Hierarchy of Behavior Change for Working Dogs with Dr. Susan Friedman

Today I have the joy of talking to Dr. Susan Friedman about the hierarchy of behavior change for dog training. This is so central to what we do – ensuring that our dogs are excellent at the work they do while maintaining the highest quality of life possible for them.

I am SO excited to get to this interview, but first I have to remind you all that our field vehicle repair fundraiser is ongoing. As I record, the van is getting repairs for several damaged cylinders as well as fuel injectors – costs will total around $16,000. Find that link in the show notes on K9Conservationists.org.

Patreon plug but no reviews.

  • Dr. Friedman intro
  • What is the hierarchy of behavior change?
  • What drove you to outline it?
  • How can we use this in working dog areas?
  • Why does it matter?
  • How do you address questions about efficacy, especially with working animals?
  • Can this actually enhance the quality of work that our dogs do, aside from just enhancing their quality of life?

Thank you so much for listening. I hope you learned a lot and are feeling inspired to get outside and be a K9 Conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and skill set. You can find show notes and extra information on this episode at K9Conservationists.org and support our field vehicle repairs at our GoFundMe page. Until next time!

Show Notes Here

In this episode of K9 Conservationists, Kayla and Dr. Susan Friedman discuss the hierarchy of behavior change with dogs. They discuss what it is and why it matters! 

  • What is the hierarchy of behavior change?
    Hierarchy of Behavior Change Outline
  • Why does it matter?
    It creates an effective outcome with the interventions being as unintrusive as possible to the learner.
  • Can this actually enhance the quality of work that our dogs do, aside from just enhancing their quality of life?
    • Short answer; YES! An enhancement in quality of life will lead to an enhancement in quality of every aspect in their like, including quality of work.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

The Hierarchy & Trainer Skills

Effectiveness is Not Enough: this is a PDF on BehaviorWorks, just Google the phrase and you’ll find it. We can’t link it.

Where to find Dr. Susan Friedman:
Behavior Works

You can support the K9 Conservationists Podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/k9conservationists.

K9 Conservationists WebsiteGo Fund Me

Episode Transcription

Kayla Fratt (KF)  00:08

Hello, and welcome to the K9 Conservationists podcast, where we’re positively obsessed with conservation detection dogs. Join us every other week to discuss ecology, odor dynamics, dog behavior, and everything in between. I’m your host, Kayla Fratt, and I run K9 Conservationists, where I train dogs to detect data. 

Today, I have the joy of talking to Dr. Susan Friedman about the hierarchy of behavior change for dog training. Ensuring that our dogs are excellent at the work they do while maintaining the highest quality of life possible for them is central to what we do, and something that I’m incredibly passionate about.  Dr. Friedman and I don’t talk about the concept of non-intrusive sampling in this episode, but for our listeners who are coming from a conservation biology or ecology standpoint, one of the things that I think relates to this humane hierarchy really well is the idea of getting the data that we want, without harming or stressing our study animals. We’re really good about thinking about gathering data non-invasively, using camera or hair traps, or plaster track traps. We often work to avoid darting an animal to take a blood sample, or put a big transmitter on them. We want to use a conservation detection dog in a way that isn’t going to stress out our study animals. We’re really good about thinking about that, but we forget about interacting with our conservation detection dogs more intentionally, in a non-invasive way. 

I know that Dr. Friedman and I get a little nerdy here, it’s a little bit of an esoteric subject, so I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you’ve got follow up questions or anything like that, you can always join our Patreon for $3 a month, or just comment on the Instagram or Facebook post where you see this being shared. We can address anything in a little bit more concrete of a manner going forward.  

I’m so excited to get to this interview, but first, I do have to remind you guys that our field vehicle repair fundraisers are still ongoing. If you go over to where you find these show notes, you can purchase a t-shirt, and proceeds from that help fundraise for our field vehicle repairs, or you can just donate directly to our GoFundMe. We do also have goals eventually of adding crashproof crates for the dogs, and getting some other field equipment. Any support you could offer is incredibly helpful!

You guys can also help support us by reviewing the podcast wherever you find it, particularly on Apple podcasts. So, if you haven’t already, please do go on over there. I plan on reading those reviews out loud on the episodes, but right now we don’t have any new ones for me to read. Dr. Friedman and I thank you profusely. And without further ado, let’s get to this interview.  

Welcome to the podcast, Dr. Friedman. It’s so great to have you.

Dr. Susan Friedman  03:47

Thank you, it’s really good to see you. And to hear you’re enjoying summer. It’s such a great season for us now.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  03:54

Oh my gosh, yeah. We’re coming up on the longest days of the year, which I love them, I love living far north where the sun has been setting at like 10:30, it gets dark at 11:00, it’s amazing. It’s so great. 

Dr. Susan Friedman  04:08

Yeah, I hear you. Yeah, like it too. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  04:10

Yeah. Let’s start out; as we were talking right before we started recording, some of our listeners are already familiar with you and your work, and some may have never heard of you, or not know a whole lot about the difference between differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors. So let’s kind of start out with what is the hierarchy of behavior change, and then we’ll get into why it matters.

Dr. Susan Friedman  04:41

It might make more sense to talk about the basics of behavior change first, because that’s kind of a prerequisite knowledge set for understanding the hierarchy. So, you interrupt me if I go too far afield from what you intended, you know your audience. And I congratulate you on these podcasts and that diverse audience that you have, because dissemination is certainly one of our most important missions to help change the world, to improve the quality of life for all learners, human and non-human. 

So, a simple way to consider the basic principles and technology of behavior change is to think about it in terms of the smallest unit of analysis, which we call the ABCs. Those stand for the Antecedents, the things that happen before behavior, and consequences, the things that happen after. And the B, of course, stands for Behavior. And what’s useful about this Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence unit, is that it really reflects our most basic rule, which is behavior is always conditional.

It’s always influenced by the antecedent conditions, or environment, and the consequences. So when I teach that, I make the point that first of all, behavior is not a label; we need to describe, clearly, operationally, what we see animals do when it comes to teaching and learning. Antecedents are broken down into different categories that influence the strength of the reinforcer that the animal will choose to behave, or to move towards. When we think about the different antecedents, or we learn about them, we empower ourselves with good antecedent arrangement. The goal with antecedents in general is to make the right behavior easier. Then, you can catch it with reinforcement so that rates of reinforcement stay high. 

Very often, people, especially in the search and rescue, or service dog applications, or airport security will say, “but it won’t be easy when we need them to do the behavior we taught.” And I remind them that the beginning of the behavior, and the lesson plan doesn’t look like the end behavior and the lesson plan. So initially, the antecedent goal is to make the right behavior easier with our arrangements. And then we can fade in difficulty, as we need, to get the kind of creativity and industriousness and persistence that you need with a working animal. Then we can turn to consequences to finish up our unit. I encourage people to think about consequences bigger than just reward, because consequences are the reason why behavior evolved. Consequences are the purpose we behave, we behave to get something or to get away, we behave to operate on the environment, to change it, so that it reveals positive reinforcers and removes aversive stimuli. Consequences are also feedback. It’s such an extraordinary planetary arrangement that consequences give us feedback about the adequacy of our behavior.  For a dog in training, for example, who doesn’t earn the reinforcer, they are able to take that withholding experience, and consider what to do differently to have better control over the trainer’s reinforcers. 

So, antecedents set the stage for behavior, make them as easy as possible. At first, behavior should be described very unambiguously when we’re training, and consequences are not just rewards for the right behavior. They’re the reason we give animals for behaving in a certain way. And they give feedback to the animal about whether to persist or to revise what they do. Is that a good sort of overview from a scientific point of view? Any questions there? 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  09:44

No, I don’t think so. These are the times where I wish we could have a panel of 10 listeners to see if anyone has any questions. 

I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but it’s interesting in the detection dog realm because dogs aren’t performing a singular behavior. Finding the scat isn’t a singular behavior. As we’re thinking about what we actually want our animals to be doing, we need to break those behaviors down into smaller and smaller chunks. We want the dog to be searching and sniffing for odor, which builds into a chain to follow to the source of the odor. And then ideally, we want them to alert. 

A lot of times we get really stuck on the alert, or really stuck on the sourcing. It’s been on my mind lately with my puppy Niffler. I’ve been working on building his alerts, teaching him to lie down and tell me when he’s found a scat. I took him out for training two days ago and saw a massive decrease in enthusiasm from him in his search. He normally comes out with his tail up and his nose down, and he’s ready to go. And he wasn’t, so we had to take a step back and really focus on making the sourcing of the odor and that aspect of his work really, really easy so that I can put a ton of reinforcement into the bucket of alerting, because I think I was pushing him too hard to do all of those bits all at once. So when we talk about our ABCs within the detection dog world, we can’t just call the behavior searching. It’s so much more than that.

Dr. Susan Friedman  11:47

It is an interesting thing to note about the particular kind of training that you’re doing, and your listeners may be doing. When you say “search,” or whatever the cue is to start that class of behaviors that we call search and alert, we’re not talking about one behavior. We would call that a flexible or a changing contingency. That is the B that is required, given A, the cue, the behaviors that are required, in order to get the feedback that you did it, you’re right, to get reinforced, are really very variable depending on every situation they’re searching in. In that instance of learning and behavior, where the contingencies are changing, we have a very different approach to teaching in the long run than we do when we teach fixed contingencies. 

By fixed I mean, a sit always mean sit, going to place always means go to place. But when you say search, it means turn on your creativity. Turn on your industriousness, turn on your persistence, because reinforcement maybe lean until you get closer to the alerting stimulus. Even with that, though, I will say that we don’t start at the deep end of the pool. We can reduce errors with antecedent arrangement, so that we maintain a very high rate of reinforcement. And then in the long run, as this class of behaviors is mastered, we can start to thin the reinforcement to prepare for persistence. And we can start to vary the situations in which it occurs to plan for creativity. And we can start rewarding selecting for really industrious, enthusiastic behavior. It is a very thrilling application of our basic principles and our techniques like reinforcement, antecedent arrangement, shaping approximations, introducing errors to build that persistence and resilience. But I always remind people that the beginning of that looks just like the beginning of teaching a sit, it’s a very fixed, controlled high rate of reinforcement plan. And it doesn’t get kind of hairy until you start seeing some of the basic skills being mastered.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  14:35

Yeah, absolutely. We implement a lot of back chaining, so I’ll start with the odor is just a couple inches away, and we’re just building reinforcement for that. Going from there we add in that difficulty as we go but that’s not what we’re supposed to be talking about. We could go down any number of rabbit holes today. So, we’ve got our antecedents, our behaviors, and our consequences. And so how does that relate to the hierarchy of behavior change? And where does that come in when we’re talking about how to structure our training?

Dr. Susan Friedman  15:10

Those ABCs describe the way behavior on the planet works across species; we’re all responding to cues and behaving for a reason, for outcomes. But it also generated the teaching techniques that we use across species. They’re very, very similar from kids to dogs to orangutans, and bears, and snakes, and all sorts of animals whose trainers I work with and coach. Those techniques or procedures for changing behavior, it’s a big toolbox of strategies. 

When I formed the hierarchy, I took a shot at interweaving the procedures most commonly used to change behavior with an ethical guideline – the least intrusive procedure. And that ethical guideline, least intrusive, or least restrictive, goes by many names, but the philosophical and ethical concept is the same. You see the least intrusive procedure in law, you see it in medicine, you see it in bioethics, I have examples of very similar hierarchies. The philosophy and the ethical stance is that when there’s a power differential when you’re interacting with another organism, and since we’re holding the positive reinforcers in our pouch, there’s a differential there, then when you interact with them towards a goal, you should interact with the least intrusive, effective solution. We have that least intrusive ethical standard in special education, and this hierarchy starts with a healthy animal in an appropriate environment. 

If changing behavior by improving nutrition or medical health will solve the problem, then that’s where we should start, because it’s effective and least intrusive, generally speaking. And then the next step on the hierarchy to change behavior is antecedent arrangement. So now your listeners are more brushed up on what I mean when I say antecedent arrangement. We talk about clear cues, strong motivating operations for the reinforcers we’re going to use, and arranging the setting to make the right behavior easier. If it means starting with a more salient box when you’re teaching the scent, versus starting right off with hiding it behind the back of the garage, that’s what we should be doing.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  18:20

Yeah, or just closing windows, so we don’t have air flow, you know?

Dr. Susan Friedman  18:25

That’s a great example. Doing those things to make the right behavior easier would be the next least intrusive procedure, as long as it’s effective. And then we get into learning, which is positive reinforcement, would be the next on this on this scale. And by positive reinforcement, what I’m talking about is selecting for behavior with consequences. In shaping, we reinforce the approximation that gets us closer to the end goal, keeping a very high rate of reinforcement, and responding to what the animal’s behavior. That data flow is telling us about the effectiveness and the intrusiveness of our approach. And then it goes up from there where the intrusiveness starts to narrow down. 

This isn’t describing any particular instance – it’s a general ethical guideline. We move from positive reinforcement to the differential reinforcement strategies, which combine positive reinforcement for the desired behavior, and extinction, which is withholding the reinforcer for the wrong answer or the undesired behavior. And then in one level, I put together negative punishment, negative reinforcement and extinction alone. And then the last, that should be used the least is positive punishment where we deliver an aversive stimulus contingent on the undesired or missed behavior, the not correct response. 

I’ve arranged the graphics on this hierarchy to either show it going up or going down. But it’s always in a funnel shape, which denotes the frequency we should be using these procedures in. Positive punishment would be in the smallest use part of this ladder. It’s very small. And antecedent arrangement, positive reinforcement, and wellness, the first three rungs, are the broadest. That’s it in a nutshell.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  20:48

Yeah, I’m actually over at a friend’s house right now who’s also a dog trainer, and she has the printout of it as a roadmap on her kitchen table. In the roadmap version of it, there are also some speed bumps and yield signs to remind us to ask others for assistance as we’re considering moving up in levels of intrusiveness.

Dr. Susan Friedman  21:19

Yeah, the roadmap version has speed bumps once you leave wellness, antecedent arrangement, positive reinforcement – the yield signs and speed bumps get bigger and bigger. Just before you get to positive punishment, there’s a really huge bump, and detour sign and a stop sign. These are all graphic ways to remind people to think before they act, that our training should never be reactive, or based on what the dog does, but that we need to build our skills systematically. The highest level of expertise is being able to think on your feet and stay in the less intrusive procedural areas. Thinking on your feet when a dog responds in a way that requires you to change your plan takes a lot of of practice and supervision by mentors.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  22:28

Certainly, yeah. I’m so glad we brought that up. We had an episode not too long ago with Michael Shikashio, and we talked primarily about how, as conservation dog handlers, we can keep prey animals safe. We were talking to him primarily about muzzles, but we also touched on keeping the dogs on leash and using long lines. We touched a little bit on the selection of the dogs, training of the dogs to really put a lot of positive reinforcement into the bucket of focused searching around distractions and all of that, before you even start considering adding an aversive to try to squash a dog’s desire to go chase a squirrel or a rabbit. Off-leash communities here in the United States tends to skip right ahead to other much more aversive things. And that’s not uncommon in the detection dog world.

Dr. Susan Friedman  23:42

We have a history of controlling dog behavior with aversive stimulation. And we all have that history, right? Most of us grew up in a world where parents, teachers, and neighbors controlled our childish behavior with threats and positive punishers – that is, delivery of aversive stimuli. It really represents a huge societal and global change, to say, you know what, there are other ways to do this. 

We will explore other procedures if we think that being effective in the least intrusive way, or the way that reduces the loss of animals’ personal control is ethical. If we don’t agree that reducing intrusiveness, that is loss of control, in the world is a value, then we just don’t agree on how to train conservation dogs. But once we agree, being effective and less intrusive can be our profession-wide value. Then we start to learn these alternative procedures to change behavior. 

In the last 50 years, and especially in the last 15 years, we have demonstrated time and time again, that even our most complex behaviors can be taught while leaving the animal in control of its own outcomes, its own reinforcers. I have a prompt that I give myself when I’m working on something very difficult. I’m not teaching conservation dogs, but I do work with elephants engaging in self-injurious behavior, or snakes that are engaging in tail biting and mutilation, parrots that pluck – these are difficult problems. And I say to myself, the question is not, “Can I do it? Can I create a program and coach trainers to solve these problems, replace those problem behaviors with successful behaviors?” The real question I need to ask myself and hold myself to is, “Can anybody train it?” And if anybody can train it, then that’s the standard that I have to meet. I have to learn how to do it from those experts, and practice with supervision until I too, am able to do what those people can do. And I think that might be helpful for your audience as well. We shouldn’t use procedures just because they’re effective.

Effectiveness alone is not enough. And we shouldn’t use procedures just because we happen to be good at those and don’t have enough experience with others. We’re really asking a lot of people to take what has been effective and say, effectiveness alone is not enough. Now you need to consider intrusiveness. It’s asking people to give up some effectiveness to learn a new set of approaches. I do have compassion and patience for people changing to more contemporary, humane strategies.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  27:12

Yeah, it feels clumsy at first. It takes remembering to bring other reinforcers with you, and remembering that you have these options. One of the things we see in conservation dog work is selection for dogs that are intensely obsessed with their toy reinforcer, and it’s really hard to find another reinforcer that they will accept in the presence of a toy. There’s also a lot of fear, culturally, around the idea of using that toy reinforcer for anything other than finding the target. One of the things I’ve worked on with my dogs is eating and receiving food as a behavior. I turn that into a lower level reinforcer so I can reward my dog for recalling off of a rabbit with food, and then send him back to the search. And hopefully, when he does find his target, he’s going to be just as excited about the ball. But that requires a cultural shift, it means I need to remember to bring food with me.

Dr. Susan Friedman  28:29

And not just a shift; it requires first gaining the knowledge. Training with a variety of reinforcers by pairing with the preferred reinforcer is a technique. Stimulus-stimulus pairing and developing conditional reinforcers have a lot of science behind them, and that’s something people would need to have knowledge and skill to do. 

As professionals, we’re also responsible for recognizing an increase in response effort when we go in these directions. For example, trainers will often say to me, “But if I don’t carry a pressboard, a board to protect them from a charging animal. What will I do if I run out of food reinforcers?” And my answer is always running out of food reinforcers is something that should only happen one time in your career, and then you should never be unprepared like that again. You should be looking to see what you’ve got, how it’s depleting, and make decisions on that basis. It does require a very different mindset, and being prepared for a lot of different possibilities is part of it. Any good teacher will tell you the same. 

I’ll also mention that you’re hitting on some of our very important principles. For example, if an animal will only work for one reinforcer type, we have to question whether or not they’re living an enriched enough life that their behavior, all their behaviors, are only used for the purpose of a single outcome. So that’s worthy of discussion. We should also add on the table that naturally, animals have evolved to find variety reinforcing given a diverse upbringing. Novelty tends to be a reinforcer across species, given the novelty in their rearing history. 

We don’t have a ceiling on our knowledge and our techniques – they’re constantly being improved. But I’ll tell you, the basic principles don’t change very often, they really stood the test of time. But we do see improvements in how we use the techniques that come from them. And that’s always very exciting. It isn’t your grandfather’s dog training anymore. It’s not even what I came in with 25 years ago; there have been some very profound revisions of techniques to reduce intrusiveness, raise reinforcement, raise an animal’s autonomy to behave for chosen outcomes. All of this is coming together in very exciting ways. And there’s nothing that I know of about the working dog scenario that would pull them outside of the way that behavior for the rest of the species on the planet works. We need to refine the tools to match the animals and the situations, but the basic principles are going to be the same.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  32:10

I would definitely agree. I’ve been in the field of dog training for just under 10 years now. I’ve seen a lot of shifts, even in those 10 years, which really isn’t much time at all. Talking about the idea of helping a dog learn to eat in a variety of environments and getting them to accept a variety of reinforcers in the presence of other reinforcers isn’t something I’d heard of until a year or two ago. It isn’t just that the field has progressed there, it’s that I’m getting deeper into it.

Dr. Susan Friedman  32:51

Yeah. The importance of variety isn’t just for dogs – when you described that, I jotted down autism. That is exactly the program that we need for many, many children with autism. We teach them to eat more than just raisins; to eat a variety of foods, and teach them to eat in a variety of locations, instead of just in a rigid, red chair on a white table with Spotty the stuffed dog to the left. 

While that narrowness can produce that drive for going after whatever they’re searching for, it works against us in terms of quality of life, which is defined as variety and flexibility. We can have both! I think understanding that we really can have both is relatively new for society. I hope that the hierarchy helps us promote some head-scratching. Maybe someone who has very deep expertise in this application will find that they can rearrange the hierarchy somewhat for their work. It’s not meant to be a rigid recipe, but it is meant to have people stop at those speed bumps and reconsider: Is this really the only way to get the behavior that I need? And if it is, we do move along that continuum. But most of the time, we can get what we need accomplished without using that cultural fog that we’ve all come through, that has us demanding, commanding, forcing, and coercing even though we have techniques to be effective and not use those strategies anymore.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  34:51

Yeah. On this topic of the ethics of looking at these dogs that have this “over-the-top” level of drive, this obsession with the reinforcers, whatever we want to call it. I’m interested in breeding a couple of litters of dogs someday, and I think about the balance of drive and variation. My older border collie has a level of obsession with his toys and with his reinforcers is not mentally healthy. I joke a lot with my friends, but it’s not really a joke, that if we put him in an MRI and showed him a bouncing tennis ball, I think his brain would light up exactly like a heroin addict. I’ve been working pretty carefully with my younger dog to try to get the level of drive to do the work and the enthusiasm for the work, while still providing more varied hobbies. I work on it with my older dog, too, particularly as we’ve gotten more into trail running, and more into a lot of off leash exercise, and those sorts of things. It’s helped a lot, but he still wants to pick up a pine cone and carry it, and he’ll drop it at the feet of everyone we see. And he’s doing other things, but he’s always thinking, maybe they’ll throw it you know, maybe I’ll get that next.

Dr. Susan Friedman  36:44

He has a huge reinforcement history for doing that behavior, and every time he drops it in front of a stranger who then melts and picks it up for him, that’s uncontrolled reinforcement. It is a challenge. But if I were to extrapolate from my knowledge of the science and experience applying it with children and non-human animals, I would predict that you can meet that peak preference for a certain class of behaviors, but give a nice fall around variety. At least conceptually, it seems to me that that is a higher quality of life.

I think about things like channeling kids into gymnastics at the exclusion of all else. In so many ways, you are building Olympiads with the training that you’re doing and the urgency of the job we want the dogs to do, but you hear so many of those young Olympiads saying that they wish they had skills for a more varied life, that after the Olympics were over and they took their medal home, they were really depressed and at a loss. I think we can cobble together a story by which we could defend the idea that variety is important to healthy living. I really applaud you for that self-evaluation, because I’ve seen dogs just like you’re describing, and I kind of stand back and watch them. They are tense, the muscles are tense, all day long, just waiting for that moment where they can do what they’ve been trained to do to the exclusion of other things. 

You and your colleagues will lead the way; you will show us that we can get an Olympiad who also knows how to knit, cook, throw a great cocktail party, and access other reinforcers. I think that we are evolutionarily, biologically prepared to have that flexibility. And it’s interesting to talk about the genetics because there’s no question that our behavior today is the result of three sources: our genetic tendencies, our learning history – so that covers your dog, that genetic tendency – learning history and current conditions. And people sorely underestimate how current conditions can flex and modify both the learning history and the genetic tendencies. The idea that genes are fixed and you can’t influence them with environmental arrangement is thoroughly dispensed with. No genetic scientist would disagree that genetics are our tendencies and then the environment selects for them. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  39:59

I’ve had Barley now for about four, four and a half years. And for the last three years, we’ve had a pretty strict “no fetch in the house” rule. And that alone has really helped him learn to relax. It was probably a year into owning him before he actually solicited petting, and really seemed to enjoy petting and cuddling. I think it took that much of a detox away from fetch as an option. Going forward with any puppies that I’m raising, I’m really thinking about balancing all those reinforcers for them, and building their lives in a way that they can have this really full and enriched life while still doing the job that we want them to do. I really think we can have our cake and eat it too.

Dr. Susan Friedman  41:01

I think so, too. And I think that we’re genetically prepared for that flexibility and focus; both at once. We just have to figure out what are the optimal, effective, least intrusive procedures. There isn’t going to be one set of recipes; it’s going to always vary based on the trainer, the handler, the dog, the settings in which they’re working. Lately, I’ve been saying that the goal, in the long run, is to start following beginning and intermediate recipes. And then going from that level of cook to being a chef, where instead of putting in a quarter teaspoon of pepper, because the recipe says so, you understand that there are 35 different kinds of peppers, you understand what they all do differently when they interact with tomatoes, and you pick the right pepper, and then you taste it, change your mind, get a different one. That, for me, that’s chef level, sort of “off the leash” of recipes is how I think about really high expertise in any field. We have to acknowledge that people who are beginning and even in the middle of learning to be experts, require recipes that systematically loosen up to personal judgment and dialogue with the dog they’re working with.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  42:32

Yeah, certainly. I love the recipe analogy. If I want to sit down and make a pasta dish, I’m very comfortable doing that without a recipe at this point – I can be a little bit of a chef with pasta. But when it comes to curries, I still at least need – I have a very handy magnet that kind of says you know is your curry too this or too that and it kind of suggests different things to add to fix your curry, I’m getting pretty good about you know, if I pull out my spices, I can make an okay curry. But I still often have to reference my magnet to correct like, oh god, I put in too much cumin this time.

Dr. Susan Friedman  43:13

Reach for the magnet, and hopefully the least intrusive hierarchy is like your magnet. It’s just saying, okay, you’re seeing this, this is your need for training your goal. But let’s stop and consider: can we be effective, and give the animal more voice. Take that force and coercion away.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  43:35

I think many of us are pretty comfortable with teaching a dog to sit or lie down or stay using exclusively positive reinforcement. I would say even our conservation biologist listeners, most of them probably know how to lower and reward their dog into a sit. And that might be their pasta. And then as we go on into thinking about teaching the dog to do scent detection, the vast majority of that is taught really, really heavily with positive reinforcement. There’s very little anything else in that aspect of it. But then as soon as we’re starting to add in distractions, or prey animals or any of those sorts of things, that’s where I think we do need my curry magnet, or your humane hierarchy.

Dr. Susan Friedman  44:21

And supervisors, you know, mentors. I think that’s really well described. What you’re just what you’re talking about to my ears is about fading. The technique called fading, which of course is many, many techniques, where we either fade in stimuli, like distractions, or we fade out high rates of reinforcement to build persistence, let’s say. Prompting and fading is not well studied among animal trainers in general, dog trainers as well. And that’s an area where there is a lot of great information in special education with children. So you might start teaching a child to stop when they see a red light or a stop sign at a crosswalk by simulating it in the safety of a classroom. And then you bring it out into the hallway. And then you bring it out into the area around the school. And you keep fading in that difficulty, those distractions until you get a really generative knowledge. Wherever they go, they see that sign or that light, and they know to stop, and they do so quickly and comfortably. So fading is an area to dig into. 

I would recommend, which a lot of dog trainers don’t know, that the place to look is in the special ed behavior analysis literature, because we had some of the very similar challenges to solve with the kids that had special learning needs. It’s really interesting, prompting sort of fell out of style in dog training. I watched it come in like a fashion statement, we’re not going to prompt anymore. It’s all free shaping, there isn’t even a phrase for free shaping in behavior analysis. For Special Ed, it’s just shaping with or without prompts. And then I realized I thought part of the problem that made people dispense with prompting was they didn’t understand how to fade their prompts. Rather than fading their prompts with skill and knowledge, they just abandoned prompting altogether. When I say that people know how to use a food lure to lure into sit, I think that’s true. But I don’t think that many people know how to fade that lure quickly, based on what the dog is telling you. And that in a more complex picture, is really what you’re describing when you say, I need to get that dog from a box in the garage, out into the field where there are turbines and all sorts of distractions out there. But you can do it. There’s just no question about it anymore.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  47:22

Yeah. I actually really enjoy the process of layering in these distractions and thinking of weird things to start introducing to my puppy, just so that it’s different, but not necessarily harder, like, there’s just some traffic cone in the middle of your search area. That’s not scary, necessarily. It’s not necessarily tempting, but it’s just different, it’s novel.

Dr. Susan Friedman  47:47

And that early rearing history is so important. We have a wonderful lab that my husband hunts with, named Ray after Ray Coppinger, who you may know from the dog training world, a wonderful friend and colleague before he passed away. Ray was raised by people who train dogs for diabetic alert with children in Austria. She actually brought me the pup from Austria in the cabin, which was so great. She raised him and showed us videos, they were remarkable, Kayla; she would have that litter of pups walking across silver space blankets, in and out of brooks and rivers; they had a tea party where everybody wore a scary mask. She is really an expert at providing this super early, novel, variety-filled experience. It never gets to be scary, because you build dogs who look at you with a Scream mask on and say, “What does my human have for me today?” As opposed to, “I got to get out of here.” So that early rearing history really matters and she gave that history to that litter of pups and we can really see it in our now two and a half year old lab. When it starts to thunder and lightning outside, he goes to the door; he wants to go out, and he’s been known to sit in the middle of a thunderstorm out on the porch, just looking up enjoying the lightning. I’ve had many dogs many who are not afraid of storms, but never any for whom storms were very positive stimulation. So it can be done.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  49:48

My older dog Barley is a rescue; I got him from a shelter I used to work for, and then my younger dog Niffler is from a fancy pants breeder who did a lot of really similar things. It was her first litter of puppies, but she did a really great job. I got a little bit of pushback from some people who were disappointed that I wasn’t continuing to show that you can do working dog stuff with a with a rescue dog. And, you know, I would like to continue that in the future. But once a month in puppy kindergarten, we do a big obstacle course; we’ll have a swimming pool full of plastic bottles, and skateboards, and all sorts of fun stuff out. And I felt like I knew I had really made the right choice with my puppy when the first time I brought him there he was around 12 weeks old, and he saw the skateboard, and he marched right up to it, and he got on it. You know, I was there with a fistful of dogs, and I was ready to start showing him how fun everything was. And he was just like, no, I see something new. And it moves in a cool way. And I want to go stand on it and it was so cool.

Dr. Susan Friedman  50:56

They demonstrate different things. They demonstrate different insights about behavior on the planet. When you bring a rescue dog in who’s had an unfortunate, impoverished learning history, then the goal is to see how much we can recover that through teaching and learning. When you have a puppy who’s been raised in optimal conditions that are novel and variable like you’re describing, that tells us what it looks like when you start early and don’t have to recover from unfortunate learning history. 

Each opportunity that you took to train a rescue dog teaches us something about learning, that learning is always available to us, it is always involved in all behavior, even the genetically sourced behavior, more or less. And now we can use it well, better than I think any generation previous ever imagined. My parents’ generation was the big genetics generation, and they were thinking about genes as a fixed blueprint. And we now know for the last 30 years, we’ve known that genes are expressed or not, based on what environmental input, they’re not. They’re not a recipe either. It’s very interesting. I applaud you for gaining the skills with both kinds of mission statements, and hopefully you’ll have opportunities to do both again. And isn’t it funny, I’ll kind of nudge you a little bit that the breeder who is systematic, purposeful, does it right, great rearing history gets called “Fancy Pants” instead of just the best we can do, right? We’ve got to get past that, where doing it the right way is something to feel embarrassed about.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  52:58

I’m so lucky that she decided to let me have a puppy and he’s so great in so many ways. Having worked in a shelter for so long, I was hesitant to go with a dog from a breeder, but it’s really opened my eyes, especially having had Niffler. He’s still got his things that we’re working on. But he’s so incredible. It’s really a testament to genetics and good rearing. And why we like breeders, which is not a direction I expected conversation to go.

Dr. Susan Friedman  53:35

And to say, oh, an eight month old still has his things. I mean, that dog will have his things for the rest of his life. Just like I have my things. And that’s a lifelong shifting pursuit, the things I have to work on, are ever-changing, it’s never done. Training and learning is never done. And that’s because the environment around us keeps changing. If it was the exact same environment every day, we could have a recipe for living through it. The fact of the matter is, it’s a much more demanding planet. And no sooner do you master a certain environment, like COVID, then suddenly, you’re allowed to go back out again. And that’s terrifying. It’s all about being prepared for living on a planet where things are changing moment by moment. It gives this enormous flexibility that is required of its populations in order to survive it.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  54:40

Hey, everyone, just popping into this episode with an update on our Patreon. We still have the $3 a month Doggy Detector level, which allows you to ask questions for me and the guests to answer each episode. That also lets you join our monthly training video analysis calls. These calls are going to be recorded, of course and we’ll also publish the video afterwards for everyone to view and ask questions prior to the call to ensure that all timezones can participate fully. We’ll publish the video we’re going to analyze so that you can ask questions, view it, and prepare ahead of time; then we’ll have the call where we talk about it, we can have beverages, it’ll be a good time. All of that is also going to be shared later; that way, you can participate before, during and after for three bucks a month. 

At the $10 a month Scensational Scientists level you get everything from the $3 level, plus, you get to submit videos of your training sessions for those calls. This is perfect for the aspiring canine conservationist. Your target odor doesn’t matter here as long as you communicate what it is so we can think intelligently about your goals. This is going to be great for those who are competitors and other canine handlers as well. We’re really striving to make these video calls kind, supportive, and helpful. It’s going to be a nice safe place on the internet to get good feedback on your training sessions, because I know how much of a struggle that can be, especially in the nosework world. 

Finally, the Canine Conservationist patrons get everything from those other two tiers, plus a private 30-minute training call with me to go over whatever you’re running into with your dog. That tier is just $25 a month. That’s cheaper than booking my time at journeydogtraining.com for behavior modification, and that’s just because I love you, and I love my patrons. You can join that Patreon over at patreon.com/K9Conservationists, or at the link at K9Conservationists.org. It’s a tiny link up in the top bar, and we’ll drop that link into our show notes. If you’re listening on your podcast app, you should be able to find it just right from there. Thank you guys so much, and let’s get back to the episode.  

Let’s wrap up a little bit here. We’ve already touched on the idea of effectiveness not being enough. Now, let’s put a really fine point on that and talk about how training with this least intrusive, minimally aversive hierarchy of behavior change cannot just be kind and effective for our dogs. I want to hit on the idea of, it’s not just good for our training, and it’s not just good for our relationship with them. It’s really good for their quality of life and enriching their lives, and that feeds into our work. I’d love to let you respond to that poorly worded question.

Dr. Susan Friedman  57:22

No, it was well worded. These are very thought-provoking constructs for me. You’re talking to someone who never sees anything easily. When we think about what is it to be kind, some people think that free feeding is kind, and we see the obesity problem with our animals. What does it mean to be too forceful, or too coercive, or to use positive reinforcement? Well, I guess what I’m saying is, any procedure can be used poorly; you can make an animal too hungry, and then using food as a positive reinforcement is not kind. Depriving a dog of a preferred ball for too long might not be considered kind. 

These are all things that require quite a lot of discussion. But to just put that point on the head of this pin, the ethical standard is required to be joined with our scientific procedures, so that we’re always doing things the best we can do. And by best, what I mean is, what leaves each individual having a voice, having some control over their own outcomes, which is what behavior is evolved to do. We’re not evolved to just be pushed and shoved like a stone, by the ocean, the shoreline. We’re operators, all of us, all of the animal kingdom, we are operators, and when we use force or coercion unnecessarily, we are blocking the animal as operator of its own events, and that is not healthy for animals. Behavioral health comes from operating on our environment. That means, as much as we can shift our procedures to giving animals choice and control over those outcomes, the more behaviorally healthy the animals will be. 

So effectiveness is not enough. When people say that, they always do it with a shrugging of shoulders, they go, “Well, as long as it worked.” And that’s really when I started to think about the hierarchy, because “As long as it works” is not good enough. It’s 2021. We’re all getting together – science, and behavior analysis, and ethologists, biologists, zoologists, dog trainers, giraffe trainers. We’re all working together now. And the sum of coming together is so much greater than any of our parts. We know that we can teach without force and control, and that the use of that should be only very rare, mostly emergency procedures, dog going into the road, kid going into the road. But it means that people have to be willing to learn new things. And that’s uncomfortable for people. Our job Kayla, yours, and mine, and your listeners, is to apply the hierarchy to the humans we’re interacting with as well so that we make learning new things and discovering new insights about training as safe and as reinforcing as possible. 

Kayla Fratt (KF)  1:00:43

I’m glad you added that in. And I’m also glad that you mentioned the idea of, using positive punishment in a non-training scenario. The vast majority of the times that I interact with them in a way that involves positive punishment is a safety, non-training sort of scenario. It’s never a part of my intentional training plan. But that moment where my puppy is eyeing a robin across the road, and I don’t have a leash on him – 

Dr. Susan Friedman  1:01:15

You use the power of a stern voice, or you grab onto the collar. And maybe this is a good place to end. I think the metaphor of the trust account in the relationship bank is a good one, that when you’ve got a history of positive reinforcement banked in that account, you can use that occasional scary stern voice or a grab, because there’s enough in there as a lifestyle that you can take a withdrawal occasionally and not bankrupt the relationship. But when we use force or coercion as our primary strategies, we end up with animals that behave and have emotional behavior that’s very different than those that have that bank account. And it’s unnecessary.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  1:02:06

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s a great place to end it for today. Do you have anything that you wanted to add before we go? And I will, of course let people know where to find you.

Dr. Susan Friedman  1:02:18

Thanks so much for the opportunity. I send out great admiration to your community who are doing such important work. I keep an eye on conservation dog successes, and I’m really proud to see those applications, so keep on going.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  1:02:34

Thank you. I’m the luckiest person in the world. It’s the coolest job ever.

Dr. Susan Friedman  1:02:55

Alright, thanks for the opportunity.

Kayla Fratt (KF)  1:02:57

Thank you so much.  

Thank you guys so much for listening – wasn’t that a great conversation? I could talk to Dr. Friedman all day. She has such a soothing voice, and she’s so knowledgeable, and I love how she’s kind of always in teacher mode. You can hear her pushing at me and challenging me, and you can hear me learning as we’re talking, which is so cool. I’m grinning from ear to ear right now. I hope you learned a lot, too, and you’re feeling inspired to get outside and be a canine conservationist in whatever way suits your passions and your skill set. 

As I said up top, you can find show notes and extra information on this episode at K9Conservationists.org; you can buy a K9Conservationists t-shirt, and you can join our Patreon. You can find us over on social media; Instagram is the main one, but we also have  Facebook, Twitter, and Tiktok, where you can ask us further questions or engage with me more on this episode. I love hearing from you and I’m psyched!

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