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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


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Treats for life?

The whole collective of rewards, or reinforcers, serves a purpose of ensuring that the tasks just completed keep getting completed. The task may tolerate a lapse of memory, but you will soon find that door smacked in your face if you stop acknowledging the courtesy offered to you by a stranger, friend or acquaintance.

When you lose something

The moment the alarm sounded, Dolce was nosing the blankets off me and, unless cued otherwise, would nose me until I got up in a fit of laughter. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

Stop doing that ….

Can we an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

One day you will love him again

The puppy that you adored, could do no wrong, is now a living horror story. We want to use positive reinforcement, and our mind focuses on the success of what is not happening. But reinforcement attaches itself to something happening, not an absence and cannot select for a multitude of different things that are being reinforced.

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.

Clean Training

Clean training is about really clear communication between two different species. Both listening and learning during the interaction. An exchange that leaves no doubts, no confusion and no uncertainty. A check list for clean training.

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. From this point forward we are setting a pattern of the delivery of reinforcement. It needs questions to be answered before we embark. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

What is important … ?

… when your dog is sick and fearful? If you have a dog who is sick and fearful you can feel lost and alone. The weight of opinion, expectation and information can be overwhelming. What is right? What is true? What is best? Throughout this journey I have allowed my ethics to guide me. The individual who is Merlin is at the heart of every choice I make.

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

Construction or suppression

There are distinctive goals: 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. Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

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