Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Website

Please note that this blog is no longer in use. Join us on our facebook group for interesting and lively discussions 0Paws Abilities Behaviour & Learning Centre

Also see our web site for a detailed description of the various services we offer here at Paws Abilities Behaviour and Learning Centre

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A talk on rabies

ABC OF SA RABIES TALK: Don’t forget to book your seat for our Talk on Rabies presented by Prof Andrew Leizewitz. 


This talk is aimed at veterinarians, animal behaviour consultants, nurses, receptionists, dog trainers, animal welfare workers, shelter staff/volunteers, and kennel owners etc. in fact, anyone that comes into contact with animals. There are only 200 seats so act fast!








How do you differentiate a rabid dog from one with a panic disorder, displaced aggression or claustrophobia?

What are your responsibilities picking up stray animals?

Once infected, humans are incurable! What you need to know will be in the presentation where questions can be asked.



Qualified as a veterinarian at Onderstepoort in 1987

Attained Honours (1990) and Master degrees (1995) in Veterinary Medicine

Teach and Research emphasis on a small animal dermatology, immunology and infectious diseases

Published 23 scientific papers, authored several text book chapters and supervised 14 post-graduate students

Rated with the National Research Fund as a category C1 researcher

Based in Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases at Onderstepoort



DATE:                         Thursday 12th July 2012




TIME:                         19:00 for 19:30


COST:                         R85 for ABC members

                                    R100 for non-members


Refreshments will be served.


Please RSVP for catering purposes:    Joanne Broom    joanne@paws4us.co.za



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If only they had listened!!

Cesar Millan: “The Dog Whisperer”

*Review submitted to National Geographic by A. Luescher, DVM, PhD Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

I reviewed the four preview-videotapes kindly submitted to me by National Geographic. I very much appreciate having gotten the opportunity to see these tapes before the program goes on the air. I will be happy to review any programs that deal with domestic animal behavior and training. I believe this is a responsibility of our profession.

I have been involved in continuing education for dog trainers for over 10 years, first through the “How Dogs Learn” program at the University of Guelph (Ontario Veterinary College) and then through the DOGS! Course at Purdue University. I therefore know very well where dog training stands today, and I must tell you that Millan’s techniques are outdated and unacceptable not only to the veterinary community, but also to dog trainers.

The first question regarding the above mentioned tapes I have is this:
The show repeatedly cautions the viewers not to attempt these techniques at home. What then is the purpose of this show? Is it an infomercial for Cesar Millan? I think we have to be realistic: people will try these techniques at home, much to the detriment of their pets.

Millan’s techniques are almost exclusively based on two techniques:
Flooding and positive punishment. In flooding, an animal is exposed to a fear (or aggression) evoking stimulus and prevented from leaving the situation, until it stops reacting. To take a human example: arachnophobia would be treated by locking a person into a closet, releasing hundreds of spiders into that closet, and keeping the door shut until the person stops reacting. The person might be cured by that, but also might be severely disturbed and would have gone through an excessive amount of stress. Flooding has therefore always been considered a risky and cruel method of treatment.

Positive punishment refers to applying an aversive stimulus or correction as a consequence of a behavior. There are many concerns about punishment aside from its unpleasantness. Punishment is entirely inappropriate for most types of aggression and for any behavior that involves anxiety. Punishment can suppress most behavior but does not resolve the underlying problem, i.e., the fear or anxiety. Even in cases where correctly applied punishment might be considered appropriate, many conditions have to be met that most dog owners can’t meet: The punishment has to be applied every time the behavior is displayed, within 1Ž2 second of the behavior, and at the correct intensity.

I would just like to point out three particularly disturbing episodes. In one, a Great Dane is dragged onto a slippery floor by a choke chain. Again, punishment and flooding is used. The dog was under extreme stress. The photographer did an excellent job at documenting the excessive drooling. In another sequence a Viszla is corrected for showing fear by inflicting pain. Would you hit your frightened child if it was afraid, say, of heights? The most disturbing sequence was the Entlebucher Mountain Dog with compulsive disorder that was “treated” with a prong collar. The dog’s behavior could be compared to stereotypic rocking in a child. The method Millan used to approach this problem would be like hitting this severely disturbed child each time it rocks. I bet you could suppress rocking behavior, but certainly no-one would suggest that that child was cured.

The last episode (compulsive disorder) is particularly unsettling because compulsive disorder is related to an imbalance in neurotransmitter levels or receptors, and is therefore unequivocally a medical condition. Would it be appropriate to treat obsessive compulsive disorder in people with punishment? Or have a layperson go around treating such patients?

Most of the theoretical explanations that Millan gives regarding causes of the behavior problems are wrong. Not one of these dogs had any issue with dominance. Not one of these dogs wanted to control their owners. What he was right about was that calmness and consistency are extremely important, but they don’t make the presented methods appropriate or justifiable.

The title “The Dog Whisperer” is particularly ironic. The title is of course taken from the horse whisperer. The training techniques of the horse whisperer are based on an understanding of equine behavior, and are non-confrontational and particularly gentle. Cesar Millan anything but “whispers”!

I think this series, if aired, would be a major embarrassment for National Geographic. It is not stimulating or thought-provoking, since none of the presented techniques are new. They are outdated and have long been abandoned by most responsible trainers, let alone behaviorists, as inappropriate and cruel. I very much hope National Geographic will pull the plug on this program.

My colleagues and I and innumerable leaders in the dog training community have worked now for decades to eliminate such cruel, ineffective (in terms of true cure) and inappropriate techniques. It would be a major blow for all our efforts if National Geographic portrayed these very techniques as the current standard in training and behavior modification. National Geographic would be in a difficult situation because they would promote an individual practicing veterinary medicine without a license (at least compulsive disorder is a medical condition, and the diagnosis of any behavior problem is considered practicing veterinary medicine in the model veterinary practice act). I also would not be surprised if the large national animal welfare organizations were to sue National Geographic for promoting cruelty to animals. I can guarantee to you that they would have the support of all professional organizations involved in dog behavior and training.



Friday, May 4, 2012

ABC event

The Animal Behaviour Consultants

of Southern Africa (©®™)


Description: logo tiny

Is proud to announce that we are hosting an exciting talk on



Presented by Dr Hannes Strydom


                                    DATE:                         24th May 2012


                             VENUE:                       South African Guide Dogs Association


                                    TIME:                          7:00 pm for  7:30 pm


                             COST:                          Members R50:00 

                                                                        Non-members R75:00


                             CONTACT:`                 Staci Lyons for Booking at.



                                    Please confirm booking to assist us in planning for light refreshments.

                    Should you have a problem contacting staci  you are welcome to give me

    A shout on louthomp@mweb.co.za


Friday, April 13, 2012

Hug your dog day!!!

This article was stolen from a friends facebook page but it is indeed a very possible scenario!!!!
I don't know where the original of this photo came from. It was on one of those emails that are supposed to be funny. And when I saw it, it made my heart race. Small child, dog on chain, dog trying to escape - recipe for disaster. Why am I so very bothered by "Hug Your Dog Day"? 

It's been many years ago that I received a call from a woman who said they'd taken their dog in to be euthanized. The vet that had taken care of their dog since puppyhood said she would only do it if they called me for a consult and that I agreed that it was the best decision.

The 3-year-old girl had been bitten by the family dog. The bite required reconstructive surgery to re-attach her ear. No one saw what happened (red flag) as the toddler and the dog were alone in the living room.

When I arrived I saw a picture perfect family, two pretty blonde daughters, 6 & 3, and a beautiful 6-year-old Golden retriever. Nothing I did showed me any signs that this dog had a mean bone in its body. No resource guarding. Patient to a fault.

The girl couldn't tell me what happened, so I asked her to show me and I asked the dad if he would be willing to role play the part of the dog. "Where was the dog?" she pointed to a narrow spot between the couch and the coffee table. Dad assumed the position. "Where was her head? Was she lying down?" The girl nodded. "What was she doing?" She ran and got the dog's rawhide bone and giggled as she gave it to her dad who was lying on the floor. "Where were you?" She ran around behind him. "And what happened next?" She belly flopped in a big hug around her dad's neck.

The dad closed his eyes and hugged his daughter. The mom's eyes welled with tears and she apologized to the dog. "It wasn't your fault," she sobbed.

The dog didn't lose her life that day. A hug gone wrong. It could happen to any parent. It could happen to any really nice dog who was "good with kids."

It's not okay to encourage kids to hug dogs. Even really nice dogs who often solicit kid hugs. Because that one time, when all the stars align and that dog who has a mild case of hip dysplasia, has a bone, is trapped in a tight place, with a bone, on a day when she played hard and is tired and a little sore, becomes a target for that wonderful kid hug, and very bad things happen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

x country fun event

“Paws Abilities”

Behaviour & Learning CentreGreen%20paw            


ANNUAL X-COUNTRY / OBSTACLE EVENT                      

TO BE HELD ON 14/04/12






DATE:           14th April 2012    

TIME:           9:00 AM for 9:30 AM

COST:           R20 per dog

VENUE:        Paws Abilities

Behaviour & Learning Centre

ON SALE:   Refreshments, home baked doggie treats, and wholesome home baked biscuits, doggie toys & other fun stuff for both dogs and people.


All Well-Behaved, Social, (Non-aggressive)

Dogs that are Under Control are very Welcome!




            CONTACT LOUISE FOR MORE DETAILS louthomp@mweb.co.za

Mobile 082-890-0905    Consulting rooms (011) 969-6103

Or Leigh at 082-7064374  or Mandy at 082-495-2050


Friday, February 17, 2012

Rehabbing rescue dogs

Rehabbing rescue dogs By Bob Bayley


Applying operant training principles


Positive reinforcement, operant training principles are tailor made for rehabilitating fearful dogs, with behavior challenges that include extreme shyness or fear-based aggression.  The reason is simple:  The entire point of "operant conditioning" is that the animal interacts with, i.e., "operates on", its environment to get what it wants and needs. In training this way, we manage the dog's environment, such that we ensure that the dog can make conscious choices to behave in a way that we desire.  We do not impose our wills upon the dogs or make them do what we want.  Instead, we set up the environment so that the dogs can make their own choices and be reinforced for making the correct ones.


For a fearful dog, this approach builds confidence--you can probably easily see why.  The dog is under the impression that it controls its fate, and is not a victim--that is, there is no longer anything to fear.  The success the dog has at getting the things it wants builds its sense of control over the environment.  With the ability to control comes confidence, and the fear begins to diminish.


In addition, the use of an event marker, such as a clicker, makes communication crystal clear between members of two species, humans and dogs, which have completely different biologies and modalities for communication.  Normal dogs can figure humans out easily enough--for thousands of years, only those dogs able to read humans successfully have survived (the science is "in" on this topic!).  Humans are amazingly poor however at reading dogs (their survival typically doesn't depend on it...).  The clicker bridges that communication gap, with some pretty miraculous and amazing results.


What you can do:

To work with fearful dogs, therefore, you would follow these steps:

  • Learn how to understand and read dogs.  Two resources head the top of my list:  Jean Donaldson's Culture Clash and Turid Rugaas's On Speaking Terms with Dogs--Calming Signals (her DVD is much, much more instructive that her book and well worth the purchase price.

  • Manage your fearful dog's environment, so that all good things come directly from you, otherwise known as a "nothing in life is free" program.  This approach can solve many types of behavior problems in dogs.  Being extremely fearful is a behavior "problem" not only because the dog is so unhappy, but because the fear erodes any relationship it could have with its new human companions, upon whom this dog's very survival depends. 

  • Teach your fearful dog the meaning of the clicker and how to make choices that bring it good things. 

  • Get and read Click to Calm by Emma Parsons.  A single, wonderful book combines the last two items.  Parson's book outlines a specific steps you can take to overcome fearfulness, shyness, and fear-based aggression in dogs. 

  • Have patience and learn the meaning of truly unconditional love:  It is very difficult for sensitive people, such as most dog lovers are, to endure the rejection of shy, fearful and fear-aggressive dogs.  To be able to help your own dog, you must look deeply into your own emotions and motivations, and overcome your own needs that you strive to fulfill by having dogs in your life.  This isn't about you--it's about helping your fearful dog.  I can personally attest to how difficult this is, as I describe in an essay I wrote:  What Babe Taught Me:  The Most Important Lesson of All.

The Babe Chronicles: My own personal journey in working with extremely fearful dogs.

I offer these reprinted articles with permission of their sources, in hopes of inspiring you to persevere and help your fearful dog.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What SA Vet Council are saying about tail docking.

The South African Veterinary Council policy on tail docking in Dogs
Date: 2010/06/01

The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) is the statutory body that regulates the veterinary and Para-veterinary professions. The SAVC is empowered by the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act of 1982 to set and maintain professional standards for these professions. All veterinarians are obliged by law to register with Council in order to work as veterinarians. Council is committed to the promotion of health and well-being for all animals. The South African Veterinary Association (SAVA), on the other hand, is a professional organisation with voluntary membership. The SAVA is officially represented on the SAVC.

What is tail docking?

Tail docking is the amputation of a dog’s tail at varying lengths to suit the recommendations of a breed standard. Docking involves the amputation of the puppy’s tail with a scalpel. Sometimes rubber bands are used, although this method has never been used by veterinarians. The cut goes through the skin, cartilage and bone. This procedure is usually performed without any anaesthetic, or with a local anaesthetic, at three to five days of age. A small number of dogs are born naturally without a tail.

What does the SAVC say about tail docking?

The SAVC has decided that as of I June 2008 it will no longer condone routine tail docking of puppies by veterinarians.

The reasons for the decision are as follows:
Tail docking, even if performed with local anaesthesia, causes pain and stress to young puppies. Recent research in pain management indicates clearly that puppies, even at a few days of age, have a fully developed nervous system and a well-developed sense of pain. Sometimes, tail docking results in serious complications such as bleeding, infection and even the death of the puppy. There can also be complications later in life such as neuroma (nerve tumour) formation. One of the complications of the tail docking is that bitch licks out stitches in the act of anal stimulation for puppy defecation thus leaving an open wound which heals with a sensitive stump.

Tail docking does not provide any benefit to puppies. Traditionally, some breeders considered a docked tail necessary to fulfil the working functions of the dog. Today many working breeds are kept as house pets and only a small percentage are used for field work, which is a recreational activity for people and not an essential function. If dogs of breeds that are customarily docked are left with intact tails, they are not more likely to get tail injuries than dogs of other breeds. Dogs need their tails for balance and body language. If a procedure that causes pain has no immediate or future benefit for the animal and may lead to complications, it is unnecessary and should not be performed.

The history of tail docking of puppies:

The practice of tail docking started hundreds of years ago, when people were far more complacent about the welfare of animals than they are today. It became common in the Middle Ages in Britain and Western Europe. Many theories have been proposed for the beginning of the practice. This includes prevention of back injury, increasing the speed of the docked dog and prevention of tail damage due to fighting and also to prevent injury from thorny bushes. Hundreds of years ago a docked tail was an indication of a working dog for the purpose of tax rebates. Some breeds are born without tails or with a stumpy tail due to a genetic abnormality through artificial selection. Normal littermates of these breeds were usually docked to give the breed a uniform appearance. Today, there is no justifiable reason to dock a puppy’s tail.

How do vets feel about tail docking?

Many veterinarians reluctantly perform tail docking in order to ensure that the procedure is at least done by a veterinarian, and to minimise the pain and suffering caused to the pups. Some vets refuse to perform the procedure because of welfare reasons; and on personal principle, while there are some vets still willing to continue doing it. Most vets condemn the practice. Since vets have ceased to perform the procedure certain unscrupulous breeders dock using elastrator bands and knives or blades.

What the decision means

Veterinarians who perform tail docking, unless for justifiable medical reasons, will be liable for prosecution under the Animal Protection Act no 71 of 1962. Veterinarians found guilty under this act, will automatically be investigated for unprofessional conduct by the SAVC under the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, 1982.

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), as the body primarily responsible with applying the tenets of the Animal Protection Act has in the past not enforced the relevant clause in the Act due to the fact that the SAVC has in the past “condoned” the performing of the procedure. This created a legal loophole that would have made successful prosecution of any person based on the Animal Protection Act unlikely to succeed.This has now changed with the SAVC decision. Although the SAVC decision only directly affects veterinarians, lay people who perform the procedure will now also be liable under the Animal Protection Act.

Why hasn’t the SAVC said anything about tail docking in sheep?

The SAVC has invited input from veterinarians on all procedures such as tail docking in other species, dehorning, declawing, removal of vocal chords and other similar procedures. Each of these has different risks and benefits, all of which will be carefully considered before the SAVC decides whether the procedure should be condoned or not. If the benefit of a procedure outweighs the risk to the animal, then it is in the animal’s best interest to have the procedure done. If the procedure provides no benefit or a very small benefit compared to the risks, then the procedure should not be performed. Tail docking in sheep is done for different reasons than in dogs, thus it cannot be judged on the same basis in different species.

How you can help

You can help the SAVC implement the decision by doing the following:

  • Do not buy puppies without tails.
  • Insist that the breeder from whom you buy your dogs does not dock tails.
  • Encourage your dog club or organisation to stop advocating tail docking.

Contact details:

For more information, contact the SAVC at Tel: 27 (012) 342 1612 or savc@intekom.co.za

The Australian Veterinary Association is acknowledged for use of material from their pamphlet on tail docking.

Breed info

Hi everyone

Really interesting – go onto this site and see the in's and out's of each breed. Click on the top tabs to give you the breed that fits the description!!

Till next time L


Monday, February 6, 2012

Should we reinforce the effort or the results?

Should We Reinforce the Effort or the Results?


Dog using its nose to search a target scent (photo from http://www.houndcrazy.com).

If you ask, “should we reinforce effort or the results?”     you are liable to get as many answers supporting one              idea as the other. Supporters of reinforcing effort sustain that reinforcing results creates emotional problems when one doesn’t succeed and decreases the rate of even trying. Supporters of reinforcing results maintain that reinforcing effort encourages sloppiness and cheating.

I shall proceed to argue for and against both theories and prove that it is not a question of either/or, rather of defining our criteria, processes and goals clearly.

I shall compare the learning of some skills in dogs and humans because the principles are the same. The difference between them and us is one “of degree, not of kind,” in the words of Darwin.

I will use SMAF to accurately describe some of the processes whenever I consider it advantageous. If you are not proficient in SMAF, you can read the free SMAF manual athttp://wp.me/p1J7GF-8Y.

The main difficulty in some learning processes is reinforcing the right behavior at the right time, which bad teachers, bad parents and bad trainers do not master (here bad means inefficient, it is not a moral judgment).

Much of my personal work with dogs (and rats) is and has been detection work, mainly of narcotics and explosives, but also of people tobacco and other items. One of the first signals I teach the animals is a disguised reinforcer.

With dogs, I use the sound ‘Yes’ (the English word) and with rats a ‘bip….bip….bip’ sound produced on their backpacks and triggered by me.The signal part of this signal/reinforcer means “continue what you’re doing” and the reinforcer part “we’re OK, mate, doing well, keep up.” This is a signal that becomes a reinforcer: Continue,sound(yes) that becomes a “!+sound”(yes).

The difference between the most used “!±sound”(good-job) and “!+sound”(yes) is that the former is associated and maintained with “!-treat”(small food treat) and “!-body(friendly body language) and the latter with a behavior that will eventually produce “!-treat”. The searching behavior does not produce a treat, but continuing searching does, eventually (find or no find). This is why “!+sound”(yes) is a disguised Continue,sound(yes) or the other way around.

Why do I need this interbreeding between a signal and a reinforcer?

Because the signal ‘Search’ (Search,sound) does not mean ‘Find the thing.’ Sometimes (most of the time) there’s nothing to find, which is a relief for all of us (airports and the likes are not that full of drugs and explosives).

So, what does Search,sound mean? What am I reinforcing? The effort?

No, I’m not. We have to be careful because if we focus on reinforcing the effort, we may end up reinforcing the behavior of the animal just strolling around, or any other accidental and/or coincidental behavior.

I am still reinforcing the result. ‘Search’ means, “Go and find out whether there is a thing out there.” ‘Thing’ is everything that I have taught the dog to search and locate for me, e.g. cocaine, hash, TNT, C4.

“Go and find out whether there is a thing out there” leaves us with two options that are equally successful: ‘here’ and ‘clear.’ When there is a thing present, the dog answers ‘here’ by sitting as close to it as possible (I have taught it that behavior). When there is no thing, I want the animal to tell me exactly that: the dog answers ‘clear’ by coming back to me (again because I have taught it to do that). We have two signals and two behaviors:

Thing,scent => dog sits (‘here’ behavior).

∅Thing,scent => dog comes back to me (‘clear’ behavior).

The signals are part of the environment, they are not given by me, which does not matter: a signal (SD) is a signal*. An SD is a stimulus associated with a particular behavior and a particular consequence or class of consequences. When we have two of them, we expect two different behaviors and when there is none, we expect no behavior. What fools us here is that in detection work we always have one and only one SD, either a scent or the absence of one. It is not possible to have none. Either we have a scent or we don’t, which means that either we have Thing,scent or we have ∅Thing,scent, each requiring two different behaviors as per usual. The SD is the absence of the other.

Traditionally, we don’t reinforce a search that doesn’t produce a find. To avoid extinguishing the behavior, we use ‘controlled finds’ (a drug or an explosive, we know it is there because we have placed it there to give the animal a possibility to obtain a reinforcer).

This solution is correct, except that it teaches the dog that the criterion for success is ‘to find’ and not ‘not to find,’ which is not true. ‘Not to find’ (because there is no thing out there) is as good as ‘to find.’ The tricky part is, therefore, to reinforce the ‘clear’ and how to do it to avoid sloppiness (strolling around) and cheating.

Let us analyze the problem systematically.

The following process does not give us any problems:

{Search,sound ⇒ b1(dog searches) => “!+sound”(yes) or Continue,sound(yes) ⇒ b1(dog searches) ⇒ dog finds thing (Thing,scent) ⇒ b2(dog sits=’here’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

No problem, but what about when there is no thing (∅Thing,scent)? If I don’t reinforce the searching behavior, I might extinguish it. Then, I reinforce the searching with “!+sound”(yes):

{“Search,sound” ⇒ b1(dog searches) => “!+sound”(yes) ⇒ b1(dog searches) => ∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me=’clear’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

It all looks good, but it poses us some compelling questions:

How do I know the dog is searching versus strolling around (sloppiness)?

How do I know I am reinforcing the searching behavior?

If I reinforce the dog coming back to me, then next time I risk the dog having a quick sniff round and coming straight back to me. That’s the problem. I want the dog to come back to me only when it finds nothing (as in it didn’t find anything).


Reinforcing the searching behavior.

Identifying the searching behavior versus strolling around (sloppiness). How can I make sure that the dog always searches and never just strolls around?


Reinforcing the searching behavior with “!+sound”(yes) works. OK.

Remaining problem:

I have to reinforce the ‘clear’ behavior (coming back to me), but how can I ensure the dog always searches and never just strolls around (avoid sloppiness)?

How can I make sure the dog has no interest in being sloppy or cheating me?


To teach the dog that reinforcers are only available if and only if:

1. the dog finds the thing. {Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog sits) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

2. the dog does not ever miss a thing. {∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};


I gradually teach the dog to find things until I reach a predetermined low concentration of scent (my goal). In this phase of training, there is always one thing to find. After 10 consecutive successful finds (my criterion and quality control measure), all producing reinforcers for both the searching (“!+sound”(yes)) and the finding (“!+sound” + “!-treat”), I set up a situation with no thing present (∅Thing,scent). The dog searches and doesn’t find anything. I reinforce the searching and the finding (no-thing) as previously. Next set-up: I make sure there is a thing to find and I reinforce both searching and finding.

I never reinforce not-finding a thing that is there, nor finding a thing that is not there.

Consequence: the only undesirable situations for a dog is

(1) not-finding a thing that is there (the dog did not indicate Thing,scent), or (2) indicating a thing that is not there (the dog indicates ∅Thing,scent).

(1) {Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me=‘clear’ behavior) => [?+sound] + [?-treat]};


(2) {∅Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog sits=‘here’ behavior) => [?+sound] + [?-treat]};

This is (negatively) punishing negligence, but since it proves to increase the intensity of the searching, we cannot qualify it as a punisher. Therefore, we call it a non-reinforcer: “∅+sound”, “∅-treat”.

In the first case: Thing,scent => Dog comes back to me => [?+sound] + [?-treat].


Thing,scent => Dog comes back to me => “∅+sound”, “∅-treat”.


{Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me) => “∅+sound”, “∅-treat” ⇒ b1(dog searches–more intensively) => Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog sits=‘here’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”};

In the second case, I have to be absolutely sure that there is indeed no thing. The training area must be free from any scent remotely similar to the scent we are training (Thing,scent). This is an imperative, especially in the first phases of the training process, and the trainer that misses this point is committing major negligence.

Nevertheless, should the dog, show ‘here’ for ∅Thing,scent, then we can use the same procedure as above:

{∅Thing,scent ⇒ b2(dog shows ‘here’ behavior) => “∅+sound”, “∅-treat” ⇒ b1(dog searches–more intensively) => ∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me=‘clear’ behavior) => “!+sound” + “!-treat”}.

What if later the dog doesn’t find a thing that is there in a lower concentration than the one I used for training, or is masked by other scents?

That’s no problem, it’s not the dog’s fault. I didn’t train for it. The dog doesn’t know that it is making a mistake by giving me a wrong ‘clear.’ As far as the dog is concerned, the room is clear: {∅Thing,scent ⇒ b3(dog comes back to me => “!+sound” + “!-treat”}; The dog was not strolling around and is not cheating me.

A human example:

I reinforce the child trying to solve a math problem. ‘Well done, but you got it wrong because…” The solution is wrong, but the method was correct. Therefore, it is all a question of training. The ‘wrong’ will be eliminated with more or better training, or maybe it was caused an excessive increase in the difficulty curve of the problem (the teacher’s problem).We are not reinforcing trying; we are reinforcing the correct use of a method.

Why reinforce the process?

We must reinforce the process because of its emotional consequences. The dog and the child must accept the challenge, must want to be challenged, and be able to give their best in solving the problem. The exercise in itself will eventually end up being self-reinforcing.

Are we reinforcing the effort rather than the success?

No, we are not. Reinforcing the effort rather than the result can even lead to false positives. The animal indicates something that it is not there because it associates the reinforcer with the behavior, not the thing. Children give us three-four quick, consecutive, wrong answers if we reinforce the trying, not the process (thinking before answering).

We reinforce result (success) only.

When the dog doesn’t find because there’s nothing to find, that is success. When the dog doesn’t find because the concentration was too low, that is also success because ‘too low’ is here equal to ‘no thing.’ When the child gets it wrong, it is because the exercise exceeded the capacity of the child (he or she has not been taught to that level).

We are still reinforcing success and exactly what we trained the dog and the child to do. We don’t say to the child, “Well, you tried hard enough, good.”

We say, ” Well done, you did everything correctly, you just didn’t get it right because you didn’t know that x=2y-z and there was no way of you knowing.”

Next time, the child gets it right because she now knows it; and if not, it is because x=2y-z exceeds the capacity of that particular child in which case there’s nothing you can do about it.

The same goes for the dog: the dog doesn’t indicate 0.01g of cocaine because I trained it to indicate as low as 0.1g. When I reinforce the dog’s ‘clear,’ I say, “Well done, you did everything correctly, you just didn’t get it right because you didn’t know that 0.01g cocaine is still the thing.”

Now, I train the dog that ‘thing’ means ‘as low as 0.01g cocaine’ and either the dog can do it or it cannot. If it can, good; if it cannot, there’s nothing you or I, the dog or the child can do about it.


We reinforce result, success, not the effort, not the trying. We must identify success, have clear criteria for success, plan a successive approach to our goal and gradually increase difficulty. We must be able to recognize limits and limitations in ourselves, in the species we work with, in the individuals we tutor, in the particular skill we teach. We must know when we cannot improve a skill any further and when an individual cannot give us more than what we are getting; and be satisfied with that.

Have a great day!


Footnote: * Strictly speaking, the scent that the detection dog searches is not a signal, but a cue, because it is not intentional. In this context, however, it is and SD because we have conditioned it to be so and, therefore, we can call it a signal. Please, see “Signal and Cue—What is the Difference?” at http://wp.me/1J7GF.