JOY Full Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 8

Mastering Extinction
Extinction happens all the time.  When you withhold your click, you set up an extinction process.

If you are unclear about your criteria or clumsy in your handling skills, you could be setting up your learner for a macro extinction process with all of the painful emotions that go along with it.

Or you could be using a micro extinction strategy to help shape a more complex behavior.  In this case you are using extinction to your advantage.  Extinction doesn’t have to be something you avoid.  It can be something you actively use to create more complex behavior patterns.

In yesterday’s post I described the PORTL games that Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz  uses to help his students understand principles of behavior.  In his talks he shares some fascinating PORTL experiments to illustrate the difference between resurgence and regression.

Experiment One: Resurgence
The learner was taught a series of behaviors:

Behavior 1: tapping a small block. Once that behavior was confirmed, the block was removed and a toy car was placed on the table.

Behavior 2 was rolling the toy car over the table top.  When the car was brought out for the first time, there was a small extinction burst of tapping the car, but the learner quickly shifted to pushing it.  Pushing a car is an easy guess for what you would do with this kind of object.

When that behavior appeared to be solid, the car was removed and a third object, a key, was placed on the table.  Now the behavior was lifting.  Fingering a key is a normal response to this kind of object so it was easy to get the learner first to touch the key and then to lift it up off the table.  Once the learner was consistently lifting the key, that object was removed and a fourth one was introduced.

Behavior 4 involved the learner putting a wooden ring on her finger.  The learner quickly figured this out and began to consistently offer this behavior.

When each of these behaviors seemed solid – tapping the block, pushing the car, lifting the key, putting a ring on her finger – the trainer reviewed, one at a time, what the learner was to do with each of the objects.

The trainer then placed all four objects out on the table, but not in the order in which they had been taught.  The trainer observed the learner’s behavior.  She did not give any feedback or reinforcement of any kind.  The point was to see in what order the learner would interact with each object.

The result:  The learner went first to object 1/behavior 1, then moved to object 2/behavior 2, then object 3/behavior 3/and finally object 4/behavior 4.

So even though that wasn’t the left to right order in which the objects were set out, that was the order in which the learner interacted with them.

The conclusion: when you have not gone through an extinction process for the behaviors you are using, when you have instead reinforced them, and then you remove reinforcement, you get a resurgence of these previously reinforced behaviors.  They reoccur in the order in which they were trained.  

Now here’s the fun part.  When you instead extinguish the individual behaviors, you get the opposite result.  Now you see regression.  The individual will go back to the most recently learned behavior.  If that doesn’t work, he’ll go a little further back, and then a little further back – thus revealing his training history.

In resurgence the behaviors occur in the order in which they were taught, so the oldest behavior in the cluster occurs first.

In regression the order reverses.  The most recently taught behavior reappears first.

These differences are illustrated in the second experiment.

Experiment Two: Regression
After a series of behaviors have been learned, this experiment again puts the learner through an extinction process.  In the initial set up each time the learner is moved on to a new task, an extinction process is used to eliminate the previous behavior.  Here’s the experiment:

The trainer sets out one item on the table.  The learner begins to manipulate it, trying to find out what is going to be clickable.  The trainer doesn’t click any of this creativity. She waits instead for it to extinguish and then clicks for one simple behavior – touching the object with one finger. That is the “hot” action.

The trainer clicks and reinforces for successful approximations until she has achieved a high degree of consistency in touching the object with one finger.

This was the set up for the experiment.  In the next phase she sets ten different objects out in a circle, including the one they had just been working with.  The learner begins by touching the familiar object.  That gets clicked and reinforced several times, then the trainer stops reinforcing for that object.  She is using extinction to eliminate that behavior.  The learner begins by experimenting, touching various objects, but she only gets clicked for touching the one that was immediately next to the previously hot object in a counter clockwise direction.

The learner switches over to this object and begins touching it consistently.

So now the handler stops reinforcing for this object and only reinforces for the next object on the circle.  The learner again experiments and then discovers that the only object that she gets paid for touching is the third one on the circle.

When this is consistent, the handler again stops reinforcing for touching this object.  The learner is catching on to the overall pattern. Now she moves more quickly to the fourth object and discovers that is the “hot” one to touch.

They continue counter clockwise around the circle until every object has been the “hot” one once and touching it has also been extinguished.

At this point the handler stops reinforcing altogether and simply observes the learner’s behavior.  The result: the learner quickly switches to moving clockwise around the circle, touching the objects in the reverse order in which she learned them.  So she learned them originally counter clockwise: object 1, then object 2, then object 3, then object 4, etc.

Now she was touching them clockwise: object 10 – object 9 – object 8 – object 7, etc.  She isn’t getting clicked for any of these touches, but the pattern is very persistent.

So again: in the first experiment where the behaviors were taught, but not extinguished, the learner went through them in the order in which they had originally been learned.

In the second experiment where behaviors were extinguished, the learner went through them in the reverse order.

You won’t find these distinctions in the scientific literature. These two extinction outcomes, resurgence versus regression, are something Jesús and his students have been revealing by playing PORTL games.

Mind Games
Again Play is the key here.  PORTL may have a serious purpose behind it, but these are games.  All the creativity that comes with play is woven into these experiments.  It may turn out that others playing with similar set ups will have different results.  That’s a good thing.  That simply raises more questions, more puzzles to solve.

Do you have a question about how something works? Great. Design an experiment, test it a few times to work out the kinks in the procedure, and then invite your friends over for a pizza and PORTL party.  In the course of an evening you could have enough data to write a paper!

I do like the new twist Jesús has given to this version of the training game.  As he has pointed out, we’ve been using lab rats to learn about human behavior.  Now we are using humans to model animal behavior. Turnabout is fair play.  Much better to frustrate an undergrad than some poor lab rat!

Coming Next: Eureka Moments!  What is Insight?

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Understanding Extinction Part 7

The Training Game
I’ve mentioned training games several times.  The original clicker training game was a close cousin to the children’s game “Hot and Cold”.  The learner was sent out of ear shot while the rest of the group chose a goal behavior.  When the learner returned, the only instructions she was given were to offer behavior.  If she did something that her designated trainer liked, she would be clicked. She was then to go to her handler for a treat.

I’ve seen situations where the learner got the behavior seamlessly.  One easy click after another led the learner directly to the goal behavior.  I’ve seen other situations where the same behavior tripped people up completely.

When we train our animals, we want the first scenario – seamless, successful training.  That’s what we want for our equine learners.  But in the training game, we often learn the most when we experience clumsy shaping.  It can be frustrating to struggle through a session that lacks a clear training plan, but you do gain a great appreciation for what NOT to do.

Genabacab
Kay Laurence developed a different style of training game.  In this one trainer and learner are seated opposite one another at a table.  Instead of acting out the behavior like a game of charades, the learner manipulates objects which the trainer has set out on the table.

alex-genabacab-with-caption

Kay always has great fun collecting objects for the table game.  She has small plastic fruits and cakes, toy cars, small cones, plastic insects of various varieties.  It’s a colourful mixture that she hands over to her trainers.  When I play the table game at clinics, I raid the host’s kitchen junk drawer.  My toys aren’t as much fun as Kay’s, but they serve the purpose just as well.

Kay calls her game Genabacab.  It has very few instructions and really only one rule: the only person who is allowed to talk is the learner. The trainer and spectators are not to give any verbal hints or to discuss what is going on until afterwards.

The table game lets you work out shaping plans BEFORE you go to your animal.  Do you want to learn how to attach a cue to a behavior and then change that cue to a new cue? You can work out the process playing the table game and spare your animals the frustration of your learning curve.

Kay has described workshops at her training center where someone arrives with a “how do I teach this?” type of question.  Maybe the handler wants to teach match to sample, or she wants to see if her dog can indicate which object is bigger or smaller.  Instead of going straight out to the dog and confusing it with missteps and false starts, everyone in the group will pull out their Genabacab games. Kay says people will often spend half the day happily absorbed in developing the best teaching strategies for their dogs.  The dogs spend the day relaxing while their people work away at the puzzle.  It’s only once the process is well understood, that the dogs are brought in for training.

PORTL
Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and his students at the University of North Texas have been using Genabacab to understand basic principles of behavior.  He wants to bring the game to the scientific community as a research tool, so he gave his version a new name:  PORTL – Portable Operant Research and Teaching Laboratory.   Kay still has her Genabacab for teaching her canine handlers and Jesús has PORTL for teaching behavior analysis.  On the surface they are similar games, but they serve different functions.

Animal studies are increasingly difficult to do because of ethical concerns and expense.  PORTL offers an alternative for research.  You can have a question about how a particular process works, design an experiment using the PORTL game, and in hour’s time have gathered enough data to write a paper – all without frustrating a single lab rat. Now that’s progress!

His students meet on a regular basis to play PORTL games. When they turned their attention to the extinction process, they made some interesting discoveries.

In one game, the learner was shaped to place one hand over the other – right hand over left, and then to reverse it – left hand over right.  The behavior was put on a fixed ratio of 5, meaning the learner was clicked and reinforced on every fifth swap of hands.

The second task was tapping a block.  Again the learner was put on a fixed ratio of 5. (The learner was to tap the block five times for each click and treat.)

The trainer then increased the ratio for the tapping to 30. The learner began to tap the block, but now there was no click and treat after 5 taps.  The learner kept going to about 13 taps.  At that point she began to experiment.  She reverted back to swapping hands.  Then she tried a few more taps, before going back to hand swaps.  She tapped the block a few more times.  The trainer was still keeping track so each of these taps was counting towards the count of 30 she was looking for.

In the twenties the learner began to be creative.  She tried different ways to move hand over hand.  She’d go back and forth between experimenting with hand swaps and tapping the block.  Finally she reached a count of 30 at which point her handler clicked and reinforced her.  All the extra gunk was also chained in.  Now as the handler kept reinforcing the tapping of the block, the frequency of the hand swapping also skyrocketed.  That behavior was no longer being intentionally reinforced, but it increased right along with the tapping.

Now you may be thinking:  “Well that’s just poor training.  No one is going to jump from a fixed ratio of 5 to one of 30.” My response would be to say that this can happen inadvertently.

Suppose a handler has had a behavior on a high rate of reinforcement. The horse is responding on a consistent basis, but then he’s distracted. He’s no longer offering the same consistent response.  Instead the handler is seeing a string of unwanted behaviors.  Sometimes the horse almost meets criterion, but not enough to click. And then he comes through with the right answer.  The handler captures that moment with a click and a treat.  The question is: what is the long term result of that click? Has the handler just identified a single clickable moment or has she chained in a long string of “junk” behavior?

The horse’s future responses will answer that particular question, but Jesús’ response in general is: if you want clean behavior, you need to train in clean loops.  Kay and I would add that you need to microshape.  You need to learn to set up your training so the behavior you want is the behavior you get.

Here’s a link to a great youtube video of  a PORTL game presented by Mary Hunter.   Many of you will know Mary from her StaleCheerios.com blogs. Mary is president of The Art and Science of Animal Training, the organization that puts on the annual conference of that same name in Dallas TX.  She and Jesús will be presenting a program on PORTL at this year’s clicker Expos.

Coming Next: Mastering Extinction

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL HORSES: Understanding Extinction – Part 5

Using “Hot” Behaviors

The Measure of Success
When horses are engaged in a successful shaping session, it can seem as though they never stop eating.  If you aren’t familiar with clicker training it can look as though the handler is constantly clicking and treating.  Don’t they ever stop feeding?  How is this going to work?  How do you raise criteria if you’re always feeding?

In a good shaping session the next criterion you’re going to shift to is already occurring a high percentage of the time BEFORE you make it the new standard.  Suppose I’m working on grown-ups, and I’ve decided that I want my horse to have his ears forward.  That’s a great goal, but if I abruptly stop clicking for good head position because the ears are back, guess what I’ll get – more pinned ears.  Why? Because I’m frustrating my horse and that emotion is expressed through pinned ears.

I’ll also get him swinging his head, nudging my arm, pawing etc., all the behaviors that I thought I had extinguished as I was building my grown-ups.

Using “Hot” Behaviors
What is the solution?  I could begin by separating out ears from other criterion. During casual exchanges when we aren’t in a formal training session, every time I see my horse with his ears forward, click, I’ll reinforce him.  If I’m walking past his stall and he puts his ears forward, click, he’ll get a treat. Pretty soon I’ll see that my presence is triggering ears forward.  I’ve made it a “hot” behavior.

So, now if I withhold the click in grown-ups, I’m likely to get a resurgence of “hot” behaviors.  I’m still using extinction, but I’ve set my horse up for success. The behavior that is going to pop out is the one I’ve recently made “hot” – in this case ears forward.

Click For What You Already Have
I won’t even shift my focus to ears forward until they are already occurring at a high frequency.  My goal is to have him standing beside me with his ears forward, but initially I’m happy if he simply takes his nose away from my arm.

As I click him for keeping his head directly between his shoulders, some variability is going to come into the overall behavior.  Sometimes he’ll have his head slightly higher, or lower, his ears forward or back.  I may be so busy monitoring the orientation of his head, I won’t even notice what he is doing with his ears.

As his head stabilizes and his overall orientation becomes more consistent, I’ll be able to take in more of these subtle variations. The movement of his ears pricking forward will catch my attention.  I’ll become increasingly aware of what he is doing with his ears.  If they are almost always pinned, there’s no point in making ears forward the next criterion.  I’ll be surfing a long extinction wave before ears forward pops out. In fact for something like ears, the more frustrated he becomes, the less likely they are to go forward.

So I’ll “prime the pump” instead.  I’ll make ears forward a hot behavior.  Now when he’s in grown-ups, if I make ears forward the next criterion, I’ll be withholding my click for only a second or two.  My horse won’t be perceiving the event as unpleasant or frustrating. The click will shift seamlessly to the new criterion.  That slight moment of extinction causes my horse to surf through current “hot” behaviors. I’m using resurgence, but in a way that sets the horse up to have success build on success.

Coming Next: Cues and Extinction

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 4

Extinction: Big, Small and Accidental

Accidental Extinction
Extinction is not a rarity.  Extinction is going on all the time, but we aren’t always aware of it.  Suppose you’re working with your horse. Perhaps you’re in the early stages of clicker training and the focus of your lesson is “grown-ups are talking”.  You’re walking a few steps, stopping and asking your horse to stand quietly with his nose centered between his shoulders.  He’s been doing well.  You’re almost done with the session when your cell phone rings.   You answer it, taking your attention away from your horse.

Your horse doesn’t realize that you’ve disconnected from him.  You haven’t gone through a teaching process to tell him that the ring tone of your cell phone is a cue for him to take a nap.  While you are on the phone, you will not be engaging with him.  Your horse doesn’t know this, and he doesn’t understand why the flow of your session has so abruptly changed.

He offers you a nice bit of “grown-ups” that meets all the previous criteria, but you aren’t paying any attention.  He doesn’t get clicked.  He tries harder, maybe throwing in some head lowering.  That doesn’t work either so he tries some earlier experiments – some head bobbing, some lip flapping, some gentle nudging, and finally a hard nudge.  That gets your attention, but now you’re thinking what an impatient, muggy horse you have!

Your horse is offering “rude” behavior, bumping, nudging your arm, snuffling around your pockets.  He’s scrolling through the behaviors that he’s tried in the past.  You click something, anything out of desperation.

What you are reinforcing is not just that single moment, but all the scrolling through his repertoire he’s been doing trying to get you to click. You have just locked into your future training all those other unwanted behaviors.  It’s going to be very hard to convince your horse to put into moth balls those unwanted segments. They’ve become an instant part of the whole sequence.  If the current behavior isn’t working, scroll through all your past mugging behavior.  That will get your person’s attention back where it belongs – on you!  That’s what he has just learned through that one desperation click.

Case in point: Jesús showed a video of an experienced trainer teaching a dog to retrieve a dumbbell.  The dog had been successfully delivering the dumbbell to the handler, but now she wanted to raise the criterion and have the dog place it more firmly in her hands. When the dog did not get reinforced for the usual behavior, he dropped the dumbbell, did a quick head bob, and then picked the dumbbell up again. Just as the handler clicked, the dog sat. Oh oops!

She lowered her criteria.  The dog handed her the dumbbell, but now he was also sitting as he did so.  Her hand reaching to take the dumbbell had in one click become a cue to sit.

Mini versus Maxi Extinctions
When the dog started offering behavior to get his handler to click, that’s the extinction process at work.  We don’t tend to think of it in this way.  To develop the behavior we are training we actively want the offering of behavior.  Shaping depends upon differential reinforcement.  The dog offers a head bob, a paw lift, a sit.  We pick and choose among these behaviors.  We think of extinction as something separate, something to be avoided. It’s a long drawn out process with lots of painful emotions associated with it.

Jesús wants us to understand that the process can occur in seconds. When you are shaping, you are working with mini extinctions.  When learners are offering behavior, they are going through a resurgence process.  You don’t have to go hours or even minutes for the extinction process to begin.  It happens in seconds.

My ears perked up the first time I heard Jesús talk about extinction in this way.  I love this concept of mini extinctions.  It fits with microshaping and shaping on a point of contact.  All three are learner-friendly because they make use of thin slicing and create high rates of reinforcement.

We looked at Microshaping in previous sections (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/11/10/).  Kay Laurence stresses that it’s not thin slicing alone that defines microshaping.  It is high rates of reinforcement.  In microshaping Kay wants a success rate of 98% or higher. To get that you have to be very skilled at setting up the training environment.  The learner is not surfing through a long series of behaviors trying to find the one that is “hot”.

Instead the learner is set up to keep giving correct responses. There are very few opportunities for unwanted behaviors to creep in.

Kay contrasts microshaping with what she refers to as sloppy or dirty shaping. Here the handler lets the animal offer behavior after behavior looking for the one that will satisfy the criterion.  I’ve always been uncomfortable watching people freeshape in this clumsy fashion.  They miss so many opportunities to click because they are looking for too much.

Now Jesús has helped me understand why this type of shaping makes me so uncomfortable.  Mini extinctions are part of puzzle solving.  But they are mini. Success happens frequently so the frustration level stays low.  You could in fact see it as a positive motivator.  That little bit of: “is it this or is it that?” leads to a feeling of satisfaction each time you make the right choice.

Contrast that with macro extinction.  Now it’s not “this or that, or this other solution either.”  In fact nothing you try seems to work.  The frustration level rises to a level that takes away the fun. You can see this when you play shaping games with people who are new to training.  It’s supposed to be a fun experience, but when the one doing the clicking doesn’t have a clear plan, it’s anything but.

Training Game Mishaps
Suppose you’re the learner in one of these games.  The person who is acting as your trainer sets a teacup on the table. You get clicked a couple of times for touching the teacup.  Okay, so far so good.  The teacup is clearly a “hot” item, but what are you supposed to do with it?

You try turning the teacup, picking it up, turning it upside down.  Nothing works.  You pretend to drink out of it, you spin it, you hold it delicately with your little finger out, you scoot it over the table. Nothing gets clicked.  Your frustration rises in direct contrast to your willingness to play the game.  You’re in a macro extinction that can be painful to watch.  You go back through the history you have with teacups.  What else can you try?  Nothing is working.  You want to give up or better yet throw the tea cup at your trainer!

This offering of behavior is part of the extinction process.  You are experiencing a resurgence of previously reinforced behaviors.  In the teacup example, when you were no longer reinforced for just touching the teacup, when reinforcement for that behavior stopped, you tried things that you had done with tea cups or tea cuplike objects in the past. But in this case your trainer is a new shaper.  She is outcome oriented, so she is looking for big macro responses. She doesn’t yet know how to set her learner up to give her the small reaction patterns that would lead seamlessly to an end goal.  The result is an unhappy and very frustrated learner.  Both the learner and the trainer go away feeling unsuccessful, and they both vow never to play the training game again!

Micro Extinctions
When someone is shaping and they want to raise the criterion, they stop reinforcing for a behavior that was just successful. The learner goes through a resurgence/regression process.  She begins to offer other behaviors that have worked in the past.  People tend to think of extinction as happening over a long period of time, but Jesús kept emphasizing that it happens over seconds.  Two to three seconds is all you need for a mini extinction. You’ll begin to see the learner offering behavior other than the one that was just being reinforced.

Again, this got my attention.  I don’t like the frustration you see when a puzzle appears to be unsolvable.  Shaping shouldn’t be marked by sharp drop offs in reinforcement.  I don’t want to see macro extinctions.  If reinforcement is that sticky, it’s time to change your lesson plan.  Either put the horse away altogether while you go have a think, or regroup by shifting to another activity.  If you keep waiting, waiting, waiting until your learner finally gets close to the answer, you could lock in some unwanted behavior, and you will almost certainly lock in some unwanted emotions.

What are some good teaching strategies that help you avoid the frustration of macro extinctions, and that lead you instead to the elegant use of micro extinctions?  That’s what we’ll be exploring in the next section.

Coming Next: Using “Hot” Behaviors

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY Full Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 2

Yesterday’s post ended with a quote from Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz: “If you don’t understand extinction, you won’t be able to master it.”  Today’s post will begin to unravel what that means.

Regression and Resurgence
I’ve talked about regression in previous posts.  Now we need to add in resurgence and the distinction between them.

In regression you revert back to previously extinguished behaviors.

In resurgence you revert back to previously reinforced behavior.

This isn’t just semantics.  According to Jesús regression and resurgence emerge out of different training strategies and produce different outcomes.

Regression can be defined as: “If the present behavior is not capable of getting reinforcement, one reverts to older forms of response which were once effective, but which have previously been extinguished.” The order in which this unfolds is significant.

Under stress you will revert to an older way of behaving.  If that behavior is not reinforced, you’ll go through another extinction process.  You’ll revert back to even older behaviors. You’ll keep trying things and trying things, until you either give up entirely, or you are pushed to creativity.  This can be a stressful process which is why some people equate creativity with an unpleasant experience.  If you were to suggest to them that they take a creative writing class, they would be running for the hills!  In their experience there’s nothing fun about being creative.  How very sad!

Extinction History
Regression emerges because a behavior which normally earns reinforcement is no longer working.  Often we think of extinction as simply a procedure that’s intended to reduce behavior.  You don’t like a dog’s barking so you never reinforce it in the hope that the behavior will go away.  This simplistic view misses an important key to understanding how to use extinction. A dog that isn’t barking is still doing something.  What is the “something” that takes the place of the barking?  The behaviors that emerge in an extinction process are not random. Understanding the order lets you master the process.

Jesús described extinction as the mirror image of reinforcement.

Extinction tells you what was reinforced in the past.

Reinforcement tells you what behaviors you are building for the future.

I wrote about this is previous posts.  (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/11/17/)  When you are first learning about clicker training, if your handling confuses the horse and puts him into an extinction process, you are revealing his past.   You may see his frustration expressed as pawing, pinned ears, even occasionally biting.  Don’t blame yourself for the outburst. You didn’t create the behavior you’re now dodging.  Turn your spotlight instead on his past.  That’s where the behavior was learned.

The Catalyst, Not the Cause
You may be the catalyst, but you are not the cause.  That’s good news. You don’t have to take his behavior personally. The cause sits not in the present, but in the past. It’s only natural to become worried by the emotional reaction you’re seeing. People sometimes inadvertently end up compounding the problem. If their handling skills are clumsy or they don’t yet know how to manage the environment, they can put the horse into even more of an extinction process.

I’ve seen this in beginner handlers.  They don’t yet understand how much a lack of clear criteria can impact a learner.  Everything starts out so wonderfully.  The horse gets clicked and reinforced for touching a target.   What fun!  But then the handler gets distracted.  She misses three or four clickable moments.  Those missed clicks can put the horse into an extinction process that leads to emotional outbursts. That’s where video cameras can be so useful. Video helps the handler see the training from the horse’s point of view.  It reveals the good tries he’s offering and helps the handler understand more clearly what needs to be reinforced.

The solution to the extinction puzzle lies in embracing clicker training.  Through clicker training you’ll be building a repertoire of behaviors that gives the horse alternatives to his old patterns. Instead of reverting back to behaviors you don’t want, now the extinction process will be popping out behaviors you’ve planted, behaviors you like and that you can reinforce.  Suddenly, you aren’t in an extinction process anymore.  You’re back on track with high rates of reinforcement.

This will take bit more unraveling of the extinction puzzle to understand.

Coming Next: Extinction Reveals the Past

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

 

JOY FULL Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 1

Today’s post begins the final chapter of JOY Full Horses, but don’t worry about the book ending too soon.  I still have a month’s worth of posts to go.  The first installment went up January 3, 2016.  I thought maybe I’d be done around April. Ha!  I hadn’t realized how much work was going to be involved in putting up each post.  My goal is to finish by January 3, 2017.  We’ll see if I make it.  In the meantime, if you have friends who would enjoy reading the JOY Full Horses blogs, do share the links.   The more the merrier in this Holiday season!

Enjoy this next installment.

Extinction and Shaping
In the last couple of posts I’ve been sharing with you a presentation given by Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz on extinction.  Many clicker trainers will say they never use extinction.  I know I work hard to set up my training so horses aren’t put into the kind of guessing game that leads to outbursts of frustration and aggression.  That’s something I very much want to avoid. But that doesn’t mean I don’t use extinction. That’s what Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz makes so clear when he talks about resurgence and regression.

To the people who say they never use extinction, his response is: “What do you mean you never use extinction!  Extinction is at the heart of shaping.  Shaping is differential reinforcement. It’s the interplay between positive reinforcement and extinction.  So if someone says they aren’t using extinction, probably they don’t understand what they are saying.”

That’s such a wonderfully blunt and typical Jesús comment. Thankfully he doesn’t leave people just with that.  He goes on to explain what he means.  At the core of his presentations is this statement: “If you don’t understand extinction, you won’t be able to master it.”

So what does it means to master extinction, and how do you put it to use in a positive way?  That’s what I’ll be exploring in the coming posts.

Coming Soon: Regression and Resurgence

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Animal Emotions

Emotions: To Feel or Not To Feel – That Is The Question
When you begin talking about animal emotions, emotions run high.  The belief systems that have grown up around emotions are truly amazing.  In the past people have denied that animals even feel emotions.  They’ll tell you animals may feel pain, but they aren’t really aware that they feel pain.

Wait a minute.  What are they saying!?  That just made my head spin.

What nonsense.  Clearly these people have never been on a thoroughbred.  Thoroughbreds are wonderfully emotional creatures.  That’s their charm.  They let you know everything they are feeling – the excitement, the fear, the worry, the joy.  They truly “wear their emotions on their sleeve”.  To say that these wonderful horses are not aware of their emotions is nonsense.

With his work on the seven core Affective circuits, Jaak Panksepp has helped bring the discussion of emotions “out of the closet”.  Suddenly talking about emotions is the “in” thing.  If an animal is being “too emotional”, people will tell you you’re clearly doing something wrong in your training.

Wait a minute.  What did you say?  Too emotional.

Words are amazing.  They show us our belief systems.

Too emotional.  What does that mean?

One of the roles of a behavioral analyst is to make us think about the words we use.  Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz would say we are always emotional.  Emotions can be pleasant or unpleasant.  You can feel excited and agitated, calm and serene, but they are all emotions.

The Emotions of Extinction
We can look at a particular process, such as extinction.  Suppose you have been consistently reinforcing your horse for standing on a mat.  He has your undivided attention, so the clicks have been very consistent.  But now you’re interrupted.  Your friend has asked you to watch how her horse is trotting.  She’s not sure if he’s lame.

Your attention shifts away from your own horse.  He’s still standing on the mat, but now he’s not being reinforced.  You’ve just put him into the early stages of an extinction process.

While you’re focusing on your friend’s lame horse, your own horse is going through his most recent repertoire of behaviors.  What is going to work to get you paying attention to him?  He puts his ears forward, he poses, he drops his head, he paws, he nudges your arm.

While he’s presenting those obvious behaviors, he’s also experiencing emotions.  He’s feeling confused, then frustrated, then possibly angry.  If the extinction process continues on long enough, he may begin to feel helpless because nothing is working.  Finally, he’ll become resigned as he gives up and settles into a more subdued state of acceptance.

Extinction’s Emotional Pattern
We see this extinction process as a negative thing because it “produces emotions.”

Jesús reminds us that ALL processes produce emotions.  We tend to think about emotions when they are the size of a five alarm fire, but really we are always “being emotional”. There are emotions associated with ALL behaviors.  Ideally in training we’d like to avoid the five-alarm-fire type. That’s why it is so important to understand these processes.  The sooner you recognize that you are in an extinction process, the sooner you can do something to get out of it.

In extinction the individual (rat, human, horse, etc.) follows a predictable emotional pattern.

First, you see response bursting.

rat-pressing-leverHere’s what that means:  You are observing a rat that has been reinforced consistently for pressing a lever.  Abruptly the lever pressing no longer produces the expected result.

What does the rat do?  It presses the lever with even more energy trying to get it to work. This has been equated with the classic hitting the button over and over again on the vending machine when your coke doesn’t fall out.

In the next stage you get angry.  Now you’re kicking the coke machine.

Next you see regression.  Behaviors which have been useful to you in the past reappear.  What have you seen modeled? What is your past history when things like this fail?

Then there is a pause followed by another period of response bursting. Gradually the cycles become less pronounced.  Each phase becomes smaller both in scale and duration until the individual settles into a calmer stage of acceptance.

Grief
Some psychologists have equated this pattern with the stages people go through when they are grieving.  When you lose a loved one, a job, a home, you are thrown into an extinction process.  Your loved one is gone.  The reinforcers associated with that individual are gone, and your behavior is ineffective.  Nothing you can do will change the reality of your loss.

The stages of grief begin with denial, followed by anger, then depression, bargaining, and finally acceptance and a return to a meaningful life.

It’s interesting to see the comparison people make between the process of grief and the process of extinction. Understanding does bring with it coping skills.  If you understand the process you are in, you can keep things in perspective and find a faster way out of the worst of the emotional tangles.  You can also be more understanding towards others (horse or human) if they are caught up in an extinction or grief process.

One of my Click That Teaches coaches, Cindy Martin wrote:

“Your description of the process people and horses go through, when things don’t work the way they expected, was so accurate and yet so full of empathy. The more I do clicker training, and teach and share clicker training, the more I realize there are some very profound lessons in the process; forgiveness, compassion, consideration. Those occupy a deeper layer, beneath the observation, handling skills, planning and preparation.  Lately, I’ve been describing this type of clicker training, the kind that emphasizes details, and consideration for the learner, as ‘thoughtful clicker training.’”

When people ask Kay Laurence how she trained a particular behavior, the answer she often gives is: thoughtfully.  As we gain more of an understanding of this work, we converge along similar paths.  They all lead in the same direction – toward an ever deepening appreciation of others – whatever the species.

Coming Next: Understanding Extinction to Master Extinction

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com