First, a digression: Argh, how embarrassing. Jim just noticed in that last week’s post I wrote “Next week I’ll write a full report of the talks at the Animal Behavior Society 2013 Meeting in Boulder. I was great, lots to tell you about!” I meant, of course, “It was great”. Jim’s very words were: “I’m sure you were great, Trisha, but it’s not like you to say so.” Sigh. I’m not so sure that I was great (I thought my talk was good but not brilliant), but even if I thought I brought down the house I’d never say so. Sigh. But now, here’s what WAS great:
The Animal Behavior Society Meetings were in Boulder, Colorado this year, and they were a joy to attend. There’s so much information to convey that I’ll never manage doing so in one post, but here’s a start.
First off, it has been several years since I’ve been to an ABS conference, and attending was a bit like going home. I saw all kinds of people I hadn’t seen in a long time (Irene Pepperberg of Alex the African Grey Parrot fame for example) and colleagues from UW when I was in graduate school. I had a lovely, long talk with one of my idols, Robert Seyfarth, who along with his wife Dorothy Cheney, did decades of elegant research on the vocalizations of vervet monkeys. Their studies were the first to show that animals of any species had different calls for different contexts of predators (a hawk over head, versus a leopard for example), and that the calls were learned over time during development.
Lots of other Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs) where there, making it extra fun to spend time with current colleagues. Especially gratifying was the interaction between those of us working on applied issues and people researching every imaginable type of behavior in a vast range of species. The talks ranged from using targeted sounds to keep Starlings off of runways at airports (brilliant physics involved), to sexual pigmentation as a predictor of reproductive performance in Yellow Warblers, to “Socially induced plasticity in penis morphology, and implications for genital evolution.” (Missed that one, darn.)
Today I’ll give you a summary of some of the best of the talks on the “Public Day,” organized by Suzanne Hetts and Dan Estepp and hosted by ABS. It was free to the public and included some great information (not to mention some belly laughs). I started the day off by comparing the greeting behavior, affiliative behavior and play behavior of dogs, cats and humans. I’ve never given a talk organized quite this way, and it was super fun: Think about the differences in greeting behavior of all three species, for example, when meeting someone new: People (direct eye contact, face-to-face), Dogs (avoid direct eye contact, but approach and begin sniffing) and Cats (do not approach at all, sit quietly while pretending you don’t even see another cat!) I greatly enjoyed adding cats to the mix. I rarely get asked to talk about cats, but I love doing so, they are so often misunderstood.
Next, Suzanne Hetts, PhD, CAAB, gave a great talk about introducing a new dog or cat to your home. It was full of excellent information, including an argument that 1) The behavior and routine of the resident animal should not change substantially when a new dog or cats arrives, 2) Remember that cats only hide if they are scared. It is not normal behavior for a well socialized cat, and should be addressed when possible. 3) Dominance myths allow some dogs to bully others within a household, and it simply isn’t ethical to let it happen . Suzanne also had an excellent section introducing cats, which I’ll summarize by saying “Go Slow!” Because it is such an important topic and something I too have spent a lot of time on, I think I’ll write a blog on this topic sometime this year.
I loved her summary of what she considers to be a healthy relationship between animals in a home:
1. No animal harasses another (ie, continually blocks another animal from moving forward, forces the other to drop a toy, etc.) [Note: I know in many cases, including my own, that some dogs play fetch together and seem to have amenably decided on who gets to bring back the toy. One comment on an earlier blog talked about one dog getting to the toy first, bringing it partway back to a second, voluntarily giving it to that dog who then takes it back to the owner. Sounds like it was a hit at the dog park! Examples like that are not harassment; standing over another dog and growling until it drops the toy is.]
2. No dog is afraid of another dog: All dogs can enter any room, approach an owner or a favored sleeping place at any time. I can’t tell you how many cases I’ve had in which one dog slunk around the house in absolute fear of another dog. Heartbreaking.
3. Somewhat related to #1, No dog dominates the toys IF the other dog also loves toys. [A note from my situation: Willie and Tootsie got chews last night, Tootsie on the couch and Willie on a mat on the floor. Willie would be happy to snatch the chew out of Tootsie’s mouth, but knows that would result in a quiet, low voiced “Willieee” from me, and doesn’t even try.]
4. Minor conflicts are fine, a growl here or a stare there, but serious or escalating conflicts require intervention. I couldn’t agree more. I simply never “let the dogs work it out.” It DOES sometimes solve things (on rare occasion), but more often results in injury and intimidation. My goal is to teach dogs to be patient and polite, as everyone who lives together should be. I’ve written a lot more about how to do this in the booklet Feeling Outnumbered, and on the DVD of the same name.
Eeeps! There were three more speakers, each of them excellent, how can I tell you about all of them? Here’s a start:
Marc Bekoff, PhD gave another thought-provoking talk. Marc talked about play in many species, but introduced his material by talking about the importance of seeing animals for who they really are. He made compelling arguments that the differences between humans and non-human animals are differences of degree rather than kind (Darwin made the same argument), and that it is more logical to assume that many animals share consciousness, basic emotions like fear and joy, and active mental lives in ways comparable to humans. It is indeed interesting that for decades one could talk about negative motivations in animals without criticism (competitive, pushy, aggressive etc) but woe onto anyone who used positive emotions when describing animal behavior (like love, happiness, etc). He is absolutely correct that for many decades scientists have not been objective when describing non-human animals. That is indeed changing, but there is still a strong bias against truly objective interpretations of the mental life of mammals and birds. I just recently had a discussion with someone who argued flat out that attributing emotions to non-human animals has no benefit and does nothing but confuse our interactions with them. I absolutely disagree, although I do agree that we have to be extremely careful about making assumptions about shared emotional states.
Speaking of problematic assumptions about dogs, the next talk included Horowitz’s and Hecht’s research on the “guilty look,” which turns out to be appeasement and nothing has to do with what the dog actually did before the owner arrived back home.
The talk was by the always brilliant Julie Hecht, MS, who talked about recent research in canine cognition that is theoretically interesting, but also can help us understand our dogs even better. I’m especially grateful to have attended, because I learned some new things I’ll be talking about in Chicago this weekend at the Sense and Sensibility Seminar. Here’s a short sample:
Wells and Hepper 2006 found that newborn puppies preferred food scented with anise if their mothers had eaten that kind of food before they were born, but they only retained that preference after 10 weeks if they had been exposed both in utero and immediately after birth.
Lupfer and Johnson 2007 found that a dog preferred food if he had sniffed the muzzle of another dog who had eaten it. (Which, by the way, was found in rats quite awhile ago, I love that someone just looked for it in dogs.)
Prato and Previde et al 2008 asked dogs to choose between one bit of food versus eight bits. No surprise, the dogs choose the higher quantity BUT, if their owner picked up the small quantity and made a fuss over it, some dogs ended up choosing it.
Julie also talked about Chaser, the dog who learned 1,022 words. She interviewed the owners, the Pilleys, and learned that they spent 4-5 hours a day teaching Chaser to name objects and understand verbs. As importantly, they did hundreds if not thousands of repetitions, tested her memory often and didn’t hesitate to retrain and refresh whenever needed. What I find especially interesting is that the Pilley’s had no luck teaching her the name of objects using discrimination trials (putting down two objects and asking the dog to make a choice based on what word you use), but could teach her over a 1,000 words by teaching one at a time. That is exactly the experience I had with Willie, and if you think about it, exactly how children learn the names of objects themselves. I am reading a pre-pub copy of the Pilley’s book, Chaser, Unlocking the Genuis of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words, right now, and will write a full summary/review of it closer to its release date in late October.
Pamela Reid, PhD CAAB gave the last but not least talk of the day by any means, full of inspiring stories about the new partnership between the ASPCA and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center that created a rehabilitation center for dogs deeply damaged by cruelty or neglect. Pam is the Vice President of the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty team, and knows as much as anyone in the country about dogs suffering from hoarders, puppy mills and dog fighting rings. I’m not sure how she works day after day with so much suffering and maintains her upbeat attitude and energy, but both she, and the A itself, deserve a tremendous amount of credit for it.
She also described general differences between dogs pulled from mills, hoarders and fighting rings and explained that dogs from fighting rings tend to be super social to people, (more so than some pet dogs) perhaps in part because their owners ruthlessly cull any dog who turns on them while fighting. Not surprisingly, there is a higher probably of these dog being dog-dog aggressive: I suppose that barely needs repeating, but there it is. On the other hand, puppy mill or hoarding-case dogs tend to be highly variable in sociability to people. Some are extremely friendly and docile (my Tootsie is a perfect example of that, having spent seven years in a tiny cage and loving every person she meets). Others are excessively shy around people, but often much more comfortable around other dogs. That has been one of the keys to their rehabilitation: using “helper dogs” to act as social bridges between the shy dog and people. I was especially interested in their findings, because that has also been my experience, but my sample size is much, much lower than theirs.
The day ended with all the speakers on the panel answering questions from the audience. It was a great day, and I’m grateful for Suzanne and Dan for organizing it and the Animal Behavior Society for hosting it. Thanks especially for everyone who came. If you did, I’d love to hear from you about what parts of the day were most interesting to you.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Ralphie and Stud Muffin are settling in inside their new pasture, and we’ve added Stud Muffin’s sister, who has always been very small and never gained weight very well. We moved her there because we can give her more food without the other mob of lambs out competing her, in hopes she will gain more weight. She had a rough few days, having been separated from her mother (who appeared to pay no attention), but is doing well now. All three of them are getting extra grain and hay, as well as lots of yummy grass, but refuse to eat the pieces of apple I also put in their feeding pans.
That is interesting, because my adult sheep adore apples, absolutely adore them. So much so that you can predict exactly where they will go when you open the gate to the main pasture. Lady Godiva leads the way, running, RUNNING, to the closest apple tree where green apples are beginning to fall. However, unless lambs watch their mothers eat apples, they refuse them. I’ve seen this several years in the past when, for some reason, lambs were weaned from the mothers and in a different area. Right now the lambs still with the ewe flock are beginning to gobble up apples as enthusiastically as their mothers, while Ralphie, Stud Muffin and ??? still refuse them. (I guess I am going to have to name this little lamb now. Anyone else old enough to remember Twiggy, the ridiculously skinny model?) . For now I am cutting apples up into tiny pieces and mixing them in with their grain, but I’m also letting the ewes eat apples right beside the three lambs, with just a fence between them, hoping that watching others eat apples will get the three lambs started. It worked with grass–Ralphie wouldn’t eat grass until I was able to take him out to the pasture and sit with him beside the other sheep and he began to notice what they were doing. Hopefully it will work with apples too. Although not critical, it would be great if Ralphie and friends would learn to eat apples, because we have a ton of wild ones on the farm, and they are a great supplementary food for the sheep.
Speaking of apples, here is Lady Godiva eating one. Apparently I have failed to teach her table manners and to keep her mouth shut while she eats.
And here’s Tootsie girl. It seemed appropriate to add a photo of her after talking about dogs from puppy mills. I am still in awe that she is so friendly and loving to everyone she meets, dogs and people alike, after seven years in a mill pumping out puppies twice a year. At the moment there is a Bobcat (the machine, not the animal) working in the backyard, and she is clearly frightened of the noise. She begged me, oh so clearly, to let her out of the house and into the car–the place she appears to define as her “safe house.” She has always loved the car, which seems a bit strange for a mill dog. But perhaps it is the only place, even more than her crate, that feels like the home she had for seven years in the puppy mill. Who knows, maybe she even was in a car for all that time; I have heard of mills in central Wisconsin that stash dogs in hidden locations in trailers, so perhaps she was stashed in an old, parked car. All I can say is that after about a year, she came into her own, discovering what it is to be a dog, and a spaniel at that, using her nose, exploring the world, and loving, as every Cavalier is bred to do, being on your lap. We are so lucky to have her.
Trisha. You WERE great. Don’t sell yourself short. 😉
Envious, that’s the only word for it. Wish I could have been there for some of those talks you sketch so well. I’ve been fascinated watching my animals work out their social relationships especially since one of them, Finna, aka psycho bitch from hell, has so many issues. The other animals have apparently agreed that the living room is her room in the house and that they need her permission to enter. In exchange she makes no claim to the rest of the house sharing it peaceably. And there is a very clear demarcation where her room ends and the rest of the house begins.
Finna had cruciate ligament surgery yesterday so we will be doing lots and lots of brain games for awhile. I’d already started teaching her names for my keys, phone, and for book. The goal is that she’ll be able to locate the things I’m always misplacing–my keys, my phone, and the book I’m reading. We teach each one individually and then move on to choose between objects. I would have loved to hear the Chaser talk and look forward to your review of the book.
And of course Finna being from a hoarding situation I’m constantly looking for resources that shed light on the damage done to her and the ways to rehabilitate her. It breaks my heart that a dog being raised to fight gets better socialization and more handling than she did. Neglect is its own special brand of cruelty. Looking back and realizing that she must have been in pain for some time–85% rupture at the time of the surgery intermittent lameness for almost a year–it’s amazing how much progress she’s been making. Crossing fingers, toes, and all paws that when she’s recovered and is out of pain progress will be even faster. Poor thing came to us with all her stress carried in her lower back so her gait has never been entirely normal, the side ligament and meniscus were both in great shape so there was no play in the knee so diagnosis was very tricky, especially so when you add in the fact that the vet still can’t touch her unless she’s heavily sedated–in fact the surgery was exploratory with the hope that we’d find what was indeed the case and fix it. Given everything, the fact that we’ve had a few episodes of her acting like a normal dog lately is a tribute to her resilience.
Lovely to see Tootsie again – I thought of her recently when I had a dog brought up on 300 acres who virtually ran wild then sold to my client, she loved her owner, but 5 visits only allowed me to toss her food from a distance of a few feet.
I envy you the number of seminars & conferences in the States, in Australia there are only a couple a year, and way too expensive for most of us. And I don’t know anyone kind enough to blog about the talks! The talk about a healthy relationship between animals is especially important to me right now – one of my old girls is getting more confrontational as she gets older (possibly pain which I am treating, but also she is deaf and losing her sight). My other old girl and my boy had a couple of months where they were staring and growling at each other every couple of weeks instead of a couple of times a year. I have to manage them more carefully now – make sure each has access to me and pick up food toys immediately after use. The boy who is 9 doesn’t see why my old girl of 14 1/2 should still have preferential treatment – if only he knew it is because she has severe arthritis and physically can’t get out of his way any more he mightn’t be so willing to take offence!
Talking about pain, how is Willie’s rehab going?
Thanks for a fascinating post – and a lovely photo of Tootsie to finish with!
I followed the advice in your books when I introduced Poppy into the household – so much better and happier than the old “let them all sort it out” approach. The dogs would still bully Pippin cat if I let them, despite the fact that he weighs nearly as much as the two of them put together, but with repeated intervention and distraction we quickly got to the point where everyone could settle down and relax in the same room, and it is now not uncommon for both dogs and both cats to be heaped on and around my chair with me. I do sometimes worry whether the dogs take up so much of my time and attention that the cats lose out, although I suspect the cats would soon tell me – or the neighbours – if they felt I should be doing more! I’d love to hear more of your experiences and advice around multi species households.
Heike Naujok says
Dear Patricia. I just finished reading your book , ‘das andere Ende der Leine’
It is amazing, fantastic, wonderfull, great…:-) Thanks you so much!
When you come to Germany this fall, why don’t you come over to Berlin, too and visit us??
We live with two girls, 7 and 9 and our third ‘girl’ is an Irish Setter teenie . 🙂 . She is almost 7 months old. We would really love to meet you and talk and learn and drink some tea or coffee??:-)
What Do you think? It is maybe a kind of strange Email?? But honestly: You are warm welcome at our place!!
Best wishes ,
I so wish I could’ve been there for all of the talks you described. The one about introductions and polite animals in the home was one I would’ve loved to hear and got me to thinking about how lucky I’ve been to have such well socialized dogs. When I brought my second guide, Torpedo, home with me, I was worried about how he and my retired guide would get along. My instructors assured me that the dogs would most likely be just fine. In fact, I might have to keep them apart because they might play too much and begin to bond with each other instead of me. That didn’t happen, but my boys loved playing in the first few months and they always got along great. I’m hoping to use your book for introducing pets to each other when we add a kitty to the household. My Fiance is a cat person and wants one very badly. I want to find one that is good with dogs, but I still plan on using your books and dvds as help. Like other commenters, I’m wondering how Willy is doing? Let us know and give him lots of hugs and cuddles.
Robin Jackson says
Wonderful post! Thanks so much for taking the time to go into the details.
i suspect that behavioural psychologists up through the eighties deadened themselves to the emotional range of animals because it would have been nearly impossible to experiment on them otherwise. (I say this having grown up around behavioural psychologists.) they drew a huge black line distinction between most animals and humans in the same way that soldiers depersonalise the enemy. It makes the work possible.
Regarding recognition of named objects, Helix Fairweather and Kathy Sdao have both done a lot of practical work on this with dogs. Kathy has pointed out that for most dogs, the hardest step is learning the third name. Because up until then, they’re mostly just guessing based on reward history. Donna Hill has also done practical work on this, and emphasises NOT starting with a Retrieve, but just an indicator. Otherwise You run into something Kathy also talks about: most dogs understand verbs better than nouns. The name becomes a call to action, not really a name.
Helix mentions the error she made in initially choosing items that were too exciting to the dog (tennis balls and toys), making it very hard for the dog to ignore the ones not wanted. Donna uses baseball caps early on, having also found balls problematic for similar reasons.
Several trainers have mentioned the dog evaluating objects differently than a child, often by smell. Two objects that look very different to a person may smell nearly identical to a dog.
My service dog Dilly can now do an out of sight retrieve of two named objects (my purse or his dinner bowl) from anywhere in the house–or even if we start in the yard and he has to go back in the house. This took about 9 weeks to master, but he’s very reliable. Many people who do a “find the keys” routine find it only works one room at a time. The person has to be in the room or the dog stops searching. Or at least the out of sight location has to be known, like going to the closet for shoes. Of our 9 weeks, over half was spent specifically on the unknown location aspect.
One last point: many practical trainers suggest if you want to use multiple verbs with one object, that you say the noun first. So “Box, over.” “Box, get.” “Box, target.” However, I know Chaser was not taught this way. I’m curious if anyone’s done a real study on this issue, but I haven’t seen one.
Vicki in Michigan says
Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I am following up (titles reserved at the library….)……
I DID attend the morning half of the free day and were GREAT, Trisha! I had already read much of what you and Dr. Hetts covered in your presentations, but hearing it organized that way made it all the more understandable to me. I loved that both of you incorporated cats into your talks, since I haven’t spent as much time learning about them. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to do this. It would have been great to have it recorded and then put on a website somewhere a week or so later.
Thanks Heidi! I wish it had been recorded too.
To Robin: Thanks for the interesting info re training dogs on words. I too suspect that most dogs associate words with verbs, given how we train them. I am absolutely sure that was true with Willie, as both a pet dog and working sheep dog. And I love the comments about be thoughtful about what toy to choose, I found the same issues with Willie. I had to pick toys of relatively equal interest, or his motivation to get just one over powered all else.
And to Laura: Great news about Willie! His PT said he looked really good just yesterday, so we now have one more month of gradually increasing freedom and then another month of continued exercises and gaining strength and conditioning. Yeah! I’ll write more about it next week.
I want to write more but have to go to practice my talk for tomorrow! I always find lots of excuses to put it off (makes me nervous) but I’d better get to it!
Wanda J. says
I, too, have a puppy mill Cavalier and today I saw a first! I foster for a rescue and currently have a 3 year old yorkie/shih tzu named Emmett who is the most playful little guy I have ever seen. Usually he plays with our 1 year old Irish terrier, but Quinn was outside doing tear-arounds with my other foster. Jewel and Emmett were laying in a spot of sunshine while I was doing my exercises. Emmett tried and tried to engage Jewel in play but as usual, she just didn’t respond. Emmett licked her face, tugged on her ear, humped her head, rolled over on his back and pawed at her. Jewel did nothing. Then Emmett was quiet and didn’t move for a minute or so and I could not believe my eyes as Jewel raised her little paw and pawed at Emmett! She repeated her action several times as I watched. Emmett responded with more play behavior, but all Jewel managed was that little paw action. Yippee! Baby steps! In the 3 years I have had Jewel, this is the first time I saw her play with another dog.
(I just had to share this break through!)
Kim F. says
I wonder if, like the rats and dogs studied, the lambs were to smell apples on the breath/muzzles of the other sheep if they would be more inclined to eat the apples?
I was thinking exactly that last night! Great minds, hey? Here’s the question: would it work if I ate the apples? (Doubtful, it didn’t work when I pretended to eat grass.) The problem is the lambs won’t be able to sniff the muzzles of the ewes, even though they theoretically could through the fence, but they don’t ever seem to do that. Sigh. I’ll keep working on it!
Yeah baby steps! You are absolutely right that the paw action was meaningful and the first step toward play. Yeah!!!!
Try spitting on the apples. Or having one of the ewes eat half the apple and offer the other half to the lambs (er, if the ewes allow this sort of thing). If lambs are learning about food from olfactory cues, then the cue should be in saliva, I’d think. I sometimes lick food to get my rats to eat it, since I know they are sensitive to exactly this sort of chemical signal.
If they are learning from visual observation, then I encourage you to get down on all fours, theatrically eat some apples, videotape it, and post it to the blog ;-P
Awesome blog Trisha, as always, though this is the first time I’ve commented.
Such a joke that people were/are scorned for attributing positive emotions to animals.
The idea of degree of difference rather than kind of difference b/w humans and non-human animals puts my feelings into words perfectly.
I read your “The Other End of the Leash” book. Favourite dog book I’ve read (so far 😉
What do you think about the over-justification effect occurring in dogs? Do you think its true? I do. In “The Genius of Dogs” by Hare, he talks a little bit about it. In my experience of training my dog Lily, she seems to be less motivated in the future if I use treats to refresh her memory on coming, sitting, etc. Results are definitely better if I use play instead of food as the reward. But still, with play, and even with petting and saying “good girl” in a cute voice, I feel like its kinda pushing the motivation of the act into the extrinsic side of things. She doesn’t act with urgency when I call her to come, and sometimes she does not even come. I never punish her for not coming, but instead say “Try again”. When I watch guide dogs or other reliable working dogs, they seem to know that they have a real purpose and are intrinsically motivated. I know, I know, call me crazy. I would LOOVE to hear your thoughts if you have time. Maybe it all comes down to the quality of the relationship, but I mean I think Lily and I are pretty darn solid on that front. Some people say tracking might help with the dog’s sense of importance.
Keep up the awesome work! Sorry for the novel. And sorry if I missed something in your book that addresses this, I’m a busy student 🙂
Great idea about getting a ewe to mouth part of an apple and then giving it to the lambs. Because they often spit out some parts of the apple, I think that is practical. And I DID get down on all fours and pretend to eat grass, heaven help me. All I can say is thank heavens no none had a video camera handy!!!
To Ben: Eeeps, explain the “over justification effect”. Somehow I missed that one. Thanks!
The over justification effect is when external incentives (money, food, etc) decreases someone’s intrinsic motivation to do a task. So with everything, its more complicated than this (exceptions to the rule), but from what I understand this idea is fairly well accepted to be true for humans. For example, one study found that when monetary incentives are introduced for workers, worker productivity actually drops. Same idea with students and grades: I know there has been studies that showed that students perform WORSE when rewarded with money for better grades.
The idea is that for best results, you should want to actually do the task. Being rewarded for doing the task makes you focus more on the reward, and makes you forget you wanted to do the task just for the sake of doing it! Hopefully I am making sense now.
But anyways, according to Hare in “The Genius of Dogs”, and my limited experience, the same thing might be true to a degree in dogs.
No, thank YOU.
Dogs do vary, but mine were the only ones in the dog park (when I still went) that came running when I called. I normally always released them to play again after the first treat reward, and sometimes after the second. The third “come” was treat-rewarded as I clipped on the leashes. Certainly some of the other dogs had good training otherwise.
I have to comment on the section about play and positive emotions. I have no doubt that dogs experience some form of joy during playtime-it’s obvious from their body language & facial expressions. But the best example of this for me is when I was at a retreat on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington-there was an open field, and if I (or anyone) walked out into it, the swallows would play with us. They would fly in large circles and get as close as possible without touching. It was magical, and yes it probably had something to do with us humans dislodging some form of insect life (that they would eat), but they would continue to do it even after we stood still (and were no longer kicking up food), and it definitely felt like play. Another time, I was at the Point Defiance Zoo and they had a tropical tank with a ray of some kind, and that ray would interact with visitors, going so far as to splash water over the side of the tank at us. Again, it definitely felt like a play interaction, and sort of joyful (and a bit impish). I think the idea that only humans experience joy is a great big ego trip, and complete silliness.
Robin Jackson says
The overjustification effect is a bit controversial because people tend to misinterpret it to mean that all external rewards harm performance. Of course we have almost 100 years of data to know that’s not true. But what IS true in both people and dogs is that if the individual is doing something they already know how to do and already find really rewarding, adding an external reward can be a distraction.
We see this all the time in working border collies. If the dog is experienced and working well, they don’t want to be stopped halfway for a food treat. Or if an accomplished human pianist is midway through a concerto, they don’t want to hear applause before they’ve finished.
But that doesn’t mean food rewards for dogs and stickers for kids aren’t motivating when learning something new–or when changing the learner’s evaluation of something they’re not that interested in to begin with.
An article on the overjustification effect in kids. Note that they were NOT learning a skill, just playing:
And a recent study on food to improve recall speed in dogs:
If a healthy dog isn’t responding reliably and enthusiastically to a Recall, food rewards are almost
always the fastest way to retrain. There’s no overjustification effect because the dog isn’t having
fun in the first place.
On the other hand, if a dog is joyously involved in an activity they’ve mastered and already love doing, adding a
food reward may just be a distraction.
To Robin and Be about the overjustitication effect. Thanks to you both for your clarification, I love how much I learn from all of you. I knew about the ‘effect’ but didn’t know the term, so thanks. Robin’s example is absolutely spot on of how IF there is an inherent internal reward an external reinforcement can actually act as punishment. Given a working BC a treat is the perfect example.
I’d write more but time again to work on my talk for today, coming up in an hour or so. Internal, inherent value is clear here = the hope that I, in some small way, “enhance the relationship between people and animals all over the world.” Wish me luck!
Trisha and Robin: Yeah exactly, with any working dog (guide, herding, police) it seems like the overjustification effect is definitely applicable. One day (when I exclusively can train my dog, no contradictory training from others) I hope to have a dog that is close to that well trained. So then its like, what constitutes ‘work’ to a dog? How to instill that internal motivation? I still think ‘sense of importance’ ties into this.
Trisha: Yeah, figured it would be something like that – just did not know the term for it. Hope the talk went well.
Robin: Wow, good stuff, I knew there were exceptions to the rule! lol. Very neat.
I still wonder about how one goes from using external rewards to train a new behaviour to getting the dog to do the said behaviour with internal motivation. Dog motivation, to me, is the thing I most want to understand more. Is weaning the dog off treats for a given command really all there is to it? Hmm.
Robin Jackson says
Good luck with the talk, I’m sure it will be great!
There is one more really important point that the overjustification effect that Ben brought up reminds us of, and can apply to any dog.
Dogs, like people, need some unstructured time to just play, relax, explore–to do things that they like to do, without being judged.
One of the things about either training or teaching is that it can put us into evaluator mode. Yes, we reward frequently: but in order to reward, we have to measure progress.
I suspect that one of the biggest reasons the kids in the overjustification effect study stopped coloring with markers was that they didn’t want that play activity to be constantly scrutinized by the adults in the room. It wasn’t as much fun then. Knowing that picking up a marker meant some adult was taking out a figurative stop watch chilled the whole activity, even with a reward at the end.
Dogs, especially dogs going through intensive training for work or sports, can run into the same thing–sometimes literally. 🙂 A dog who is being rewarded for learning the technical aspects of dogsport Frisbee may lose some interest in just goofing around fetch games, perhaps because of the sense that every jump, every turn, every catch is being watched and measured.
That doesn’t mean rewards aren’t a good thing in the learning phase and beyond. After all, human workers who get no salary tend to find a new job pretty quick!
What it does mean is that there is a difference between play and work, whether it’s dogs or people. Even the best trained, highest achieving dogs need some time to just play. No markers, no external rewards, no judging.
What Leslie McDevitt calls “sniff walks” are great for this even with elderly, less active dogs. Just a quiet walk where the dog sets the pace and you stop and explore as often as the dog wants to. No agenda, no clicker, no pressure. It can be rejuvenating for any dog, but even more for one who spends a lot of time in intensive training.
Margaret McLaughlin says
@ Ben–working on this right now with my 21mo Flat-Coat, Nina. My goal is that the reward for performing each behavior is the cue for the next behavior. (You did a nice front? Great! Now you get to finish!) Had a lesson today where it was pointed out to me that our Novice routine gets weaker as we go through the exercises, so we’re not there yet: a really strong behavior chain builds up, not down. The finish is the reward for the front is the reward for coming fast & straight is the reward for the stay is the reward for the lineup is the reward for the transition is the reward for the last sit of the heel free….
I had observed with previous dogs that they seemed to find treats almost irrelevant when the knew the behaviors, but I never knew there was a name for it; thanks. I do suspect this would not apply when you pull something out of the whole to polish it up or reteach a bit of it, but if I’m raising my criteria the dog doesn’t really “know” the behavior, since I’ve changed my expectations, & so the reinforcement is information again.
Good point about scrutinization. I find its hard to learn when under scrutiny. Its easier to learn when relaxed.
Wow, I didn’t know sniff walks were a thing. I impulsively started doing those like a month ago, and it definitely makes Lily behave better on regular-I-set-the-pace walks.
Regarding the human workers with no salary, I just want to say that is a lot different than getting incentives for certain task accomplishments. Salary which does not correlate with productivity might be viewed as more disconnected from individual work projects.
I’ll have to read stuff like “From puppy to working, sporting or police dog” (Staal) and “Teamwork” (Nordensson and Kelley) to see if all they do is wean the dogs off of rewards.
Robin Jackson says
For humans, the picture on financial incentives and performance is complicated by four different things:
1) different people have different financial needs. Someone who has a disabled family member, or who is using a city job to support a family farm, or who simply has more bills to pay, may need the extra money.
2) different people have different preferences once their basic needs are met. Just as some dogs prefer play to treats in some situations, some people prefer time off to cash rewards.
3) many people find small cash rewards insulting if they judge the reward not commensurate to the work they’ve put in.
4) once basic needs are met, extra money will not make up for a negative work environment for most people, especially if they feel disrespected.
The issue is the same as the one for dogs: it’s the dog who decides what’s rewarding. Not the trainer. My dog Dilly has a motto: “There are no low value treats.” Not so for my son’s dog Tulip. Almost nothing is more motivating to her than the chance to herd or guard. She will blow off most treats, toys, attention in favour of sitting outside and bird watching.
Then one day, by accident, I discovered that salmon is a currency she recognises. It can be any kind of salmon treat from gummies to jerky and she’s willing to work for it. We made more training progress in the year since I discovered that than we had in the previous twelve. I didn’t change anything in the training except the reward. But it changed everything in terms of the effort she voluntarily put in.
So once the basic needs are met, the employee feels respected, and the reward is seen as commensurate with effort, financial incentives do improve performance for most people. Just as most dogs will work for peanut butter. But for some people, a reserved parking place or lunch with the boss or a day off is more motivating than a money bonus. And for some dogs, salmon is the only reward worth staying indoors for.
The general principles apply, but you need to learn to read the individual as well.
That’s funny about the apples because the first thing my dogs do when I open the door is, depending on the time of year, race to the mulberry trees or the fruit trees (apples and pears)!
I have had to plant my garden inside a 6′ high chain link fenced area, because they eat everything I plant – and would kill you for a tomato.
My young dogs do learn to do this from the older dogs but also dogs who have stayed here for vacations pick up the ‘addiction’! The dogs have also learned that if you jump up and grab a branch you can shake some fruit off the trees! I have one dog who will resource guard a fruit tree – laying there for hours, waiting for something to drop – and they know the sound of fruit hitting the ground!
One time a friend was over and we were standing in the back, talking and she said, “I just saw a dog fly thru the air!”
Kerry M. says
I need to read parts of the Genius of Dogs again because I don’t remember the discussion of the over justification effect. I have many times wondered about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and how that relates to reinforcers with dogs.
Robin, loved your explanation. I think this could be an interesting area to study to tease out when/how/if this works. Determining an intrinsic reward may be difficult with dogs but that sounds pretty similar to a self reinforcing behavior. It’s a common suggestion for problem behaviors. Barking dog? Put it on cue, reward, and then fade out the cue.
Ben, My experience with the puppy side of working dogs (puppy raising) is that they don’t have a semi-magical want to work ethos. They are calm and easier to focus, but that they love their external rewards (food) as much as the next dog. That’s just my take. I know some other raisers that would likely disagree.
All our walks are sniff walks, apart from occasional quick striding to get to the sniff bit – I thought that is what walking a dog meant! I have always felt that expecting a dog to stay close and keep walking is a bit like taking a child to a fair or toy shop, and then not letting them pause to even look let alone touch. I am very lucky, with numerous safe places to walk off leash close by, and I do understand the frustration of stopping every few yards when walking a dog on leash, but I think a walk without at least some sniff time must be very boring for the dog.
Yeah, cool cool.
Yeah I’m definitely big on the individuality in dogs and humans front.
Trisha, sorry about that long tangent I launched.
Robin Jackson says
On the question of weaning off food rewards, I myself find it useful to think instead of building up the value of secondary reinforcers.
Most service dog trainers do exactly this. When learning new things, the dog gets a treat, a verbal “Thank you,” and a pat.
Over time, the primary reinforcer, food, is faded, but the secondary reinforcers of Thank You and pats remain. So when working in public, few treats are used. But the dog is still being rewarded with the more “professional” Thank yous and pats. It’s not just the reduction in treats that makes this work–it’s the increasing value of the secondary reinforcers over time. And food continues to be used occasionally.
Ken Ramirez does a very good seminar on just this topic. He works with zoo animals, and many husbandry behaviours are needed when an animal is sick and can’t or doesn’t want to eat. So his team scientifically builds up the value of secondary reinforcers, so they always have those available as well.
The following article is by someone who attended that seminar, and explains in more detail:
I find when I look at it from this aspect of the science, it’s much easier for me to judge how and when to fade food treats.
Wow. Just back from vacation with the dogs and reminded afresh how lucky we are that the canine members of our household have bonded so closely with one another.
Funnily, while both dogs behave admirably with the cats and the cats have no particular problems with them (a lot of mutual ignoring- the cats don’t avoid the dogs, hiss or growl at them, and will once in a while head butt or wind between dog legs, but they basically pretend the dogs don’t exist and the dogs mostly do likewise), there are moments when I realize how different the relationship between the dogs and cats is to the one between the dogs.
At the park, when a couple of dogs go into the bushes, I’ll call my dog back, and often, as a joke, include a reference to their partner in crime, ‘Otis, come out of there, and bring Buddy with you.” It’s a joke, and Otis and Sandy have never shown any indication that they even register that I’ve said it. The dogs sometimes come out together, as dogs do, sometimes not, but they never appear to be driving or herding their companions.
A few months ago, however, I was dealing with my Difficult Cat (she’s difficult. Not mean, exactly, but with very firm personal boundaries that she rigorously enforces and a distinct sense of humor) who had slipped out the door with the dogs and was refusing to come back inside. I was exasperated, and probably late for something and as I held the door open for Otis as he returned from his pee, I said, “Otis, bring that cat with you. She’s not supposed to be outside now.” To my absolute shock, he swerved aside from the beeline he had been making to the door, circled around and trotted toward the cat, head lowered into ‘butt sniff’ position. To my further amazement, the cat who would have happily thwarted me until she was good and ready to come in scooted straight back through the door without so much as a whisker’s flick of resistance.
Since then, I’ve used this trick probably a dozen times, occasionally even calling Otis from elsewhere in the house when times were desperate. Every time, her reaction is the same. She doesn’t get scared and try to flee or puff up and take a whack at him, she doesn’t hide or avoid him once she crosses the threshold into the house, but she puts up not an iota of resistance when he moves purposefully in her direction, she just goes where he tells her to. He doesn’t seem to get excited or aroused by it- his manner is very businesslike as he trots out, circles deliberately around the recalcitrant cat and drives her indoors. My great dane, who has nary a herding instinct in his body, can evidently herd cats. And will upon request.
Even as I appreciate the usefulness of this talent and the gentleness with which Otis employs it, it does not escape my notice that the reason this works must be because the cat, however comfortable she generally appears in his presence, doesn’t entirely trust Otis the way that she does the humans in our household. She doesn’t seem to fear him, but in order to move her like that, he must be able to intimidate her ….just enough… not enough that she freaks out, but enough that she doesn’t feel comfortable standing her ground. It’s like she’s pretty sure he won’t eat her, but not ENTIRELY sure, not enough to risk ticking him off.
I guess I’m comfortable with this relationship between the various animals in my house- I trust the dogs, and neither they nor the cats seem unhappy, and I realize that adult cats who didn’t grow up with dogs seldom really bond with them, but part of me wishes that my two cats could have the same kind of trust and connection with the dogs that they have with each other, and that the dogs have with one another. Even if I am willing to take any advantage I can get where little miss difficult is concerned.
Yay for Willi! I’m so glad he’s doing better and I’m glad he’ll continue to recover. Go Willi go! 🙂
At Ben and rrobin,
Absolutely awesome discussion about reinforcement and rewards. When I went to train with Seamus, food reward was the new thing in training the dogs. We would feed the dog for everything at first, stoping at curbs, stoping at doors, stopping at stairs, coming when called and the list goes on. Though I understood this frequent food reward, partly to reward and motivate the dog but also to bond them to us as their handler, I also brought up the potential way it could backfire on us as handlers. In my exit interview with a trainer, I said that I felt as though physical and verbal praise were being completely replaced by the food reward. I felt and still feel that it can damage the relationship in the long run and takes the focus off me, as the handler and places it almost exclusively on food. I don’t want to just be a food dispensing machine for my dog. Rather, I want him to work for Me, not just because he gets something to eat. I’m not saying food reward is bad, not at all. I use it as a reenforcer, as a tool when I’m teaching him something new and it works very well, but I’m not going to reward him with food whenever he successfully stops at a curb or shows me a set of stairs. I’ll tell him good boy and pet him and we seem to be working it out on our own.
At Kerry M,
Thanks so much for bringing up the idea that the puppies in training don’t just come with a “want to work” gene. I’ve known dogs who love their guide work, would work for anyone, anytime and would work until they dropped. Seamus is a bit like that. When ever he sees me grab the harness he’ll get up from where ever he is and come to me, tail gently wagging. I feel like he’s almost saying, “Hey Mom, what’s up? Are we working now? that’s cool.” Such a relaxed, happy dog. Anyway, I’ve also experienced the other end of things. When I would get out the harness with my last guide, torpedo, he would lie there and look at me. I’d ask him to come and he would, but he was resigned, climbing to his feet as if to say, “sigh… ok. If you really need me to, I will.” He didn’t like to work, and only did it because I asked him to, especially towards the end. An instructor once told me that some dogs, after a few months out in the field, discover that their bed and their toys are much more fun than guide work. My point in bringing this up is the idea of perhaps a different reward for these dogs. Perhaps a handler who knows their guide loves toys can bring one along when they go out and at some point in the day they might be able to have a play break with the dog. It might get the dog more motivated to go out and work if they know that a toy reward will be there at some point? these are just my thoughts. I’m willing to use any tool in my box so to speak if it’s humane and if it can produce the result I want for my dog. And as for down time, it’s vitally important to me. When seamus and I come home, he’s free to do what ever he wants. Usually it means running into the apartment, grabbing a toy and running back to me for pets. Nothing makes this dog happier than to be petted while he has a toy in his mouth. Retriever wiggles abound. 🙂 Great comments all and good luck with your talks tricia, though I’m sure they’re over by now.
Interesting post, lots of info. LOVE the pic of Tootsie. I have never met a Cavalier that didn’t love the car. I wonder if it’s from being used as lap warmers for the ladies while traveling in carriages. I have a “helper Dog.” I have two Cavaliers and my first came from a winter litter that that did not get as much different people stimulation at the critical time (breeder lives out in the country, no children and there were many winter storms that yr) so she was developmentally delayed and fearful when it came to meeting new people. So my breeder gave me her half sister (for free) who was from a summer litter that was well socialized and a real people dog. The second dog really changed the life of my first dog for the better. It’s funny that much of the change has come through competition. My first dog kept her distance and watched the second dog interact with people and get lots of positive attention. It took a while, but now she butts in and competes for affection.
I’d like to say I couldn’t agree more about animals living together and getting along. I see so many people that rescue dogs that are not compatiable (one even trying to kill another) and always living in tension and fear, and then they go and adopt more dogs and add more stress to the situation. We need to be mindful to the quality of our dogs/cats lives , more is not always better and yes, the original pet should be the first consideration and not discarded.
Trisha: Thanks so much for this summary! I love it.
re: “Wells and Hepper 2006 found that newborn puppies preferred food scented with anise if their mothers had eaten that kind of food before they were born, but they only retained that preference after 10 weeks if they had been exposed both in utero and immediately after birth.”
Based on the information from the following blog page/study, I would say that there is a similar phenomenon in humans and that we are just now beginning to touch on the subject:
On the above blog post page, Dr. Greger wrote:
“Researchers wanted to know if our olfactory memory goes back even further than our verbal memory. Do we subconsciously remember tastes and smells from our infancy before we could even put them into words? They realized that there was a time certain German infant formulas were flavored with vanilla, so they challenged a group of adults with a vanilla-containing food. But they couldn’t just use your typical vanilla flavored confection because it could introduce too many other new variables. They had to choose something that no one would have ever associated with vanilla. So they concocted… vanilla-flavored ketchup! And guess what? Two-thirds of those bottle fed with vanilla as infants preferred the vanilla ketchup, whereas two thirds of the rest were like “blech!” and chose the regular ketchup. The moral of the story is that perhaps if breastfeeding women eat lots of healthy foods, their broccoli-flavored breast milk might get remembered years down the road! And indeed I even have a new video about that: The Best Baby Formula.”
re: “Lupfer and Johnson 2007 found that a dog preferred food if he had sniffed the muzzle of another dog who had eaten it.”
An anecdote along these lines: My bait bag at the dog park is usually filled with fruits and veggies – mostly veggies. Common treats include: green beans, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, kale stems, watermellon rinds, and bell peppers.
The following is not an uncommon scenario:
* other dogs see my dog getting treats
* other dogs beg for treats
* after confirming with owners, I offer dogs a treat
* many spit it out
* so I give it to my dog
* other sees my dog eat it. Since the heads are so close together, it is possible that the other also sniffs my dog’s mouth. I haven’t paid attention before to this aspect of it.
* other dog asks again for a treat
* other dog eats treat
* often followed by other dog wanting more/liking it.
To be clear, it is always that the other dog will eat the treat. So many dogs have had no exposure to fruits and veggies and consider them to be bad jokes.
For those dogs who give the treat a second chance after seeing my dog get it, I always thought it was likely due to a combination of jealousy (seeing close up that my dog eats it and wanting the same thing) and “canine-see-canine-do”. But maybe those other dogs sniff my dogs muzzle in the sequence some where and that makes a difference. It is an interesting thought.
The next time I try to get my dog to eat a food and he isn’t interested, I’ll see if I can get him to sniff my mouth first… Assuming of course that it is something I would eat!
oops, the above sentence: “To be clear, it is always that the other dog will eat the treat.”
Should be: “To be clear, it is not always that the other dog will ever eat the treat.”
Or what would have been better:
“To be clear, most times, the other dog will not eat the treat at all. I’m just talking about the ones who do eventually eat it.”
I would question the conclusion of fighting dogs being more social because HA dogs are culled. While this is something that is often repeated, I’m not sure how true it really is. Research suggests that top fighting dogs in the past did include dogs that were known to be ‘man-biters’. In some cases, their aggression toward humans, including their owners, became part of their legend.
Would a dog really be culled for biting if they brought in a lot of money in betting and stud fees? I think that’s actually fairly unlikely. People who fight dogs are likely confident in their ability to handle an aggressive one, and proficient in redirecting/breaking a hold.
Please understand I’m not saying this from an anti-pit POV. They’re great dogs and I’ve been around many. I just hear the bit about man-biters being culled so often, but records of fights don’t seem to bear it out. It still leaves the question of why such dogs are more social, and I would suggest it might be because they’re simply exposed to more. A puppy mill dog receives very little interaction. A hoarder’s pet may receive slightly more, but often the owner is too overwhelmed for any true level of individualized care. But a fighting dog has to be well taken care of to do good in the ring. That mean hands-on attention, including medical care, training, etc. The dogs are getting daily, hands-on interaction, so it isn’t surprising they’re more social.
Interesting observation about dogs and treats. I’ve seen that phenomenon many times myself. Both my dogs will eat sometimes something that they don’t personally find appealing if the see someone else eat it first. Otis is much better than he was (better appetite=>more adventurous eater in his case) but he is still persnickety for a dog. He carefully sniffs everything he is offered and often refuses treats that are not to his liking. Sandy is what I think of as more typical- she’ll take anything offered her with enthusiasm and only VERY rarely spit something out and even then she’ll usually pick it up and eat it, looking only slightly martyred.
Picky Otis won’t eat most raw fruit or vegetables (he’ll eat them cooked, though), even if he sees me or Sandy eating them. Occasionally, however, he’ll bow to peer pressure. There is an apple tree in the dog park (an old appleseed apple tree, not a modern grafted one, but real apples, not sour crabapples), and most of the dogs love it, happily munching up dropped apples in season. Otis has eaten exactly one apple, after watching umpteen dogs chowing them down, immediately after watching his close dog friend hoovering them up with obvious relish. He sniffed dubiously, picked it up, munched, and assumed the most comically disgusted look on his face that I’ve ever seen. I expected him to spit it out, but he ate it, looking horrorstruck the whole time. He finished the one, but has never touched another. Peer pressure was enough to convince him to try it once, but not enough to make him go back, apparently. 🙂
He will, however, often take and sometimes eat raw carrots, but ONLY from the hand of one of his human friends at the park who brings them as treats for her lab. There it seems that there is definitely some competitive element- Her dog seems to love them, and Otis loves her (honestly all the dogs love her, she is just one of those people) and wants to be included in the treat-passing-out, so he always takes them, and half the time eats them. He has nothing but disdain for carrots from MY hand, or any of our other friends, even if Sandy or another of the dogs is happily munching on one, but from his buddy, he’ll take them. His best dog friend, another carrot-disdainer in ordinary circumstances, will do the exact same thing. When their favorite “auntie” is in the park, they’ll at least sometimes eat carrots.
On the flip side, one of the few fruits Otis actually likes is watermelon. He sniffed and refused it initially, but after watching me first eat some myself he tentatively tried it, then eagerly sought more. Watermelon was initially among the few things that Sandy would spit out, but once she spied Otis eating his cube, she reconsidered and snarfed up her own dropped piece before he could cast his eyes upon it. She has since cultivated a taste for it 🙂
Rose C says
Interesting info on scent cues and use of olfactory sense. When I only had my first dog, Ludy, I found it hard to encourage her to eat. I fed her from my hand, tried feeding her kibble at a time, tried foods other than kibbles after I tasted and tried to chew a kibble or two and found it quite bland and boring. Sometimes she didn’t eat up to 24, 36, 48, and once up to 72 hrs. When I got my second dog, Dani, Ludy has taken interest in eating. I kind of thought it has become a ‘social activity’ for her as I sit on the floor next to them as they eat. Now I guess it might have something to do with smelling the food on Dani’s muzzle as Ludy often does that anyway.
So many interesting points being made …. I definitely use my older dog to model things I want the younger dog to do. For example, when I need Lola to take a pill I have learned to give Java a small soft treat or two first, while she is watching, and then she is rev’d up to take a treat with a pill in it … the sequence is a treat, a pill in the 2nd treat, then another treat as a chaser. But w/o the modeling or more likely the competition, of the 2nd dog she is much more apt to eat the treat and spit out the pill. With Java there though she scarfs the treat very quickly and looks for another. I also have found that if I bite a carrot or green bean, then my dogs will eat them but they will not always eat them if unbitten, and again, the younger is more likely to eat vegies or blueberries if Java does first so I agree there is the scent issue at work, and probably competition again. And along another topic being discussed, I have experienced how agility itself is so highly rewarding for Java that treats are literally an annoying distraction – he looks disgusted and moves his muzzle away, while maintaining his stay though as he really, really just wants to be released to get running! He would also take a toy over a treat in most training situations as well.
Em: Your story of your dog herding your cat was amazing. I loved it and got a real kick out of imagining the scene. Dogs are amazing.
On the topic of dogs trying food: Last night I offered my dog a blackberry. In the past, out in the country, my dog loved the blackberries. He even started trying to pull them directly off the bush, much to my horror thinking about his loose lips getting caught on thorns. But last night, my dog wasn’t interested at all, and I offered three different ones just in case one was bad. So, then I ate a blackberry, shoved my mouth in my dogs face (which he seemed to think was interesting rather than alarming), breathing out noticeably. Nothing. Even after trying it twice. He still would not eat the blackberries. So, maybe it only works between dogs.
LisaH: On your topic of cutting food. I have seen a similar phenomenon! If I offer my dog a whole strawberry, he usually won’t eat it. But if I cut it in half first, he usually will eat it. He then starts drooling and looking for more, which is my clue that he really does love strawberries. It’s not a situation of my dog eating the strawberry after I cut it just to humor me.
All very interesting.
@Ben- fascinated by your posts on the ‘over justification effect’. at some point doesn’t the intrinsic feeling of doing something well overtake any sort of external reinforcement if you are actually in a state of ‘flow’? I feel this when I am playing the piano, or fully engaged in an enjoyable task at work for example. Makes sense to me to appreciate that a working dog would also have a sense of state of ‘flow’. Top athletes refer to it as ‘in the zone’ for example. What is going on neurochemically? Endorphins? It certainly is a joyous state to be engaged in.
My dog loves nose work. No rewards required. I imagine this is her ‘job’ as a pet.
Apologies Trisha, this has nothing to do with this blog post but I wondered if you would be reviewing Professor Bradshaw’s new book on cat behaviour anytime? ‘Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed’.
I would love to see a copy of Bradshaw’s Cat Sense! Maybe we can talk the publishers into sending me a copy before it’s release a month from now?
All paws crossed!
Whether or not Trisha is able to review it, thank you posting about it, Nic1…I’m now super-excited about it. There’s far too few books on cat behavior
I’m going to get a copy of the book for my sister. She’s facenated by her own kitty’s behavior and loves reading about them. Much the same way I am with dogs. 🙂
Well I’m glad a few people found the motivation discussion interesting. Cool that some people could relate.
Nic1, if you are interested in the concept of ‘flow’, you should read/listen to some online Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks/articles. He is usually credited as the guy who popularized the concept. Most of my school studying is modeled around this idea.
@Triangle you are more than welcome, just important to have netiquette! 🙂
Prof Bradshaw also wrote ‘In Defence of the Dog’ which Trisha HAS reviewed!
Thanks for sharing the talks and topics. It all sounds wonderful. One part struck me a bit hard: The dynamics between dogs in the same house and one dog being more leery of another and the difficulty of that. Our two dogs are polar opposites in terms of personalities — one being a goofy, easily distracted, peacenik and the other a tightly wound, intense but sweet counter of all things mine and a few things that are yours. Both rescues, both with issues — physical and mental.
They used to play together fairly well — lots of rough housing, tug, and running outside. The smaller, terrier x was laid up with a CCL injury for more than a year, so the two dogs didn’t play at all with each other. A few months ago, we allowed some short, in the house play between them, and then brought out some toys for them to play with. There were a few skirmishes and the terrier x got snarky over some of the toys. (Our other dog does not react, she just goes into a down position and then avoids.) I intervened with a “let’s go” and we did a few tricks and treats to change the tension. Then we had another physical set back so I put the toys away again and now when the terrier x does a play bow or nudge, our other dog ignores her completely. After the year of rehab, lots of things are different and there is a bit more tension from time to time between them. I am wondering if there is a safe way to get them to play together again? I’m worried that I don’t have the right response or timing and it will escalate.
Meal time is fine, tricks and treats aren’t a problem, chews are fine, they sleep together on the bed, it’s the play and social interaction that has deteriorated. They can’t go back to their old rough play, and we’ve reached a detente, but neither the dogs nor people are sure how to proceed from here. Any advice or ideas are most welcome.
@Kat: Healing wishes to Finna and her post-op rehab, there are lots of good quiet tricks to play, here’s a link to some: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfL99xcEpXc
and I hope you have a good canine PT, it makes all the difference.
I joined a group when Olive was diagnosed with a torn CCL last year, it’s a combo of folks who have used CM to rehab their dogs and some did surgery. Good info, support, and pretty laid back. Following the CM protocol for post-surgery has helped many dogs heal and regain muscle and balance. Hope it helps: http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/ConservativeManagement/
To Kat: My best wishes too for Finna and her rehab. LisaW you are a dear to include some ideas about quiet tricks to play. I found with Willie doing some postural ones at first (head down for ex) to be helpful, then soon we were doing so much rehab that that became his primary entertainment, which worked super well. Anyway, all paws crossed, you have my sympathy.
Thanks too to LisaW for the link to Conservative Management. I haven’t had time to look at it yet, but will do so soon. Looks like it could be invaluable. I have thought about joining forces with a vet’y surgeon, a physical therapist to write a booklet about pre and post surgery management. Seems like more and more of us are dealing with it lately.
Regarding getting your dogs back playing together LisaW, first I think you are handling it beautifully. Creating a break and a distraction when you sense tension is exactly what I would advise. I’m wondering if, given the medical interventions, it might be wise to see if the dogs might begin to play again on their own. You could continue to prevent tension build ups (essential), do lots of joint doggy things like walks together, and see if play comes back on its own. It might not, but then, that might be okay too. Some dogs really do stop playing as they get older and simply don’t want to play anymore. I would suggest working with the terrier to stop the snarking over toys, using counter classical conditioning to teach her that the approach of another dog means something better is coming, rather than her worrying she’ll lose something. I describe this, indirectly, in the booklet and DVD Feeling Outnumbered. (I illustrate possessive aggression over a person, but the method is the same, no matter what resource is being guarded.) Keep us posted!
Trisha, thank you for the encouragement and advice. I’ll take a look at the booklet/DVD. One problem I haven’t figured out with the counter conditioning for resource guarding toys is both dogs are so trick/treat attuned that if I am giving Olive (the snarker) treats when Phoebe (the peacenik) comes in, Phoebe wants treats, too. So now both dogs are doing waits or looks for treats and the toys are secondary. I have been giving both dogs small treats for a sit and wait when Phoebe comes in from outside and Olive looks worried about it (sans toys) and now when Phoebe comes in from outside, Olive and Phoebe both sit and wait. That has worked really well. My fear is I’ll make things worse and it’s hard to go back. They do walk together and hang out outside together with supervision and do tricks together so maybe it is ok that some of that play is gone. I just don’t want it to go away because I couldn’t figure out how to make it safe and fun!
Off the blog topic, but now ingrained in my psyche, Conservative Management. There is a primer you get when you join the CM group, I can’t link it, but it’s full of really good information about CCL injuries and those crucial first 8 weeks and resources that could be applied to lots of joint injuries. Olive is not a good surgery candidate and those first few months were really crazy trying to find out what our options were, other therapies and how it all gets put together. Most vets are not well-versed in CM (and many think it is doing nothing, which after a year of doing more than I ever have is certainly not true), and there are no long-term studies showing the outcomes of the various CCL surgeries. I think you should write that booklet (in your spare time :-). There are many good resources out there, but finding them all and seeing what was applicable and available to us was a full-time job (good thing I work for myself 😉
@Ben – many thanks for the further information and reference on ‘Flow’. I am really fascinated to learn more about the neurosciencce because it is such an incredible state of being.
When a BC is concentrating on herding sheep or a terrier chases and catches it’s quarry, they are engaged in the predatory motor pattern sequence and getting a serious dopamine hit. Is this technically ‘Flow’ for a dog?
Thank you LisaW and Trisha for your good wishes for Finna and Lisa for the great resource links. I’m being driven slowly mad trying to keep Finna from over exerting and discovering that it is very humbling to realize I’m not smarter than the dog. She’s feeling better every day so she wants to do things. The vet recommended keeping her pretty well sedated for 10 days or so but Finna had other ideas. She can separate the pills from a mouthful of peanut butter or cream cheese. When I tried tossing her chunks of hot dog with the intent of establishing a rhythm of catch and swallow before including pills in a chunk she caught the chunk, bit it in half, dropped it on the floor and carefully examined it for pills before eating it. She did this with every piece I tossed. She also figured out how to defeat the sliding bolt on her wooden crate. It turns out that if you lean on one door then the other working back and forth between them the bolt will spring loose. It takes about 45 minutes but it works.
She’s doing more than I would like but a lot less than she wants so we’re muddling along. I discovered that it isn’t the pills in general that she objected to it was the specific dose. She’s happy to take half the prescribed dose which just makes her feel lazy rather than the full dose which makes her loopy. I’ll take what I can get. Since she can get out of her crate (she’d never been confined for more than a couple hours at a stretch and was accustom to sleeping on the couch all night) the children and I have been taking it in turns to sleep with her on the futon. It’s been good practice for her in cuddling and snuggling. She’s actually being less reactive than she was before the surgery so I’m very hopeful for her long term outcomes.
I’ve taken to describing Finna as having the brains of a troop of Lassies, the drive of a fleet of Lamborghinis and the disposition of a playful grizzly bear. Stitches come out Monday and we can increase the physical exercise (although definitely not to the level she’s going to want).
Thanks again for the good wishes. This is quite the journey. And Trisha, please, do write the book on rehabbing injuries. It’s a book that’s needed.
Robin Jackson says
I think a number of working dogs do experience Flow. For a very accessible introduction to the concept as it applies to humans, try Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk:
Again, though, it’s really important to note that the concept of achieving a state of self rewarding immersion in an activity does not negate all the work done on operant conditioning, nor the value of external rewards at many phases of learning.
Most people interviewed about Flow report that it is very different from just play, and almost always occurs at a very high level of mastery of the skills involved.
Also in humans some personality types are more likely to achieve Flow than others, and this is to
some extent correlated with what we usually call Drive in dogs.
I don’t think there have been any dog studies on it, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if many terriers have the dog equivalent of the autotelic personality and many labs do not.
I think it very likely.
@Robin – thanks!
Great point about the importance of dogs requiring effective and consistent learning opportunities. Discussing Flow in dogs also stresses the importance of honouring a working dog’s needs if you choose to have one as a pet. I’d imagine if you have dog who regularly achieves Flow working alongside you, it must be great for your bond and his mental health.
Although, interesting to note that Michaelangelo was reportedly in a state of Flow when he painted the roof of the Cistine Chapel, going for days without food or sleep and reportedly passing out! Other examples are gamers, lost for days on their consoles……That definitely reminds me of Terriers going to ground for their quarry, disappearing for days potentially with disaterous consequences. Like everything, their has to be balance in it’s application. Autotelic personalities may have some genetic disposition for the state of Flow?
Robin Jackson says
Yes, there may well be a genetic factor to how easy it is achieve flow. Old joke about breed traits: you ask 3 dogs to change a lightbulb in the kitchen.
The border collie says, “Sure thing!” Grabs some tools, jumps up on the counter, looks at the light fixture and says, “I notice your wiring isn’t up to code, I’ll go ahead an fix that while I’m up here.”
The standard poodle says, “Love to, but I just had my nails done and the polish isn’t dry yet. Ask the border collie.”
The Labrador says, “Sure thing!” Leaps on the counter, starts to slide off, looks down, says, “Oh, is that cake?”
All 3 dogs are happy. Only 1 is likely to achieve Flow. 😉
@ Robin Jackson: Couldn’t one say that rewiring the house, having your nails done, and happily being distracted are all various states of Flow. The same just different?
Robin Jackson says
Not under MC’s definition of Flow. It’s different from happiness. It has to do with being simultaneously physically and mentally challenged in such a way that one completely loses the sense of self. “Forgetting to eat” is one of the classic indicators. See the TED talk linked to above, or any of CM’s many writings about it. In the joke, the poodle is too self aware, and “happily distracted” is pretty much the definitional opposite of Flow.
@Robin Jackson – hilarious! 🙂
@ Robin Jackson: I did listen to the TED talk on Flow. From my understanding, he is positing the notion that Flow comes when we are doing something we really love to do within a range of skills and challenges. My question comes from the idea that within that context, there are many activities that could achieve Flow — from the seemingly mundane to the awe-inspiring (he used examples of watching TV and sitting in the bathroom as well as science and art). I also got the impression that he focused in on Flow as a way to describe/measure happiness — that happiness was the core of his exploration. It comes in many guises and can be fleeting.
Robin Jackson says
It’s more “ecstasy” than “happiness.” Egolessness is specific to it, as is “a sense of being outside everyday reality.” See the slide in the TED talk at 14:18.
Although it may not be clear from the TED talk, eating is definitionally excluded, as is the use of drugs, because these affect dopamine levels directly. Flow involves an activity that could be done by two different people and appear at first glance to be identical, but one is in Flow and one is not. (Or the same person on two different days.) The one that is in Flow is generating the same types of brain chemistry as would occur from eating but without any extrinsic element. “Whatever produces Flow is its own reward.”
In the earlier Terrier example, stalking is likely to generate Flow. Once the prey is actually captured, though, we’re back to extrinsic rewards, and even if the dog is completely involved it’s no longer Flow just by definition.
Frosting a cake might generate Flow. Eating it does not just by definition, because eating itself changes the internal chemistry.
If you can be distracted, you’re not in Flow. You might achieve Flow in the new activity, but not if it’s eating. So being distracted by food pretty much guarantees you’re not in Flow.
On the other hand, the kid sitting in a history class who stares out the window and starts sketching pictures of the clouds may well be in Flow in the second activity. But it has to be hard to distract him away from that one to meet the definition. “completely involved in what we are doing: focused, concentrated.”
@Robin Jackson. That’s a great explanation. Perhaps if you haven’t experienced Flow, it may be a difficult concept to comprehend? As you mention, it is a state of ecstacy and time becomes irrelevant. You become abandoned to the process.
I definitely experience Flow when playing keyboard and recording music. In fact, I have to ask my partner to come and disturb me if I spend any longer than two hours in my music room. Otherwise, I can be there for hours and time just evaporates as you are ‘lost’ to the process. Egoless, joyful and abaondoned! That is exactly how I would describe a dog too hot on the scent of a trail and temporarily deaf to your calls!
I have experienced Flow (although we didn’t call it that) both personally and in others. Whether it was a close friend finishing a painting or writing a poem or myself working on a tile project or writing a case statement. I get the concept and the actual experience. More explanation is unneeded. I’ve also seen it it my dog — mid-way through catching a ball and stopping to watch a cotton wood seen float to the ground (no food involved but the same idea as cake). I was trying to expand the concept not limit it to an input and outcome and explore the idea that it encompasses a huge array of states of mind. Maybe not appropriate to this conversation.
@LisaW – I don’t think Flow does encompass a huge array of states of mind. It’s very specific isn’t it?
I think it may encompass a huge array of different external experiences, depending on the individual. What goes on mentally, is very specific.
Anyway, that’s how I understand it!
Robin Jackson says
I think we’ve just tripped up a bit over semantics. my apologies for not being more clear. The concept of Flow is a technical one introduced by a specific psychologist to describe a specific type of “input and outcome” just as you say. He has been studying and writing about it for years.
To expand to “a huge array of states of mind” that changes the definition that he uses means you need your own definition and your own term. Nothing wrong with that, but since this began as a discussion of Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, answers within his definition made sense. Again, my apologies: I had misunderstood, and thought you were asking about that particular work.
There are indeed many similar states, and many different terms to describe them. Csikszentmihalyi’s work might of course be a jumping off point for thinking about many different aspects of focus. It has been for many people.
You could certainly say “There is a kind of intensity similar to Flow but which expands to encompass a huge array of states of mind and then all three activities might be similar” and be entirely correct. It just needs to be clear that we’ve moved beyond a discussion of Csikszentmihalyi’s work to open up the definition.
Again, my apologies for not verifying when we had moved from the specific theory to something more general.
@ Robin Jackson: Please, no apologies necessary. As you said, I think we got tripped up in semantics. My comments were trying (maybe not very clearly) to open up the idea to broader possibilities both within and outside of Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. I haven’t studied his work as you have so I went further afield. I was in the figurative flow of what else this might include or look like — mostly as an interesting concept. I’m still thinking about cake 🙂
Peggy Rothmanfreeman says
Patricia, I am so happy I found you and your literature. I have had dogs as part of our family all of my life. I began rescuing animals as a little girl; sneaking an old, abandonded cat up to my bedroom after my mother told me we couldn’t have another cat. (Yes, I am the one who probably needs rescuing;-) In any case, I just adopted an Australian Shepherd (with papers) who was rescued after he had spent most of his 16 months of life in a 6 x 4 foot pen outside in Arizona. He is obviously very intelligent. He just finished beginner obedience training and is ready to move on. But I digress…thank you for your insight into dog behavior. It has helped me with my boy Milo, his sister Tasha (Pug/Aussie cattle dog mix) and his other sister Lexy (our 13 year old American Eskimo with something else??) tremendously!
Robin Jackson says
Cake is good. 🙂
Amber looking for dog boarding says
Trisha, it sounds like you were great! LOL Thanks for going over all of the details again! Great post 🙂