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Providing information is constructive.

Withholding information is destructive.

Both these statement can be right or wrong, depending on the intention of the information.

Without any awareness, my mother contributed to increasing the global dog training skills. Her choice for shaping me as a child was the well-known protocol of “she should know what she did wrong” school of philosophy. The fallout was very little desire to trying to get it right, for her. It was specific to that person, as achieving acknowledgement from other people was, and still is, thriving.

The long-term effect was an aversion to withholding information from the dog that would help them find solutions. I could not see the advantages in punishing a dog for the “wrong” behaviours if they did not know what was the “right” behaviour. We have all seen the horrendous fallout of that strategy, and probably experienced it as well.

Our experience as learners will have an impact on our choices as teachers, or trainers: facilitating learning on a specific pathway. The destination of that pathway and how we set up the journey are often a product of our own learning experiences.

There are times when a flood of information is not useful, and as teachers we need to select the most salient information for that person, or dog, at that time, but a total absence of information does not serve learning progress.

There are times when getting it wrong does not need a post mortem, but neither is there any gain from silence. There are so many varieties of silence. We have an entire vocabulary to describe silence: pregnant pause, dead silence, quiet silence, frozen silence, punishing silence.

Clicker training was floating around the internet well beyond my childhood and I was already enjoying a training philosophy of construction rather than removal or suppression of undesired responses. I have always wanted to build learners that moved towards something rather than moving away from something.

I like the visualisation that if you are moving in a direction are you going toward “B” or away from “A”? The travelling looks the same, but the motivation is completely opposite.

Are we running to B or away from A?

The recommend policy of withholding a click to extend duration was surely a backward step, going against the grain or swallowing the wrong way. It certainly made me uncomfortable to apply it and I saw confusion from the learners.

Even when new information presents clear results we have some hesitation in embracing it. That stepping back sensation is a need to collate this new information with our current beliefs or understanding and see how they mesh together. We either then step forward, cement our previous beliefs and walk away or make a blend of the two. Often this can be a delay whilst we digest, feel a need to discuss and explore with others, or go back and re-source our previous knowledge. Were we wrong, did we interpret it wrong, or was the information wrong or just “of its time”?

Alongside the withheld-click-for-duration was the expectation that this non-information would be interpreted as “offer something else”. This defies dog-logic. Continue with the same thing or offer something else are completely opposing.

Are we running to B or away from A?

The look of dog-logic when “it does not compute”

Necessity is the mother of invention

Creativity often emerges from finding your chair is between the rock and a hard place.

When the options are ethically unavailable we need to create a new pathway. We find that the rock, the corner with paint brush in hand and the hard place are there of our own immobility.

I could not bring myself to sit silently whilst my dogs “tried to work it out”. It seemed like they were supposed to wriggle around with discomfort and non-information until they stumbled, by luck, on the right answer.

I am aware that when I am working on a task that seems inefficient, ineffective or unnecessary  work, I will riddle around all the options. This often means drilling down to the core of the matter and finding clear costs and benefits to all involved. This may be termed creative drive, but pursuing tainted repetition does not seem worth the investment when other options may be available.

It is human nature to strive to be better. It is not my nature to walk a flat learning curve.

It is why I only once experienced the Clicker Game and travelled very fast to invent my table game: also known as Genabacab, You Don’t Say, Portal, Ken’s Training Game and all its cousins. The Clicker Game would have been richly enjoyed by my mother, but not for the right reasons.

The echo of trying to get something right and receiving silence as a response can be a destructive, soul stripping, failure of communication. I would never want to do that to my dogs, and I do not think people should ever experience it as part of their need to learn about clicker training. But we do see learners enjoy this process with their teacher – what is the difference?

There is a significant difference between your printer responding with silence, and person responding with silence. The printer can only do what it can do, it does not build a relationship, or teach or encourage learning skills. It is not there to facilitate your learning. The printer will have a solution, it will be logical and you can roll down the list of possibilities until the right information is provided. It is not trying to punish or make you change your behaviour. It is not personal.

I wanted to explore this new teaching strategy, but I was boxed in by the “withhold the click” advice. I needed to find different ways to communicate.

There were distinctive goals I was seeking.

~ Continual success, always travelling forwards

~ Each click to represent a moment of joy and not a moment of relief from the anxiety of not understanding.

This meant we needed clear, clean information that supported learning and gave it wings.

Microshaping came into the picture. This is my protocol of slicing the learning so finely that the learner never has to experience extinction to learn. Desperately trying to find out what was wanted was a no-go avenue, and the learner was set-up to only experience a successful, continual pathway to the new goal.

We want to build confident learners that enjoy flirting and teasing with their teacher. There is never  “desperately trying”, they see the opportunity as a game and a challenge to inspire. But even these enthusiastic triers will need a solution before their creativity expires.

Merrick is experiencing a demand for finding a solution, and when successful I am using the cue “turn” as the marker. This is not as accurate as a click, but it demonstrates the power of a cue.

More … ?

To extend a behaviour for a longer time, or greater distance travelled, I wanted to be able to construct “more” by building a desire, an enthusiasm, to continue rather than just filing the vacuum of silence.

More information was spilling out during the early years about different protocols and the keep going signal was a common terminology. What confused the learning pool even more was the same term meaning different things to different people.

Sometimes shutting the door to your own laboratory cuts out all the distracting information whilst you sift and riddle the bones of the fire.

I already had the tools to build, extend, lengthen behaviour – the cues and chaining. My interpretation of duration is simple a chain of the same repeating behaviour. By adding cues to small segments we were easily able to construct long segments and build a pleasure in continuing rather than an anxiety about why the click in not coming

Those little doubts that creep in because response is a (dead) silence are hard to remove and may damage a behaviour for life. Silence is very expressive and the dead variety will kill effort, fast, and sometimes fatally.

Destructive or constructive?

Every protocol, procedure, recipe, programme, strategy that gives us instruction, originated from curiosity or necessity. We have to thank not only the designers, who rarely have their name attached, but also the rat, pigeon or dog that drove that creativity.

Application can be destructive or constructive. The deciding factors are:

~ The understanding, function or purpose of the process

~ The skill level and motives behind the application

~ The learner’s experience during application

Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the above considerations.

Kay’s Table Game


More than a reinforcer

Just delivering a treat is not enough. The delivery of that treat can become a highly valued process, eagerly sought by the dog because the delivery involves so much more than “dump-and-swallow”.

When we train a dog it grows

Most training starts from necessity. Management is a necessity but it usually benefits all parties by a reduction of conflict. But does management training mean that the dog can grow? Are they expanding their skills to benefit us or for their benefit?

Confused by Collies?

The classic training protocols are too often about supressing the annoying behaviours without realising that a sheepdog can no more stop being a sheepdog than you can stop being a human and become a hamster.

Heartbeat of Geek-land

I like to regard a “teacher of dogs” as someone who meets dogs in their world and teaches them how to be their best whilst living alongside us in our world.

A world of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Duration or is it Breakfast in Bed?

Teaching duration has become a very muddied understanding or what it is and how to teach it. This is partly due to how we use words that are the same but have entirely different meanings.

Guidance is not dependence

Guidance can be the lightest change in contingencies, an extra antecedent. I can place a palette of different paints and brushes next to the chair. It doesn’t mean you need to paint the chair, you could sit on the chair and paint your own shoes, but just the presence of the tools would give you guidance.

Ethics in Dog Training

Whether you are an owner looking for help with your dog, a trainer taking your first steps towards helping others or an experienced trainer looking to improve – keep working, keep learning, stay curious.

The life of my Time

Time is my ninth generation of collies. He lives for being a collie and all that collies have done for generations – work in partnership and assist in what their Person likes to do. This ranges from collecting sheep off the mountain to toddling round the main ring at Crufts.

What can’t you teach with a target?

Targets are, by essence, pro-active openers. They are not used to associate something to keep away from, but something to seek and respond to. Targets are gateways to rewards and are greeted with enthusiasm and confidence.
Targets are often a lifetime of language or they can be a temporary step to a future cue. What they should always be is thoughtful, pro-active and for the welfare of the learner.

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