Dissecting Punishment

Posted on 07/22/09 14 Comments

One of last week’s blog posted caused a bit of a stir amoungst some of you so I will deal with a couple of comments that were made. 


From Nelci


AWESOME!! Love the picture of Feature on the Teeter. I do have some questions, after this “exercise” with Feature and the DW, what is next? Would you continue with your current training, change / add something? Would you know test it in competition before changing a thing?….


Yes Nelci competition was the next step. I actually went to a local trial yesterday and let Feature compete in 3 classes. Her contacts were

Feature driving across the dogwalk. Ken Kennedy.
Feature driving across the dogwalk. Ken Kennedy.

 awesome. Fast and accurate even though it was pretty old equipment that was completely different than anything she had ever seen before.  Since the dogwalks here in Canada do not have slats she has one one issue not realizing the seesaw was a dogwalk and therefore put on the brakes too late. I lied her down, for 10 seconds and then repeated the seesaw (which was brilliant).  In Canada we can “train” in the ring, so it was a great place to test her understanding.


From Paul


How do you know that Feature was thinking I screwed up the dogwalk therefore I don’t get to go swimming? If you subscribe to the clicker training idea that the dog relates the reinforcement/punishment to the action preceeding the r/p, then Feature could have been thinking I am going in the crate cause I wagged by tail, panted, spun around, layed down, etc. I think there was way to much time between the missed contact and the final R/P. The fact that he stuck it the next time was probably a learned behavior that if I hit the contact in a particular way I receive a reward. He may have lost some of that original enthusiasm and therefore was more careful of his performance.


Good bit of controversy for the blog Paul, thank you. Let me say that rather than subscribing to a “clicker training theory” I subscribe to the laws of learning.  By that I mean the laws of classical and in this case, operant conditioning. As a scientist I hate to quote studies without naming the source but here I go (any scientists reading this that can add as source, please do). There have been studies in operant conditioning where the time lapses in the delivery of reinforcement and punishment have been evaluated. I can’t remember the specifics but one study in particular had the rat perform a task and then it was held in a small area for set duration of time before the reinforcement was delivered  (eventually tested well over 1 minute if I recall). Yes, it still worked and the rat was able to be shaped. 


Having said that yes, the absolutely hands down best transfer of information to the dog is that which happens immediately. The ideal application would be at the moment the choice-point was made in the brain of the dog. By that I mean, perfect timing would be before the neurons transmitted the signal to the muscles of the body for the dog to leave the dogwalk. . . if that could be arranged by any of us! So being held to that standard, in fact, we are all “late” with every application of reinforcement or punishment we apply, aren’t we? 


Bob Bailey told me about a blind lady came to one of his chicken camps that managed to  shape a chicken to peck at a target entirely based on sound. Yes the timely would be incredibly late as she would have to wait until she “heard” the peck, then react and click and reward.  However the chicken was able to be trained to do the behaviour.


How I can be secure in knowing Feature isn’t pairing the punishment with a tail wagging or other behaviour is because of the extensive history or reinforcement for the discreet behaviour of nose targeting. Knowing she started nose targeting at 4 months of age I can tell you she has had 22 months of reinforcement for this behaviour prior to her first ever time out. The tail wag, although I am sure paired with reinforcement of my attention in the past, is certainly not the same black and white predictor of reinforcement from me, as it has never been discreetly isolated as a response to produce incredibly high value reinforcement for her. A great nose tap  on the end of a contact will always be rewarded with either a reinforcement from me or the chance to do more agility. 


Now lets look at the “application” of the punishment. Was it really that poorly timed? Take into account what Feature sees under normal conditions when she is performing a contact correctly, she would wait for me to give a release cue. I may be moving or standing still, far away or close, but one thing is consistent and that is the release cue. The release cue will always be part of the “reward process,” usually the last step. I would either deliver a toy, a treat or allow her to move onto the next obstacle.


Feature would have seen none of that when she self-released.  Had I kept running even though she didn’t perform correctly, it would have established a new avenue for her to earn reinforcement and given her another reinforced behaviour to “try” on her contacts. So the lack of the “normal” picture the moment she self released would have been the first thing that communicated to her that “something is different.” My actions that followed immediately after, (that of me taking away the reinforcement value for her with the time out) would then communicate that “the different is not good.”


Finally, although I have no video to show you,  you can trust me when I tell you, the second performance of her dogwalk had all of the enthusiasm of the first one (possibly more as the other dogs were at the pond having great fun without her!).


Whew, that is a lot of info, perhaps more than is necessary for many of you but I think worth going into detail either way. 


Today I am grateful for a new fountain we had installed in the dog’s pond yesterday. Very cool. However Buzz is slightly confused, he keeps staring at it wondering how can ANYTHING make that much noise and splash that much water in a pond.  B-U-Z-Z-Y!  Clearly he has never seen himself swimming!


  1. Theresa Litourneau says:
    Friday, July 31, 2009 at 2:12am

    Great teaching, as always…. thanks .
    I’m just wishing I had a pond with a freakin’ fountain to swim in…..
    “the DOGS pond ” ???
    Just sign me “jealous judy ” !! 🙂 🙂 🙂


  2. Julia Lane says:
    Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 3:48pm

    Thanks for the fantastic insight into the laws of learning and dissecting your dogwalk training with Feature. Very educational!

    As for the Webinar, I’d also love to see how you build and transfer value. I have a 5-year-old Dalmatian who needs to speed up if we’re ever going to get those darn Snooker Qs (in the 22″ class) for her ADCH! 🙂 She’s a speedy spot if I’m carrying food or her Tigger toy, but slow at a show when I don’t have food or a toy on me. How do I transfer the food/toy value to the obstacles themselves?

    Thanks very much!


  3. Leslie says:
    Monday, July 27, 2009 at 12:51pm

    Hi Susan, I agree with Sharon that a video showing the progression of getting a dog highly motivated and focused would be great. My challenge has been to get my mini to run a course as exuberantly as the BCs that are always the front runners at most of the events.

    Thanks for providing your blog as such a great tool for continual learning about success in dog training.


  4. Sharon in Istanbul says:
    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 5:29pm

    Hi Susan,

    I’m leaving a blog comment, as directed, about which video to film for your e-book.

    You mentioned a lot in the e-book about building value, being enthusiastic, etc. I’d love to see a 10 min. video showing the progression of getting a very slow dog (low treat drive, medium toy drive) motivated to go faster.

    I’m working with a friend here who owns one of the handful of BCs in Turkey. She studied up on clicker training, then bought her first dog, a BC puppy who is now 5 mos. old. They live in a high-rise with no yard, so have to train indoors. She plans for him to become one of Turkey’s first generation sport dogs, but the pup seems totally unmotivated and bored. Speaking enthusiastically, waving tug toys in front of him, waving hot dogs, etc. does not speed him up past a walk. He follows commands (basic stuff and crate/table games), but is slower than molasses.

    I’ve never had this problem with my own BCs and JRT (all flyball/agility/obedience dogs). So I would love to see some video of building value and speeding up a slow, unenthusiastic dog that does everything at a walk.

    Thanks for your great e-book! I look forward to seeing a video of whichever item gets the most votes.

    Sharon Yildiz


  5. Lisa Kelley says:
    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 5:18pm

    You asked to give you a few ideas about the video. I would love you to show how you build value. In the tip “It’s the same old song”
    You make it sound so easy but I would love to see you do this, becasue I’m sure I would miss a small part and it would make a huge difference in the training.

    Lisa Kelley
    Amarillo, Texas


  6. Gail says:
    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 4:35pm

    I can’t even begin to comment on Feature’s “retraining”…so I won’t (still trying to digest all of the info from the last few days of posts).

    Can you PLEASE post a photo of Buzzy swimming? Sounds like something that you’d definitely want to capture! There’s still a LOT of Buzzy fans around due to your Shaping Sucess…and a few of us that still have some ringing in our ears from when you ran him! 🙂


    • Susan says:
      Friday, July 24, 2009 at 5:26pm

      OK Gail, that is freaky, at this very moment I am uploading a video of you-know-who doing you-know-what!


  7. Kathy Smith says:
    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 4:24pm

    Not sure where to vote for the tip that will be in the webinar but I have two choices… Planning Front Crosses (I lost first place in Regionals by pushing my dog off a jump and did it again at the last trial with my young boy which I never had a probelm with when they were slower…(KICK me NOW!!) and Tunnel Predictors.
    Thanks Susan. All you do is so much appreciated!!


  8. Michelle Mauro says:
    Friday, July 24, 2009 at 9:09am

    In AKC and (even USDAA i think), repeating an obstacle will get you a whistle and an escort out of the ring, so what would suggest in those venues? Would you still repeat the obstacle and take the whistle? Or do you think simply downing your dog (or sitting) would be enough of an indicator to the dog that they did something wrong?


  9. Claudia says:
    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 9:29pm

    Thanks for taking the time to “clarify”. Lots of info to digest and dissect (literally!) Coming to your blog is always a wonderful learning experience. Thanks for taking the time to share your dog training expertise and insight. Really appreciate it. 🙂

    I love to hear you mention Buzzy. Buzzy boy has a special place in da heart coz I first know you (and him) from Shaping Success. And reading about his “formative years” till now, Buzzy boy has come a long way and is just such a joy to have around. 🙂


  10. Mary says:
    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 8:00pm

    Could it be that what Feature did incorrectly (in breaking her stay at the dogwalk contact) was obvious to her because the reward she saw the other dogs getting would have been an “incredibly high value reinforcement” for her, too? Assuming she had been swimming with the other dogs before and she loved it… tail wagging, panting and spinning don’t have as high a value as swimming.


  11. Nat says:
    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 7:46pm

    I know that I’m always going to have something new to think about whenever I read your blog!



  12. Laura says:
    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 12:09pm

    Nobody has talked about the fact that you told her “you win the prize” (except to question why it was said in a cheerful voice). I have no idea if you’ve used that phrase before with Feature, but when I first read that post, I just assumed it was a no-reward-marker from you, and if it was, then it was very clear to Feature that she’d goofed up (in addition to all the other things you mentioned that were different than what she’d see if she was correct). And the use of the NRM would have ‘softened’ the fact that the actual punishment was somewhat delayed (just like the click allows us to deliver a delayed reward).

    BTW, for the poster who questioned the cheerful voice, I don’t think it matters what kind of voice you use to deliver a NRM, as long as you are consistent. Just as we could teach a dog that yelling “NOOOO” means a treat is coming. It would be weird to do that of course, but entirely possible.



  13. Sara Amelse says:
    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 9:05am

    Very interesting! I enjoyed your reply……I had not heard about the rat study before but that little tidbit was quite interesting. Suppose it’s a testament to how intelligent these critters actually are.


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