Saturday, 3 November 2012

But It Worked For Me...

When you watch or read or attempt a method of training or modifying behavior, the end result, ie 'it worked' is in fact NOT sufficient.

'It Works' is simplistic, it isn't enough to know that something 'works'.

Those of you who know me will have heard this before but I think it bears repeating.

If I offer you a cure for your dogs unwanted behaviour, that I guarantee will work, he will never ever repeat that behaviour again - in fact I'll go further and I will guarantee you that he will never perform any behavior that will annoy you again...

Is that sufficient for you? Is that all you want to know?

Ok then. I'll shoot your dog.

Your dog most definitely will not wee up the sofa again - ok he won't BREATHE again either, but hey...

It Worked!

So obviously I don't go around shooting dogs - the point is, that something works is insufficient, it isn't the whole story is it. The price of the cure is not one you (nor I) would want to pay.

Pick Out The Bits You Like, That Work For You...


I hear people say this about trainers who in with some bog standard and common sense methods, use some pretty harsh or even downright cruel methods, and do so on TV...

It's ok, they say, you can pick out the bits you like, the bits that work for you...

Well, yes, I can. But can you? Can Mrs Bat from down the road, what about Miss Thing from round the corner?

To pick out the good bits, you need to know why they work, how they work, and at what potential cost do they work. Cost/benefit analysis.

To do THAT you need to  know what is actually being done, and the science (or lack thereof) behind it.

Much of what you will see done on TV is edited - whether the show is good or bad, you cannot put a full behavior consult or training program that takes hours, or weeks, or months, into an hour or half hour slot.

Some people are less than honest about what is really going on, so theres a neat narrative explaining what is happening, or the trainer is telling you what is happening as it happens... but are they telling you the truth.

If you don't understand dog behavior, if  you don't know about body language. If you are not reasonably conversant with the quadrants of learning theory, the principles of classical conditioning and operant conditioning...

Do you ACTUALLY know what is going on?

Can you really evaluate what you are seeing correctly, and decide whether thats a useful thing to pick out, or not?

I watched a couple of videos from a US horse trainer today - someone who I think would probably fit under the generic umbrella of 'natural horsemanship'.

She did a bit of talking, her goal was to get a horse to step up (US trailers freqently don't have ramps, the horse has to step up into them) into a trailer, negotiating the narrow gap through the single open door (it had double doors like a standard van but only one was open)...

Now it might have LOOKED natural, and to be fair to her, she wasn't exactly lying about what she was doing.

She was allowing the horse to choose to put his head into the trailer, rewarding him for doing so, and she was choosing to stop this and take him away from it before he chose to do so himself. Effectively manipulating him so that she made the decisions, not him.

Thats ok - I would do similar with a dog frightened to walk on the street, I would let him go so far, find it rewarding and quit it BEFORE he had had enough, in the hope that he would be stopped in the emotional state 'aww, I was enjoying that I want more' rather than pushing him into 'I don't like this I wanna stop'...

But the other side of what she was doing was making his other options unpleasant. Now again, she did not lie about this, she made it clear that his options were 'choose the trailer, or you will find me very annoying and you will have to work hard'...

But she never made it clear that she was using compulsion, she was using negative reward - taking away something unpleasant as the reward for compliance.

This is the equine version of the doggy 'ear pinch' method - in this example, hitting the horse lightly but repeatedly with a lunge whip which he clearly did not like, until he chose to stick his head in the trailer. Then stop hitting and scritches as a reward.

I have seen other horse trainers do the same things, but with no honesty at all - not even admitting that they are doing something unpleasant until they get the result they want.

So, the horse did in the end choose to step into the trailer, negotiating the narrow gap, the weird step up, the echoey floor and the dark space - all things extremely alien to horses and very scary.

But, despite the obvious evidence that the method worked - is the price acceptable?

That handler had to spend a lot of time being unpleasant to the horse - and though he did choose to go into the trailer, he wasn't physically forced in with ropes around his bum or a broom up his arse (both methods I have seen people use), he wasn't frantically thrashed in there...

He still went in because it was unpleasant to make any other choice.

In other words, he had figured out, he HAD no choice, and having watched those videos, I would say that he had not enjoyed the process of learning this.

Is that really ok?

Horses respond very well to clicker training, it would not have taken long to teach him that approaching the trailer earned him a click, via target training - that avoiding the trailer did not earn him a click/reward.. that going IN the trailer earned him a click and a jackpot reward... and he would have enjoyed the process and he would have built confidence and associated that enjoyment with the handler.

But if you don't know that - if you are not aware that clicker training works on horses, if you are not made aware that the method is working by the use of negative reward and therefore involves a good deal of being unpleasant to the animal and the risk of the animal associating you with unpleasantness...

How are you in a position to pick out the good bits?

What Is Your Basis for Comparison?


I rather foolishly got sucked into an argument today, with someone claiming a particular trainer is the 'best ever' and 'does not need a piece of paper to prove he knows what he is talking about'...

When I asked this person to explain their basis for comparison, they told me they had watched many positive trainers, and listed them...

Turns out, only one person on that list is a positive trainer and the clips this person had seen may well have been early in that persons career before they crossed over to positive training.

So - in fact, they had no basis for comparison at all.

And I realised I was arguing with an idiot, so I stopped.

This exchange did remind me though - we never stop learning, and we should read and watch as many people as we can. On TV, via video blogs, via webinars and in person at seminars and lectures.

The broader your basis for comparison is, the better equipped you are to 'pick out the bits that work'.

The problem is, there are a huge amount of 'training theories' out there, particularly for horses but for dogs as well, that are marketed  specifically at the people who have NO basis for comparison at all, and are therefore completely un-equipped to evaluate what they see and pick out anything useful.

There Is No One Method That Works For All...


Yeah, and No.

In fact positive reinforcement, with judicious and very minor use of negative punishment IS the best method, the most efficient method, the method that is safest and least likely to cause harm.

It really will work for all - for all problems, for all species..

However the way one APPLIES that one method, is limited only by your imagination and the physical capabilities of the animal you are working with.

There really is no place for the use of fear or positive punishment - none at all. 

No comments: