Thursday, August 29, 2013
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Saturday, August 24, 2013
I love freeze-dried food for backpacking trips. A full day's worth of calories for the Maisy Dog only weighs 2 ounces! For those of you who have hiked for many miles with everything you need on your back, you'll know why this is so exciting.
I reconstituted the Orijen and another freeze-dried food using cool water. Even though the package recommends warm water, I used the cool water as it's just more true to what happens in the back country. Both foods needed to be broken into smaller pieces in order to dissolve.
Then I set the Orijen down next to the other freeze-dried food, and the Orijen was a CLEAR winner. Maisy chose it time and again, no matter how many times I shuffled the two bowls around.
So it's two thumbs and four paws (plus one ear) up for Orijen's freeze-dried food!
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
|5 months old and venturing off on her own.|
In all this reading, I discovered a sneaky truth: there are no hard-and-fast timelines, nor even agreement on what each stage is called. The first part wasn't really a surprise, but I was a bit taken aback by the fact that there are so many ways to break down a puppy's development. I'm going to try to synthesize this material into something cohesive, but you should keep in mind that these periods can overlap, and that the breed of the dog will influence the timelines.
Neonatal Period, birth to 14 days
The neonatal period is rather boring, truth be told. In this stage, a puppy's eyes are closed and he is functionally deaf. He is completely dependent on his mother, and researchers have found little to no classical conditioning happening at this stage (at least, not in a way they could use). The puppy's task at this time is to develop some basic mobility and sensory awareness.
Transitional Period, 14 to 21 days
The transitional period begins when the puppy's eyes open and ends when he startles at noises. This usually takes place between 2 and 3 weeks. The pup's eyes will be a hazy or cloudy blue color, and will remain that way until 6 to 8 weeks. The teeth begin to form this point, and the sensory capabilities continue to develop.
Socialization Period, 3 weeks to ?? weeks
During this period of time, which most sources agree starts around 3 weeks, the puppy's brain develops rapidly. Although a puppy is born with basically all the brain cells he will ever have, the brain volume increases greatly due to the synaptic connections that are being physically formed. The Coppingers did brain scans and found that when a puppy is born, his brain volume is 8 cubic centimeters. By 2 months, it's 50 cubic cm, 80 cubic cm by 4 months, and 100 cubic cm at 12 months, which tends to be its final amount.
The connections that are being formed are due to socialization. This is where the puppy basically learns safe vs. not safe. If he encounters novel people/dogs/animals/surfaces/objects/sounds/etc. and has a good experience, that thing becomes classified as safe. If he encounters something and has a bad experience, that thing becomes not safe. If he doesn't encounter a certain thing at all, it will default to the not safe category. This is where behavioral problems like fear or aggression can come from.
The socialization window ends anywhere from 10 to 16 weeks. Dehasse says that studies have shown that between 3 to 5 weeks, a puppy will investigate just about anything without much hesitancy. At 7 to 9 weeks, the puppy needs more time to overcome his uncertainty (Dehasse uses the the word “fear”) and investigate a novel person. At 12 weeks, the puppy can overcome his fear, but only with “active manipulation” from the person. At 14 weeks, Dehasse says that socialization to people is nearly impossible if the dog hasn't already experienced them.
The Coppingers assert that by 16 weeks, a dog's personality is set for life. If he's timid at 16 weeks, he'll be timid at 3 years. They acknowledge that training and behavior modification can change the dog's personality, but are quick to say that the dog will have a social “accent” for the rest of his life. I really, really like that phrase, because it's a great way of describing how a dog can change yet still have lingering effects from the past.
Other things that happen during this stage:
At 3 weeks of age, the puppies begin to play with one another. From now until 7 weeks, they are developing bite inhibition. This is why it is so important that puppies stay with their litter for at least this long.
Mother dogs tend to initiate weaning at about 5 weeks. She does this by growling or snapping at her pups, especially when their sharp little puppy teeth hurt her teats. In response, the pups will roll over in deference. A puppy who is force weaned by being separated from his mom tends to show a reduction in appeasement behaviors; he has literally not learned how to do them. This can create issues in social hierarchies down the road.
House training happens during this stage as well. In the neonatal period, Momma Dog stimulates elimination. Around 2 to 3 weeks, elimination becomes spontaneous on the part of the puppy, and very soon after, the puppy will leave the bedding area to eliminate. By 8 weeks, the puppy will have developed substrate preferences for elimination. This is why it is so hard to house train a mill or pet store puppy; he has literally learned to pee where ever he is at the moment.
Fear Periods Multiple, but first one 7 to 12 weeks
This is probably where the biggest variation between puppies occurs. Although puppies will go through several fear periods- defined as a time when the puppy is especially sensitive to bad experiences- they vary in timing and number. Dehasse argues that the first fear period begins when the socialization period ends; around 12 weeks. The Coppingers, on the other hand, suggest that the first fear period starts around 7 weeks.
The owner's job during this time, whenever it happens, is to prevent or minimize bad experiences as much as possible. Bad experiences tend to be traumatic at this time and has a lifelong impact on behavior. There is at least one more fear period (and sometimes more than one) between 6 and 14 months, which roughly correlates with puberty.
Hierarchy and Status Development, 3 to 4 months
Bennett and Briggs were the only ones to label this as a separate developmental period, although Dehasse did allude to it. During this time, dogs start to figure out who they are in relation to other dogs. They also begin teething during this time as their incisors come in.
Flight Instinct or Exploration Period, 4 to 8 months
Puppy develops some independence during this period. He changes from the sweet shadow that follows you everywhere to no longer needing the immediate protection of his owner. This manifests itself as a desire to explore territory, and he will venture further and further away. This is the period where dogs begin to “blow off” their recall cues and find being chased a grand game!
Puberty, 6 to 12 months
During this time, pups begin to figure out all things sexual. An unspayed female will go into heat for the first time around now. Dogs will also begin to show wariness of the unknown. Dehasse says this isn't so much a behavioral fear as it is a cognitive process.
Social Maturity, 1 to 3 years
Social maturity very much depends on the breed, with smaller dogs tending to enter social maturity before bigger dogs. During this time, we see the effects of the earlier periods, and especially the results of our socialization efforts (or lack thereof) and experiences during the fear periods. This means it's when reactivity or aggression tends to rear its ugly head.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
|Picture is unrelated. But beautiful!|
Friday, August 16, 2013
Last weekend, I read Excelerated Learning by Pam Reid. As a side note, this was the first book I ever read on dog training, and it took me two months to get through it… and even then, I didn’t understand much of it. This time around, it took less than two days, and most of it was review.
But there was one section that I found very enlightening (and which I cross referenced against several other books): the processes of habituation, adaptation, and sensitization. Each of these is a way that a dog determines whether or not something is important or not, and how to respond.
Habituation happens when a dog “gets used to” something. Typically, the stimulus they get used to is something that initially causes either a startle or orienting response (“Woah, what’s that?”) but not outright fear. Through repeated exposure, the dog learns that the stimulus is not important and quits reacting to it.
The author gave the example of dropping your keys on the kitchen floor; the loud noise would likely cause your dog to jump or whip around to look at what just happened. If you were to drop your keys every thirty seconds, your dog might realize that nothing bad happens to him, and so the noise has no significance. This is habituation.
Habituation is prone to spontaneous recovery. That is, if your dog habituates to the sound of dropping keys on Monday, but then you don’t drop them again until Friday, chances are pretty good that he would startle or look for the source of the sound again.
Learned irrelevance is similar to habituation. When a dog has learned that something is irrelevant, he doesn’t react to it. However, unlike habituation, the stimulus originally caused little (if any) reaction. This means that stimuli that have been subjected to learned irrelevance are not susceptible to spontaneous recovery. The most common example of this is a dog learning that cue words have no consequence or meaning because they’ve been introduced so poorly or repeated so often.
Although adaptation is often used interchangeably with sensitization, they are not the same thing. I have a decent collection of books on dog training and ethology, and even so, only this book and Ken Ramirez’s book on animal training distinguished between the two.
Adaptation does not involve learning (as habituation does). Instead, it is a physical process in which the sensory neurons get overloaded. For example, people who smoke typically don’t notice the smell that clings to them while non-smokers notice it right away. This is because the smokers have adapted to the smell.
The opposite of habituation is sensitization. Instead of getting used to something, the dog’s reaction to the stimulus becomes stronger. Using the example of the keys, if a dog is becoming sensitized to them, each subsequent time you drop them, he will go startling to more intense reactions like barking or running away.
This is part of why expecting a dog to “just get over” something can backfire; instead of teaching them the stimulus is nothing to worry about, they get worse. Stimuli that elicit strong emotional responses tend to sensitize. The problem, of course, is that you don’t always know when something will do this. If your dog was a rescue, and if his previous owners threw keys at him to punish him, he might have a strong response to that and sensitize to it.
Of course, it may have nothing to do with a previous experience; anxious dogs are likely predisposed to sensitization instead of habituation. The author notes that sensitized dogs tend to over-react to many things, and often this is a very generalized response instead of stimulus-specific.
Finally, since we’re talking about the idea of “just get over it,” a discussion on flooding is worthwhile. Also known as response prevention, flooding is an extinction procedure in which the dog is forced to be around a stimulus the startles or scares it. Because the dog is prevented from escaping an uncomfortable stimulus, they often get worse; being trapped is scary.
This isn’t to say that flooding never works- it can- but the author states that it only works if the dog becomes exhausted and unable to respond. Personally, I am so not interested in doing that to my dog, but even if was willing to do it, the risk of learned helplessness is too great.
Learned helplessness happens when a dog is subjected to aversive stimuli that has nothing to do with his behavior, his behavior has no effect in preventing or stopping it, and he’s unable to escape. Dogs who develop learned helplessness become shut down and “just take it.”
And that’s your quick crash course on what happens when a dog decides if something is important (or not). Anyone else out there read Excelerated Learning? What was the biggest thing you took away from it?
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
- They are actually training-treat-size. I wouldn't have minded if they were about half this size, but they are just fine as they are. (I tried to break them in half, but because they are dehydrated, they crumble pretty easily. I didn't try using a knife. I probably should have, but honestly, I'm too lazy for that.)
- At 2 calories a pop, they're easy on the waistline.
- The ingredients are great, although dogs with allergies will want to check the ingredients; it's not single-source protein and it has a few fruits/veggies/supplements that could give some dogs problems.
Finally, Chewy.com told me to tell you that there is a Rafflecopter giveaway available. I don't really get all this new-fangled technology stuff, but "rafflecopter" is an awesome name, amirite?
Sunday, August 11, 2013
|Kathy works with a small group on their skills!|
Friday, August 9, 2013
Continuous Reinforcement Schedules (CRF)
Most training starts here, with the continuous rate of reinforcement. This means that every time the dog does the behavior, he gets reinforced. It works best during the teaching phase, and it helps establish a strong contingency between the behavior and the reinforcer.
If you use a continuous reinforcement schedule, keep in mind that these behaviors are quite susceptible to “extinction,” which means that if you stop reinforcing the behavior, the dog is going to stop the behavior. Since it can be difficult to be sure that you reinforce every instance of a behavior, this schedule is a bit impractical. This is why most trainers switch to some kind of variable reinforcement schedule, but it is possible to use a continuous rate for the life of an animal (indeed, it’s what the Baileys- arguably some of the best animal trainers of the 20th century- used most of the time).
Partial (or Intermittent) Schedules (PRF)
There are several types of partial (sometimes called intermittent) reinforcement schedules. Although each type is distinct from the others, they do have several things in common. These are used when a continuous schedule is simply too cumbersome, for whatever reason. They are more resistant to extinction, and they typically feel more “natural” to people. You do need to be cautious that you don’t “thin” the schedule too quickly as this will cause “ratio strain” and degrade the quality of the behavior.
Fixed Ratio (FR)
A fixed ratio is when the reinforcer is given after a certain number of behaviors. The number after the abbreviation informs you how many behaviors need to be done before reinforcement is earned. For example, an FR5 means the dog must do five sits (or whatever) before receiving his treat.
Fixed ratios will produce high, steady rates of responding due to their systematic, consistent, and predictable nature. That said, fixed ratios also have a “post reinforcement pause” where the dog will briefly stop doing the behavior immediately after being reinforced. Their response time will increase as they approach the next opportunity for reinforcement. If your ratio is very high (such as an FR400), the post reinforcement pause will be longer.
Variable Ratio (VR)
In a variable ratio, the frequency of treats given is variable from trial to trial and should happen after an unpredictable number of times. It’s typically done around an average number of times. For example, a VR4 would mean that the treats are given approximately 1 out of 4 responses. During a series of behaviors, the treat may be given on the 2nd repetition, the 6th repetition, and then the 4th repetition.
Variable ratios yield high, steady rates of responding, and there is a much lower rate of post response pauses. This schedule is also more resistant to extinction and useful for fading out a fixed ratio schedule. That said, a truly variable ratio is difficult to achieve as we humans tend to be pattern dependent.
Fixed Interval (FI)
In a fixed interval, reinforcement is given after a certain period of time. An FI5 would indicate that reinforcement is given for the first correct behavior after 5 seconds (or minutes, depending) has passed since the last reinforcement.
Interval schedules (both fixed and variable) are great for teaching duration behaviors. A fixed interval is prone to extinction, though, and has a pronounced post reinforcement pause. In this case, the pause is “scallop-shaped;” the behavior levels off in the first bit of time, and then increases in frequency as the time for reinforcement comes due. This is similar to a student checking the clock more frequently when class is almost over.
Variable Interval (VI)
In this schedule, reinforcement is given on an average amount of time, which means the first correct behavior after an unpredictable amount of time has passed is reinforced. Like the variable ratio, a VI4 would mean that the reinforcement happens approximately every 4 seconds (minutes, etc.), but that the amount of time elapsed will change from trial to trial.
This schedule produces a slow, steady rate of responding, although you don’t tend to get a particularly high rate of behavior. It has good resistance to extinction, making it particularly good for fading out a fixed interval schedule. Like the variable ratio, it can be difficult to be truly unpredictable.
When I get around to it, I’ll post about the differential reinforcement schedules. There are quite a few of these, and they are arguably more interesting than these more basic schedules. But for now- what are you guys studying?
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
|Photo by Laura.|
Sunday, August 4, 2013
|The camera caught me mid-reinforcement!|