Classical conditioning and habituation
What do these words mean and why does my trainer/behaviourist insist I practise at home? The problem isn't at home.
If you have a dog who struggles with their emotions in any context, the answer is simple, we change the emotion related to the trigger.
How do we do this? Classical conditioning and habituation.
If your dog is struggling it's no good trying to teach your dog a new concept outside. Why? Because of the language barrier. You will just be barking cues at your dog, setting you both up to fail, your frustrated, your dogs frustrated and your dog doesn't understand what on earth you're asking.
Working indoors means that you can teach your dog a new behaviour. Such as look at that by Leslie McDivett of Control Unleashed https://youtu.be/1kulQ0AGj3w
You begin with an inanimate object, why because you want your dog to learn the cue and the behaviour and pair the word with the cue of the behaviour. This becomes a simple way to communicate with your dog with no stressors.
You and your dog have begun a conversation.
When your outside and your dog is feeling overwhelmed they cannot learn or process anything you are asking right now. They have one agenda and that is to retreat to safety or go into fight mode to protect themselves.
Keeping arousal indoors at an optimum level means that your dog is going to be excited to learn. You do this with their functional reinforcer. This is the high value reward your dog communicates to you is their reinforcer, not what you choose. If you don't know here's a test, grab a toy, grab a piece of chicken.
See which one they go for, repeat to see if it was a fluke. No food or toy drive? No problem, go to Tug-E-Nuff - https://www.tug-e-nuff.co.uk/ every purchase comes with a free play guide! High quality tug toys which are super high value for your dog, whether learning the mechanics of play, puppy mouthing redirection or predation substitute training. This shop is amazing! Discount code - Miyagis
I haven't met anyone yet whose dog has not been obsessed with the fur chasers from Tug-E-Nuff. You can also try troubleshooting games for play.
Your dog's functional reinforcer becomes their reward system for your conversation. This is just step one. Then you begin to work on the new cues indoors and open a conversation and move to the garden and so on.
Yerkes- Dodson law explains through the inverted graph that we need eustress, good stress to learn simple tasks. Anything beyond that curve of the highest point is where learning cannot take place, too low arousal also means there is simply no arousal or interest in learning.
“As the difficulty of discrimination is increased, the strength of that stimulus which is most favourable to habit-formation approaches the threshold” (Yerkes and Dodson, 1908).
If you constantly force a dog to face anxiety, for example make them go for a walk even though you know that you will both become frustrated or anxious, they will begin to predict and expect anxiety every time you grab the harness and lead. This means your dog is at the far side of the u graph and unable to learn.
We want a bubbly and excited dog ready to go for a walk and engage with the environment, so they can engage in normal behaviours and process their environment whilst remaining in the optimal area of the u graph.
We know this from (Mendel et al, 2010). They formed a correlation of discrete emotions and core effect. How the dogs emotional state affects behavioural output. Which then means we can measure the welfare of the dog and begin to compare their emotional state learning indoors vs outdoors. This enables us to then better your dogs welfare through assisting you.
We don't want to use operant conditioning where the dog is punished for expression of an emotion or withdrawing something pleasurable because of an emotion.
We need to recognise the emotion, meet the need and help our dogs by bringing arousal back down and helping our dogs to have a neutral emotional state to other dogs, traffic or people for example.
We cannot do this if we attempt to teach a new behaviour outdoors with no previous conversation and learning.
This is why it is so important that we learn about our dog. We learn about what gets them excited and motivated, what makes them calm and sleepy, what drives them and also what causes them to be in a state of distress (bad stress) and unable to communicate.
Our learning is developing all of the time as an industry. It's important to learn about your dog, meet their needs, offer them rest and recovery time and work with them within their optimal learning states. Not as and when it suits us. It's also not ok to punish an emotion.
This is why we ask you to practise at home, open that conversation, set yourselves up for success. It's a marathon, it's not a race. Enjoy the learning journey and meet your dog.
Yerkes, R.M.; Dodson, D.D. The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Psychol. J. Comp. Neurol. 1908, 459–482.
Mendl, M.; Burman, O.H.P.; Paul, E.S. An integrative and functional framework for the study of animal emotion and mood. Proc. R. Soc. B: Biol. Sci. 2010, 277, 2895–2904.
Image description: inverted U graph. White background. Title: Yerkes - Dodson law in black open dyslexic font. The graph has the title on the left of performance and the bottom line has stress.
The colour of the inverted U is separated into: pastel pink and orange with the title over the colours in black open dyslexic font: inactive, laid back, too little stress.
The next colour is blue with black open dyslexic font with the title - optimum stress.
The next colour is green - to the far side to the right the title in black open dyslexic font says: exhaustion.
The next colour in bright pink - to the far side in black open dyslexic font says - burnt out.
The final colour is red - in black open dyslexic font the text says - anxiety/ frustration.
The text at the bottom of the graph says - Optimum stress is where learning can take place before frustration,hyper arousal or anxiety - before the height of the curve.
Second image description is a black and tan and cream infographic. The top is black. In white open dyslexic font the title reads - Classical conditioning - Ivan Pavlov. The next row is tan with black open dyslexic font which reads - Learning of association between two previously unrelated stimuli to change behaviour.
The next box is cream and has a bone with the text underneath in black open dyslexic font which says - food then in the centre equals and a golden retriever puppy paying attention with the text underneath which reads salivation.
The next cream box is a golden bell, with bell written underneath and then equals in the centre and the golden retriever puppy with his back to the screen with his head over his shoulder looking disinterested. The text reads - no response.
The next light tab box has a golden bell and a bone with the text - bell and food then equals salivation with the puppy showing interest again approaching the screen.
The final darker tan box then has a golden bell and the text bell underneath, then equals in the centre and the golden retriever puppy facing the screen again, showing interest.
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