Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ian Dunbar Seminar: Providing Feedback to Our Dogs

One of Ian’s biggest criticisms of dog training today has to do with how we are providing feedback to our dogs. He believes that the vast majority of training is done with what he calls “Non-instructive Quantum Feedback,” while dogs would be much better off if they received “Instructive Analog Feedback.” It’s an interesting distinction, and today I’d like to spend some time explaining the difference, and why Ian’s so adamant that we switch over to the latter.

First, let’s break down what he means by these terms, starting with “Non-instructive Quantum Feedback.” “Non-instructive” means that the training simply provides consequences, either desirable (click and treat) or undesirable (collar correction), but does not explain why the action was correct or incorrect, nor to does it explain what the dog ought to do in the future. “Quantum” means that that the feedback can be counted in measured in some way. This makes it a simple response, and devoid of emotion.

“Instructive Analog Feedback,” on the other hand, is basically the opposite. “Instructive” means that we tell the dog what we want, either prior to the behavior (by using a lure), or after the dog does it wrong (by explaining what we wanted instead). “Analog” means that the feedback expresses value, which is difficult to measure. Ian does this by using his voice.

You will notice that this does not reference the four quadrants in any way. As I’ve previously written, Ian finds most of learning theory to be unnecessary to dog training, and he says the quadrants fall into that category. Instead of looking at feedback in one of those four ways, he sees it as binary: things either get better, or they get worse.

Instead of worrying about terminology (which is pointless anyway, because your intention and the dog’s perception may not match up), Ian says there are three types of feedback that people use. We reward the behavior somehow, we punish the behavior somehow, or we do nothing. Similarly, there are three ways of combining this feedback.

First, there’s the “old way,” of punishing all incorrect behaviors, but doing nothing when the dog gets it right. In this example, the dog often has no clue why he’s getting punished. It also relies on the use of painful consequences, such as a collar correction, which Ian says (and I agree) are unnecessary for dog training.

Then, there’s the “new way,” of rewarding the desired responses and ignoring the rest. Shaping falls into this category, and Ian isn’t a fan of it. He believes that dogs find shaping frustrating due to the lack of feedback when the trainer is silent. While I certainly believe that it would be frustrating to go “several minutes” without a click, if you find this happening during your shaping sessions, you’re doing it wrong. Shaping should split the criteria up into tiny increments; I once heard Kathy Sdao say that, during a shaping session, you should be clicking roughly every three to five seconds.

Ian also said that he doesn’t like shaping because if you click the wrong thing once, the dog will persist with that action, and you’ll be stuck there for long periods of time. Certainly you get what you click, but a single mis-click is pretty easy to overcome, especially if your criteria is split out well and your rate of reinforcement is high.

Finally, there’s the Ian’s preferred method: using both rewards and punishment. He believes using both helps the dog figure out the task faster. Keep in mind that he believes it’s possible to punish the dog without pain, so he is not combining collar corrections with treats. Instead, he’s using feedback that is instructive and analog, and he uses his voice to accomplish this.

Basically, he uses his language and his emotions to provide feedback to the dog. Not only can he tell the dog if he’s right or wrong, but also how well he did. This allows Ian to let the dog know whether the behavior was average or if it was truly exceptional. It also allows us to inform the dog how serious his misbehavior was, ranging from, “that wasn’t quite it” to “holy crap, that was dangerous!” Ian says this allows the dog to receive far more information about his actions than a simple click and treat, or a buzz and shock from a collar.

Personally, when I’m teaching Maisy new tasks, I use primarily shaping. I do not tell her when she’s getting it “wrong”- but then, I don’t think a dog can be wrong when shaping anyway, since the whole point is that the dog is supposed to offer behaviors and you choose the ones you want to work with. I have tried using no reward markers- when you tell the dog they’re on the wrong track- but I found that they cause Maisy to give up. However, I do add verbal feedback when Maisy does something amazing. Click- jackpot- and lots of praise. Although Ian seems to believe clicker trainers don’t do this- and maybe purists don’t, I guess I don't know for sure- I don’t see why I can’t use my voice in conjunction with clicker training.

As for what I do when Maisy performs a known behavior incorrectly, well, that’s a discussion for another day. Ian talked a lot about how he approaches this: he uses what he formerly called an “instructive reprimand.” However, once he found out that people interpreted “reprimand” to mean something harsh, like yelling, he renamed the method “repetitive reinstruction as negative reinforcement.” This is a very interesting method, and it deserves its own post. I’ll do that very soon.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about how you give your dog feedback, especially when teaching new behaviors. I know there are many ways to train, and I can’t wait to hear how different people approach this!


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

As I wrote earlier I completely agree with you that shaping does not have to end up with frustrated dogs! If the dog isn't getting constant feedback then you're doing it wrong!

And while some dogs do great with no reward markers, I don't think you need them in the learning phase for most dogs. It inhibits behavior and I want the dog completely free in their thinking. If a dog gets stuck then I must not be explaining it right and I don't think a no reward marker is going to help us find that right answer.

I do talk a lot during training sessions, I just can't shut up. While I think the dog loves hearing my enthusiasm, I do wonder if it hurts the marker any. About a quarter of the time I click and say yes with my own dogs, and at work it is upped to about 75% of the time for some unknown reason to me. I guess I do very little free shaping at work, mainly because the dogs don't come to me experienced with it, so maybe that has something to do with my talking more parallel with the marker.

I also haven't noticed that the dog is any more likely to do the next one closer to the final goal if I jackpot and make a huge deal out of the previous performance. It may create more enthusiasm but i don't think they thought any harder!

Original_Wacky said...

I don't tend to reprimand, but I will use a soft touch to get my dogs' attention if they are over-excited or something. For example, when Missy or Lassie are in BARKBARKBARK mode, I'll often lay my hand on their nose and tell them, "Quiet" in a calm tone. It seems to help. I'm not sure if that is considered punishment though, because these dogs love pets, and once distracted from barking, they tend to forget to start again. LOL

kat said...

Hey crystal I found that video. I'm not sure if this is a proper growl class?? anyway it's definitely flooding and I feel pretty sorry for the dog. i don't think it actually changes it's perceptions of the other dogs. I just hope that he doesn't resort to biting a dog some day because barking is now not good enough to drive the dogs away.

Crystal said...

Kat, I don't think it is. If you look at the very end of the video, the dog is wearing a prong collar. I would suspect that in the five minutes they don't show on the video, there's some pretty nasty punishment going on.

I have no idea what Ian Dunbar might do in a growl class, but I'm confident that it doesn't include the use of a prong.

Kristen said...

Ken R has done a great piece of a talk on NRM at expo. There've been a few times when I've considered using it.... b ut ultimately I haven't had to yet.

We try that 15-20 clicks-per-minute when shaping a new behavior, but it doesn't always happen. I have the bad habit of talking more when people are watching. Bad because it's only happening there and it's completely non relevant to what's going on.

Crystal said...

LAURA- I have no idea if jackpots do anything other than make me feel good. But, they can't hurt, so what the heck, right?

ORIGINAL WACKY- I'll post more on punishment soon, but no. I don't think that's acting as punisher for your dogs. For it to be a punisher, the behavior must decrease. And, if they like the touch, it would actually be acting as a reinforcer.

KRISTEN- I'll have to check out Ken Ramirez at Clicker Expo. He has a session that might focus on NRMs (the audience gets to choose four topics off a list) that I think I'll go to. I'm sure NRMs can work, but I'm not a good enough trainer to use them yet.

kat said...

I didn't notice that prong collar!! ok so growl class is not the same. It would be good to actually see some footage from one.

on another note dogs can't understand what we're saying half the time so I don't see the point of muddying the waters with waffling when you could give much clearer indications of what you want with the clicker, it certainly works better for my dog - he just tunes me out if I talk too much!

Crystal said...

Kat- I totally agree. I prefer my clicker to my voice a lot of the time. There are certainly times where I either can't help myself or it's more advantageous to use my voice, but overall, I do like what the clicker communicates.

Ashley Hiebing said...

I've found that the more competent I get with the clicker, the less I need to lure. In fact, I feel that it is all the luring that I used to do that makes my dog frustrated. He is not thinking for himself and expecting me to show him what to do.

The frustration has lessened now that I'm getting better at splitting and maintaining a high rate of reinforcement.

I have a lot of respect for Dr. Dunbar, but your posts are making me think I won't go out of my way to see one of his seminars ;)

Crystal said...

Hi, Ashley!

My dog and I both struggled to move from luring to shaping, too. I know what you mean about the dog seeming frustrated at first. Luring is much more passive for the dog- wait to be told what to do- whereas shaping requires thinking. I found that my dog became more confident as she got rewarded for initiating behaviors.

As for going to one of his seminars- I'm glad I had the experience simply because of who he is. That said, I probably won't go see him again. I'm not his target audience.