3) in the emotional sphere, perhaps the dog is aroused or feels insecure.

We need to realize that when we start training an animal we are laying down the foundations which will determine the animal’s understanding about the entire learning process and the way we work together. At this stage we are teaching the animals what to expect from us and what we expect from them.

What is wrong with a “patchwork” approach? By adding different techniques that do not share a common basis, we will be losing coherence and blurring the big picture for our learners. The patchwork approach implies renouncing to abide by a definite training ideology. Instead trainers jump from one difficulty to another merely attempting to use whatever they have in their toolboxes to sort out the problems they come across. Overall, it means that by obtaining the short run benefit of teaching a given conduct we will be hindering further development in the long run. This is so because nothing learnt on these premises will contribute to support other prior or subsequent lessons. In a nutshell, the general learning scheme will be missing.

Going back to our example, when one realizes the dog stands up after sitting down, one should not think which technique can be applied to obtain the stay from the dog, but rather clarify why the dog suddenly stands up in the first place. This is the factor that needs to be identified in order to take it away from the equation and build solid and consistent foundations that support a continuous advance of our learner. That is why less may be more.

Summing up, at the initial stages it is much more important to teach our dogs the code of communication, that is, to teach them how to learn, than any given behaviors or tricks. In fact, any behaviors at this point are taught as a means of conveying to our learners the codes of communication. Needless to say such codes will vary among different training schools, and even between two different trainers who belong to the same school. If these codes are not transmitted clearly our work will suffer in the long term. Moreover, failure to do so will compromise the teaching of more complex or subtle behaviors.

And yet, it is at this initial stage when dog trainers are more prone to fall into “traps” that prevent their dogs from adequately understanding how to learn. The most prominent example of such traps is an excessive concern for achieving any particular conduct. It is this biased frame of mind that leads many trainers to start looking for techniques to help the dog performing. Very often

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Training facial expressions

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A few days ago a colleague of mine commented to me about the difficulties she was facing in finding new suitable conducts for practicing free shaping with her dog. On the one hand, the dog knew so many conducts that it was far from easy to think of a new one. On the other hand, the number of choices was further limited by physical ailments since the dog was old and suffered from hip dysplasia. Thus my friend was afraid that her dog would be deprived of this joyful source of mental activity precisely when it was most needed.
Let me clarify from the outstart that my favorite mental activation task is not the practice of free shaping but rather problem solving. Nevertheless, I was sorry to learn that my friend and her dog were no longer able to keep on practicing the exercises that they both had enjoyed in the past.

I know what many of you would have said in my position: just be creative. I told her the same, though the tough part was to find new conducts. No matter what I proposed, this dog knew how to do it. Being creative is not that easy!

What girls! They really knew everything from A to Z. That is, until I mentioned the training of facial expressions. In my opinion facial expressions is the most challenging group of conducts one can train with a clicker and, for the same reason, the one that is more helpful for trainers who want to improve their skills.

Facial expressions can be broken down into three independent units: eye expressions, position of the ears and of the lips. Some people choose to include the head position too but, compared to the other three units, this is much simpler to capture. Thus trainers can spend many hours focusing on one of the three branches and, subsequently, merging different combinations of them. As a by-product of this intensive practice trainers will find that they become much more skillful and can capture conducts involving bigger muscles effortlessly.

Where should you start? Follow a gradual task approach and start with someting rather simple like squinting the eyes. This will take you a while because prompting and capturing conducts that depend upon such small muscles is a sui generis practice indeed. One could say that facial expressions within the free shaping domain compare to neurovascular surgery in the context of hippocampus-amygdala surgery, such is the degree of precision and finesse required.

Once you hace succeeded in scanning the eyes, try to capture an upward movement of the lips. Complete the exercise shaping the conduct of folding back the ears. But remember that you are not allowed to press on your dog to get results.

So far so good? Next step, you can create different conducts singling out isolated elements or combining them in groups of two or three. This is only the beginning for now you can start teaching different actions involving each one of the three expression units referred to above, eyes, ears and lips. Try to capture the behavior of moving the eyes downward or upward, not the head just the eyeballs. Next, scan the forward motion of the lips as if your dog was about to say “wuf!”. Try to shape tense lips, ears up …

Finally, combine all the pieces of conduct to create different facial expression puzzles. It will take you many months before you run out of options. Who said thad dog trainers cannot play with Mr Potato? A further advantage of these calm conducts is that they suit all dogs, also old ones like my friend´s.

If you are a clicker star we also have an advanced level, you know, the sort of things one is advised not to try at home without first consulting a professional. Do you think you can manage to shape a different expression in each side of your dog’s face? Try scanning one eye open while the other remains closed, an ear up and the other down, or half of the lip up, as if your dog was about to growl, while the other half is relaxed. If you are good enough your dog will be offered a juicy Hollywood contract starring as two face’s best friend, one of the villains in the Batman movie saga.

Once you have completed the training give me a call for I will be envious, though I am pretty sure that by that time there will be 15 videoclips with 300 different facial expressions uploaded in youtube by former agility world champion Pere Saavedra. C’est la vie…

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The socialization of sensitive breeds

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Keeping with problems common to sensitive working breeds (typically border collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Belgian and Australian shepherds), there is a theme that began to intrigue me several years ago, there were many dogs of this nature in the hands of competitors or professionals who showed fears and insecurities, which were always blamed on poor socialization.

When the owner claimed to have properly socialized the dog and it continued with these “ghosts”, it was put down to:

  1. The owner lying and having not taken it out to as many places as they say.
  2. The owner being a rough guy and having broken the character of those dogs.
  3. With these dogs you know, one always comes out with ghosts no matter how well you do it.

These three arguments are real, and in many cases the dog’s final bad character is due to at least one of these problems.

But at one point, when I got involved more seriously with Belgian Shepherds, I decided to look deeper.

The truth is that there were many people who were working according to what we understand as a socialization model: since the puppy came home at the right age and was raised by a responsible breeder and lover of the breed, they started to take it to thousands of sites and new situations. Afternoons were reserved for going to the airport, neighborhood parties, the mall …

Every day we work to keep our puppy from becoming one of the specimens that are overly affected, and in many cases these concerned owners were professionals or competitors in training, with an above average level of knowledge, experience and involvement.

By making a small census (without rigor of study) between acquaintances I came across a troubling finding: the percentage of dogs with fears was equal among those whose socialization was a model and among those who were at the mercy of God, growing up in kennels or other types of isolation. Always remember that I am referring to individuals of the above mentioned breeds.

This could lead us to think that this problem was entirely innate and what we did made no difference during the dreaded critical period.

But there were two details that told us that this was not so:

  1. The first, more general, were studies in a wider range of breeds showing that isolated individuals had more problems than what we understand as well socialized individuals.
  2. The other was more specific, if we took a third group of individuals of these breeds, which had grown up with an intermediate level of socialization, we found that these were the ones which showed substantially fewer problems.

This group is for individuals who took the dog for walks to the same sites over and over and for less enthusiastic professionals who when they could took the dog somewhere new, but without making it a daily obligation. These were the ones with higher quality of character in their dogs.

Obviously it follows that there is an optimum range of outings to new places, but I was more interested in finding out why, rather than finding what the range is through statistical analysis.

I found the solution in stress studies, stress generates additional activation of the organism. Although this stress is overcome and managed properly, it will require a minimum time for the dog to recover and to get rid of residual stress, this also happens with processes of stress (positive stress, like the type we have fifteen before a date).

By making many trips to new environments, more sensitive dogs undergo continuous activation of stress and when they get to go on the next trip they had still not been able to recover, until it reaches a point where the accumulation of residual stress has the same harmful effect as lack of socialization, and whoever thinks that we do not need to recover from positive stress after a challenging active holiday should remember how they usually need a couple of days of recovery before returning to work.

Therefore we must take special care to let the puppy successfully recover and rid itself of residual stress: playing with dogs or acquaintances in a safe environment, remember that regular (and safe!) people and places act as inducers of calm in social mammals. Furthermore, in the Socialization, continued interaction with known individuals (social group members) is more important than introduction to new environments, and we work as if the main socializing element is to learn new things. Error.

Rest time is also important. Massages help if the dog accepts them (in Denmark and Norway home dog masseurs are becoming common and dog agility competitors are some of their main customers).

With respect to optimal frequency, although the data was collected haphazardly and must not be taken otherwise, we found that two, maximum three weekly trips to new settings is enough and with more trips than that there is risk of excess.

But to play with friends, the only limit is the fatigue limit! So: More park and fewer neighborhood parties (even if there are no churros).

The timing and distribution of activities of those trips is also very important, but I’ll develop that idea in another article so as to not burden you with a huge block of text.

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Management of negative emotional states in sensitive dogs

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A few days ago a new friend asked me about the problems of his seven-month sheltie: in certain situations, he showed fear and seized up. This was a problem for his quality of life and its future potential in Agilty.

Specifically the car and the pet carrier caused drooling, emotional block and even escape responses, when he came home he took more than ten minutes to recover and start playing with my puppy.

Lately many sensitive and intelligent dog breeds, particularly border collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Australian and Belgian shepherds are appearing with issues or mismanagement of negative emotions.

It is normal for sensitive races with nerve responses to be affected by something timely, if they are not taught to properly manage negative emotions it can create insecurity, fearful responses and even more severe problems.

Apparently the sheltie had a bad transfer when a puppy when he was sent by courier (not usually a good idea to send a puppy by courier, but sometimes it is the only option). This generated a bad emotional association with both the car and the pet carrier.

Emotions are associated by classical conditioning and are more consistent than an association made by operant conditioning, furthermore self-feeding processes of the emotional state often appear: the fear (the combination of internal state, physiological reaction and tendency to action) generates more fear by itself, without there being more external stimuli. When this happens, the association can not be extinguished, and he will often start to associate other things with that fear, for example our sheltie could go by car on the road to work, and when he gets out, with the fear caused by the car, may associate it with the road, generating fear to this and these transfers can increase indefinitely.

It is fundamental to the quality of life for a dog to be prepared to properly manage negative emotional states or we will have low tolerance and poor stress management, a tendency towards inconsistent behavior, insecurity and unhappiness of the dog.

In this case I recommended the following:

Games for getting into the pet carrier and the car: Putting some tasty food inside, we leave it to the dog to decide whether to enter, we gradually make it more difficult to access both the car and the pet carrier (side pet carrier, door ajar, door stuck against a wall so that you need to move the pet carrier to get in, crumpled newspapers filling the pet carrier…). It is very important to do this well, commands like “very good” must not appear, nor should successes be clicked. We are not teaching an action by operant conditioning, we do not want external reinforcements and confirmations, what we are doing is putting the dog in a situation perceived to be emotionally negative (heavens, the pet carrier!!), by making something of interest appear, we create a small conflict: I want the food, but I’m afraid to enter. It is important that the dog decide if it is worth it to face the negative or not, if he decides to do it, he will be learning something more important than making the pet carrier something positive: he will learn that even if he has a negative emotion he can work on it and with that voluntary confrontation with fear, he gets results and comes to a positive emotional state. We are teaching him to properly manage fear, not by eliminating a particular point. The reinforcement must be as small as possible and the difficulty must be increasingly difficult, so we replace the external reinforcement (food) with the internal reinforcement (troubleshooting). Finally we will get him to go into the pet carrier and the car for fun and as an end in itself; with that we will have “turned the tables” on the emotional association.

But if we just do this, although we improve the dog’s particular problem, we have not finished preparing him to properly manage negative emotions.

Since overcoming this problem we will continue to work: in the normal training sessions, we will occasionally use low-intensity negative stimuli (a paste of hair on one leg, a post-it on one ear …) so that he sees that through working he accesses a positive emotional state even if slight discomforts appear.

In my opinion, training must get the dog to access a more positive emotional state more than avoiding negative stimuli at all costs, I think there is much confusion between negative stimuli and negative emotional state and that leads to very harmful overprotective training in puppies, who must build up their management tools of negative situations, we must know how to gently introduce negative elements to teach the dog that they can be overcome, without this we would not be preparing them to have an optimal quality of life.

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Learning and thinking through mental images (and II)

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Thinking through images is faster and more fixed than doing it through symbols, however it is less refined and precise.

This is clearly seen with an example: if we think of digital watches and watches with hands*, it is quicker to recognize the time on the image based one (hands), with one look we know what time it is, whereas when we look at the numbers on a digital clock we need a longer glance and greater mental effort. Instead the information that the mental image gives us is less accurate, we will often respond to the person who asked the time with phrases like “ten past”, while the digital will give us highly exact information like “and twelve “. This shows us that the way we receive and process information is very different in dogs and in humans. Dogs, because of their thinking through mental images, are faster in receiving information and, consequently, in their response to this information.

This speed is a problem for us, we need much more time to set our heavy mental machinery in motion, and dogs often go ahead of us during training and respond to situations that we are just beginning to consider. If we do not take into account this difference in speed, we find ourselves in very frustrating situations with ineffective training.

* Of course, the hands are also symbolic because they represent data of another nature, but learning to read it is clearly visual and results in the construction of a consistent mental image that practically all people share (as the image of the finger to the mouth to ask for silence, our response in shutting up is faster when people make this gesture to us than if they ask us in words in which we take a few seconds to process).

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Internal and external reinforcements

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There are two ways of individual reinforcement for dogs:

  1. Internal, which makes the dog satisfied to be doing what he is doing, the behavior is its own reinforcement.
  2. External, which drives the behavior based on the expectation of getting something of interest (food, toy, etc).

The most interesting thing is that we now know that it is possible to make behaviors obtained by one type of individual reinforcement gradually become reinforced by the other.

This allows great advantages:

  1. For training where we can get a new behavior, learned with external reinforcements, it skips to become self-reinforcing with the benefits of greater efficiency in terms of reinforcements and pro-activity involved. Here I would give an example, but I think the Pere Saavedra video series “surrounded” by border collies is exemplary. The truth is that much of the new book I have “in the pipeline” focuses on how to achieve this and I will tell you in different entries.
  2. For behavioral correction, which is what I will focus on today, where the behavior that a dog does for fun (internal reinforcement) can be strengthened externally until it ceases to have any value of its own and is extinguished when leaving the external reinforcement program.

Here I will give you one very enlightening example that Pablo Roy, Head of sea lions at Madrid Zoo once told me: They had an orca who amused itself by ripping the silicone from the windows of the pool, which was a problem as it could break the enclosure. It was obvious that the orca was bored and they tried several measures to enrich its environment, but what it really thought was cool, was to rip silicone.

Working with orcas is very educational because you don’t get tempted to get angry with them or to punish them before considering alternatives (why is that?). What they did was use a continuous external reinforcement program: each time he took the silicone, he got a fish.

Were they crazy to reward it for bad behavior? Not far off, they were making a behavior which was self satisfactory and thus self-sustained, depend on external reinforcements. In addition to using continuous reinforcement we know that extinction while strengthening is faster: in a couple of months of work, the orca pulled out the silicone and came to ask for its reward, when they stopped giving it fish, the orca stopped ripping the silicone.

An alternative and different use of rewards to eliminate misconduct, we have tried many times with dogs and, if continuous reinforcement is achieved, it has ALWAYS came off. The owners flip and give you a wave.

The truth is to avoid being a “card” positive, I give positive work ideas. 😉

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Starting a new training business among friends

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It is common for friends who share a love for training to make the move to the professional world by setting up a company of their own.

But these companies may end up as the rosary of dawn, ending in many cases not only the professional union but the previous friendship that united the partners. In the world of dog training, many have been through this unpleasant and emotionally draining situation.

However I think these arrangements can be successful with a set of rules that avoid most misunderstandings and disagreements.

Perhaps the main problem here is the level of involvement and the hours spent, often the availability of time (or inclination) of the different partners is different. This idea of “everyone do what they can,” which at first seems acceptable to all, ends up feeling like abuse by the more hard workers, who feel that they are doing the work of their peers and that the distribution of money is very unfair, with phrases like “you know that I cannot train in the evenings” do not help anything!

My proposal is to divide the work into categories depending on what is to be done, not many categories just two or three, for example: Office work, street work and long journeys. Then assign an hourly rate for each category, for example: five Euros/office hours, ten Euros/hour street work and twelve Euros/hour long trips. Each of the partners will get paid the hours worked and the (supposed) benefit will only be split once obtained after paying for the work of each worker.

In this model, it is very important to avoid assigning salaries according to technical difficulty, for example by giving a different price to the hours spent training than to the hours spent leafleting: both belong to the category “street work” and must be paid equally. This prevents some from feeling like subordinates of others, which is very common when not all members have the same level of technical skills.

I also recommend dividing at least a portion of the profits in proportion to working hours. This is important for companies that are set up with an initial investment close to zero Euros, although a partner does not charge for hours worked if they are to gain the benefits that, we hope, will be growing. To collect benefits, something must be invested: money or work, if not, rather than a partner, we have a parasite.

There should also be a minimum and maximum number of hours of work per week, the minimum makes us see if the members are really in the business or if they are just passengers. The maximum hours prevents people from overloading, with the mental exhaustion that this implies. If someone works to excess, s/he will be more inclined to think that s/he is the company, to feel that others do not take the project seriously…and this is not true in many cases, another partner really can work fewer hours but do them with enthusiasm and effectiveness. This is not a parasitic partner and it is not fair to take it out on him/her, it is not always the one who works most that is right in these discussions. If we set minimums and maximums, these problems radically reduce.

This model allows you to live everyday according to the phrase that my friend Cándido often repeated: “Clear accounts make for lasting friendships.”

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Education vs. Training

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In some cases, dogs that compete in complex training disciplines with a high level of results are extremely awkward companions, it being very difficult to live with them, which relegates them to a life in kennels or other spaces outside the nuclear family. Why is this? Why would a dog that gets very high scores in complex obedience exercises not be well integrated into the social group in harmony? It is certainly true that in many of these individuals, a strong character and a very high level of activity is selected that make their management more complex.

But this, which is a good reason why these dogs give problems to novice owners, should not justify the fact that expert trainers who know, seek and prepare these dogs are not achieving normal coexistence for them.

The main reason for this situation is the confusion between learning and education, training typically uses learning processes (normally operant conditioning or cognitive processes) that make the dog motorize its behaviors based on motivations of a purely individual interest. Education is a different process that must be addressed from a different perspective.

Education is a special type of learning (or a combination of multiple types of learning) that aims to correct integration, maturity and effectiveness of individuals in their social group. You must therefore use affection, common goals and another series of characteristics needed in the balanced adult.

Education is especially important in altricial animals, as long childhoods mean a dependence on the mother and other members of the group for a relatively long period of time. Thus a training model that does not take into account the relationships of the puppy with his/her social group is not only less effective but very likely to lead to dysfunctional adults.

To achieve these objectives, education must meet a number of specific assumptions, knowledge of which is particularly interesting for us in order to know how to integrate the dog into our home environment as well as possible. Training and education must go hand in hand to obtain a social and manageable animal.

If the dog is bred in company- in addition to other people-, of social and well-behaved dogs, it allows free and prolonged interaction, it is likely that education is constructed correctly. Nevertheless, only dogs that come into contact with people during childhood may have some shortcomings, either through ignorance or through applying training ideas without sufficient ethological consistency.

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Receiving discreet and graded signals

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Although my students of April 2008 onwards have this information in the updates to the book delivered in our courses, several people have told me that it is a largely unknown topic and it was worth making this “cut and paste” job; with my apologies to those who already know the text.

Dogs are animals capable of receiving discreet and graded signals about their environment and social group.

Discrete signals are on/off signals, they have different intensities or the intensity difference is irrelevant to the main message. They are usually related to the emergence of resources or dangers, so the clarity is the most important parameter, not receiving or misinterpreting a signal of this kind can have a serious economic or vital impact for the dog. Discrete signals are usually related to events of interest that are outside the social group.

Graded signals are those subject to variations in shape and/or intensity according to the emotional state of the issuer. They are the most used within the social group and allow interactive situations between two subjects. For this reason, they are the most important for coexistence.

Perhaps one of the most harmful effects on the education of the dogs that are derived from the vision of training as a sum of operative conditioning is “untraining” dogs to receive and evaluate the graded signals, the dog that limits itself to assessing the information coming from its social partners in black and white, will be an incompetent member of the group and will have difficulty establishing subtle relationships with its guide, it is taught to ignore signals not directly related to good or bad. What may be very beneficial at the beginning of training for its clarity, so that the dog learns new actions is not very useful when handling a trained dog, which is enriched with the nuances of the information that it receives from its guide.

To train it may be sufficient to use discrete signals, to educate we need the dog to enhance its nature to receive graded signals, as this will increase its ability to act properly in the family setting. Social mammals are particularly prepared for receiving and sending graded signals, as this allows an animal to know if their behavior is met with some joy, with some anger (or a lot) and to grade its social actions to which each individual in the group, in every situation, is receptive. So, the dog must learn to receive and send messages to the rest of the group with different levels.

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