Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Operant Conditioning Behaviour Analysis

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am taking an intensive on-line course in the above named subject through Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.  I thought I would be able to post progress reports etc. but mostly I'm too busy to write about it at the moment!  Sheesh - it's a lot of work but I love the rigor, the learning and the discipline.

Here's a brief synopsis of what we're doing so far.  Each Sunday, we are assigned a lesson for the week.  This includes reading, watching some video examples of the subject for the week, posting answers to questions on the group forum, doing a weekly quiz on theory and of course daily training with our chosen animal.  I'm working with Rose.

The training part includes writing shaping plans and training charts for everything we do.  I'm finally getting used to this!  This is important as it tracks progress and helps the trainer know when to raise criteria, back-up or move on.  We are training in small steps towards a goal (successive approximation)
and we're constantly evaluating the animal's response about what he/she has learned so far.  We are setting the animal up for success as this is the key to learning!

Then we video ourselves working on the week's assignment (with the animal of course) and submit the video, shaping plan and training chart.  These will be downloaded by the instructors and graded.Video taping your work is fabulous!  You learn so much by watching yourself!  Last week I made about 6 videos and found mistakes in each one!  Either I was clicking a bit late or saying the cue too early and I was able to notice my own body posture and perhaps unintentional cues.  You really learn to hone your skills by watching what you do on video - I highly recommend it!

We're in week 6 of 12.  So far the weekly lessons have covered theory, terminology and the four training techniques associated with operant conditioning. We had to choose four behaviors to train, each using the different approaches: molding, luring, capturing and shaping.  We learn when and how to add a cue.

We were asked to choose and train 3 basic care behaviors.  I chose handling Rose's mouth, putting her foot in a soaking boot and trailer loading.

We moved on to a variable schedule of reinforcement - that's when you don't click and treat for every behavior - rather you might choose to reward the 1st, 3rd and 5th try.  Think of being in a casino - if every time you pulled the handle on the slot machine you got a nickle, it would become boring and eventually you'd quit!  Same thing with training animals!  You want them to try and try again - but that's only once the behavior has become fluent (or really well understood.)

Now we are proofing two behaviors- so that means: will the animal do such and such anywhere, anytime?  In a snowstorm, in the dark, on the road, etc. etc.  To proof a behavior (one the animal already knows) you change the criteria - you can change the environment, or the duration of the behaviour, or some other factor to see how well the animal responds ... will she do such and such under this condition?

It's really fun - there's tons to read and understand - Rose is fantastic to work with but then, I think any animal would be really because this technique is tailor-made for each individual.  You work with a particular animal at their level of understanding!

I should be spending more time in my studio however - I have a show coming up fast - and the garden is full of weeds!

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