Tag Archives: strategy

Managing dog behavior and people’s too


Encourage good dog behavior with the appropriate discriminative stimuli

Is managing discriminative stimuli part of philosophy, business management, or dog training? This is what Wikipedia has to say about “Stimulus control and discriminative stimuli: Stimulus control is the phenomenon of a stimulus increasing the probability of a behavior (operant response) because of a history of that behavior being differentially reinforced in the presence of the stimulus. In other words, stimulus control is basically learning to pay attention to things that we identify in the environment (discriminative stimuli) that give us information about the effectiveness of our behavior.” Discriminative stimuli help us determine what rules apply to achieve reinforcement.

At a social media group I belong to I was talking with a philosopher about how we have certain rules that help us do the right thing. More importantly we have rules that keep us from doing what society considered immoral. This part of the conversation revolved around how a man of good moral character would not go to an attractive married woman’s room where they are alone and drink alcohol while at a conference.

Why is it that alcohol is a major factor or variable to this scenario? It could be that alcohol reduces the inhibition we associate with moral behavior. By reducing inhibitions our more animal like nature shines through. The nature of animals is probably driven more by lower level needs than the higher level needs we like to associate with being human. At this point my post diverged into two different lines of thought. I will post my more whimsical thoughts about the possibilities of animals experiencing altered states of consciousness on my new dog website.

Getting back to dog training and behavior management. If we can’t expect other humans, not to mention ourselves, to behave properly under certain conditions, how can we expect our dogs to do any better?  For the most part dogs don’t have the ability to manage discriminative stimuli that control behavior.

The inability of dogs to control this aspect of their environment places the responsibility of discriminative stimuli management squarely on the shoulders of us humans.

We need to live by rules that help arrange the environment in ways where dogs have an easy time being good. Dogs can’t decide I’m going to spend more time inside so I won’t be so tempted to go visit my neighbor when she smells sooo good because it would lead to a show dog with less than desirable children. But people can arrange the environment so our dogs are not hated by society.

Some interesting strategies for self control were used by children in an experiment that required waiting 15 minutes to have 2 sweets verses having 1 sweet right away. It was found that children with good self control employed a strategy of not thinking about the sweet. This was often done by thinking about something else. They were managing the internal discriminative stimuli. These children were managing the signals that controlled their behavior. I like calling internal discriminative stimuli the controlling signal(s). It may not be scientific but it makes sense for normal conversations.

Managing discriminative stimuli or the controlling signal(s) is often one of my first objectives when doing an in home dog training program. Discriminative stimuli management is especially critical where the owner is so frustrated with the dog’s behavior they are thinking about getting rid of the dog.  Usually we can at least make the dog’s behavior good enough so the owner can keep the dog. This give us time to do the needed training to change the offending behavior. Now even if the behavior can’t be completely changed, it usually can be managed. Efficient management of the dog’s behavior can make cohabitation with humans possible.

There are established social rules for managing the attractive woman + Alcohol + opportunity syndrome.  There are also individuals who have personal rules for managing these scenarios. With dogs you need to be your dog’s social authority. It’s important to know that you can direct and manage your dog’s behavior without being overbearing. Sometimes this involves teaching a new response. At other times you may need to make some physical changes to the environment. It is up to you, the dog’s owner, to manage the signals that control your dog’s behavior.

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Pitbull dog training at the Beach

Here is a video of the first time I did any training with a friend’s new pit bull rescue. We were at Dog Beach in Long Beach, California. While this dog is wearing a pinch collar I don’t like starting the training process with this type of collar. In this video I try to use the leash and collar as little as possible. I do this by keeping the leash as loose as possible.

I wasn’t planning on doing any dog training on this trip to the beach. You may have read the post on planning and dog training. If I had planned for this training session I would have been better prepared.  In our daily lives we often find ourselves in a position to teach or train when an opportunity presents itself. I recommend that the novice dog owner/trainer avoid impromptu and unplanned training session until they have the skills to be successful in less than ideal conditions. These skills are a combination of training technique and theory combined with dog handling skills. Whenever engaging in an unplanned training session it’s still best to have some kind of a plan.  So even though I was running very low on food rewards I still developed a plan. By having a strategy I was able to accomplish some control that can be built on later.

One plan would be to start working the dog and use the pinch collar to make corrections. I imagine this would work okay, it’s just not what I would prefer doing. Instead we let the dog run and burn off some excess energy and then we started training with what little food I did have with me. Even with a small amount of food rewards it’s still possible do some dog training without using corrections. I am not against using leash and collar correction, but I did feel it wasn’t the right thing to do with this dog.

Pitbull Running off energy at Dog beach before dog training

Pitbull Running off energy at Dog beach before dog training

While working an active dog in a distracting environment is possible, it’s not ideal or necessarily easy. This is one reason for starting dog training in the dog’s home. Beginning the training in the dog’s home is especially helpful if you want to start the training process with softer techniques. After I worked at getting the dog to turn with me when it heard its name I began working on left circles. I saved a couple very small rewards to use at the end of the training session. One reward was for the last sit and one for an unforeseen event.

Dog Training Dog Beach Long Beach CA the last sit

Dog Training in Long Beach CA. at Dog Beach After the training sessions last sit