Archive for April, 2012

People whispering in a dog training world

All my life I have been exposed to hatred, ignorance, fear, violence, revulsion, bullying and abuse. ALL my life. I’m in my early forties now and still naive to the ways of mankind. Partly because of my Aspergers, partly because I am slightly disjointed from society.

Like many others I find myself drawn to social networking sites and yet even online you are not safe from scaremongering and petty backstabbing. There is only so much you can avoid by blocking or unfriending/unfollowing folks. As far as I am aware none of it has been directly aimed at me, although I have recently been party to a phenomenon known as ‘guilty by association’.

There are many whom, it would appear, feel it is ok to disparage others without first gathering the right information before making slanderous judgements. There are some who attack others from behind a computer screen and some who speak about others in hushed tones during private messaging, not bothering to find out the truth.

Others seem to find it prudent to jump on band wagons and mob mentality is alive well even within the dog training fraternity and in animal rescue. The dog training industry itself is heavily divided, with often disastrous results for the dog owning public, as if it all wasn’t confusing enough already! As for the animal rescue scene, I have been appalled at the treatment of some involved by people old enough to know better.

What confuses me more than anything as knowing how passionately professionals feel about their profession, how they get caught up in the waves of revolution when asked to consider a new method or a new technique is launched or dishonoured then why can’t that enthusiasm, that drive be used for the greater good instead?

If we all work together for the common ground of helping people achieve better obedience and greater control over troubling behaviours then surely it makes sense to pool resources, knowledge and experience. Can you imagine what we could achieve?

If bad practice is driven out of the industry and people learn how to communicate better, learn how to teach and become the kind of trainer they want to be without needing positive punishment this would have a ripple effect on the whole world. A good kind of ripple; one that ensures that every dog owner and every dog gets the right training, and trainers get the right training too.

Alas, I know my point is moot. Being human, people will always argue their way is the right way even when overwhelming evidence shows the contrary. Gossiping and bullying will never stop. Bad methods will live on. Shame on those who point the finger or are too blinkered or afraid to be open to new suggestions. Shame on those who force others to make uncomfortable and sometimes life-changing decisions. Shame on those who seek to exact ridicule and threatening behaviours on those trying their best or working hard to achieve their potential.

I won’t let anyone stand in my way. I won’t let anyone drag me down to their level and I won’t let anyone use my naivety against me ever again. I have been through too much and worked too hard to allow anyone to take it away from me. So say what you like. Think what you like. About anyone you like, even me. Just remember slander and libel are crimes and karma gets you in the end. My integrity is pure and assured. Is yours?

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Quadrants: the cornerstone to training

My time with the Academy for Dog Trainers may be have only been a short while thus far, but man have I learned so much already! Including that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did and that my brain is quite good at thinking in quadrants; something I never even thought possible! The syllabus is taught by breaking down everything into easy to assimilate bite sized chunks, therefore learning is easier and highly effective. Awesome stuff and Jean is a fantastic critical thinker and mentor, nothing is too much trouble for her.

So, what do I mean by quadrants? They are the cornerstone to training it would seem, something I already did know on a certain level but the training the Academy gives you makes you see everything in quadrants! Honestly, I am taking examples from everything including my own behaviour in everyday life. It all made my head explode at first as I’m so used to feeling bad about using the words punishment and negative when applied to behaviour but in order to use Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) you have to think in quadrants! They are how you decide if a behaviour has increased or decreased and how.

Reinforcement & Punishment. Negative and Positive.

R+  R-

P+  P-

Positive and Negative Reinforcement increase a behaviour. Positive and negative Punishment decrease a behaviour. Simples.

Over the last few years there has been an enormous movement in attitude toward the positive reinforcement part of the quadrant with trainers saying they only teach positive reinforcement methods. I included myself naively in that. The dread evoked from using the words negative and punishment smacked of old school Alpha methods and aversive (force) training. It’s simply not like that though. If you withhold a treat from a pet because he didn’t sit for you on cue that’s not positive, that is negative. It’s not wrong, it’s part of the quadrant and that is science based fact!

The way to deal with getting your head around using the words negative and punishment in training is to think of them as the mathematical symbols, plus and minus. Plus means add and minus means take away, right? So if you increase a behaviour it’s on the plus side of the quadrant and if you decrease a behaviour it’s on the minus side of the quadrant!

If you decrease a behaviour it’s been punished, if you increase a behaviour it’s been reinforced.

So now to help me decide if a behaviour has increased or decreased I use the quadrants, ask some questions about the behaviour and it’s consequence (the outcome of the behaviour). Thank you Jean Donaldson, the Academy is truly, the Harvard of dog training!

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