Recently I (Karen) participated in an online group discussion featuring Kay Laurence, the British clicker teacher and publisher of Teaching Dogs magazine. The topic came up of people who click for the right behavior during a training session, and at the same time use physical or verbal corrections for mistakes.
I jumped in with the ever-popular comment, "People who mix the clicker with aversives are not clicker trainers, they're just clicker users."
That wisecrack provoked the following anxious post from Crystal in Australia:
"Karen, How about when the dog jumps up? Are you saying it is not proper clicker training (+R) to turn your back (take away attention) and then click him for four on the floor? This is an aversive, right? I only want to be 100% + trainer and I use this aversive technique. Please elaborate."
Kay: If I may jump in. I think of myself as a Dog teacher - hence the name of the magazine. The term 'trainer' has been dropped from main stream adult education as it carries coercive associations - i.e. you can 'train' roses to grow up a wall, by tying them to the wires!
I also like to think I teach dogs to communicate, learn, interact with and understand people. The larger part of the job is the opposite element - teaching people to understand, communicate, interact with and learn about dogs. Dogs want to learn - with a passion, so they are great to teach. But I do not see 'teaching' as something that is done 'to' the learner. I think the difference between a true Clicker Teacher and a dog trainer that uses a clicker is the mindset of the trainer. If you see a 'problem' and your first answer to the 'solution' is to remove something good, then you are already moving away from the path.
Dog behaviour is just dog behaviour. It is the people that see the behaviour as 'problems.' Despite several requests for a 'problems page' in the magazine, we will not give space to it - the negativity of seeing 'something wrong' colours your whole perception of the teaching paradigm.
So if I am teaching a dog, I avoid every atom of punishment or removal of something good to 'get the behaviour.' It is not a question of "how aversive," it is the thought that 'aversive' is a method to get a behaviour.
Dogs get plenty of 'aversives' in every day life. My Gordon Setters regularly run into the door in misjudging the gap, stub their toes, fall off the bed, go the wrong side of a tree etc. I don't need to add any into the learning picture. As for turning away when the dog jumps up .... well try that with Kent; he'll just come over your head, and he weighs about 80 lbs!
Sure turning away will work with some dogs, but think what effect that has on the dog ?
"They don't like me anymore? Let's try harder to seek approval .... " So the actions are an indication of the thought process that aversives are part of the teaching process. I will say "Lets just find another way." It may take more thinking, more understanding, and a solution that won't have fallout. Have you ever noticed that dogs that jump up, with a turning away handler will often keep reverting to jumping up? (KP adds: Of course. The punishment stops the behavior when it's happening, but when the punishment goes away, the behavior may come back, especially if other reinforcers such as new people to lick are present.)
Kay continues: Jumping up is about needing approval or attention, 'needing' being the key word. By punishing the dog's needs we are moving away from communicating that we understand them - that's all they ask. So a jumping up dog needs to be listened to. Why does it jump in the first place? Dogs get approval from face contact. It is our fault that they have to jump to get to the face. I hold the collar, bend over and let the dog get approval - holding is a necessity to avoid black eyes, but then the dog's needs are met. For non-dog people I use an object that cues "four feet on the floor" which the non-dog person needs to hold!
They soon learn. hee hee .......
Good question though Crystal - is usually comes up in every seminar, and takes a good hour to thrash out!
Karen: There are two great points here. First: The big difference, in Kay's eyes, is the mindset. "â€¦the difference between a true Clicker Teacher and a dog trainer that uses a clicker is the mindset of the trainer. If you see a 'problem' and you first answer to the 'solution' is to remove something good, then you are already moving away from the path."
Second point: An ingenious intervention. Teach the dog that holding out, say, a blue ball is a signal for Sit. Click/treat. Keep a blue ball or two in a bowl by the front hall. Stranger comes in? Hand the stranger a ball. Dog sits. Click. Stranger may now pet dog. Click. End of jumping.
Karen Pryor July 2003
Learning About Dogs - ©2003 Learning About Dogs/reprinted here with permission.