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Psychology Rather Than Power—for the Umpteenth Time, Reinforcers Are Not Rewards

Roger Abrantes and Petrine 1982

For the umpteenth time, a reinforcer is not a reward. When I hear “Force-Free” trainers say, “dogs like to work to earn rewards,”1 I suspect and fear they miss by a mile and a half the essence and function of reinforcers in learning theory (and so also of inhibitors).

I’m not splitting hairs. There is a crucial difference between “reinforcing a particular behavior” and “rewarding an individual.” I suspect ignorance hereof being as well the cause of the many incorrect statements on inhibitors2 from the “Radical Force-Free” camp (emphasis on radical).3

“Dogs like to work to earn rewards” reminds me somehow of the old days when I opposed the old school of military dog training. Not everything was hassle and squabble; we had our moments of pleasantries. After ten minutes of marching forth and back, the instructor would say, “And halt! Now, praise your dogs.” Yes, I went to that kind of dog training with my first dog. That was what we had by then.

I walked out in disgust and decided, there and then, my dog and I would train by ourselves and we would show them. We did.

I substituted praise with reinforcers, the real thing—not rewards,—including my ‘dygtig’4 and treats given at strategic points. I stopped using a leash and started using a lead. Leash jerks gave place to “No” immediately followed by “dygtig” when the dog, not me, corrected the mistake. That, my dog would undisputedly do because she visibly enjoyed being my “teammate.” I was a student of ethology and I knew about social canines, our domestic dog being one. Old Professor Lorenz’s words rang in my ears, “To understand an animal, first you have to become a partner,” and he knew better than anyone for he had done it with his goslings.

I signed up for the final “obedience” competition at the club, a hunting dog club run by real hunters, and we won with max points. That a young long-haired fellow in faded Levi’s and clogs had won created some agitation; and, as to add insult to injury, my dog was a little, only seven-months-old English Cocker Spaniel (a genuine one, not one of those oddballs we see in the US today), red and female, on top of that. Petrine was intelligent, beautiful, charming, a workaholic, and a sweety-pie—though I might be a tad biased.

Our performance generated some raised eyebrows and more humming than the establishment would have wished. At the prizes and punch social function, a few civilians asked me whispering whether I would help training their fidos (read companion dogs).

The following Saturday, we were training on a grass field across the road where I lived, now the local firemen’s station. That was 1982, the summer before my son Daniel was born; and that’s how dog training came into my life. I never planned it.

Two years later, in 1984, I wrote my first book, “Psychology Rather than Force,” with far too little experience but loads of good ideas including force-free, hands-free, reinforcement-based training with as few inhibitors as possible, and it even included a whistle (the precursor of the clicker).

I was positive dog training would change. It did, and the rest is history.

 

__________

Notes

1 – This is an actual quote from a document published on the internet by a confessed “Force-Free” trainer.

Note that Skinner writes about reinforcers and rewards, “The strengthening effect is missed, by the way, when reinforcers are called rewards. People are rewarded, but behavior is reinforced. If, as you walk along the street, you look down and find some money, and if money is reinforcing, you will tend to look down again for some time, but we should not say that you were rewarded for looking down. As the history of the word shows, reward implies compensation, something that offsets a sacrifice or loss, if only the expenditure of effort. We give heroes medals, students degrees, and famous people prizes, but those rewards are not directly contingent on what they have done, and it is generally felt that the rewards would not be deserved if they had been worked for.” (Skinner, 1986, p. 569).

2- In 2013, I suggested we changed punisher and derivatives to inhibitor and derivatives to avoid the moral and religious connotations of the former, particularly in the Latin languages, and to emphasize its function and use as a learning tool.

3 – “Radical Force-Free dog trainers” (also “radical positives”) is my denomination for those trainers adhering to the positive reinforcement-based or force-free movement, but having extreme views like claiming positive reinforcers are the only learning tool one needs, they never use aversive stimuli, one should never say “no,” everyone else but them is wrong, and other absurdities. Please do not confuse them with the non-radical positive or reinforcement-based dog trainers who are equally force-free but sensible, open-minded, prudent in their claims, and polite and considerate to otherwise thinkers.

4 – “Dygtig” is my preferred semi-conditioned sound reinforcer. It’s a Danish word meaning’ clever,’ ‘skilled.’ It has a good doggy sound.

 

References

Abrantes, R. 1984. Psykologi Fremfor Magt (Psychology Rather Than Force). Lupus Forlag.
Abrantes. R. 2013. The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know. Wakan Tanka Publishers.
Skinner, B. F. 1986. What is wrong with daily life in the Western world? American Psychologist, 41(5), 568-574. Retrieved Jun. 29, 2019.

Featured photo by Annemarie Abrantes.

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Animal Learning Animal Learning studies how animals acquire the various behaviors they display, essential for you to understand how to train and change a behavior. This course teaches you how to design reliable and successful training plans.

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Learn more in our course Ethology and Behaviorism. Based on Roger Abrantes’ book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism,” this online course explains and teaches you how to create a stable and balanced relationship with any animal. It analyses the way we interact with our animals, combines the best of ethology and behaviorism and comes up with an innovative, yet simple and efficient approach to animal training. A state-of-the-art online course in four lessons including videos, a beautiful flip-pages book, and quizzes.

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Is Your Body Language Helping or Confusing Your Animal?

By Jennifer Cattet Ph.D. To read this article, please click here.

A recent study confirms that in dogs, body language indicating a relaxed, interested and content state of mind during training correlated with better training results.

This article is selected and posted by our Tutor Team. Jennifer Cattet, the author, is not a tutor at Ethology Institute.

 

Jennifer Cattet, Ph.D., has been training dogs professionally since 1984. Her career as a dog trainer started with traditional training techniques, which were the only methods available at the time. Frustrated and concerned with the effects such methods had on some of the dogs and on their relationship with their owners, she went back to college and studied Psychology and Ethology (animal behavior) at the University of Geneva, Switzerland (she spent most of her early years in France). After her bachelor’s degree, she worked as the Assistant Professor in the Ethology Department and completed her studies with a doctorate on spatial navigation in dogs.

Jennifer Cattet (Body Language)

Featured Course of the Week

Animal Learning Animal Learning studies how animals acquire the various behaviors they display, essential for you to understand how to train and change a behavior. This course teaches you how to design reliable and successful training plans.

Featured Price: € 168.00 € 89.00

The Importance of Self-Confidence in Animal Training

The importance of self-confidence in animal training is much greater than you might think. All animals, including dogs, react much better to our body language than to sound signals.

If you behave self-confidently—not arrogantly or aggressively— your dog will look at you, listen to you, and follow you more readily. We have seen that numerous times in classes and workshops.

In the movie, did you notice how a simple change in the way the owner gives the signals makes the whole difference? The signals, before and after, are roughly the same. The only difference is the self-confidence with which the owner gives them.

To improve your communication and relationship with your dog, please see our course Ethology and Behaviorism.

Read also the article “The Importance of Confidence in Animal Training” by Roger Abrantes.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"The Importance of Self-Confidence in Animal Training" video quiz

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“Animal Training My Way”—the “Abrantes Belly-Button Routine”

“The Belly-Button Routine” got its name from the fact that Roger Abrantes keeps his right hand holding the lead right in front of his belly-button. The only movement he makes with it it’s down and up, respectively when he stops and when he resumes walking after a stop. Be aware of where your right hand holding the lead is. We don’t want you or the dog to jerk it.

Notice how Professor Abranteswalks slowly forward and back, keeping a steady rhythm and changing direction very clearly, giving the dog a fair opportunity to follow him. Sometimes, he stops, and the dog must stop as well. Depending on what he ask it to do, it may sit, stand or down.

He calls this drill the kata* of dog training. Once you can do that to perfection, varying the form of the signals between hand, sound, body, and facial, you can teach your dog all you want, and a dog can learn.

Pay particular attention to:

1 – The few signals Abrantes uses.
2 – No repetitions of signals and no yelling.
3 – The consistency in the form of the signals. They are the same, every time, independently of whether he uses a sound, a hand or a body signal.
4 – The consistent and regular use of the semi-conditioned positive sound reinforcer: He says ‘dygtig.’** In SMAF: “!±sound”(dygtig). (You may have to turn your sound up to hear some of them because he whispers them).
5 – The immediate use of the inhibitor ‘ah’ when the dog shows an undesired behavior. In SMAF: [!-sound](ah).
6 – The eye contact he maintains with the dog when he asks it to do something.
7 – The few treats he uses (compared to the majority of trainers). He uses them strategically to reinforce some behaviors on specific circumstances.
8 – The contact he establishes with the dog during the performance of the drill.

To learn more about creating an effective communication and a sound relationship with your, please see our course Ethology and Behaviorism.

_________________

* Kata (型 or 形 literally: ‘form’) is Japanese and designates the detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either solo or in pairs. Many traditional Japanese arts use kata, such as theatre forms like kabuki, and schools of tea ceremony (chadō), but are most commonly known for their use in the martial arts.

** “Dygtig” [ˈdøgdi] is a Danish word and means “clever.” It is, apparently, a good sound as a reinforcer, Abrantes discovered many years ago.   speaker-1

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

“The Abrantes Belly-Button Routine” Video Quiz

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Mission Interspecies Contact—Creating a Relationship

Dogs react much better to our body language than to sound signals. We talk too much!

It all depends on your body language, not what you say. If you look at your dog all the time while you’re walking, you are assuming full responsibility for who follows whom. The dog will pull the lead, then—and rightly so, because it is your duty to follow, not your dogs. Yes, it is a lead, not a leash. You use it to lead the dog, not to leash it. Allowing the lead getting tight sometimes, does not equal to being a cruel dog owner. It amounts to allowing your dog to solve a problem for which it has more than enough intelligence to do.

One thing is your dog pulling the lead and feeling uncomfortable by doing it. A completely different matter is you pulling the lead. The former teaches the dog to keep an eye on you to avoid discomfort. The latter only teaches the dog that you are an unpredictable person one cannot trust.

Your body language is crucial. In the movie, did you notice how the simple and clear body signals and facial expressions, and moving rhythmically, appear to perform miracles?

To improve your communication and relationship with your dog, please see our course Ethology and Behaviorism.

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"Mission Interspecies Contact—Creating a Relationship" Video Quiz

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Training Dog to Find and Bring Cellphone to Owner

This video shows a bit of our training of a dog to find and bring the cellphone to the owner. We did it stepwise as you will see. The task is more complex than it may appear at first because it involves two different aspects. (1) to find the cell phone, to which we applied our proven scent detection procedures. (2) to bring it to the owner, which was ultimately a question of teaching the dog to retrieve.
We started with the latter because we wanted to be in a position to reinforce every time the dog found the cell phone. Then, the dog would handle it correctly as we taught then, i.e. would pick it up carefully and would bring it to the owner.
Otherwise, we could easily create undesirable behavior by reinforcing the dog finding the phone but handling it incorrectly. Beware of undesirable habits that you will have to extinguish later (in this case, for example, biting the phone, dropping it, playing with it). In other words, the retrieving behavior had to show satisfactory and reliable results before we could start with the searching part of the task. Equally, in scent detection, we want the indication behavior to be reliable before we embark on the scent discrimination proper.

We did it in three days with approximately four hours of efficient work each day. We planned the whole operation to the last detail before we started.

If you’d like to know more about planning training and creating a POA (Plan of Action), please look at our course The 20 Principles All Animal Trainers Must Know.

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"Training Dog to Find and Bring Cellphone to Owner" Video Quiz

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Dog Training: Chuck Berry And Frisbee Fun


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Dog Training

Manuel Castañeda, our late graduate and tutor, who passed away in 2018, shows here the Combi-4 skill at a distance, where Chuck Berry, the dog, responds to four signals, sit, stand, down, and free. After that, they have some frisbee fun. However, notice that there is an educational aspect in the frisbee fun: the dog has to drop the frisbee near a particular cone on the ground.

There is always an educational side to any game. In nature, young animals learn essential skills and features of life through various play activities.

To learn more about training and behavior, see our course Ethology and Behaviorism.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"Dog Training: Chuck Berry And Frisbee Fun" Video Quiz

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The Importance of Body Language by Roger Abrantes

In this video, Roger Abrantes demonstrates the importance of a crystal clear, friendly, and self-confident body language. Our self-confidence affects our communication. The video shows the use of our knowledge of ethology at its best. We interact with the animals in ways, which are easy for them to understand and to respond appropriately.

Be prepared to work on yourself. Everything you do, matters. The way you do it, matters. The more you practice, the more subtle your signals will become. How you feel, and your level of self-confidence have a dramatic effect on the result. It’s all a question of attitude. Take your time. Think, relax and enjoy.

To learn more and get inspired, go to our course Ethology and Behaviorism based on the book “Animal Training My Way—The Merging of Ethology and Behaviorism” by Roger Abrantes.

Quiz (for students wishing to earn study credits)

"The Importance of Body Language by Roger Abrantes" Video Quiz

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Canine Scent Detection in Doglando

This video shows the final double-blind test in canine scent detection. It all looks very easy, and it is—when we know what to do and do it correctly.

To learn more about the innovative and unique scent detection training method created by Roger Abrantes, go to our course Canine Scent Detection.

Roger Abrantes trained scent detection for law enforcement canine units in Europe and in the USA, landmine-detecting rats for Apopo in Africa, SAR canine teams for the Alpine Rescue Team in Switzerland, and Guinea pigs for civilian use.

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"Canine Scent Detection in Doglando" Video Quiz

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