Constructive Punishment—With the Contact of a Cotton Ball

a white ball of cotton on a black background

I unintentionally punished my canine’s conduct with a wad of cotton.

Lewis and I are collaborating in Dr. Mindy Waite’s husbandry examine on ear cleansing. The aim of the examine 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 somewhat towel (see under), then I proceeded to the steps of lifting his ear, bringing my different hand near his ear whereas it was lifted, transferring 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 transient periods 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 periods had created a conduct change by means of an aversive occasion. Right here is the fallout.

I sat down within the chair I all the time use, readied the cotton, and put the small towel that capabilities 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 appeared exhausting to the fitting and walked away once more
• He returned, put his chin down, instantly picked it up, licked his lips, and appeared 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 test
• 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 achieved a lot earlier)

Unfavorable Reinforcement

The listing above is a roll name of escape and avoidance behaviors. These behaviors bought 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 essential outcome.

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 gentle 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
Conduct: 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 came upon.

Lewis’ charge 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 periods. And through this “aftermath” session I bought solely two, with excessive latency and the fidgety, avoidant behaviors I described.

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

I can’t consider a approach that unfavorable 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 take into account extinction, as a result of the speed of reinforcement did drastically drop.

Keep in mind above I discussed that a part of the standards for this husbandry activity 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 annoyed that I had raised standards too quick and he wasn’t accessing reinforcement on the former charge.

I do know what extinction-related conduct 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 in regards to the cotton, however I ended up burying the lede about it somewhat. Right here is the lede: Touching a cotton ball straight on the opening of the ear canal is LOUD. Cotton balls look gentle and innocuous, and touching them to a number 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 saved 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 now we have 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 constructive punishment. I feel we focus approach an excessive amount of on instruments generally. I don’t use any such collars, I don’t jerk on the leash, nor do I exploit entrance connect harnesses or head halters, however frankly, these make up a reasonably low bar. It’s a baseline. It’s not difficult or troublesome to not use instruments that harm. What I discover rather more difficult is noticing different stimuli which can be unexpectedly aversive, such one thing very gentle utilized to the incorrect place the incorrect approach.

Lewis was not harm, 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 alternative of what I would like. If I hadn’t been filming, I would by no means have identified simply how sad he was. And if I hadn’t been monitoring reps, I may not have seen that the chin relaxation bought punished. I’m glad I did know, even when somewhat late, as a result of I may 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 clever good friend as soon as described the kind of coaching constructive 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 are able to say Lewis’ chin relaxation was positively punished. We are able to 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 have 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’ normal discomfort with husbandry was a big a part of what prompted me to affix Dr. Waite’s examine. 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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