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animal training theory

Here are some hints and tips.  A few articles I have written for various publications.
More is available in my books.  Feel free to contact me should you wish to debate(-:
Intuition is largely still seen as an esoteric concept.  The fact is that a good trainer is intuitive.  People often refer to this as being ‘animal people’.  What is intuition.  Science tells us that in order to be intuitive, we have to be in the present moment and in a feeling state.  The ‘alpha’ state is the term used for this state.  In this state, for example, we look at and appreciate a sunrise.  The moment we put our feelings into words, we are in the judgemental ‘beta’ state – no longer feeling the experience.  We are able to flip from state to state, however we can only access the ‘alpha’ state when we are relaxed and free from fear, judgement, desire or any other emotion that takes us out of being in the present moment. 
 We need to practise being intuitive in order to recognise the state and access it.  Here are some tips that can assist this.
  • PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK.  When a trainer’s intuition bears them fruit, they are encouraged recall the feelings they felt at the time of the experience so they can recognise the feeling the next time. 
  • PLAY.  We are in relationship with some incredible animals, and if we are able to play, we will have fun. This fun will be mirrored in them creating an atmosphere conducive to intuition.  When we are having fun, we are in an intuitive state
  • OBSERVE OBSERVE OBSERVE.  Observations yield vital information such as personal nuances of different animals, the social influences that are occurring in their lives, and what works or does not work to motivate that animal.  This is data that will be used intuitively.  In our facilities, observation is considered vital to achieve successful relationship with animals. 
  • SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS WHEN TRAINING.  We focus on creating well-founded relationship which builds trainer confidence.  Confident trainers are more likely to experience intuition.
  • FLEXIBILITY.  When your training does not go according to plan, be flexible.  Adapt and don’t take the situation personally.  When you judge yourself or the animal you cannot be intuitive.
  • EXERCISES.  Practise when you are not training.  Simple exercises such as imagining who is calling when your cell phone rings.
  • NO HESITATION.  Trainers are encouraged, from the outset, to operate decisively.  The phrase they hear over and over is, ‘if you are going to mess up, do it properly.’  Hesitation and a lack of confidence provide opportunity for trainers to doubt themselves, and this is not conducive to the use of intuition.
  1. An awareness of the state of mind with which trainers go into the session is vital.  For example, if we are feeling fearful we need to acknowledge that feeling, and deal with it before entering a session.  If we become anxious during a session, it is better to redirect the session or even end it, so that we can evaluate our situation and then proceed once we have more clarity.  This ensures that we are focussed on the task at hand, and allows us to access our intuition. 
  2. We all know that entering into a power game with the animal can end up in an unsuccessful downward spiral.  These scenarios are motivated by our ego.  Our focus in these scenarios is the behaviour and not the animal.  If you are feeling down and negative don’t  do the training session.
  3. Open communication helps ensure a relaxed atmosphere.  Ensure that where this important, it occurs.
In conclusion, our passion to communicate effectively with the animals we train is paramount.  If we enter every interaction with them with enthusiasm, we will succeed.  Enthusiasm is from the Greek word that means ‘the God within’.  When we are enthusiastic, we are definitely in a state where we can be intuitive.
WHAT MIGHT YOU BE DOING INCORRECTLY THAT IS CAUSING AN UNSUCCESSFUL TRAINING SITUATION?  Always consider the reason why an animal may not be responding correctly.  Is the animal confused?  Are you being clear in what you are asking?  Is the animal not well?  Is the bad response becoming a pattern?  Try and establish how you can improve the situation rather than expecting the animals to work out what is wrong.  (The art of telepathy is not yet proven to be a consistently effective training tool in the animal behaviour world(-:)

Punishment – in behaviour science, is effectively the opposite of reinforcement.  Reinforcement serves to increase the chance of behaviour occurring again.  Punishment on the other hand serves to decrease the chance of behaviour occurring again.  If punishment was used effectively, it would be working to ‘punish’ behaviour, and not ‘animal’.  Is this possible?  Here is an attempt to answer this question:
·         The stimulus(punisher) applied must be aversive.  If for example you wish to smack the animal,  you need to be sure that the animal experiences the smack as something aversive.  Bear in mind that they may have a thick hide, lots of fur, thick blubber  etc.
·         The effect of the application of the stimuli must serve to reduce the future probability of a response. We will never know this till after the fact, so how do we chose a punisher?
·         The punishing stimulus must be delivered at exactly the same time as the problem behaviour occurs.  The animal must be “caught in the act.”  If the punisher is delivered at any other time it may reduce a non-problematic behaviour – one we are not working to avoid.  For example, if you wish to smack a dog for stealing a toy, and you smack it once it has let the object go; you may be punishing it for letting the object go, and not for biting the object.  They must associate the punishing stimulus with the actual problematic behaviour.  A couple of seconds delay can make the punishing stimulus ineffective, and even cause problems.
·         The intensity of the punishing stimulus must be ideal.  If the intensity is too low, it will be ineffective.  On the other hand, if it is too high, it can evoke a bad reaction such as fear, submission and even aggression from the animal.  As an example, if you decide to hit a horse on the rump for doing something wrong, and you smack too softly, you will not create a response.  If you smack too hard, the horse could kick in return, or fearfully avoid you in the future.  The idea is to use the lowest intensity punisher that will achieve the necessary result.  (In the ideal theoretical world – how do we know?)
·         If you find that the intensity of punishment you deliver is too low, you will have to increase the intensity the following time.  This could result in the stimulus becoming acceptable to the animal.  This would be counter conditioning.  This will result in a need for a much higher intensity of stimulus for the punishment to work in the future.  This could teach the animal to tolerate abuse.
·         Punishment is effective when it is delivered every time the problem behaviour occurs.  The higher the probability of punishment, the greater its effectiveness. This requires that the trainer needs to be present to affect the stimulus everytime it occurs. 
·         The motivation for the animal to engage in the problem behaviour must be considered.  If it is higher than the effect of the punishment that you are using to suppress it, you will not be successful.  For example, if the animals are afraid of each other, and you are punishing them for not working together, and their fear is greater than the effect of the punisher, you are creating stress as well as working to teach the animal to tolerate your ‘abuse’.
·         If an animal is punished, it can associate various scenarios with the possibility of punishment in the future.  For example, if when the animal bit you it was jumping up to get at a particular object, it could also associate the jumping or the object with the aversive scenario.  For instance, being afraid of an area because they were smacked there.   
·         When compared to positive reinforcement, punishment may not have long term strengths in its application.  If an animal is taught something step by step, and taught to appreciate something for the positive reinforcing qualities that it offers, it will be well reinforced.  The positive effects of positive reinforcing can be seen to become habitual.  Punishment even if correctly applied is a strong stimulus, but the result could be a one off response.  The trigger for an animal to partake in the problem behaviour is not a part of your training programme.  
·         Further to this, the animal is only motivated not to take part in a particular behaviour if a punisher is present.  For instance, many of us may drive too fast, except when we are close to an area where there are camera traps or if we see a traffic cop presence.
All the above variables have to be considered simultaneously in order for punishment to be successful.  In other words – pretty impossible for it to be successful, so why bother using it.  Why not rather focus on what we know is a sure thing – the lesson always – what we focus on expands


S  L  A  M
STOP – Identify the problem.  (not the story – just the problem).  And identify it in terms of what you can do about it.  Don't excuse it with something that you have no control over.  For example, a dog keeps jumping up at me when I arrive home.  The story or excuse would be - "it is an undisciplined brat" or "shame, he missed me".  The problem, identified with the solution in mind is - "the dog has not been taught to sit automatically in front of me when he wants my attention."  Now I have a way forward to generate a plan.  Focussing on what I want rather than on what I don't want. 

LOOK – Look at the problem.  - every time I come home and the dog jumps up on me, he is getting a reaction out of me.  I shout and create excitement.  He has not had any attention from me all day, and now he is getting that attention - and anything is better than nothing. 

ADJUST – plan to fix the problem.  That is a behaviour plan to address the issue that will be implemented, one step at a time.  For example, I may spend all my time at home interacting with my dog, only when he is sitting.  I put this to signal, and when it is strongly reinfoced, I use it when I come home, before he jumps up on me. 

MOVE – implement the plan monitoring the result.  If it does not work, go back to the start and STOP again, looking at what I can do to generate a successful outcome.



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