Resurgence and Regression: Understanding Extinction So You Can Master It
From a presentation given by Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz during the 2014 Five Go To Sea Conference cruise.
Part 1: The Elevator Question
Part 2: The Translation to Horses: Is Personality Expressed or Suppressed?
Part 3: Unraveling the Regression Mess
Part 4: Extinction and Shaping
Part 5: Extinction Reveals The Past
Part 6: Accidental Extinction
Part 7: Emotions
Part 8: Training With High Rates Of Reinforcement
Part 9: Cues and Extinction
Part 10: PORTL
Part 11: Mastering Extinction
Part 12: Creativity Explored
Part 13: Degrees of Freedom
Part 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence
Part 15: Micro Masters
If you have not read the previous installments of this series, I suggest you begin with Part 1. Part 1 was published on May 21, 2015.
Part 15: Micro Masters
Jesús closed his presentation with two horse examples. The first was Robin’s “pose”. I’ve told the story of the “pose” many times. I’ll keep it brief here. Robin first learned a stationary “pose”. It originally was a by-product of cleaning up his treat taking manners when he was two years old. During the process he started “posing”, arching his neck and looking like a very pretty dressage horse. I liked the look so I continued to reinforce it. It became a default behavior. In the absence of any other active cue from me, if Robin posed, I would click and reinforce him. I became the cue for the behavior.
Offering “the pose” meant that if Robin wanted to interact with me and engage in the clicker game, he had a sure fire way of doing so. Even if I was busy doing barn chores, if I saw him posing, I would click and reinforce him. I never wanted him to feel like the proverbial toddler who is banging the kitchen pots and pans to get his mother’s attention. If Robin wanted attention from me, he had a behavior which he could use to satisfy his need for social interaction.
Because Robin wasn’t ignored, he didn’t go through an extinction process. I didn’t see a regression into the unwanted behaviors that macro extinctions can cause. Instead I was able to reinforce a behavior I liked, one that was a useful warm up for our formal training sessions. For his part Robin was confident that I would engage with him when he asked for attention.
Reinforcing him for the stationary pose went on through the winter. I didn’t have any plans for developing the behavior. It was simply something I liked. It was Robin who was the creative one!
It must have been late March. I was lunging him in the arena one evening. He was giving me a ho hum trot. There was nothing there I could reinforce. Robin went once around the circle, twice, three times without reinforcement. Normally I would have been clicking and reinforcing him at a much higher rate, but given the plow horse trot I was presented with, there was nothing there I wanted to say yes to.
At the time I would not have described it in these terms, but I was putting him into an extinction process. I could see him searching, trying to decide what to do. On the third time round he had the answer. He would try his pose. But in order to pose and still stay in the trot, he had to add energy. Within one stride he transformed into magazine-cover magnificence. I captured the moment with a click and the rest is history. The “pose” has evolved into a major component of my work. Robin showed us that we could indeed shape self carriage. What began as a happy accident for Robin has become a deliberate and very systematically trained behavior in other horses.
Our Creative Horses
When I first told this story to Jesús, he commented that the pose came out because of resurgence. At the time, I didn’t understand the significance of what he was saying, but I remembered what he said. And Jesús remembered the story. It got him thinking about the procedure and how we might use it to make deliberate use of resurgence. The result: we now have a systematic way of creating unlikely behaviors. The end result can look like magic, but there is good science behind it. Here are the steps:
First, you build a strong history of reinforcement for the component behaviors.
Next, you change the situation somewhat so extinction comes into play.
This generates a resurgence of previously reinforced behaviors. The result: new combinations emerge. That’s creativity. The most fun for me is seeing what the horses invent. They are often so much more creative than their human partners!
Seeing Familiar Landscapes with Fresh Eyes
Kay Laurence might say we are seeing familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.
Jesús would say you have to understand the process of extinction so you can master it. If you understand it, you won’t be frustrating your animals. Instead, you’ll know how to use extinction to generate complex behaviors.
I would say that monitoring the level of extinction your learner is experiencing is a keys-to-the-kingdom part of good training. I recently spent a couple of days working with a group of horses I have come to know well. One of them is a retired performance horse. Without going into a lot of details, I would describe him as an emotionally fragile horse. He’s easily worried. If he thinks he has the right answer, he’s a superstar, but I always have to be careful how far I stretch him into new behaviors. If he thinks he might get something wrong, he worries. He’s come out of a training environment in which he had to perform correctly or his rider could get seriously hurt. I suspect he was corrected for mistakes which accounts for his worry.
This past weekend I was working among other things on this horse’s pose. He’s very much got the idea that he gets reinforced for lifting up through his topline and releasing at the poll. I was holding out for slightly better versions. As I withheld my click, I saw him experimenting. Was it higher with his poll? Was it more lift of his back? What did I want?
The shifts he was giving me represented micro changes. The variations were all within a clickable range. Clicking him for any of these variations would not have been wrong, but I was waiting fractionally to see what else would pop out. I was using micro extinctions to create the next step. And because I was thinking about this in terms of extinction, I was monitoring closely how this related to his emotional level. I did not want him to become macro worried.
We were always just a second or two away from a click so I could let him experiment within a micro extinction without risking the emotional fallout of a larger extinction process.
Micro is so very much the key.
Macro extinctions are painful. Micro extinctions are part of good shaping.
Macro shaping can be frustrating. Micro shaping is elegant.
Macro negative reinforcement is literally painful. Micro is again good shaping.
When you go micro, your learner is always just a second or two away from a reinforceable moment. You can cue another behavior. You can click and treat. Either way, you are saying: “Yes! Great idea!” Micro mastery is what we should be striving for in our training. When you say someone is a great trainer, you are saying he is a Micro Master. In training that’s the “black belt” we should be aiming for.
(Note: this video was taken when Robin was three years old. He was not yet started under saddle. Also, he had never been in side reins or any of the other devices that are commonly used to lunge horses. This beautiful self-carriage was shaped entirely through clicker training. The dressage whips that I’m using serve as targets. They give Robin orientation points that help him maintain his balance relative to me.)
This concludes the report on Dr. Jesús Rosales’ Ruis’ 2014 presentation on Resurgence and Regression given at the Five Go To Sea conference cruise.
For information on the 2015 Five Go To Sea Alaska cruise visit fivegotosea.com
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: