To stay, or not to stay- that is the question

In interspecific communications, we should always keep in mind that we do not have the same language. Só, we need to communicate clearly and precisely.

In dog training, we have varied standard checklist that all dogs have to meet and, in that way, will allow us to have an “obedient” dog. For some years, I used them until I began to question all the signals I transmitted to other species and felt the need to adapt them individually, respecting the progress and limits of the individual.

Before continuing, let me reaffirm that it is not me that will evaluate or judge the working methods of other professionals. We are free to use the methods that best resemble our characteristics and personality, and it will not be what makes us better or worse than others, just different. Respecting does not mean agreeing.

When we take some professional activity seriously, we need constant updates both in theory and mainly in practice, not making everything as absolute at all and having the will to change when necessary.

When we are communicating with other species and teaching our way of communicating, we need to be as clear and precise as possible, explaining each step we take. And it all starts with the terms and signals we use.

So, we need to scientifically define some terms that I will refer in this article and retain some points:

– Signal: A Signal is everything that intentionally causes a change in the behavior of the receiver.

– All signs have a meaning and a way of being given.

– We classify the signals in a scale from Good to Bad, depending on its efficiency, clarity, intensity, form and unequivocal understanding of the receiver, regardless of the environment.

– A signal will cause a behavior, so:
A signal => A behavior.

– All behavior has a consequence, so:
A signal => A behavior => A consequence

– The consequences will define the frequency, intensity and/or duration of a behavior. Reinforcements and inhibitors are used for.

– Reinforcement: A reinforcement is anything that increases the frequency, intensity, and/or duration of a particular behavior, when presented (+) or removed (-) simultaneously or immediately after a behavior takes place.

– Inhibitor: An inhibitor is anything that decreases the frequency, intensity, and / or duration of a particular behavior, when presented (+) or removed (-) simultaneously or immediately after a behavior takes place.

– Any signal that will be transmitted to another species, needs to be properly discriminated and explained in the plan of action, as well as the principles of scientific knowledge that each professional must have.

In Ethology Institute Cambridge, we use the precise scientific language SMAF (Signals, Meaning And Form), created by Dr. Roger Abrantes. Although, on a more professional level, it may seem complex, this scientific language shows ​​simplicity and, above all, precision.

Below, I will illustrate the most common signs we use in dog training with their meaning and form.

To simplify, I will write a single line with:
The technique to teach => The meaning of the signal => The form of the signal.

– Name(Skill) => Look at me(Meaning) => Name,sound(Form)

– Sit(Skill) => Put your bottom on the ground AND keep it there until you receive another signal(Meaning) => Sit,sound + Sit,hand(Form)

– Down(Skill) => Put your belly on the ground AND keep it there until you receive another signal(Meaning) => Down,sound + Down,hand(Form)

– Yes(Skill) => Continue(Meaning) => Yes,sound(Form)

– No(Skill) => Stop(Meaning) => No,sound(Form)

In the following video, I demonstrate all the techniques described above.

Here you can see more videos with the families working themselves with their dogs and using various signals.

Following the training program, with the necessary adjustments to the progress and limit of each dog, it is possible to increase the intensity, frequency and/or duration of a certain behavior, both in distance and with the increase of the environmental stimuli.

With this precision and clarity in signal definition, we do not need additional and sometimes redundant signals for the same behavior. The repetition of the signal during the technique can create anticipations of several types, if we notice that the own tone that we use varies.

I notice this situation daily with the families and their dogs, all the nervousness and uncertainty seems that they use the repetition of these signals as their own confidence. And when I ask them about the meaning of what they are asking for the dog, they cannot explain. Always ask the meaning of everything.

If the systematic repetition of the signal during the technique is simply replaced by the semi-conditioned reinforcement used in the training (ex: Good dog), we have a better efficiency to teaching the techniques. All this naturally mixed with the progress in training itself and the alternatives to be applied if the programmed plan does not work.

I leave the healthy reflection of this article so you may (or not) in the future challenge your simplicity, precision and critical thinking in practice.

ABRANTES, R. (1997). Dog Language. Wakan Tanka

Abrantes, Roger. 2011. Unveiling the Myth of Reinforcers and Punishers.

Abrantes, R. 2013. So you want to be a good dog trainer!

Abrantes, R. 2011. Commands or Signals, Corrections or Punishers, Praise or Reinforcers.

BARATA, R. (2016). ABCD System.

BARATA, R. (2016). Lead Respect.

BARATA, R. (2016). Signals precision in animal Training.

CHANCE, P. (2008) Learning and Behavior. Wadsworth-Thomson Learning, Belmont, CA, 6th, ed.

DARWIN, C. (1899). The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals. New York D. Appleton and Company.

EKMAN, P. (1976). Nonverbal Communiction: Movements with Precise Meanings. Journal of Communication, 26(3),14-26.

HOROWITZ, Alexandra. (2014). Domestic Dog, cognition and Behavior—The Scientific Study of Canis familiaris. Springer.

WATSON, J.C., Arp, Robert. (2015). Critical Thinking—an introduction to reasoning well. Bloomsbury Academic
LORENZ, Konrad. (1981). The foundations of ethology.
Based on a translation of Vergleichende Verhaltensforschung, with revisions. Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Autor: Roberto Barata

Certified in Advanced Applied Ethology; Expert in Human Animal Studies; Animal Trainer and Instructor; Ethology Institute Tutor; Researcher; "Teach without Speech" project author.