Constructive Punishment—With the Contact of a Cotton Ball


a white ball of cotton on a black background

I by accident punished my canine’s habits with a wad of cotton.

Lewis and I are collaborating in Dr. Mindy Waite’s husbandry research on ear cleansing. The objective of the research is to have the ability to wipe the canine’s ear with some cleansing resolution on a cotton ball whereas he fortunately cooperates.

The protocol begins with coaching a chin relaxation. We accomplished the steps for the chin relaxation in my lap on just a little towel (see under), then I proceeded to the steps of lifting his ear, bringing my different hand near his ear whereas it was lifted, shifting a dry cotton ball towards his ear, then touching the cotton to the within of the ear flap.

For every of those steps, he wanted to keep up his place whereas I carried out the duty and never chain in different undesirable behaviors earlier than placing his chin down, reminiscent of pawing at me or vocalizing. (Sure, each occurred.)

After I carried out the step the place I touched the cotton ball to the within of his ear, he began to dodge away after the contact. I used to be in a position to reinforce a number of, however most didn’t meet standards. I did two temporary classes of this as the speed of reinforcement dropped, then I ended and regrouped with Dr. Waite.

We agreed I might again up a step, to a step that didn’t contain touching his ear. On this step, I introduced the cotton ball to inside one inch of his ear with out touching it.

However the earlier classes had created a habits change by way of an aversive occasion. Right here is the fallout.

I sat down within the chair I at all times use, readied the cotton, and put the small towel that features as a chin goal in my lap. .

• Lewis approached the towel and paused
• He put his chin down
• After I reached to elevate his ear, he flinched away
• He lowered his chin once more, I lifted his ear, and introduced the cotton ball to about 1 inch from his ear
• I clicked and handled as he pulled shortly away (oops, not good timing!)
• He began to decrease his chin, then dodged away as I reached for his ear with one hand and the cotton ball with the opposite
• He put his chin down as soon as extra, then shortly lifted it away 
• Then, whereas nonetheless standing in entrance of me, he turned his head 90 levels to his proper
• Then he turned his head 90 levels to his left
• He checked out me
• He turned to his proper once more
• He walked away
• He walked round, largely off digicam, for twenty-four seconds
• He put his paws up on a desk, I cued him to get down, and he did
• He sniffed round for 15 extra seconds, then headed again to me
• He put his chin on the towel however instantly lifted his head
• He regarded arduous to the proper and walked away once more
• He returned, put his chin down, instantly picked it up, licked his lips, and regarded away
• He sniffed and licked his anus
• He sniffed and licked his anus from the opposite aspect
• He walked a number of steps away and did one other anal verify
• He came to visit to me and nuzzled my hand holding the cotton (thanks for doing that proper after licking your butt, Lewis)
• He put his chin down on the towel, I lifted his ear, introduced the cotton ball shut, and clicked/handled
• I ended the session (one thing I ought to have carried out a lot earlier)

Unfavourable Reinforcement

The listing above is a roll name of escape and avoidance behaviors. These behaviors received negatively strengthened as a result of they launched him from my method to his ear. Additionally, this avoidance was extremely uncommon for Lewis. I’ve by no means seen him go away a coaching session earlier than. The contact of the cotton the day prior to this was so aversive he couldn’t even tolerate the proximity of it throughout this session.

However there was a extra refined, much more necessary end result.

Constructive Punishment

A mostly white dog stands still with his head in the lap of a woman who is sitting on a low table. the woman is lifting the dog's right ear

Lewis’ chin relaxation was positively punished by the delicate contact of the cotton ball to the within of his ear. How do I do know that? Right here’s my evaluation.

This preceded the big-time avoidance session I describe above.

Antecedent: I put the towel in my lap, which is the cue for him to place his chin on it
Habits: Lewis put his chin on the towel
Consequence: I lifted his ear and touched the within with a dry cotton ball

I might usually put a prediction right here. I’m not as a result of I didn’t make one on the time. However I positive discovered.

Lewis’ fee of providing the chin relaxation after that have dramatically decreased. Earlier than this step, Lewis had been fluently performing repeated chin rests for days in our classes. And through this “aftermath” session I received solely two, with excessive latency and the fidgety, avoidant behaviors I described.

A few of you may be questioning about one other risk. Good considering! Constructive punishment shouldn’t be the one mechanism by which a habits may lower. There are two different well-known prospects (and a few much less widespread ones). The well-known ones are unfavourable punishment and extinction.

I can’t consider a method that unfavourable punishment could possibly be the method concerned right here. I used to be not contingently eradicating an appetitive stimulus. (Try this text if you happen to want a brush-up on the processes of operant studying.) However we have to think about extinction, as a result of the speed of reinforcement did drastically drop.

Keep in mind above I discussed that a part of the factors for this husbandry job was for Lewis to not chain in undesirable behaviors like pawing me or vocalizing? These began off as extinction-related behaviors. They occurred when he was pissed off that I had raised standards too quick and he wasn’t accessing reinforcement on the former fee.

I do know what extinction-related habits seems to be like from Lewis, and this wasn’t it.

That Harmless Little Cotton Ball

a closeup of a white cotton ball on a black background

I didn’t begin out to be deceptive concerning the cotton, however I ended up burying the lede about it just a little. Right here is the lede: Touching a cotton ball straight on the opening of the ear canal is LOUD. Cotton balls look delicate and innocuous, and touching them to plenty of locations on the physique could possibly be unremarkable. However the sound of the cotton touching his ear was startling and ugly to Lewis

Dr. Waite stored that in thoughts as she gave us some new steps to carry out. They separated out the sound from the contact. We went fairly far again within the course of, as a result of this sturdy avoidant response was so uncommon for Lewis. I’m happy to report that we’ve labored again as much as touching his ear with the cotton ball and he has determined that’s OK!

Watch the Canine and Movie Your Reps

There’s a lesson right here. You don’t want a shock or prong or choke collar for optimistic punishment. I believe we focus method an excessive amount of on instruments typically. I don’t use any such collars, I don’t jerk on the leash, nor do I take advantage of entrance connect harnesses or head halters, however frankly, these make up a fairly low bar. It’s a baseline. It’s not difficult or troublesome to not use instruments that damage. What I discover far more difficult is noticing different stimuli which can be unexpectedly aversive, such one thing very delicate utilized to the incorrect place the incorrect method.

Lewis was not damage, harmed, or traumatized by the cotton ball, as he would have been with a harsher methodology. However he was sad with the scenario, which is the other of what I would like. If I hadn’t been filming, I would by no means have recognized simply how sad he was. And if I hadn’t been monitoring reps, I may not have observed that the chin relaxation received punished. I’m glad I did know, even when just a little late, as a result of I might have made the scenario should worse had I persevered.

A woman trims the nails of a white and brown dog while he licks peanut butter from a flexible toy that is suctioned to the wall
This picture is from January 2022, and I nonetheless trim his nails this manner

A smart pal as soon as described the kind of coaching optimistic reinforcement trainers intention for as “coaching that’s enjoyable for the learner.” It might sound simplistic, however that description is a sublime and direct description of my targets and beliefs as a coach. We will say Lewis’ chin relaxation was positively punished. We will additionally say Lewis clearly wasn’t having enjoyable. And let me be clear: I would like Lewis to be having enjoyable as a result of of the coaching, not regardless of it.

Lewis is a difficult canine for husbandry duties. I’m nonetheless, after greater than a 12 months, clipping his nails whereas he licks peanut butter. After I dry him with a towel, I need to parcel out kibble with one hand whereas I do it, as a result of in any other case, he descends into overwrought wiggling and mouthing. I plan to coach these husbandry duties as an alternative of managing them with distractions, however I haven’t gotten there.

Lewis’ basic discomfort with husbandry was a big a part of what prompted me to hitch Dr. Waite’s research. It’s extremely useful to me to have a structured method and her skilled counsel. I hope we don’t blow the bell curve!

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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