JOY FULL Horses: Unit 10 – Part 2 of 5: What We Say

JOYFULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 10: Playing With Chains – Cues Evolve into Chains

What We Say
It’s ten p.m., an hour at which I should be heading off to bed, but I can’t leave yet.  I’m sitting in the faculty lounge at the Clicker Expo.  We’ve just come from dinner and a presentation by this year’s guest speaker.  After a full day of presentations you would think we would all be ready to call it a night, but instead we’re just getting warmed up.

Around the table with me are Dr. Susan Friedman, Ken Ramirez,  Eva Bertilsson, Kay Laurence, Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, and Laura Monico Torelli.

We are discussing terminology.  Eva got the ball rolling with a question about chains. We are wrestling with the different definitions of chains that are in use.

chain-2

Dr. Friedman is defining a chain from the perspective of a behavior analyst.  A chain has a very narrow and very specific meaning.  For a true chain, you give one cue that starts the process.  The next behavior is triggered by an internal cue.  It’s like dominoes.  You push over the first block and all the rest follow.

This type of chain can be very elegant to watch.  Imagine a series of agility obstacles set out in your arena.  You give your horse a cue that sends him out to the first obstacle, a small jump.  Just beyond the jump is a cone.  Your horse spots the cone as he clears the jump.  The cone itself serves as the cue for him to trot over to it, and pick it up.  Nearby is a large bucket.  He walks over to the bucket, drops the cone into the bucket.  A few feet past the bucket is a large platform.  Your horse now walks over to the platform, steps up onto it with all four feet, and lifts one foot high into the air while you click and run over with his treat.

That’s a technical chain.

Now imagine a different scenario.  You send your horse out over the first jump.  Just beyond the jump are two cones, a green one and a red one.  As your horse jumps, you shout “green”.  You’ve added a cue to tell your horse which cone he’s to pick up.  He heads straight over to the green cone, but now there are more choices.  Instead of one bucket, there are two identical ones, except one has a symbol of a circle painted on it, and the other a triangle.  As he picks up the green cone, you shout “circle”.  He walks over to the correct bucket and drops the cone in.

After this he again has more choices.  There are two platforms, one to the right and one to the left of the buckets.

You shout “Left”, and he walks over to the platform that’s off his left shoulder and steps up on it.

If you are using scientific terminology, this very sophisticated series of behaviors is not a chain because you are cueing each one.  It would be considered a sequence.

Our discussion rolled on around these two terms.  We all understood the distinctions.  The question was how fluid and flexible should we be with the language we use.

The Meaning of Words
In the field of learning theory scientists took for their own use many terms which already had a common-usage meaning.  Punishment is a great example.  When someone says we need to punish a child, a criminal, a terrorist, another country, the meaning is clear.  There is a moral element to it.  You don’t simply want to stop the behavior.  You want to impose a penalty.  You want the person to suffer in some way, to “pay” for his offense.  You are punishing the individual, not the behavior.

When a behavioral analyst uses the term, the meaning is very different.  There are no moral overtones of retribution.  If you smack a horse for biting, and the behavior decreases, you can say that the smack punished the biting behavior.  If the biting continues, the smack did not punish the behavior.  It may have annoyed or even frightened the horse, but if the behavior of biting didn’t decrease, the smack wasn’t a punisher.

When scientists take words that are already in common usage and redefine them, we can get a muddled result.  We also have confusion when scientists use words that we’re sort of familiar with, but not really.

A great example is operant conditioning.

That’s the big umbrella under which clicker training sits.  Operant sounds like operator.  And conditioning we understand from fitness programs.  But what do those two words put together really mean?

Look at what else happens when scientists start combining words we thought we understood.

Consider the four quadrants of operant conditioning: there’s positive and negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment.

Positive punishment!?  Really.

Okay, the scientists explain.  The positive means simply that something has been added.  You’re adding something the horse doesn’t want and that stops the behavior, at least for the moment.  You add the smack of your hand when your horse bites you.

That’s clear enough, except it’s hard not to feel the harsh “take that” edge when you even just think about smacking your horse.  We can say we understand the plus and minus of the terms, but we still experience emotions we’ve come to associate with the words: positive equals good, negative equals bad.  Of course people get confused by these terms!  They understand them intellectually, but they experience them emotionally.  The only term that matches up and creates no conflict in meaning is “positive reinforcement”.  The rest get us into a real “knickers in a twist” state of confusion.

Negative Reinforcement
I was listening to the conversation, but I was also keeping an eye on my watch.  Eleven o’clock.  I had presentations to give the following day.  I should be calling it a night.  I decided to stay just a few more minutes.

Eva was asking more questions.  Now we were talking about negative reinforcement, a subject that always gets my attention given it’s connection to horse training.

When horses are handled with conventional training methods, rope handling is a very clear example of negative reinforcement.  The horse can avoid/escape the threat of escalating pressure by moving in the direction the handler wants.  As the horse learns to obey, the pressure diminishes to a subtle command.  The work looks soft, but the threat of escalation remains.  The soft command tells the horse how to avoid the escalating pressure.

Often people watch the finished result and think the trainer is very soft and kind.  This is very much a case of don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  The handler can look gentle because the horse understands the threat of escalating pressure that’s hidden inside every soft request.

That’s very straight forward.  If the handler is skilled, many horses thrive in this kind of system.  They know what they need to do to stay out of trouble. There’s no guess work. The commands are clear, the consequences are swiftly applied. Respond well, the pressure goes away. Fail to respond, and it escalates.  If you can figure out what is wanted – and if you can physically do it – you can stay out of trouble.

It’s easy to understand this kind of handling.  It’s textbook negative reinforcement.  And it’s also standard-issue horse training.

So what do we call it when the pressure doesn’t increase? When there is no threat of escalation, what is it?

I’ve always kept the use of the term negative reinforcement when I write about clicker-compatible rope handling.  I do this in part because I want to remember our history.  I want to remember where so many of the techniques that we use evolved from.  I want to remember so I won’t ever be tempted to go back there.

I have always combined pressure and release of pressure with the clicker.  You could say that I am simply piggy backing the clicker onto existing training systems, and that’s not really clicker training.

Perhaps, but it is a bridge.  If I am working with a rider who has spent years perfecting her horse-handling skills, I don’t want to say: “Throw all that away.  You won’t be using leads, or reins, or anything else you’re familiar with.”  That’s a great way to lose someone before they’re even out of the starting gate.

But if I say the communication system you know still works, we’re just going to teach it very differently, that makes more sense.  There’s still a huge learning curve, but I’m not going to begin by “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

By the way do you know the derivation of that expression?  Before the modern era of indoor plumbing, baths were a rarity.  You brought water in and heated it for one bath.  The patriarch of the household took his bath first, followed in rank by everyone else.  The children would be the last ones to bathe.  By the time it was the turn of the youngest babies, the water would be murky brown.  You literally had to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water!

This derivation comes courtesy of the historian, Lucy Worsley and her wonderful book, “If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the Home”.

Just as we still take baths – but my how they’ve changed – we still use lead ropes and other pressure cues in clicker training. But again – how things change when you take the threat away and make them clicker compatible!

Coming Next: Procedure versus The Emotional Effect

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: Part 1 Ch. 4: Inside The Trainer’s Brain

Recognizing Play

sindri fengur playing 3 photos

When they’re turned out together, our two Icelandics engage in mock battles. How do I know they are playing and not fighting for real?  Their drama is intense.  Both rear up and crash into one another.  One will come down over the neck of the other seemingly trying to bite the other horse through his thick mane.   They’ll spin apart and kick out, then race off at a gallop shouldering one another for an advantage in the turn.

To a causal observer it looks both very dramatic and very real, but these Iceys are good actors.  Their battles are all make believe.  They leave the “battle field” without a mark on them.  The kicks are all pulled punches and the bites nothing but pretend.  One moment they are body slamming into one another, the next they are standing side by side in their other favorite activity – social grooming.

After a good play session they come into the barn relaxed, refreshed, and always ready for more.  At twenty they play with the same vigor and intensity that they did when they were four.

When you watch your dogs or your cats wrestling together, you have no trouble recognizing this behavior as play.  You see the bites that aren’t bites, and the claws that don’t draw blood.  You see them taking turns.  First, one is on top pinning the other down, and then they’ll flip roles.  The stronger animal has learned that if he dominates the play, the other animal will quit.  I don’t know which of the Icelandics is the faster horse.  They always run together.  If Fengur has his nose out in front, it is only because Sindri, our stallion has let him, not because Sindri has fallen behind.

When Peregrine, my senior horse, was a two year old, he was chased by another horse through a fence.  I’ve seen what it looks like when these clashes are not play. It is terrifying to watch.  There is no mistaking the real thing for play.  When I see my cats confronting the neighborhood stray, it does not look in any way like the play they engage in together.  But that play between friends has prepared them well for the negotiations they are about to have.  All of us – cats, horses, people – know when the play has stopped, and we are now engaged in the real thing – a struggle for survival.

Part 1: Chapter 5: What is Play?

Defining Play
So we can recognize play.  But what is it?  Stuart Brown wrestled with this question in his book. He opened by saying he resisted giving play a definition for a number of reasons.  Play is so varied.  As he points out, an activity such as writing this chapter might seem like play to me, but it might be work to somebody else.  So we cannot define play simply through the activities we engage in.

For Brown play may be hard to pin down with a rigid definition, but at least in people, it does have very recognizable properties.  He would say:

* Play is done for it’s own sake.  Play has no direct survival value.
* It is voluntary.  You don’t “have to” play.
* Play is inherently reinforcing.  Play is fun so you want to play more.
* Play provides freedom from time.

This is the characteristic that most resonates with me.  I am constantly losing track of time.  I’ll be working with the horses, or working on this book, and suddenly realize that several hours have passed and I’m about to be late for an appointment.  I have been so absorbed in what I was doing, so in “the zone” in a PLAY state, that I have completely lost track of time.

At clinics I am constantly surprised that the hands on my watch have moved forward by several hours. “How can it be four o’clock?”, I’ll exclaim.  “It was just 12:30 the last time I looked.”  It is as though I’m surprised by the notion that time passes.  I know the hands on my watch will be progressing around the clock face, but in my PLAY state it truly does seem as though no time has passed.

* Play produces a diminished consciousness of self.

pool noodle GermanyWe stop worrying so much about how we look to others.  In imaginative play we may even become a different “self”.  When you’re trying to learn to ride and you have an instructor barking commands at you treating your lesson more like military boot camp than something you’ve chosen to do for fun, you’ll be a long way from a PLAY state.  Barked commands create FEAR and make the learner more self-conscious – not less.  To promote the best mental state for learning and retaining information, we want to be PLAY full.

When people are first learning clicker-compatible rope handling skills, I start them out without their horses.  At first, people may be thinking how silly they look practicing their technique with a rope tied to a door handle.  They’ll be terribly self-conscious.  Once I get them in a PLAY state, this kind of thinking disappears. They forget what it might look like to an outsider as they become fully engaged in the process.

* Play has improvisational potential.

When you play, you aren’t locked into a set way of doing things.  You can experiment and invent.  Many of the details that we now know make a huge difference to the horses were discovered during play sessions without any horses being involved.

People took turns being the handler and the “human horse”. They stepped outside of themselves and left behind their usual, I’m-an-adult-and-I don’t-play-silly-make-believe-games.  They let go of their self-conscious rigidity and let the act of playing take over.  The result was they saw things in a different way and with fresh insights.

Canine clicker trainer, Kay Laurence, often refers to a quote from Proust:

A journey of discovery comes not from a voyage into new landscapes but seeing familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.

Over and over again, our animals show us the truth of this expression.  As each new layer of training is explored, we see our animals and all their brilliance with fresh eyes.

* Play provides a continuation desire.  You want to keep doing it.  Once the play stops, you want to do it again.  As Brown puts it: “Play is its own reward, its own reason for being.”++

++ The Properties of Play are from: “Play: How it Sharpens the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”    Stuart Brown M.D. and Christopher Vaughan, The Penguin Group, NY New York 2009.

Coming next: Part 1: Chapter 6:  Being PLAY FULL

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 “Joyful 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

A Summer of Adventures!

scenery whales conference horses

Labor Day weekend seems like a good time to post this report on the Five Go To Sea conference and the August clinics. It’s taken me a while to put it together.  The problem with heading off on a summer of adventures is at some point you come bumping back into reality.  That happened to me when I returned from three weeks of travel.  I got home to find the hot water heater in my house was leaking and the tank was sizzling ominously.  I turned off everything I could find that was even remotely connected to the hot water tank and headed off to spend the night at the barn.  Thursday got the hot water tank replaced.  Friday a repair man came to fix the snowblower that wouldn’t start last winter.  I know the first snowfall is still a fair way off, but waiting until November to get it fixed is a bad idea.  Just to round things out, I also took my aged truck in for servicing.  I was learning that these machines have one thing in common with our brains.  They all operate under a use it or lose it principle.

Our brains thrive on novelty and that was certainly provided by the Five Go To Sea conference cruise.  The first cruise took us to the Caribbean. This year we sailed up the Alaska coastline.  The route the ship took was through what is referred to as the inner passage.map with caption
It travels between islands and through spectacular fjords so it doesn’t matter where you are on the ship, there is always something breathtaking to look at.  Our conference room had floor to ceiling windows so we didn’t miss out by being in a conference.   By the end of the first day, I think we were all in agreement that every conference from now on should provide a similar spectacular backdrop.  It certainly gave us some memorable conference moments.conference attendees 3

One such moment occurred during a presentation Kay was giving on PORTL, a training table game.  Kay was in the middle of a demonstration.  She was working with one of the conference attendees showing everyone how to get the game started.  Her learner made an unexpected move that Kay had not planned for.  Kay began to talk about these “oh, oops” moments.  Do you have a strategy in place to deal with this kind of situation?  How do you move on without confusing or frustrating your learner?  She had barely posed the question when one of our keen spotters cried “whale!” and everyone, Kay included, rushed to the windows.  Apparently, that’s what you do.  By the time we returned to the game the sticky moment was completely forgotten!

whale watching during conferenceIt helps to bring along your own naturalist on these cruises.  Ken Ramirez isn’t just a first class trainer.  Not surprisingly, he’s also an expert whale spotter, and he could tell us what we were looking at based on the size and shape of a quickly glanced spout.  My first whale sightings were just that.  A fleeting glimpse of a very distant spout.  But in Juneau I joined four of the conference participants for a whale watching tour.  In addition to seeing some spectacular scenery, we had close up views of hump back whales.

whale watching collageOther trip highlights included a hike through the coastal rainforest.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.  Moss covered trees created a magical landscape.  I spotted a large hole disappearing under the roots of one massive tree.  “What would live in there?” I asked our guide.  She gave me a general answer, running down the list of small mammals that inhabit these forests.  What she left off her list were elves, brownies and fairies.  In a woods like this they were just as likely to be the inhabitants of this hidden cavity as any martin or rabbit.

giant tree with caption

nurse tree with caption2

At Skagway I boarded a train that followed the route the “Stampeders” took in the late 1800s on their journey to the Yukon in search of gold.  You have to wonder at the mass insanity that overtakes people.  Riding in the comfort of an old-fashioned train, I could marvel at the beauty of deep river gorges.  But if I had to carry a year’s worth of supplies up these same mountains, would I have thought they were beautiful?  The train was built in 1898 to carry the Stampeders to the gold fields of the Yukon.  Today it brings gold in the form of tourist dollars into the area.

railroad 4 photos tain picturestrain follows same routeminers narrow trail 2ghost bridge 2climing into the clouds 2The train passes through a section of trail called “Dead Horse Pass”.  It’s estimated that over three thousand horses and mules died along this stretch of trail.  Ignorance was the culprit.  The shop assistants and mill workers who were racing to the gold fields knew nothing about how to balance a pack.  They didn’t even really know where the Yukon was or what kind of conditions they were heading into.  Pictures taken of them in San Francisco before they headed north to the gold fields showed prospectors posing in front of painted mountain scenes with palm trees in the foreground!  But it wasn’t palm trees that they encountered as they drove their over packed horses up the White Pass Summit.

I thought of these horses as the train passed through this section of the trail.  I think of them now as I write this in my barn where my very pampered horses get to live a life of great comfort.  Perhaps it balances the scale just a little.  Throughout our history with horses we have a lot to answer for.

We met a very different kind of horse in the Butchart Garden in Victoria, British Columbia.  Along with a delightful giraffe, a camel, an ostrich, a reindeer, and a large cat with a salmon in its mouth, the horses pranced around an old-fashioned Carousel.  We wanted to ride them all, so we ended up taking several turns on the Carousel.  I rode a rabbit and, in honor of Kay, a large white dog.  One of us should have ridden the Orca, but we were running out of time.  The garden closed at nine, and we didn’t want to miss the bus that would take us back to the ship.carousel butchart 2

Did I mention that we also spent our days at sea in the conference room?  Ken treated us to an update on the training he’s been doing teaching dogs to count.  I had requested that for the day that I organized.  The results of his experiment are impressive, but what I particularly wanted him to include were the preliminary steps he goes through to design a good training set up.

So many of us simply jump straight into training.  We find out too late that we can’t really manage our props, that our set up is clumsy, and we haven’t given any thought to all the things that can – and now are going wrong. Ken showed how a bit of training practice without any dogs revealed some major issues in his original set up.  He also showed his clumsy first attempt when he was still evolving the best training procedure to use.  He refers to this as exploratory training.  What do you need to change before you begin the real task of training and data collection?

Ken is such a skilled and creative trainer, it was good to see things going wrong for him in this early phase of the training.  This isn’t to gloat but to understand that this planning phase is part of good training.

He also shared with us his recent foray into butterfly training.  He couldn’t show us any video, but his detailed description of the training process was a definite trip highlight.  I don’t know which surprised us more – that butterflies could be trained or that butterflies could be bullies.

Kay focused much of her time on the training game, PORTL.  She divided people up into groups of three: a learner, a teacher and a coach.  The first tasks were fairly simple.  The teacher was to introduce the learner to the game.  Kay instructed them to plan thoroughly before they brought in their learner.  What were they going to do if their learner did something unexpected, if there was a bad click, if they got stuck and needed to consult with the coach?Portl planning session 2With Ken’s emphasis the day before on planning the teachers and coaches took this training prep very seriously.  Normally people rush through this part of the process.  They jump right in with their learners and then don’t have any plan for dealing with the unexpected.  You see that kind of approach creating a lot of frustration on both sides of the table.kay coaching Portl planning sessionNot so with this group.  More than half an hour went by and none of the learners had been called in.  The teachers and coaches were still engaged in careful planning.  The poor learners weren’t sure what they were supposed to do.  No one had anticipated this contingency – that the prep would be so very comprehensive.  The advantage of being on a cruise ship is we could send them off to get a drink or to whale watch while the rest of their team planned out their training strategy.

break time at the conferenceWe learned from this experience.  On the last day of the conference we again played PORTL.  This time Kay set more challenging tasks which definitely required some planning time.  I took the “learners” through some body awareness/training exercises.  That produced some interesting results.  When the teachers came to get their learners, people didn’t want to leave to go play the game.  One “teacher” ran into a training puzzle and needed a moment to think.  She told her learner that they would only be a couple of minutes.  She could stay at the table while she consulted with her coach.  “Oh no”, her learner told her.  “Take your time.” She was going back to rejoin the body awareness session.

Ken coaching POrtl standingPortl plan first then playI must say having the backdrop of the open ocean created the perfect setting for body awareness exercises.  The gentle pitch and roll of the ship added to the proprioceptive experience.  Even the occasional “whale” cue which sent us all rushing to the windows contributed to the learning.  How quickly could you come back from a mammoth distraction into a state of calm balance for your animal?  And since I was among those who rushed to the window I couldn’t fuss when others did the same.

(I’ll write a separate post on some of the work I covered during the conference, including the body awareness exercises.)

The cruise ended all too soon.  When we docked back in Seattle early on Friday morning, I felt as though I could easily have set sail again.  Alaska is a landscape I could easily become lost in.  We are talking about where to go next.  What adventure should we have for our next cruise?  I could easily return to Alaska to sail up through the inner passage and see again those magnificent fjords.

For those who don’t want to go on a ship, Kay is talking about a land cruise next winter in the UK.  I’ll enjoy that as well, but I will also be looking forward to our next ocean adventure.

The cruise was over, but not my travels.  I headed next to a small clinic at Monty Gwynne’s, one of my Click That Teaches coaches.   Many of you have met Monty through her wonderful PRE Icaro.Monty and Icky 2 photos

Icky is only one of the many horses Monty has trained.  She also has a barn full of ponies who have all learned lateral work.  They made my job so easy.  They were the true teachers.  I simply stepped aside and let them teach people how to dance with horses.  On the third day we brought three of the horses into the arena for the start of a quadrille.  We had originally planned on having six horses working together for our drill team, but two of the participants had to leave early, and the third was busy attending to her own horse.  So we settled on just three horses which was enough for everyone’s first attempt at working in sync with one another.

Watching them coming down the long side together in shoulder-in was the highlight of my entire trip.  What a treat!  Monty has a treasure trove of wonderful horses.  If you want to explore what the combination of clicker training and an understanding of good balance can create, you should plan a trip to visit Monty.drill team Monty's ponies

I flew home on Tuesday, spent half a day catching up and then drove to the Cavalia Retirement Farm for a three day clinic.  It was another great event.  Several of the attendees were brand new to clicker training so the focus this time was on foundation work.  One of my Click That Teaches coaches, Sue Bennett, joined us.  Having Sue there to help meant we could split up into smaller groups to give people lots of one on one coaching.

Bilbo enjoying the clinicThe star of the clinic was Bilbo, an enormous Ardennes daft stallion.  When Bilbo enters the arena all eyes are on him, and it isn’t just because he’s so big.  Bilbo has charisma.  We generally save him for the end of the day.  We let him play his version of Panda catch.  He’s not as good at it yet as Panda.  She runs at full gallop from person to person.  I am glad to say Bilbo chooses a more sedate speed.  His reward for moving from one station to the next is not just a click and a treat.  He also gets a back scratch from everyone in the clinic.  He’s so big you can have the entire clinic group around him and everyone can find a spot to scratch.  Did I mention that Bilbo likes clinics and wouldn’t mind if they happened every weekend?favorite photos from 2015 clinics 2

I enjoy the clinics and all the other adventures, but it is good to be home for a bit.  I have pastures to mow, plumbing to fix, and horses to enjoy.

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com

An Invitation

The series on Resurgence has generated a lot of interest, and I know from my in-box, also a lot of questions.  So I’ve invited Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and Kay Laurence to join me for an on-line question and answer session.  I hope you will join us, as well.

AK JRR Kay on cruiseWhen: June 21, 2015

What Time?  1 pm Eastern Time Zone (Check on line for time zone converters if you aren’t sure of the time difference.)

Cost: $35.00

Space is limited.  If you would like to attend, do sign up early.  The meeting is limited to a maximum of 25 people.

How do you sign up?  Email me at: kurlanda@crisny.org.  I will send you a paypal invoice for the meeting.

What do you need to participate?  For optimum audio quality, a headset is recommended.

What should I bring?  Lots of questions!

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com

5GoToSea: Part 15: Micro Masters

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

The “Pose”
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.

Mastering Micro
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

Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercentercourse.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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

5GoToSea: Pt 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence

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

If you are new to this series, I suggest you begin with Part 1

Part 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence

Building Unlikely Behaviors with Resurgence
Jesús reminded us that nothing is either all good or all bad.  We want to use positive reinforcement with our animals because we see it as effective and more humane.  But positive reinforcement doesn’t always produce desirable outcomes.  In people it can lead to addictions to harmful behaviors such as over eating or gambling.

Resurgence and regression can be very negative procedures, but they can also be used to produce what might otherwise be very difficult behaviors to obtain.

toy chairJesús again used PORTL to illustrate how this can work.  In one video example, a trainer set a toy chair on the table for her learner to interact with.  The goal was to get the learner to push the chair over the table the way she might push a toy car.  The learner began to interact with the chair, but not in a way that would lead to pushing it. Why?  Because history matters. The learner is going to bring back all of her history, all of her previous repertoire of chair behaviors as she experiments.  Pushing it like a car is very unlikely because that’s not how she would have interacted with this kind of object in the past.

The same would be true if the trainer had set down a dice.  The learner would have tossed the dice or shaken it in her hand because that’s in the reinforcement history of that object.  Pushing a dice over the table like a toy car would probably be much harder to get.

Instead of trying to shape the behavior through small approximations, the trainer used resurgence.  Her first step was getting the learner to touch the chair consistently. The learner in this video was not particularly creative.  She touched the chair, but she didn’t try any other behaviors.  Getting her to push it was going to be hard.

So the trainer took the chair away and set out a toy car.  Using an object that normally would be pushed made it very easy to get the desired behavior.  The learner pushed the car over the table top. Click and treat.

This was repeated several times and then the trainer took the car away and set the chair out. The learner went back to touching it.  The chair accidentally fell over – click and treat.  The learner latched on to that, expanding her repertoire to two behaviors – touching the chair and knocking it over.  She persisted in knocking it over even when she did not get reinforced for the action.  Everything but pushing it like a car was put on extinction – meaning the trainer no longer reinforced her for these behaviors.

To avoid escalating the learner’s frustration, the trainer took the chair away and set the car out again.  The learner immediately started pushing the car over the table top. Click and treat.

To help with the generalization the trainer put a third object out – a small block.  The learner pushed the block.  Click and treat.  This was repeated several times, then the trainer took the block away and set out the car.  The car was pushed.  Click and treat.

The trainer set the chair out and the learner pushed the chair.  Job done.

Resurgence and Dog “Yoga”
Jesús next showed an example of using resurgence to train a dog to step with his hind legs onto a chair.

The dog was taught through a series of very carefully managed steps.  First, the dog learned to stand one foot each on four small plastic pods.  This alone was impressive training.  The pods were the same ones physiotherapists use to help people improve their balance and proprioception.  It took great coordination for the dog to stay balanced on the four pods.  But that was only step 1.  Next he learned to keep his front feet on the pods while he maneuvered his hind feet up onto the brick ledge of a fireplace hearth.

This was not done as a cute party trick.  The dog’s owner is a yoga teacher.  Her interest was very much the same as mine – helping her animal to maintain a healthy spine.

The last step was setting up a training session next to a chair.  The handler withheld the click, putting the dog into an extinction process.  With very little experimentation, the dog oriented himself so his hind end was to the chair.  He certainly demonstrated the flexibility of his spine by stepping up onto the chair with his hind legs so he was standing hind end up on the chair and front feet on the floor.

Generalization and Creativity
Jesús commented that if we didn’t know about resurgence we would be saying the dog generalized.  But generalization had nothing to do with it.  What we were seeing was resurgence.  Kay added that for her this process is what is meant by creativity.  It isn’t waiting and waiting for the dog to do something new.  Instead we give them a whole range of behaviors, and they come up with a new or unlikely combination.  What Jesús was showing us was a procedure for setting up the creative process.  You give the animal the repertoire, the components of more complex behaviors, and then you set up a puzzle and let extinction be the catalyst for solving it.

Coming soon: Part 15: Going Micro

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

5GoToSea: Pt. 13: Degrees of Freedom

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

If you are new to this series, I suggest you begin with Part 1.

Part 13: Degrees of Freedom

Optimistic Puzzle Solvers
How do you help horses and handlers to become more optimistic puzzle solvers?  One way is to expand the repertoire of both the handler and the learner.  The broader and more extensive the repertoire, the more options an individual has.  If a horse knows only two choices and neither of them are working, he’s in trouble.

Jesús referred to this as being coerced by your repertoire.  Here’s the example: suppose a high school student is a great debater.  In fact he’s so good, he’s captain of the debating team. You’d expect someone like that to have a really high self-esteem. He’s so successful how could he not?

But look a little closer, and you’ll see why.  This individual is great at debating, but he’s no athlete.  He’s left out of a lot of other school events.  He doesn’t play sports.  He doesn’t go to school dances.  He has poor social skills so at lunch he’s off by himself.

Yes, in debating he wins all the prizes, but he has only that one skill.  So he’s being coerced into improving his debating skills because that’s all he can do.  He’s the best debater in the school, but that doesn’t keep him from feeling left out and miserable. With only that one skill he has only one degree of freedom.

Other members of the debating team may not be as good as he is, but they are also involved in other school activities.  Compared to him they have three or four degrees of freedom, and they are much happier.

The captain of the debating team is the best, but he’s been coerced into that position because he has no choices.  For him, as well as for our horses, the way to improve his emotional well-being is to expand his repertoire so he has more reinforcing activities available to him.

Kay Laurence confirmed this approach for dogs.  If you’re working with an aggressive dog, you want to expand his repertoire.  Teach him a dozen new behaviors: turning your head to the left, to the right, lifting a paw, walking in a circle, touching a target, etc..  Now in a threatening situation he has a dozen new ways to respond, instead of just the two or three that he started with.

Being Emotional Is Being Alive
Jesús dropped in another gem at this point by reiterating that when we talk about emotional behavior such as aggression, we are forgetting that we are always emotional. It isn’t that now we are happy, and then a switch turns off and we feel nothing.

“Living is being emotional.”

The nature and intensity of the emotions fluctuates.  We experience different degrees depending upon conditions and our reinforcement history. But thinking in terms of “emotional behavior” is too simplistic.  Emotion is part of all behavior.  It is not separate from it.

single suitcaseTraveling helps you to understand how much our emotions are a product of the habit patterns that have formed within our familiar environments and how universally present emotions are. Perhaps you are one of the huge number of people who have more to do than you could possibly accomplish in one day.  You have a family to care for, a house and barn to maintain, horses to feed and clean up after – not to mention ride.  All that and then there’s also an overfull schedule at work.  You’re always under stress, but it’s become so the norm, you don’t pay much attention to how you’re feeling.  A mildly stressed state is the normal background.

And then you treat yourself to the Five Go To Sea cruise where everything is different.  You still have a full day, with more to do and see than any one person could possibly squeeze into a day, but your normal triggers aren’t there.  The phone isn’t ringing.  You aren’t on the internet with the constant influx of work-related emails. Your co-worker’s voice coming through the office wall isn’t annoying you.  All those triggers are gone and now you get to experience who you are and how you feel without them.  You become acutely aware of just how stressed you’ve been now that you’ve stepped out of your normal habit patterns and can experience the contrast.  You’re still emotional, but now the environment is set up to trigger the kinds of supportive, pleasant emotions you want to experience.

That’s the kind of positive environment I want to create for my learners: one in which puzzle solving is fun, and both horses and handlers eagerly seek it out.

On a Caribbean cruise what do clicker enthusiats do for fun? They play PORTL games.

On a Caribbean cruise what do clicker enthusiats do for fun? They play PORTL games.

Coming Soon: Part 14: The Positive Side of Resurgence

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

5GoToSea: Part 12: Creativity Explored

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

If you are new to this series, I suggest you begin with Part 1.

Part 12: Creativity Explored

Creativity Explored
Do you have a training-related question?  Are you wondering which teaching strategy will work the best?  Are you puzzling over some element in learning theory?  Great.  Design a set up, test it a few times to work out the procedure and then invite your friends over for a pizza and PORTL party.  In the course of an evening you’ll be well on your way to answering your questions, and you might even have collected data to write a scientific paper!

I do like the new name that’s been given to this shaping game, PORTL: Portable Operant Research and Teaching Laboratory.  As Jesús pointed out, we’ve been using lab rats to learn about human behavior.  Now we are doing the reverse.  We’re using humans as a model for animal behavior. Turnabout is fair play.  Much better to frustrate an undergrad than some poor lab rat!

So how does this help us?  Jesús shared several examples where extinction strategies were used to train complex, creative behaviors.

What Is Insight?
The first used a great video from Robert Epstein’s work.  Epstein was B.F. Skinner’s last graduate student.  They were exploring the concept of “insight”.  How do we solve puzzles?  Are we truly creating something that has not existed before, or is creativity a product of combining known components to solve a novel puzzle?

To explore this question Epstein taught a pigeon three component behaviors: pecking a banana, climbing on a box, and pushing the box towards a target.

The pigeon was then put into chamber with the box and the banana.  The banana was hung up out of reach.  The pigeon couldn’t reach the banana to peck at it, so an extinction process began.  There was a resurgence of previously trained behaviors. The pigeon began pushing the box, but it was very clear the behavior was deliberate.  The pigeon pushed the box under the banana, hopped up on the box, and pecked the banana. Puzzle solved.

So here’s the question: what is insight? What really is creativity?

Jesús would say this kind of complex puzzle solving was achieved through resurgence. Set up the underlying components well, add in a bit of extinction, and “creativity” pops out.

If you leave out one of the components, you have to extend the extinction process and hope the subject really does become creative.  But this is the kind of creativity that is truly stressful. It’s much better to analyze the complex end-goal behavior, break it down into all of it’s component tasks, and then train each of the components separately.  The result will be brilliant looking pigeons that solve in minutes what we might otherwise think would be an impossible puzzle for them.

Inventors and Creators
Jesús’ comment was there is “nothing new under the sun”.  You are not going to do anything that you haven’t already done before.  All the components of what appears to be a novel behavior have been trained in the past. When individuals experiment and find the usual, familiar things aren’t working, some will give up.  Others will keep trying until they come up with a novel combination that works.

We call these people inventors and creators because they are able to find these novel combinations.  That first learning process can be a painful one, but once the new combination is worked out, it’s easy for others to copy the results.

I can absolutely relate to this.  Give me a horse puzzle to solve, and I can be very persistent. My life experience has taught me that persistence pays off.  But put me in front of a computer that isn’t cooperating, and I shut down fast.  There my experience has produced very different expectations.  I’ve experienced too many situations where errors in a software program have made a problem unsolvable, at least for my level of computer skills.  I don’t have the component skills that make wrestling with a software issue fun.  Extinction has gone too far and been too uncomfortable.  So in one situation I can be very persistent and creative.  In another I’m the one going through the classic cycle of an extinction shut down.

I know first hand both how much fun the creative process can be when the expectation of success is there.  And I also know how painful and unpleasant the extinction process is when that expectation is missing.  So here’s the question: which one are you creating for your horses, your dogs, your children – for yourself?

Coming soon: Part 13: Degrees of Freedom

You can watch the pigeon experiment in this video clip:

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

5GoToSea: Pt 11: Mastering Extinction

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

If you have not yet read the previous articles, I suggest you begin with Part 1.

Part 11: Mastering Extinction

Using PORTL to Master Extinction
Extinction happens all the time.  When you withhold your click, you set up an extinction process.

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

Or you could be withholding the click with very deliberate intent.  In this case you are using a micro extinction process to help shape a more complex behavior.  You are using extinction to your advantage.  The conclusion: extinction doesn’t have to be something you avoid.  It can be something you actively use to create more complex behavior patterns.

Today’s post shows how the shaping game, PORTL can help us understand how this works.

Jesús watching participants at a conference learning to play PORTL.

Jesús coaching participants at a conference as they learn how to play PORTL.

Shaping with Resurgence
Jesús used videos of PORTL experiments to illustrate what he meant.  He reminded us that there is a difference between resurgence and regression.  The first video example showed an elegant use of resurgence.

The learner was taught 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.

When that behavior appeared to be solid, the car was removed and a third object was placed on the table.  Now the behavior was lifting.

Behavior 4 was a different action.  The learner put a wooden ring on her finger.

When each of these behaviors seemed solid, 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.  There was now no reinforcement given.  The trainer was simply observing the learner’s behavior – not giving 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, the behaviors occur in the order in which they were trained.  This is resurgence as opposed to regression.

Shaping with Regression
Now here’s the fun part.  When you first extinguish the individual behaviors, you get the opposite result.  Now you see regression.  People will go back to the most recently learned behavior.  If that doesn’t work, they’ll go a little further back, and then a little further back – thus revealing their training history.

Jesús showed a second video, this one was exploring what happens in a shaping session where you reinforce an approximation, and then go through an extinction process so you can switch to a new behavior.  Here’s the set up:

The trainer set out one item on the table.  The learner began to manipulate it, trying to find out what was going to be clickable.  The trainer didn’t click any of this creativity.  She waited for it to extinguish and then clicked for one simple behavior – touching the object with one finger.  That was the “hot” action.

The trainer clicked and reinforced for successful approximations, then she took a break to record her data.  She continued to train in ten click units until she had 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 set out in a circle nine or ten different objects, including the one they had been working with.  The learner began by touching the familiar object.  That got clicked and reinforced several times, then the trainer stopped reinforcing for that object.  She was using extinction to eliminate that behavior.  The learner began experimenting, touching various objects, but she only got clicked for touching the one that was immediately next to the previously hot object in the counter-clockwise direction.

The learner switched over to this object and began touching it consistently.

So now the handler stopped reinforcing for this object and only reinforced for the next object on the circle.  The learner again experimented and then discovered that the only object that she got paid for touching was the third one on the circle.

When this was consistent, the handler again stopped reinforcing for touching this object.  The learner was catching on to the overall pattern.  Now she moved more quickly to the fourth object and discovered that was the “hot” one to touch.

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

At this point the handler stopped reinforcing for anything and observed the learner’s behavior. The result: the learner quickly switched to moving clockwise around the circle, touching  the objects in the reverse order in which she had 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 wasn’t getting clicked for any of these touches, but the pattern was very persistent.

What PORTL Reveals
So again: in the first video 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 video where behaviors were extinguished, the learner went through them in the reverse order.

You won’t find these distinctions in the scientific literature.  This difference in behavior relating to resurgence and regression is something Jesús and his students have been revealing by playing PORTL.

Coming Soon: Part 12: Creativity Explored

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

5GoToSea: Pt 10: PORTL

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.

This is Part 10 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 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

If you have not yet read the previous articles, I suggest you begin with Part 1.
Part 10: PORTL

PORTL’s Origins

Jesús and the son of one of the conference attendees playing PORTL during the Five Go To Sea cruise.

Jesús and the son of one of the conference attendees playing PORTL during the Five Go To Sea cruise.

PORTL evolved out of Genabacab, a table game Kay Laurence developed for teaching shaping.  Genabacab 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 the biggest one in a set. 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.  They will spend hours happily absorbed in developing the best teaching strategies for their dogs.  Their dogs, meanwhile, are spending 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.

Jesús has been using Genabacab to help his students understand the concepts of learning theory.  He wants to bring the game to the scientific community as a research tool, so – with Kay’s blessing – he has renamed it.  It is now PORTL – Portable Operant Research and Teaching Laboratory.  Animal studies are increasingly difficult to do. They are expensive, and there is always the question of ethics.  How fair is it to run studies on lab rats?  PORTL is a much better solution.  You can have a question about how a particular process works, design an experiment using the PORTL game, and in the course of an evening have gathered enough data playing the game with a group of undergrads to write a paper – all without frustrating a single lab rat.  Now that’s progress!

PORTL Games
Jesús’ students meet on a regular basis to play PORTL games.  In his talk he showed some videos that illustrated beautifully how he used it to ask questions about regression and resurgence.  In one video two tasks were taught.  First, 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.  That means 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.  Jesús’ point is now all the extra gunk was also chained in. If the handler were to keep reinforcing the tapping of the block, she would also see the frequency of the hand swapping skyrocket.  That’s not the desired, goal behavior, but it would increase right along with the tapping.

Now you are probably 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.  He’s asking the horse to carry himself in a correct bend.  He’s cueing it through gentle requests down the rein.  The horse is responding on a consistent basis, but then he’s distracted or the footing changes so he loses his balance. Whatever the reason, the handler isn’t getting the same consistent response. Instead he’s getting a string of unwanted behavior.  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 he chained in a long string of unwanted 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 learn to microshape.

Jesús made the further comment that this type of inadvertent chaining happens all too often when people are working with autistic children.  The sad thing here is the previous behavior that is being reinforced is not something harmless like hand swapping, but it’s often self-injurious behavior like head banging.

To sort out the tangle you need to analyze the whole behavior chain rather than focus in on individual behaviors.  These adjunctive behaviors can create a lot of stress. Again Jesús emphasized that’s why it is so important to understand extinction.  You need to understand it so you can master it.

Coming Soon: Part 11: Mastering Extinction

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:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com