Resurgence and Regression: Understanding Extinction So You Can Master It
This is Part 3 of a 15 Part series.
Part 1: The Elevator Question
Part 2: The Translation to Horses: Is Personality Expressed or Suppressed?
Part 3: Unraveling the Regression Mess
Part 3: Unraveling the Regression Mess
Emitted Versus Permitted Behavior
What are the keys to unraveling the regression mess?
The first is to tighten up your training and learn how to set up the environment so the behavior you want is the behavior that is most likely to occur. Jesús made the distinction between emitted and permitted behaviors.
When behavior is emitted, you are waiting to see what the learner offers. When behavior is permitted, you set up the environment so the behavior you want is the behavior that is most likely to occur.
If you’re waiting, waiting, waiting for the dog to sit or the horse to step on a mat, you may see lots of experimenting before you get something you want to click. All that experimenting can end up as part of a chain. And it could also lead to a regression into previously learned, but unwanted behavior.
With the horses we begin with very simple, easily isolated behaviors such as targeting and backing. We set up the environment so the behavior is likely to occur. You aren’t surfing an extinction wave of behaviors. Your horse doesn’t have to do a lot of guessing. The right answer is obvious and easy.
In those first lessons I have people start out with only twenty treats. That limits how much training you can do. Before your horse can get too confused or frustrated, you’re stepping away to get another round of treats.
You’re also using that time while you refill your pouch to assess what just occurred. That first targeting session is just data collecting. You’re finding out if that’s a good starting point, or perhaps you need to find a different lesson. A horse that is very shut down, or becomes easily stressed when he’s not told exactly what to do, may need you to start with an even simpler step than targeting. This is a horse that may need to have the clicker carefully charged first by simply feeding one treat after another. Once he’s showing interest in the food, you’ll add the clicker in. Now it’s: click then feed, click then feed. At this point the click is not yet contingent on a specific behavior. You are simply pairing the click with the food.
Once you think your horse is noticing the click and anticipating the food, you’ll begin to turn the click into a functional marker signal. You’ll begin to pair it with the behavior. You’ll pick something easy such as targeting, or perhaps a slight moving of his head away from your treat pouch. It should be something you know you can get so the transition from charging the clicker to using it is a seamless one.
Designing an appropriate lesson plan is just part of the solution. You also need to have clean handling skills and good timing. Clicking late, clicking the wrong thing, clicking because you haven’t clicked for a while – all of these things will confuse your learner and lock in more unwanted behavior. So work on your handling skills. Practice first, preferably in front of a mirror. Borrow a friend to be your “horse”. Use your video camera so you can review what you are doing. When your handling is quiet, clean, organized, and second nature, that’s what your training will become – quiet, clean, organized, and second nature.
Broadening the Repertoire
Good handling is part of the solution. Another is to develop a broad repertoire of behaviors. The more skills you teach your horse, the more options he’ll have besides aggression. Instead of regressing into aggressive responses, he’ll have other options that work. This is where trust the process begins to make sense. We’ve all read the stories. Someone has been struggling with a horse, not seeing much progress, and then the pieces all fall into place. Instead of snapping at his handler, he’s backing up politely and dropping his head. Instead of pulling away, he’s offering beautiful lateral flexions. The older repertoire is still there. Given the right triggers, you might still see him regressing back into “childhood”, just as that professor regressed back when she was trapped in an elevator. But you’ve given him more tools. That broader repertoire gives him more options. He’ll regress back to head lowering not aggression.
There were many more gems in Jesús’ talk, but this was a good one. I’ll stop here for now and let you enjoy it.
Coming Soon: Part 4: Extinction and Shaping
Please note: If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites: