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How do you know ….what you don’t know?

May 14, 2018
How do you know ….what you don’t know?

The age of trusting the professionals is fading fast. I am not sure anymore what exactly a professional is and the difference between genuine, self-styled and fake, ?

With so much information freely available and shared when we open the gate to “looking for a xyz” we are struggling to recognise authenticity from smart marketing. Smart marketing is duplicating authenticity in their marketing and I am not just referring to fake copiers that take your money and run, but also the pseudo-experts that believe they are expert but maybe not. They have genuine belief in their own level of expertise and self-present  as such. How can we measure and qualify expertise?

Perhaps this will be a new qualification?

“Sniffing out authentic”.

“Odour detection for fakery”.

I was pressed into re-designing the website at the end of 2017. I duly scheduled my 3 week Christmas lock-out to knuckle down to this. It requires a strict no interruption policy. Up to that point I had been building sites with the help of straight forward drag-n-dump software, writing the necessities and doodling-up the pics. Good bit of amateur fun. My plans required me to upgrade my skills and I scheduled the new site launch by the end of January. Yay …. Mid May and I can now say the top is in view. I think. Or it may be one of those false summits loathed by any mountain teams, what you see is a hump, hiding the summit.

A week before Christmas I thought I knew enough to rebuild and step up a level, a week after I knew I didn’t. Wandering around the thousands of well-marketed and professional looking options that wanted my lifelong servitude I realised my level of knowledge was sufficient to show me what I was lacking. I had no enthusiasm for learning new languages or more complex system, but I did have a good idea of what I wanted and what I could afford financially and time investment.

My seeking hours started to filter out the folk that I “liked”. Not in the facebook sense, but in the connection to the design of their material and emphasis on the values of what they were promoting.

Designers can be externally hired and skilled to be able to communicate any type of message their client wants. But there is also a message in the words and visual appeal that is more than a single strategy, it oozes the ethos of the people behind the business.

My cookie-manager went bananas trying to work out want my site visiting was indicating about my personal interests. I was following a trail of recommended WordPress sites. These are not just blogger folk hosted by WP, but sites built in the style of WP, raising beyond 25% of the sites we now use.

Wouldn’t you just want to work with these people:

By trailing around with no particular urgency I was able to get a feel for the body of work the sites presented, not a single page, not an impressive landing page (the first page you hit), but how the site unfolded, how easy it was to take another step, and how much I wanted to explore.

I think we all have a natural detection process that we can listen to without an expert telling us what to listen to. We just need to prod it awake, and then listen to it.

This detection process needs to be on full alert in the dog world. Along with the well-intentioned newly-fresh businesses there is a malignant growth of cash-croppers seeking the vulnerable. The pet market has never suffered a recession. It is considered one of the prime areas to “make money whilst you sleep”.

My detection process in this area is well tuned, I can spot the imitators re-selling a process or product. I see the cherry-pickers attending the events to skim off and re-package the money-generating ideas. When examined on closer detail they simply do not have the skill or experience to apply or teach. My own ideas, creativity and well-intentioned advice has been completely distorted and result in abuse to dogs by imitators who had not learned the process with diligence or understanding.

It reminds me of the training protocol where the dog is taught to copy a person, but the dog has not actually travelled the learning steps to perform the activities, just jumped to the outcome. When this outcome is tested they have no learning stages that were wrapped in application problem solving to call upon. There is little flexibility or ability to tailor the copied behaviour to new situations.

Consider this:

A new product should be make your life easier, not try to replace expertise.

This is from the software engineers but just as easily applied to new dog stuff. A head collar does not replace taking responsibility for training your dog.

The way a behaviour is learned is always visible.

The way a behaviour is learned is always visible.

Imitators will fail the test of adapting and generalising.

They will not be able to meet the needs of the non-standard situation. There is an absence of depth of understanding. The way a behaviour is learned is always visible.

seek the body of work of the organisation

Seek the body of work of the organisation

Look beyond the landing page, the immediate call-you-in advert.

Seek the body of work of the organisation, the person or the team involved. Explore and develop a feel and question your personal trust-pilot. Look for their history, their experience, their priorities and biases. The first dog we train, trains us as a trainer.

If you’d like to enter a discussion please join on the main website for the richer comments!

Impressed by 2017

January 1, 2018

Not a waste of money

How often do we invest our time, effort and wealth into something that turned out to be a turd?

Looking over 2017 I have been impressed with my shopping choices. The exception is the usual fashion-rubbish that I still think would suit me but doesn’t. But hey-ho, Sally Army benefits from that. It would be more worth-while to make a direct cash donation.

This year has seen the ride on lawn mower – ooooh, I love it. What used to be the primary choice to hone my excellent procrastination skills, cutting the grass, became a bi-weekly event. I don’t really have enough lawn to validate the purchase that caused the delay for far too long. But I cannot foresee any time in my future where lawn is not going to be a major player, and 90 minutes of hauling a mower around should not be part of my future either. It is the dogs’ pleasure to run the grass, our training and playing pad and my sense of space. It has also improved immeasurably from a decent, regular cutting. April will see new sections bought “under grass”.

temperature door control

ideal when you do not want to be letting the dogs in and out all day long.

Second impressive investment is the plastic screen door from the garage to the garden. This was a surprise success. Even with the freezing temps we have had over the last couple of weeks the garage, which is really my utility room, carpeted, furnished, tumble drier space. This means the dogs can enjoy being in-and-out to their pleasure without the necessity for me to be the door-monitor.

going through the door curtain

they easily push through

These curtains are design to maintain temperature which I have only ever seen on the doorway of walk-in cold storage etc. Made specifically to order, and easy to hang, you can easily lift off each section which I needed to do for the first day so the dogs worked out that they could push their way through. The room stays pleasant, I stay pleasant, and I am experiencing a daily thrill of Being a Good Buyer. I suspect they made need wiping down from time to time depending on how mucky the dogs are. They usually leave some residue oils from their coats around the place – but this is heavy duty plastic, so easy maintenance. Check again in 5 years!

I schlepped a couple of the off-the-floor beds home from Crufts. I remember the old “Goddard bed” from my childhood which was a similar design. A canvas sling on a metal frame with a hinged rail. See the advert here from the 1930s, goodness. This is not a new concept, and I think at some time I have slept in a camp bed of similar design. But the 2017 variety is a little more safety conscious, no gaps to get legs stuck into.Goddard dog bed goo

Bed of choice for the dogs? Plush memory foam lined luxury or canvas sling?

Which would you choose?


The bed of choice – chosen by the dogs

Well the only one who opts for memory foam is Flink, but she will sleep on gravel, so I don’t think her priorities are recommendations. Merrick is a canvas-sling choice along with Time.

where to rest?

Flink, collie of working heritage chooses cold gravel for comfort; Merrick, Gordon of working heritage, chooses flower tub for comfort.

My choices do lean towards practicality, functionality and things that make my life easier. But these choices also give me daily pleasures.

There are no short cuts

September 7, 2017

There are no short cuts

When we are working with an animal our own needs can direct our choices and decisions. We focus on outcomes and the end goal which is commonly revolves around us. The dog that no longer causes discomfort when pulling their leash, the dog that instantly responds to our demands, the companion that understands our lifestyle choices.

But for that learner, for that animal, what is happening now and how it makes them feel is what matters the most. That is their reality. Do they understand, do they want more than the next treat, do they want to be with us or have they no choice ? For decades trainers have been engineering time saving processes and hard-selling them as ideal solutions.

What they are missing is the life-breathing element that evolves from the process. The reflection of joy and connection from a time invested process that leaves your learner enthused. It is never replaceable with quick fix solutions.

It takes thoughtfulness to plan how to make the learning experience one of pure pleasure, even in the elements that are challenging. It is so much more than just delivering treats or toys. Our companion animals want to share a part of us, the very best they can draw from us and it is this demand that ensures we grow, as companions to them and as their teachers.

It takes intelligence and intuition to seek out solutions that carry the mark of deep practice, skilfulness and evidence of a body of work that aligns with our own beliefs. We see the culmination of thousands of hours of practice, exploration, cold fingers and slobbery clothes. But we also see those bright, shiny eyes reflect our passion for teaching, learning and connecting with another animal.

Passion follows engagement and meaning follows mastery Srini Rao
What we experience when training thoughtfully may be individual and exclusive. We are all teachers and we are all learners to each other. Although our paths may not be travelling in parallel, a weekend of intense exploration that cultures thoughtful learning can ensure the next steep slope is one of exhilarating views, not one of staring and the ground and hope we get to the top soon.

When I see thoughtful training I see a passion, experience and skilful application that leaves me itching to get training, get learning new skills, exploring even better solutions that leave no learner floundering. Training that leaves no stress residue but a perpetual desire to learn more, learn with others and enjoy the global energy that it brings.

Travelling to another city and leaving our companions is never short cut learning. This is the sort of effort that lasts a lifetime, and experience that begins new views, shifts our understanding  and starts it own revolution in the way we approach training.

My most significant shifts have evolved when applying what I have learned from conferences or seminars, often going through my notes on the flight home. I get to see the very best ideas, the essence of thoughtfulness, the accumulative mileage that other trainers have taken and what they have learned and can share with us. Even preparing my presentations forces clarity of thinking and a crystallisation of the processes, ideas, creativity and experience.

I have seen this effect over and over again. In classes, online groups, conferences, when people with the same passion get together to learn the learning explodes.

when people with the same passion get together to learn the learning explodes.


There is nothing that can replace learning alongside people who share our values in animal training. A passion shared is a passion deepened. No matter what dog, horse, chicken or child we are teaching making sure they have the very best experience is much more than just being a treat dispenser.

Train thoughtfully.

Training thoughtfully IS the short cut

The Moment of …..

July 5, 2017

One of the traps of good intention, training without aversive punishment and with unquestionable love and affection is to be remiss in teaching that good moments also run alongside moments of “bugger” … that was a disappointment.

Within a few hours of arriving into the world M.O.B. (moments of bugger) become the fabric of life. These pups were enjoying an afternoon snack, when Mother turned upside down. Those titties were not where expected, the scent of them was definitely in the air, but climbing was needed to secure one. The small little sausage bottom left is still experience a MOB whilst the others are tucking in. Just as well she could not see at this age!

Teaching Moment of Bugger

Time is an experienced learner. He is set up to learn that I would like him to go around the bin clockwise and then stand on the platform. Watch the video through once to get the idea of what I am teaching (this is running faster than reality).

Here is the first video:

As the bin is moved further away from me to the end of the platform it seems perfectly logical for him to take the short cut and come direct to the platform with the bin on his left.

Here is the second video with his logical choice:

This is not my desired behaviour, I want to eliminate this. I have two options.

Initially on the video I demonstrate withdrawing reinforcement for arriving on the platform when the bin was on his left. No click, no food, I even fake disappointment. Then I set him up to try again by refreshing success for the correct choices: bin on your right. We arrive at the same critical decision point and he makes the same choice: the shortest route to success is with the bin on my left. Again, no click, no food.

This may be called selective reinforcement, but it does not explain to him why he is not getting success. It is NOT an NRM. He completes the behaviour to find there is not success.

There are 2 behaviours:

Standing on the platform

Going around the bin.

Both behaviours in the chain, one after the other need to be successful. He is focussed on arriving on the platform, not relating the first behaviour of how he goes around the bin to the change in his success. This is using the consequence (no reward) to attempt to extinguish the undesired behaviour.

BUT, the desired behaviour of arriving on the platform is in danger of becoming extinguished, where as the first behaviour – arriving with the bin on your left, is the undesired behaviour. By withdrawing reinforcement at the end of the chain I am not explaining what IS required. He repeats the same logic, (not really an error at all), again. No evidence of “no reward” having an effect.

Here is the Moment of ….

Instead I use a cue (raising my foot) to block the undesired behaviour and leave him to make a choice. He adjusts what he does and goes around with the bin on his right to gain success on the platform. This is extremely high probability from the previous successes.

This is a chain of two behaviours, two successes. The decision to adjust what he does and go around the desired side needs feedback and arrival on the platform also needs feedback. Both are critical to the success of this chain. I give verbal “well done” on his point of decision and click AND a fuss, and a re-set treat for arrival on the platform.

You could choose to do this the other way around, click at the point of the desired decision and give verbal feedback on arrival. But knowing my dogs they are likely to come to an enquiring stop when hearing the click.

The important points here:

  • the prevention of the undesired option is part of the antecedent of the cycle NOT in the consequence.
  • he makes the choice for the alternative successful behaviour, I do not tell him what choice to make.




At the point he was prevented from going the logical route I describe as a “moment of bugger”. He is then left to make alternative choices – which he had plenty of time and reinforcement to have learned, it was very fresh in his mind. He made the logical choice only once more.

For me this is ethical prevention of an undesired choice. The undesired aspect is my choice, and I spend a lot of consideration setting up the learning in the direction that is beneficial to all of us.

This is an example of using a MOB. It is an important strategy when the dog’s logical choice is likely to make life harder for us and for them. I want to prevent using extinction as a consequence to undesirable choices.

A clear example is me leaving the dogs in the garden when I go through the front gate. Sometimes the dogs come with me for training, sometimes not, I go to feed the chickens. The conditions look very similar. I always teach the dogs that access through the gate is never from behind my legs, I will go through, turn and face the dogs and invite them to join, or not. On the “or not” occasions they will experience disappointment, a moment of bugger. The closed gate prevents the error. I do not let them come through an then attempt (hah, not likely) to extinguish that behaviour. The gate not opening is a cue (the antecedent) of disappointment.

Notice I use the terms “gate closed”, not “closing”. I do not use the movement of the gate into the dogs as a punishment for trying to get through. Initially when I step through the gate I throw treats behind me. This avoids any discomfort a puppy could experience if they tried to follow me and let me teach the wait behind me whilst gates and doors open. Once through and the gate is shut, I turn to face, then if I want them, either all or a single dog to accompany me they will be called to join

I add a verbal cue to this “not today”. I use it carefully, with calmness. I could have used my verbal cue when Time was about to make his logical choice with the bin, instead I used my foot and hand to block the choice.

We can learn to use a variety of preventative blocks: a flat of hand when the dog is coming towards us. Most of us use this with a puppy just before they make a logical choice (the error) of jumping up at us, a particularly valuable strategy if I am carrying a cup of hot tea. We recognise the preparation to jump with that slight dip of the shoulders and put our hand forwards, either as a visual block, or if within reach a steadying hand to the shoulders. It does not punish the behaviour of jumping or showing affection, desire to greet, just a prevention  “not at this moment”.

Arriving at the end of the lead should be just a MOB, not an aversive reaction from the person to pull back or yank. A fence is just an MOB if what you want is on the other side, puppy gates the same, the crate, the same, the opening of the car boot, the same. By careful forethought we can pair these moments of disappointment from an arranged environment to a verbal cue “not today”. Rarely will these behaviours come under the category of “never”.

Rules for MOB

  • Always take time to teach the choices available under the same conditions that may previously have lead to success.
  • Use safe, recognisable environmental arrangements for “not available”, your hand block, end of lead when wearing a harness, puppy gates.
  • It should never induce a fearful response, it is just information.
  • The dog must make the alternative choice, not be prompted by you, and learn how to make choices. These choices should be reinforced when possible.
  • Put a predictable “moment of bugger” on a verbal cue.
  • It should be an experience of disappointment, not a tragedy

Want to learn more about teaching thoughtfully?

The value of error

July 5, 2017

Errors are critical to the learning process.

It a common habit to toss around loose terms and phrases of a global nature. Often the interpretation is as broad as it is long and both speaker and listener understand something quite different.

Walk nicely”, it gives me no idea what is desired, or a definition of that person’s “nicely”.

A high drive dog” as a descriptive term that may mean one thing to one person but interpreted differently by another, it describes nothing specific.

Our business needs to move closer to an engineering model where we learn to be as specific as we possibly can, giving clear information but not overwhelmingly technical terms. We are engineers in that we need to analyse situations with care and detail, identify root causes and provide practical, appropriate and effective solutions.

Other terms have been adapted by common usage to mean one thing that is often not the true meaning of the term, or it is misapplied. “Free-shaping” has become a generic description of training by selective approximations, but in truth all learning is a form of shaping, how that shaping occurs is the key point.

“Correction based training” usually has a negative reaction. But deep down, when we are learning, there are corrections happening all the time. Again it is how those corrections are occurring is the salient point.

My least favourite is the term “reactive”, since most people who live with dogs actually desire reactivity, a prompt response to a cue is excellent reactivity, agility handlers want exquisitely fast reaction to their signals counted in micro seconds. All predators are reactive, reactive to prey, reactive to threats. Certain lifestyles, living in a war zone, may shape you into be super-reactive as a survival mechanism. But we now have reactive dog classes, that are avoiding the truth of what they are. But super favourite has to be socialisation, socialising a puppy, so that we have a happy and friendly adult dog, the same dog that has become a nuisance to all other dog walking ambitions. Super-friendly should not be a desired ambition of breeders, trainers of owners. The absence of one trait, non-friendly, should not be replaced with the other extreme; neutral or selective is quite satisfactory.

When we use these global descriptions they are vulnerable to polar opposite understanding to individual use and often mask the issues we should be paying attention to. By describing in detail we can use the terms rather than avoid them, and learn to pay attention to how a protocol is applied. Yes, detail is centric, not just important, critical.

Error-free, or minimal error learning is a global use that provides very little information except that the user has good intention.

“One group of educators argues that errors hamper learning and should be avoided; another group argues that errors are potentially beneficial as long as you know how to interpret and use them.” Judith R. Johnston, Ph.D,

Avoidance of correction

One of the traps of labelling ourselves as positive trainers, besides the global variations in exactly what that term has come to mean, is that we avoid using certain terms because of the their negative association. We avoid the term “correction”. Yet whenever we are learning self correction is in play all the time otherwise learning is unlikely to be effective and worthwhile. We drive a new car and learn self correction from the process of unlocking the car, climbing in. My last change required significant changes and even 2 years later the older processes are know to resurge when I am not focussed or tired.

Our education system and much of our surrounding lifestyles teach us to avoid being wrong. With a sibling 2 years older I was always going to be wrong – or let’s be less global: younger, less experienced, less skilled. Our classrooms focus on the wrong behaviour to the point of significant avoidance, I have been known to silence enthusiastic learners because of the fear of wrong answers, when in fact the answer, although it may be a misunderstanding, false information or assumptions, is simply an indication of the knowledge at that time. Truthfully it cannot be wrong, or error, it is what we believe to be true or fact until further knowledge and information come along.

Dogs are all young animals should not have fear of being wrong. Just more opportunities to learn, move forward, increase our knowledge.

Is this an error? Or just information that skill and experience is under development?

A focus on avoidance of error can overwhelm the learning. What we see is stuttering in the behaviour, hesitation and uncertainty. We would continually be focussing on what not to do in our effort to do what is going to be successful. We want learners to blossom and thrive, not become reluctant in their tasks.

If I am driving I want to focus on reaching the destination safely, not focus on not getting lost of being late or causing an accident …. or making an error.

Error is an interpretation BY THE TRAINER that expectations are not being met.


When we give a cue, or stimulus the choice of response is always correct for the dog. We give the cue for a sit, and the dog lies down, for that dog at that time either the cue to sit was not recognised or remembered, or it looked very similar to “down”, or the down has a stronger likelihood of success – this is the behaviour that has most recently received the greatest, and most salient, reinforcers. The dog cannot “be wrong”.

Error is feedback

This is a critical part of the teacher’s ability to set the learning at the appropriate level for the learner. We may be teaching a person or training a dog. Step back and examine the feedback in detail and then make a decision what to do next. Which area is in greatest need of change? For me the decision usually comes from my experience of seeing an unchanged behaviour becoming so deeply reinforced in the package that every repetition cements that learning. There are sometimes that need to be halted as soon as possible. An example would be food snatching. This is evoked by the withdrawal of the hand as the dog approaches and is going to sour the future process of training with food.

By monitoring the changes I want to teach I am able to get clear information of progress being made.

Error is normal learning, error is part of the technology of teaching. “At this time the skills are insufficient”, which may be the skill of analyse, self-correct, adjustment. A need to shorten the lead as we approach this situation, slow down, adjust our speed.

What to adjust comes from the teacher who will teach specific actionable steps. The skill of the teacher is in deciding what steps can be achieved, and in what order. Focussing on one change at a time may require the teacher to hold their tongue through the other “errors”.

An increase in the error-feedback can often be an indication of fatigue, letting me know that a break is needed. If I am trying to supress error that vital feedback would be missing. (Watch our for our Take a Break Citizen’s Research)

Work towards precision learning

The area I have strong reasons to become disagreeable about is the deliberate use of lures to cause error to enable elimination through punishment.

The classic example is mugging the hand for food. Food is held in the fist and the dog is lured to try to get this food. The hand is quickly withdrawn and the dog steps back with surprise. This is then clicked and the other hand delivers food. If you want to see this in action the key search words on YouTube are “reverse luring”.

After several repeats of this strategy the dog will be avoiding the hand and can be clicked for passive behaviour in the presence of food in the hand, even food offered from an open hand.

At no time can I envisage when I would want my dog to show displacement behaviours in the training environment, near me or my hands. I would certainly never teach a puppy that food offered from an open hand equates to backing away. My open hand should always represent something to come towards, either for affection or to put a hand on the collar.

When watching these videos the dogs show many alternatives to mugging, looking away, looking at the ground, backing off, sitting and endless attempts to work out what is required. The dogs become focussed on avoidance not a pro-active display of confidence in what is able to secure success.

This is not positive training. The use of food alone does not make something positive when the teacher is focussed on inducing error so that it can be punished.


Let’s begin with a clear definition of what we want the dog, or any learner, to do in response to a specific stimuli: food in the environment, hand, pocket, treat pouch etc.

We set up the learning with 20 pieces of food in our hands, and a container of food at shoulder height or at the rear of a counter also containing the food. The first hand-treat is placed or thrown on the floor or behind the dog for the dog to find. Even if you are training outdoors or on an unsuitable surface a dog bowl or tray can be set out for the food placement.

As the dog re-orientates after eating to this supply larder (nature ensures this is a high probability behaviour), the click occurs and the food is placed away from the person. The behaviour we desire is re-orientation with an enquiring stillness. Before they can begin any undesired behaviour we show them what can be successful.


Repeat this until the 20 hand held treats are finished. For first time treat deliverers this will require supervision to ensure they can place as required and with speed. What we want to ensure is no doubt for the dog as to how to attain the food.

For the first occurrence after the hand is empty, treats are collected after the click from the reserve pot. Still with placement away or around the floor. When food is delivered direct to the dog’s mouth from a hand containing more food nature is likely to step in and induce mugging.

Over the next 20 repetitions the treat pot is gradually faded into the picture, and occasionally a treat can be in the hand also.

We want the conditions of training: presence of food in hands, pockets or treat bags, to stimulate alertness, enquiry and stillness. This is the perfect platform for all learning. Not displacement, avoidance and confusion.

It is also a critical lesson for people to learn how to teach desired behaviours not lure them so that they can be punished. Dogs are not the enemy.

Along side this I would teach clean delivery from the open hand with precision placement at the dog’s muzzle so that snatching food from hands never needs to become a habit.

Often puppies are reared in an extremely competitive environment where if food is not aggressively secured it is lost. This can result in a quite different response to the scent of food in the environment and all the more reason to teach food as a cue for enquiry AND stillness throughout the day and for every meal.

Here is Merrick at about 11 months old going through her learned behaviours with chicken in a pot on the chair. The scent and sight of that chicken is a cue to orientate for me with enquiry and stillness. Once that occurs I progress to other behaviours.

Although science explains that punishment is an effective form of ensuring learning happens, we should not be in the business of using this when we have the option of working WITH nature to ensure success.

Dogs have been around lures all their lives, as are we, commonly known as marketing. This does not mean we need to be punished for buying/eating/signing up for everything that we are lured by. I can easily watch an advert showing glossy, shiny, sticky food and show alertness, enquiry and stillness. This is tempered by experience and analysis of the long term value of response!

Dogs are equally lured in all directions and nature has prepared them to learn to be selective, and make choices that are likely to be successful.


Errors are feedback. Set up learning for success, focus on precision in learning and use the micro-errors to enable analysis, adjustment and seeking of progress.

An error should just give the learner feedback, not a withdrawal, avoidance, or distress. Taking something away because we simply did not know what else was available in NOT training positively or ethically.



Want to learn more about teaching thoughtfully?

We are ALWAYS training

April 24, 2017

We are always training because animals are always learning

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.

For most dogs, going on lead and getting into the car, when at home is an opportunity they never want to miss out on. It is exciting and performed without question. A strong behaviour.

But, going on lead and getting into the car when leaving the Barn has a completely different consequence. It is often the end of the connection, learning and focus (leaving the Barn), it is back to the car, and then most often abandonment (the owner wants to return to the Barn to watch the next dog, learn more).

When we (inadvertently) change the consequence of the behaviour, we change the behaviour. The behaviour then breaks down, often very fast, under these specific conditions – when at the Barn, but the behaviour stays solid and enthusiastic when leaving home. Because we are focused on the behaviour we often do not notice the start of the break down, or only pay attention when it comes to a complete stop.

We have to become aware of the conditions that give our learners salient information as to the likely consequence of these (similar) behaviours.

There is a parallel when taking dogs into competition environments. If they are normally strong, solid, enthusiastic behaviours when training, but in competition they break down, become uncertain, then the dog is learning the different outcomes of the similar behaviours depending on the environment. The environment cues are directly related to the different outcomes. (Note: these are not poisoned cues!)

In Training, behaviour: walking back = food / toys (in the normal training environment)

In the Ring / competition behaviour: walking back = no food, not toys, usually another behaviour.

This is sometimes labelled “ring wise”. Errm, well, yes, dogs are not that dumb. It is a survival skill to pin down and remember what works and results in success and what doesn’t. The dog will selectively choose to respond when the consequence is reliable. Good, clever, bright dogs, we cannot con them for ever.

Prevention is always more effective than trying to fix this once the person realises what is happening.

Training and environments need to be fluid and not directly related to consequence.

In the training environment the dog should be introduced and familiar with the conditions that may occur in other environments – such as food only being delivered in a certain spot in training. You may train in your kitchen, but after the mark / click, travel to a different part of the house to collect and deliver the food. This means the wearing of food does not become part of the training environment. The reinforcement should be consistent, but variable in location. It should be a graduated process, where the dog only has to travel a few steps to their reinforcement station and then extended when the behaviour is showing stability and maintaining its strength.

For the going on lead/getting in the car, at home this is usually followed by an exciting outing. We need to build in variation to the outcome of these patterns. Take the dog on your errands but no external outing, travel then becomes a resting event. At home pop your dog in the car and spend 20 minutes going to and fro, loading the car, general car chores, and then go for an outing.

I am very, very conscious of developing patterns of behaviour that the dogs quickly discover results in something of value to them. We cannot expect to train our dogs in operant processes and them not use those skills round the clock. In the morning my dogs go to the orchard and then come in for their breakfast. In the evening they browse around the orchard after they have eaten. They have worked out the difference, the behaviour of returning to the house is influenced by what happens next and sometimes those differences can be as subtle as the time of day or the fullness of your stomach.

We are ALWAYS training, because animals are ALWAYS learning.

Three reasons to use a clicker, or not.

April 8, 2017

The concept of “being a clicker trainer” is always going to lead to argument and misunderstanding because it cannot exist alongside the science and technology. It is a “fakery” of our time.

The clicker itself is a simple tool that when used in conjunction with technology provides clarity and understanding in teaching. Using Facebook does not make you  social, it is the tool that gives you the opportunity to be social. You still need some skills and understanding of what being social is. We learn the difference between “liking” post and “like” a page or business. They don’t mean the same thing. Neither a clicker or Facebook when used by themselves have little or no effect on improving communication.

Many folk learned their virtual social skills in the list and email groups. We learned to follow threads, avoided social reactivity and explain ourselves with detail. The new tool for virtual socialisation has adapted those skills, and the folk who missed the email shaped behaviours are shaped in this icon based era.

I can see the similarity in dog training. Skills established pre-clicker evolution, were adapted and honed with the use of the new tool. But for those who arrived in the clicker period these skills are often absent and the clicker itself becomes central to the protocol.

I use a clicker

I am very specific and selective when a clicker would benefit a situation.

It is a tool that can be used to teach very accurate, precise outcomes when based with exquisite timing and relevant reinforcement. It requires an understanding of what you want to teach and how it should be carried out. The difference between a move that is correct but stressed and a move that is correct and relaxed.
I did not appreciate this when I first used a clicker. It has tremendous power, to build and equally to confuse. A confused learner will show disinterest in learning new things, often exhibit low commitment or at the other extreme demonstrate frenetic anxiety to be right.

The clicker is a tool that rests on top of good teaching skills. If those skills or understanding are not present it becomes an irrelevant noise because consistency does not exist. The classic example is the advice to “click for a loose leash/lead”. The dog could be exhibiting 1001 different behaviours, a variety of which would be clicked giving the dog no salient information. The trainer could be lucky and get results, but not for the reasons they assumed. (Probably a dog able to ignore the clicks and respond to the timing of the food delivery)
I use a clicker when I can anticipate the accurate repetition of the behaviour I would like repeated. When teaching the use of the clicker the operator should be able to arrange the environment so that the behaviour has a very high probability of occurring in a way that is desired and of benefit to the future of that individual. This is the skill that underlies the use of the clicker.

Without being able to set up, anticipate and clearly verbalise what the click is going to mark it becomes a non-effective, and confusing tool.

Our task as teachers is to teach these skills, which rarely arrive in a single lesson.

We begin with the use of reinforcers, how they are delivered, what is delivered and when it is delivered. This is an understanding of positive reinforcement. This is more important than the clicker. This is not clicker training.
If I do not consider a clicker is going to be of value to either the trainer or the dog then I would not advise its use. Its purpose is to improve communication and understanding, not to make the trainer feel good.

It can separate the event from the reinforcer.

For those of us that learned our skills pre-clicker, there was a predominance of using the food delivery which marked the successful outcome. The dog was lured, manipulated, encouraged into a down position and fed in that position. I still see dogs return to the feed location and demonstrate the desired behaviour.
My dominant pattern of reinforcement (in the range of 85-90%) is feeding out of location. I feed where I want the learner to be when they start the next repetition of the behaviour. If I want energy in the behaviour then there will be animation in the set-up of that location – a chase to collect the treat, a catch.
If we are feeding in position then I do not see  how a click benefits the communication since the learner will simply watch for the start of the delivery process.
It is the understanding of the complete cycle that is the critical skill.

This is not clicker training.

It makes us pay attention

The endless arguments for using clickers or words will continue for many generations yet. It really does not matter. Either will be just as valid when used with thoughtfulness, consistently followed by reinforcement, and salient.

What I do see is a verbal cascade of positive noises that are supposedly verbal-clicks that are NOT accurate, NOT consistently paired with reinforcement and have become non-salient to the dog.

I do think that the physical use of a clicker is more likely to be used with skill than verbalisation. The behaviour of pressing the clicker takes more conscious learning than verbal “good” and “yes”. It can be developed as new process as if we were learning a new musical instrument rather than an adaptation of verbal sounds that have been with us for life.

It make us consciously aware of what we are doing.

It makes us pay attention.

It should make us ask questions, learn the technology and develop good skills.

This is benefit of using a clicker, but it is not clicker training.

Want to learn training skills? Come into my barn …..