Constructive Punishment—With the Contact of a Cotton Ball


a white ball of cotton on a black background

I by chance punished my canine’s habits with a wad of cotton.

Lewis and I are collaborating in Dr. Mindy Waite’s husbandry study on ear cleaning. The aim of the research is to have the ability to wipe the canine’s ear with some cleansing resolution on a cotton ball whereas he fortunately cooperates.

The protocol begins with coaching a chin relaxation. We accomplished the steps for the chin relaxation in my lap on somewhat towel (see under), then I proceeded to the steps of lifting his ear, bringing my different hand near his ear whereas it was lifted, shifting a dry cotton ball towards his ear, then touching the cotton to the within of the ear flap.

For every of those steps, he wanted to keep up his place whereas I carried out the duty and never chain in different undesirable behaviors earlier than placing his chin down, similar to pawing at me or vocalizing. (Sure, each occurred.)

Once I carried out the step the place I touched the cotton ball to the within of his ear, he began to dodge away after the contact. I used to be in a position to reinforce just a few, however most didn’t meet standards. I did two temporary periods of this as the speed of reinforcement dropped, then I finished and regrouped with Dr. Waite.

We agreed I’d again up a step, to a step that didn’t contain touching his ear. On this step, I introduced the cotton ball to inside one inch of his ear with out touching it.

However the earlier periods had created a habits change via an aversive occasion. Right here is the fallout.

I sat down within the chair I at all times use, readied the cotton, and put the small towel that capabilities as a chin goal in my lap. .

• Lewis approached the towel and paused
• He put his chin down
• Once I reached to raise his ear, he flinched away
• He lowered his chin once more, I lifted his ear, and introduced the cotton ball to about 1 inch from his ear
• I clicked and handled as he pulled rapidly away (oops, not good timing!)
• He began to decrease his chin, then dodged away as I reached for his ear with one hand and the cotton ball with the opposite
• He put his chin down as soon as extra, then rapidly lifted it away 
• Then, whereas nonetheless standing in entrance of me, he turned his head 90 levels to his proper
• Then he turned his head 90 levels to his left
• He checked out me
• He turned to his proper once more
• He walked away
• He walked round, principally off digicam, for twenty-four seconds
• He put his paws up on a desk, I cued him to get down, and he did
• He sniffed round for 15 extra seconds, then headed again to me
• He put his chin on the towel however instantly lifted his head
• He seemed arduous to the appropriate and walked away once more
• He returned, put his chin down, instantly picked it up, licked his lips, and seemed away
• He sniffed and licked his anus
• He sniffed and licked his anus from the opposite facet
• He walked just a few steps away and did one other anal verify
• He came visiting to me and nuzzled my hand holding the cotton (thanks for doing that proper after licking your butt, Lewis)
• He put his chin down on the towel, I lifted his ear, introduced the cotton ball shut, and clicked/handled
• I ended the session (one thing I ought to have finished a lot earlier)

Adverse Reinforcement

The record above is a roll name of escape and avoidance behaviors. These behaviors obtained negatively strengthened as a result of they launched him from my method to his ear. Additionally, this avoidance was extremely uncommon for Lewis. I’ve by no means seen him go away a coaching session earlier than. The contact of the cotton the day before today was so aversive he couldn’t even tolerate the proximity of it throughout this session.

However there was a extra refined, much more essential outcome.

Constructive Punishment

A mostly white dog stands still with his head in the lap of a woman who is sitting on a low table. the woman is lifting the dog's right ear

Lewis’ chin relaxation was positively punished by the smooth contact of the cotton ball to the within of his ear. How do I do know that? Right here’s my evaluation.

This preceded the big-time avoidance session I describe above.

Antecedent: I put the towel in my lap, which is the cue for him to place his chin on it
Conduct: Lewis put his chin on the towel
Consequence: I lifted his ear and touched the within with a dry cotton ball

I’d usually put a prediction right here. I’m not as a result of I didn’t make one on the time. However I positive discovered.

Lewis’ price of providing the chin relaxation after that have dramatically decreased. Earlier than this step, Lewis had been fluently performing repeated chin rests for days in our periods. And through this “aftermath” session I obtained solely two, with excessive latency and the fidgety, avoidant behaviors I described.

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

I can’t consider a manner that unfavorable punishment might be the method concerned right here. I used to be not contingently eradicating an appetitive stimulus. (Take a look at this article in case you want a brush-up on the processes of operant studying.) However we have to take into account extinction, as a result of the speed of reinforcement did drastically drop.

Bear in mind above I discussed that a part of the factors for this husbandry job was for Lewis to not chain in undesirable behaviors like pawing me or vocalizing? These began off as extinction-related behaviors. They occurred when he was pissed off that I had raised standards too quick and he wasn’t accessing reinforcement on the former price.

I do know what extinction-related habits seems like from Lewis, and this wasn’t it.

That Harmless Little Cotton Ball

a closeup of a white cotton ball on a black background

I didn’t begin out to be deceptive in regards to the cotton, however I ended up burying the lede about it somewhat. Right here is the lede: Touching a cotton ball immediately on the opening of the ear canal is LOUD. Cotton balls look smooth and innocuous, and touching them to plenty of locations on the physique might be unremarkable. However the sound of the cotton touching his ear was startling and unsightly to Lewis

Dr. Waite stored that in thoughts as she gave us some new steps to carry out. They separated out the sound from the contact. We went fairly far again within the course of, as a result of this robust avoidant response was so uncommon for Lewis. I’m happy to report that we have now labored again as much as touching his ear with the cotton ball and he has determined that’s OK!

Watch the Canine and Movie Your Reps

There’s a lesson right here. You don’t want a shock or prong or choke collar for optimistic punishment. I feel we focus manner an excessive amount of on instruments typically. I don’t use any such collars, I don’t jerk on the leash, nor do I exploit entrance connect harnesses or head halters, however frankly, these make up a reasonably low bar. It’s a baseline. It’s not difficult or troublesome to not use instruments that harm. What I discover far more difficult is noticing other stimuli that are unexpectedly aversive, such one thing very smooth utilized to the fallacious place the fallacious manner.

Lewis was not harm, harmed, or traumatized by the cotton ball, as he would have been with a harsher technique. However he was sad with the scenario, which is the alternative of what I need. If I hadn’t been filming, I would by no means have identified simply how sad he was. And if I hadn’t been monitoring reps, I may not have observed that the chin relaxation obtained punished. I’m glad I did know, even when somewhat late, as a result of I may have made the scenario should worse had I persevered.

A woman trims the nails of a white and brown dog while he licks peanut butter from a flexible toy that is suctioned to the wall
This photograph is from January 2022, and I nonetheless trim his nails this manner

A sensible good friend as soon as described the kind of coaching optimistic reinforcement trainers intention for as “coaching that’s enjoyable for the learner.” It could sound simplistic, however that description is a chic and direct description of my targets and beliefs as a coach. We are able to say Lewis’ chin relaxation was positively punished. We are able to additionally say Lewis clearly wasn’t having enjoyable. And let me be clear: I need Lewis to be having enjoyable as a result of of the coaching, not regardless of it.

Lewis is a difficult canine for husbandry duties. I’m nonetheless, after greater than a yr, clipping his nails whereas he licks peanut butter. Once I dry him with a towel, I have to parcel out kibble with one hand whereas I do it, as a result of in any other case, he descends into overwrought wiggling and mouthing. I plan to coach these husbandry duties as an alternative of managing them with distractions, however I haven’t gotten there.

Lewis’ common discomfort with husbandry was a big a part of what prompted me to hitch Dr. Waite’s research. It’s extremely useful to me to have a structured method and her skilled counsel. I hope we don’t blow the bell curve!

Copyright 2023 Eileen Anderson

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