Tag Archives: Respondent conditioning

You CAN’T Reinforce Fear, But You CAN Help Take It Away.

 Is your dog afraid of thunder and lightning?

Essential oils can aide relaxation

Jambo wears a bandana sprayed with lavender oil

I have heard and seen people advising pet guardians to ignore their dogs when they are frightened.  They are warned that paying attention to the dog will make them worse and lead to the dog being more fearful in future. This is nonsensical.  As long as you yourself are calm and are not frantically engaging with the dog, but instead are calmly soothing and reassuring him, as well as putting strategies in place to help him relax, you are not going to increase the dog’s fears.

Imagine being in a minor car accident – nothing serious, but something that has shaken you a little.  Your friend puts an arm around you and reassuringly tells you that everything is going to be ok. She takes you inside and makes you a cup of tea.  Is this going to make you more fearful of cars?  No, absolutely not. It might, however, help lower your anxiety levels and make you feel better. You cannot reinforce an emotion!

We recently experienced heavy rain and thunder.   Jambo does not like thunder. You can see this just by looking at his body language in the photo of him eating his breakfast. His ears are back, and his tail is low.  He was, however, calm enough to eat and to then take a nap in his much loved ‘puppy’ bed, in his ‘secure place’ under the kitchen breakfast bar – This is where the bed was placed when he was a little puppy so that he could sleep beneath my feet as I work on my laptop.

I have worked hard to help Jambo overcome the fear he has of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises.  Some of the strategies I use are ongoing and some only come into play when the fear-provoking stimulus is present.

Here are some of the strategies that help Jambo cope, which could also help your dog or the pets in your care:

  • Close all exterior doors, windows, shutters, curtains and blinds.
  • Put on the lights – helping to mask lightning that may sneak through any gaps in the curtains. 
  • Play calming classical music.  Soft rock and reggae are also good options!  In fact, the effects of habituation can be reduced by varying the genre of music chosen. (Bowman, Dowell and Evans (2017). 
  • Put the extractor fan on – providing ‘white noise’ to help block out the sound of the thunder. 
  • Spray a bandana with calming lavender oil and tie around the dog’s neck.
  • Spray the dog’s mattress with Pet Remedy Pet Calming Spray or similar.
  • Plug in a Pet Remedy diffuser.  Adaptil is another good option.
  • Make sure the dog’s crate is available for further refuge, located in a favorite place away from exterior windows and doors.
  • Place a yummy stuffed Kong, sealed with peanut butter (or the dog’s favorite food) in the dog crate. 
  • If necessary, give a Calmex for Dogs tablet.  This is a supplement designed to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs.  Nutracalm or Zylkene are other options.  *Please consult your veterinarian before administering any supplements or medication.
  • Put a Thundershirt on the dog. Please note this should have been previously conditioned to engender a positive emotional response.
  • Apply body wraps – To learn more about body wraps, please refer to the The Use of Body Wraps and Pressure Garments for Dogs,  a three-part program covering the knowledge and skills required to effectively use sensory techniques such as body wraps.

A relaxed Jambo, free from fear, anxiety and stress

My arms are always open for a reassuring cuddle; my hands rubbed with Bitch Balm (a lavender based balm for dogs and horses) to pet, and my calming voice to soothe. 

All of the above management strategies are put into place once the storm has arrived and the fear is present, but I also implemented a behavioral change program to work on actually changing Jambo’s emotional response (his fear).  Before we began the behavior change program, Jambo would shake uncontrollably and run and hide at the first tremor of thunder.  He would not have eaten his breakfast, nor would he have been able to rest in his puppy bed…

Respondent Conditioning

I use classical conditioning (counterconditioning) and desensitization, to help elicit a positive emotional response to things Jambo is frightened of. The sound of thunder, fireworks, gunshots… have all been paired with his favorite peanut butter and/or roast chicken.

If you do not know what respondent conditioning is, please refer to The DogNostics Lexicon  – A Lexicon of practical terms for pet trainers and behaviour consultants  available from DogNostics Career Center.  Click here to purchase.

Putting all of the above measures in place, and giving Jambo my love and attention, helps ease his anxiety.

Please check out this post from Eileenanddogs.  It has some resources for getting your dog through events with loud noises and some general tips about dealing with fear.

 

*Please note: The information in this article, is not designed to replace a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist or accredited force-free behavior consultant.  If a dog is showing signs of fear, anxiety or stress, an appointment should be made with a certified behaviorist who will put an individualized behavioral change program in place. The dog’s veterinarian should also be consulted, who in conjunction with the behaviorist, may deem that anti-anxiety medication is necessary.

 

 

Reference:

Reitzes, D. C., & Mutran, E. J. (2004). Bowman, A., Scottish SPCA, Dowell, F.J., & Evans N.P. The effect of different genres of music on the stress levels of kennelled dogs. Physiology & Behavior Volume 171, 15 March 2017, Pages 207-215. 

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Operant Conditioning and Respondent Conditioning for Dog Trainers – Certified DogSmiths Have Science On Their Side.

Abstract

Certified and professional dog trainers have science on their side. Dog training methods used by educated and well versed dog trainers are based on sound scientific principles that really do work. A good people trainer can take the complex world of learning theory and put it into a methodology that a pet dog owner can use and achieve effective results from. The DogSmith is an organization that not only understands the principles of learning theory but has the ability to teach pet dog owners so they too can take advantage of a professional dog trainer’s tool-kit. This promotes effective, efficient and fun dog training in an environment free of harsh methods and aversives  and many other fall outs associated with harsh and in-humane training methods.

Is a hug fun for the dog?

At the DogSmith we accept that dogs learn in two key ways.

Task-conscious or acquisition learning.  The Pet Dog’s Environment

Acquisition learning is seen as going on all the time. It is ‘concrete, immediate and confined to a specific activity; it is not concerned with general principles’. Examples include much of the learning involved in and around the home.  Some have referred to this kind of learning as unconscious or implicit. Rogers (2003: 21), however, suggests that it might be better to speak of it as having a consciousness of the task. In other words the learner may not be conscious of learning (Rogers 2003).

Learning-conscious or formalized learning.  The Training Class

Formalized learning arises from the process of facilitating learning. It is ‘educative learning’ rather than the accumulation of experience. To this extent there is a consciousness of learning – subjects are aware that the task they are engaged in entails learning. ‘Learning itself is the task. What formalized learning does is to make learning more conscious in order to enhance it’ (Rogers 2003: 27). It involves guided episodes of learning.

When approached in this way it becomes clear that these contrasting ways of learning can appear in the same context. Both are present in the subjects living environment.  Because we, The DogSmith believe dog’s learn in two ways we found it necessary to develop our MTR approach to Dog Training supported by our ARRF philosophy.

ARRF © methodology

A = Active Involvement. Active involvement in the learning process is critical. When the student is actively participating, rather than passively observing, greater learning takes place.  This applies to both the dog and its owner.

R = Repetition. Newly acquired skills need to be repeated frequently in a variety of contexts to ensure they are robust. This means the skills you and your dog learn n will be effective in and around your home and out and about around town. Frequent re petition in various scenarios ensures the skill is truly owned so the student can not only generalize its behaviors in new situations but can also discriminate when appropriate.

R = Reward. Positive reinforcements, in the form of rewards for accomplishing skills successfully, are far more effective to ensure learning takes place. Rewards such as food and toys are quickly re placed by life rewards, such as attention and petting, when behaviors are under cue control.

F = Finite Objectives. Clearly defined and attainable objectives make it clear to student and instructor what is to be learned and taught. With clear objectives the student and instructor can easily recognize when a particular skill has been mastered and during the process we train – test -train to ensure our objectives are met.

ARRF evolved from our understanding and knowledge of respondent and operant conditioning and how we can utilize this scientific approach to training dogs. MTR, Management, Training and Relationship are the components that a dog owner has to understand to ensure their dog is receptive to learning, able to learn and managed throughout the learning process.

How Does Respondent Conditioning Take Place

Within an organism there are two types of reflexes, unconditioned reflexes and conditioned reflexes. An unconditioned reflex (UR) is unlearned and occurs unconditionally, whereas a conditioned reflex (CR) is acquired and considered impermanent.

An unconditioned reflex consists of an unconditioned stimulus (US) and an unconditioned response (UR).  An unconditioned stimulus is something that when presented evokes a natural, unconditioned, response,  such as blinking when air is pushed towards the eyelid or sweating when stressed or scared. Unconditioned reflexes are important for an animal’s survival.  Freeze dried liver offered to a dog is an example of a US and the dog drooling is an example of the resulting UR.

A conditioned reflex occurs when a conditioned stimulus (CS) creates a conditioned response (CR).  This is a learned response to a given set of conditions occurring in the environment.  Pavlov recognized that any stimulus could become a conditioned stimulus when paired repeatedly with an unconditioned stimulus.

Respondent conditioning takes place when an unconditioned stimulus that elicits an unconditioned response is repeatedly paired with a neutral stimulus. As a result of conditioning, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that reliably elicits a conditioned response. Each single pairing is considered a trial. With respondent conditioning the presentation of the two stimuli, neutral and unconditioned, are presented regardless of the behavior the individual is exhibiting. The behavior elicited is a reflex response.

High order conditioning takes place when a well established conditioned stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus to elicit a conditioned response. High order conditioning takes place in the absence of an unconditioned stimulus. With high order conditioning many more stimuli can come to elicit conditional responses not just those paired with an unconditioned stimulus, thus enhancing the ability of the animal to adapt and survive.  But high order conditioning also affects and influences many emotional reactions such as fear.

Operant Conditioning

There are four types of operant learning, defined as such because the behavior operates on the environment.  Two of the quadrants of operant conditioning strengthen behaviors, referred to as reinforcements. The other two of the operant conditioning quadrants weaken behavior, referred to as punishments. The quadrants are referred to as a negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement, negative punishment and positive punishment.  The terms positive and negative do not describe the consequence, they indicate whether a stimulus, has been added (positive) or subtracted (negative) to increase or weaken the preceding behavior.

Both positive and negative reinforcement increase the strength of the behavior due to its consequence.  With positive reinforcement the behavior is followed by the appearance of or an increase in the intensity of a stimulus. The stimulus is called a positive reinforcement as it is something the subject seeks out therefore it reinforcers the behavior that precedes it.  With negative reinforcement the behavior is strengthened by the subject’s ability to avoid or escape an aversive stimulus, thus negative reinforcement is sometimes referred to as escape-avoidance learning. An experience must have three characteristics to qualify as reinforcement.  The behavior must have a consequence, the behavior must increase in strength and the increase in strength must be a result of the consequence.

As behavior is the function of its consequences and whereas reinforcement strengthens the likelihood of a behavior then punishments reduce the strength of the behavior. Punishers are aversive are something a subject works to avoid. When an aversive event is added to a situation then positive punishment has taken place. Negative punishment subtracts something from the situation, like privileges, and is sometimes called penalty training.  Experiences must have three characteristics to qualify as punishment. First, the behavior must have a consequence, second the behavior must decrease in strength and finally the reduction in strength must be a result of the consequence.

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Bibliography

Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior, Wadsworth Cengage Learning

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Respondent Conditioning, The Four Ways of Pairing an Unconditioned Stimulus with a Conditioned Stimulus

Respondent conditioning involves the pairing of stimuli.  There are four ways of pairing the unconditioned stimulus and conditioned stimulus. The rate of respondent conditioning will vary with the degree of CS – US contingency. The interval, contiguity, between the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus also affects how quickly conditioning occurs.

Trace and delayed conditioning present the conditioned stimulus prior to the unconditioned stimulus. In trace conditioning the conditioned stimulus begins and ends before the unconditioned stimulus is presented.  With delayed conditioning there is an overlap of the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus.  Delayed conditioning is also affected by the length of delay between the presentation of the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus; these delays are referred to as short and long delays (Chance 2008 p 69).

With delayed conditioning initially both short and long-term delays elicit similar results. However with long delay conditioning the interval between the conditioned stimulus and conditioned responses, conditioned response latency, gradually increases. The conditioned stimulus becomes not just the presented stimulus but the appearance of the stimulus for a given length of time (Chance 2008 p 70). With both trace and delayed conditioning a conditional response begins to appear after the conditioned stimulus is presented as there is a high degree of CS-US contingency and there is an interstimulus interval (Chance 2008 p 73).

In simultaneous conditioning and backward conditioning the conditioned stimulus is not presented before the unconditioned stimulus but either simultaneously or after the unconditioned stimulus is presented. With simultaneous conditioning the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are presented at exactly the same time, as there is no interval between the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus it makes conditioning very ineffective. Backward conditioning presents the unconditioned stimulus before the conditioned stimulus and weakens the contingency between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus. In respondent conditioning the amount of learning depends on the degree to which the conditioned stimulus predicts the unconditioned stimulus (Chance 2008 p 71).

Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior, Wadsworth Cengage Learning

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How in Dog Training Systematic Desensitization Protocols are constructed and the conditions under which dog trainers employ them.

Developing behavior change programs for dogs that are demonstrating fear or panic behaviors must be based on the protocols and procedures associated with respondent conditioning. If the dog is showing signs of fear or panic then the antecedent is having an aversive affect on the dog and the behavior is being negatively reinforced.

Systematic desensitization protocols develop a hierarchy of stimulus intensity with graded exposure through the hierarchy while counter conditioning takes place at each step.

Prior to developing a systematic desensitization protocol we must first complete a functional assessment and have a highly confident contingency statement. The contingency statement must identify controlling antecedents and the behavior and/or the hypothesized maintaining relationship between the behavior and its consequence. From the contingency statement a determination can be made about which behavior change protocols should be used, respondent, operant or a combination of both. Systematic desensitization protocols are used to change behaviors such as fear, panic or anxiety (behaviors that are controlled by the autonomic nervous system), with the goal being to change the respondents, i.e. the conditioned emotional responses. To effectively design a systematic desensitization protocol we need to know the specific conditioned stimulus that elicits the fear, panic or anxiety so we can construct a graded hierarchy starting with levels that elicit attention and not sensitization or potentiation.

When planning the graded hierarchy we need to take into consideration the stimulus variables that could elicit emotional responses such as the distance from the stimulus, the duration of exposure to the stimulus, distractions in the environment, the orientation of the stimulus and any motion or contrast within the stimulus exposure. For each of these variables we will need to develop a stimulus exposure hierarchy. When designing the systematic desensitization plan we also need to have knowledge of the setting events that provide the context for and influence the behavior and we need to recognize that respondent behaviors motivate operants because they establish operations “making it more likely” that the animal will “engage in escape or avoidance behavior” (Miltenberger 2004). Understanding if the operants are being negatively or positively reinforced is important, if the antecedent is aversive then the behavior is being negatively reinforced. If we can provide the same reinforcement for a more suitable behavior then the process of generalization can be expedited and behavior maintenance may be more easily supported in the future.

When constructing the systematic desensitization protocol it is critical to ensure that the animal enters the process in a relaxed manner and stays calm throughout each of the trials, sub-threshold. Preparation can be made to positively reinforce calm operant behaviors to encourage and maintain a happy and relaxed state or counter conditioning cannot occur. Too much excitement can also negatively impact the counter conditioning if the animal is too distracted from the problem stimulus. During the counter conditioning component of the systematic desensitization there must be a contrast between the “open bar” process of the systematic desensitization and the “closed bar”. When the fear eliciting stimulus is presented, all great things happen and they are quickly removed with the exit of the fear eliciting stimulus. There must be both a temporal relationship and a contingency between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus for conditioning to occur and for the problematic emotional response to be replaced with a new more appropriate response

Dobie Dog

Dobie Dog

(O’Heare 2009). O’Heare, J. (2008) Behavior Change Programming and Procedures 2009, CASI Notes, Miltenberger (2004) Behavior Modification Principles and Procedures Third Edition, Thompson. USA

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What does Respondent Conditioning Have to Do with Clicker Training?

Why have small cricket boxes found in children’s toy shops been renamed as clickers and infiltrated the dog training arena. What do they do? How do they work? Are they a gimmick or founded in science? Learn about the connection between clicker training and Pavlovian conditioning and how clickers actually work.

 An organism exhibits two types of reflexes, unconditioned reflexes and conditioned reflexes.

  1. An unconditioned reflex (UR) is unlearned and occurs unconditionally,
  2. A conditioned reflex (CR) is acquired and considered impermanent.

 An unconditioned reflex consists of an unconditioned stimulus (US) and an unconditioned response (UR).  An unconditioned stimulus is something that, when presented, evokes a natural unconditioned response  such as blinking when air is pushed towards the eyelid or sweating when stressed or scared. Unconditioned reflexes are important for an animal’s survival.  Freeze dried liver offered to a dog is an example of a US and the dog drooling is an example of the resulting UR.  

 A conditioned reflex occurs when a conditioned stimulus (CS) creates a conditioned response (CR).  This is a learned response to a given set of conditions occurring in the environment.  Pavlov recognized that any stimulus could become a conditioned stimulus when paired repeatedly with an unconditioned stimulus.

 Respondent conditioning takes place when an unconditioned stimulus that elicits an unconditioned response is repeatedly paired with a neutral stimulus. As a result of conditioning, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that reliably elicits a conditioned response.  When we first present a clicker to a dog the clicker is a neutral stimulus.  The first thing we do with the clicker is “charge it” by pairing the clicker sound with an unconditioned stimulus, i.e. food. The clicker then becomes an indicator to the dog that a treat is following and thus becomes a conditioned stimulus. The same principle is applied using a whistle with marine animal training.

 

 With each single pairing of the neutral stimulus, the clicker and the unconditioned stimulus, the food is considered a trial. Using respondent conditioning we can create some very powerful training tools. Once the clicker has been “charged” we can then use it to shape and train some great dog behaviors. However we need to be very precise in our application with this new training tool.

 There are four ways of pairing the unconditioned stimulus (food) and the conditioned stimulus (clicker). The rate of respondent conditioning will vary with the degree of CS – US contingency.  The interval and contiguity between the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus also affects how quickly conditioning occurs.

 There are four ways of pairing the US and the CS.

1) Trace and 2) delayed conditioning –  Present the conditioned stimulus prior to the unconditioned stimulus. In trace conditioning the conditioned stimulus begins and ends before the unconditioned stimulus is presented.  With delayed conditioning there is an overlap of the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus.  Delayed conditioning is also affected by the length of delay between the presentation of the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus.  With delayed conditioning, initially both short and long-term delays elicit similar results. However with long delay conditioning the interval between the conditioned stimulus and conditioned responses, known as conditioned response latency, gradually increases. The conditioned stimulus becomes not just the presented stimulus but the appearance of the stimulus for a given length of time.  With both trace and delayed conditioning a conditional response begins to appear after the conditioned stimulus is presented as there is a high degree of CS-US contingency and there is an inter-stimulus interval.

 

In 3) simultaneous conditioning and 4) backward conditioning the conditioned stimulus is not presented before the unconditioned stimulus but either simultaneously or after the unconditioned stimulus is presented. With simultaneous conditioning the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are presented at exactly the same time.  Since there is no interval between the conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus it makes conditioning very ineffective. Backward conditioning presents the unconditioned stimulus before the conditioned stimulus and weakens the contingency between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus.

 

 

One of the most common mistakes people make when training dogs using clickers is the way they present the clicker and the food.  They will often both click and deliver the treat at exactly the same time or they present the food first and then click. This impedes the dog’s learning and frustrates the dog’s owner as they do not see the results they are promised and expect.

 

When introducing clickers into a dog training class the instructor needs to be very precise about how they describe and demonstrate the use of the clicker.  Because the  amount of learning depends on the degree to which the conditioned stimulus predicts the unconditioned stimulus it is important that for the best results when training dogs the conditioned stimulus (the clicker) is presented before the unconditioned stimulus (the food) and the delay between the presentation of the clicker and the food is as short as possible. The dog trainers’ mechanics need to be exact.

 

 Clicker training is very powerful and can be used to shape and train many behaviors, it is also the training method of choice when dealing with anxiety or fear elicited behaviors as shaping is the least intrusive and least aversive training method available. However clicker training is very misunderstood and often misused or incorrectly applied. To get the best results from your clicker training experience consult a certified dog trainer or behavior analyst so you start on the right foot and really understand how to use this simple yet often misrepresented training tool.

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The Difference Between Operant and Respondent Based Techniques For Changing Dog Behavior.

Bailey enjoying the cool weather

Bailey enjoying the cool weather

The techniques used for changing behavior are either operant conditioning techniques or respondent conditioning techniques. Respondent conditioning techniques are used for addressing conditioned emotional responses for example behaviors such as fear, panic or anxiety that are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Operant conditioning techniques are used for changing operants which are behaviors that are controlled by their consequences (Miltenberger 2004).

Respondent conditioning techniques for changing behavior focus on the antecedents, the stimuli, setting events and motivating operations that contribute to or elicit the problematic conditioned emotional responses and the operants they motivate
(Miltenberger 2004). Respondent conditioning techniques and procedures used for changing behavior are a combination of, a) In vivo systematic desensitization where the animal is systematically and gradually exposed to the problem stimulus while maintaining the animal below the conditioned emotional response threshold, b) counter conditioning a type of exposure therapy where the problematic conditioned emotional response is replaced with a more desirable or appropriate response and c) attention exercises that promote relaxation by redirecting the animal’s focus (O’ Heare 2009).

In contrast to respondent conditioning, operant conditioning behavior change techniques change the operants by controlling the postcedents and affecting those that have an effect on the behavior, i.e. the consequences. Operant conditioning takes place when a response in a given situation is reliably reinforced; there is a contingency between the response and the reinforcer. Shaping behaviors and differential reinforcement are operant techniques for changing behavior that focus on developing appropriate target behaviors, referred to as the constructional approach (O’Heare 2009). The application of positive reinforcement, negative punishment, negative reinforcement and positive punishment are all procedures that can be used to affect and change behavior with or without extinction trials. The least aversive and invasive operant conditioning behavior change techniques, shaping and differential reinforcement, also positively affect respondent behaviors (Miltenberger 2004).

O’Heare, J. (2008) Behavior Change Programming and Procedures 2009, CASI,

Miltenberger (2004) Behavior Modification Principles and Procedures Third Edition, Thompson. USA

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