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!