Sunday, March 7, 2021

Recall - what is it good for ?

 Ever called you dog or cat to come to you or back home indoors?

Weather you know it or not you've been using a training tecnique included in a theory called operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning or instrumental conditioning is a behavioral theory - a way to work not only with animals but many of it's origins are from human psychological science as well. It's history goes back to the beginning of 1900's but the "golden time" in discovering it's fine tunes - is probably in 40's & 50's.    B. F. Skinner and his team did revolutionary findings and they trained hundreds if not thousands of animals during their experiences - he is often referred as the father of operant conditioning. However many other behaviourists, like Thorndike and his findings in connectionism, had done significant studies on animal behavior science before the findings of Skinner's team, thus making their work feasible. 

"Call him!"

In every day life with our pets, we don't necessarily think of some theory when we're calling our animals - and quite rightfully we just call the animals to us, often by their name. It is quite natural and simple that animal do react on it the way we anticipate. - or is it?

Most likely while we have been building up a relationship with the animal(s) under our care there have been multiple reinforcers involved in above described situation. Animal is getting a lot of attention from it's keeper, some good treats (primary reinforcements), tactile reinforcement, possibly some play and social interaction with us etc.  (secondary reinforcements) just to name a few. All these factors are extremely important not only for the behavior to be reliable but also in building up a good trustworthy relationship with each other.

Find more info on reinforcements & punishments from here:

What has a cookie jar to do with animal training ? ; 

The situation described above  is what is very commonly considered as a (re)call. To get the animal where we are!

However if we dive a bit deaper in the theory we may notice that a recall is not really a call to get the animal to us but it's meaning is something of a bit wider content. If we look at the definition of the word recall; it's something of the following: 

- bring back to one's mind 


- order (someone) to return to a place

In this context we are naturally interested in the later description and as we see; the meaning of it is to get someone in a specific location.

This is one of the fundamentals in taking care of animals in a more professional manner. It also should be one of the first things to be taught to animals under our care, as it makes life often times so much easier. Imagine animal having  large enclosure in a zoogical setting  or livestock in a meadow and you would need to get animals back to a stable or a shed for what ever reason - say because of a colder night etc. How much easier life is if the response of the animals is reliable.

Consistency & variability

Getting an animal from one place to another is not really a problem - however sometimes keeping the behaviour reliable can be a challence. This may happen if we as trainers are keeping the response too much for granted, on other words; we don't maintain a well established behavior with a proper reinforcement schedule.

A recall is a very practical everyday life behavior which is naturally under a cue - given by the keeper of the animal. I've seen in many places where recall has been trained and sustained to animals extraordinary well. There are variable ways to reinforce it in such way that in almost every situation animals will react correctly to the given cue. The key elements are consistency and variability. Those two element will also keep the behavior in a very reliable state.  

This is maintained in a way the cue is given - also that the animal is rewarded of a proper response but with a twist of variability. In other words the animal does not always know when the cue is given to it nor how it's response is reinforced. The element of surprise makes life so much more rewarding and motivational. Changes is variation of reinforcement doesn't have to be extreme - small nuances will do the magic. Variation is important also in the sense of magnitude of the reinforcement; a jackpot in surprising the animal is a very strong tool to be used, as it's influence can be so long lasting.

Variability in reinforcements provided in a consistently random manner will establish a very motivated and reliable response in any animal behavior reliability.

When we are considering animal welfare; a possibility for a choice for animal is nowadays always emphasized. Considering the recall we are not really giving a choice to the animal where to we are expecting it to go...but ...

If we are thinking of a scenario where we are training a recall for an animal to go in it's indoor enclosure; Reliability on behavior may have an indirect effect if that animal has access to that indoor area free willingly also during times outside actual training. This way we are giving to the animal more control of it's environment, through choice, which  is recommended to be provided to any animal under our care. 

If Turles Could Fly ...   

What would be a proper cue for turtles?

A cue for a recall can be almost anything; verbal cue or some other sound, light or a body signal etc. It is wise to find a cue which does not normally exist in the animal's environment and of course it should be under our control. 

Sometimes you got to be creative; for example if  you being with an animal with hearing disability or it's eyesight is not too good. In this case it's al about a kind of fitness program for our red-eared and yellow eared sliders; we started to give them a possibility for a couple of hour "walk time" before opening hours at public aquarium ( Särkänniemi Aquarium, Finland). The turtles get on the public area for a morning walk every morning thus giving them a bit of different exercise than they would get in their exhibit. 

Now - turtles are relatively easy to catch when we are putting them back to their premises. However I though of a nice "game" or "play" with them; I started to train them for a cue for recall. It  took me a while to think of a proper cue but eventually I think I game up with a nice idea:

As they have no change to enter their paludarium by them selves (...only if they could fly...) so I starter to work with them for a recall which would have a meaning for them to come to me or any animal caretaker on duty. Once they come to us it is then easy to pick them up and put them into their paludarium. The most convenient way to establish this was just to kneel down next to their exhibition. At the beginning it took a while before animals started to react on this cue well but eventually all four got it. So the cue was simply kneeling down.

As for reinforcements; there were two major rewards or reinforcements I think made the difference for them. One was the fact that they got back to nongravity feeling of swimming in the water and of course a primary reinforcement of food that was at the beginning offered to them almost every time. The variability was maintained by variation in different food items provided to them at this state. After a while the food was not any more provided every time they got into the water. This reinforced the variability and surprise in rewarding shedule, thus making the motivation in long run a whole lot better for them.

Now the "game" is well established and it is rewarding and reinforcing to these cute turtles ... and it is really fun to watch.

Enjoy this short clip :-)

Red-eared slider turtles hurrying back to home after getting a cue for recall !

Ps. If you have any fun stories or cues you've experienced - Please share them as it would be good to hear your expereinces.


Kai Mattsson

Meritime Consulting

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What is your most valuable lesson, you've learned with animals ?

 A lesson to be learned

Often times, when we are talking about animal training our speech is filled with phrases and terminology of how we have managed to alter that animal's behavior into a certain direction.

 And that's how it should be; Knowing the theory behind behavior management thoroughly is a key  element for success - for the trainer to reach aimed goals as well as for the animal under her or his care, it quarantines also a better welfare for the animal.

When we are sharing our experiences we are hopefully giving advise to someone else of practicalities which are good but also at the same time those which are leading into not so good progress. Actually unsuccessful stories often times are more enlightening than the one's with perfect solution. So, fortunately we all make mistakes and we should share those as well. 

- Sharing is caring -

                    Sharing is caring !    

So while we are making mistakes we also are learning a whole lot of valuable information. I can admit that during my 30 plus years of animal training experiences I've made quite a bunch of mistake with a note to myself; "never again!" or "..a different approach next time." 

When I'm tutoring or lecturing other trainers & animal care people on animal behavior management I do always remind them animals are kind of learning machines - as learning happens all the time; whether we want it or not - it happens intentionally or imperceptibly. 

So mistakes happen - that's life. Fortunately lots of  things can be fixed later. This one applies to animal behavior but also with equal value to our behavior as animal trainers or caretakers. So I'm challenging you to think; when was the last time you shared some failure in you training program?

When shared, those experiences can be like an apples of gold in settings of silver to someone else. In short - I guess sometimes the best lessons as well as the very first lesson to be learned is that we learn through mistakes and we may learn more for the future in any similar situation.

Interacting or a relationship?

Which would you prefer to talk about of the times you spend with animals under your care? 

The ideal idea when we are working or just "hanging" with animals is to create an intimate atmosphere and a common language to be able to communicate with each other. More often it is for us following, reading and listening to the animals - learning how to read all small nuances animals are expressing to us through their behavior. Something you just cannot learn form any textbook.

We are definitely interacting with our animals but when does it go beyond interaction? Where is the line when it becomes relationship type of time together?

..or is that considered to be way too much of antropomophized term or thinking?

I've heard quite a few times that we should not humanize too much animals, but if we're trying to make a good life with animals under our care - why not? I fully agree that when we are analyzing the behavior or the "forces" that are making the animal act in a certain way; It is the time not to humanize animal's - You need to analyze the behavior or find the environmental stimulus which is / are making the animal behave in that certain way. Sometimes one can hear wordings, like" Well it's Barky - that's how he behaves..." To be honest, I've done the same.

This however has been one of the moments which were not so very successful. 

There is nothing really wrong to think this way ..BUT the same time we are blocking possibilities for both ourselves as well as for the animals in question to have any success or progress in it's training or behavior modification. If our thinking is negative for the success of the end result we are not really giving a fair chance for the animal to be successful. What we are executing is called self fulfilling prophesy, a prediction that causes itself to become true. In other words the expectations of behavioral progress can lead to a behavior or lack of progress which confirms the expectations for that individual in our mind. 

So I guess the second lesson to be learned is to give equal possibility for each animal for a success. We, as trainers or animal care people, should be enablers for them to be successful in any given task. This of course is easier to achieve if we manage to create a supportive relationship with the animal.

Exciting and relaxing moments in a good balance

Many times finding the right balance in training situation is a key factor in creating a encouraging interaction with your animal. Also it is one of the fundamentals when we are thinking of all stimulus the animal is exposed to, how to find the right, hopefully positive, reinforcements which would over rule all other "forces" in it's environment. Our aim is to find those tools (stimulus) to be used to balance the behavior management in the way that we are guiding animals behavior in the wanted direction.

Training can create some very exciting moments and it gives a thrust of endorphins not only to animals but also us, when we are being successful together. What would be a better achievement to us than a goal achieved - we'd be full of "runners-high". This is one of the best positive reinforcements for both of us - a chemical reinforcement of a good feeling.

On the other hand we do need some quiet times also - time to relax. It is a well know fact that a relaxing time spend with ie. domestic animals is comforting to us; it can lower our blood pressure and make our hear beat slower. So - when we are encountering animal with this respect - wouldn't our effect on them be the same? It is a welfare factor of our cohabitation.

Many animals are used in therapy-type of purposes for example for elderly people, disabled people or children. Personally I don't very much like the use of the word "therapy" in these kind of situations as it is relating that there would be some kind of clinical healing or therapy involved. As to me it is just something that has been kind of programmed to us; closeness with another living creature in a relaxed way is comforting. With animals it is rather easy as they feel often times pleased of the attention and are not judging any of us because of our appearance therefore making it easy to approach them. Many studies demonstrate a detrimental effect of negative human animal relationship on animals and humans. This convinces me on the effect of a positive relationship creating good quality of life and welfare for both of us.

So the third lesson to be learned is that time with animals under our care is giving them as well as to us some thrilling feelings and relaxing moments. These are not kind of concrete reinforcements or material matters to count - it is something the body generates, something that is very innate for both of us when successful.

There is always a new possibility

I still want to bring on one value. As I've been involved with the animal training in many occasions it has influenced me and kind of addressed the beauty of being with animals. 

Imagine you are having a training session with you animal and you have some success, but also some things are not really going the way you had anticipated (which is quite normal). You may have missed some good bridges (ie. click on a perfect performance) or the animal has kind of utterly misunderstood your cues on the direction you'd like it to get to. As you finish you're not really content with the overall result.

What happens the next time we're working on that same goal?

It is critical on what kind of emotion we will bring to that next training session. If it is somewhat preconceived we are not really giving a fair chance for the animal to be successful. Remember we are supposed to be enablers for our animals to achieve a good result. Therefore I believe that we'd need to somehow clear our mind of the past events but at the same time remember what has happened and use that information for a new solution to be encouraging for the animal. 

As I type and read this  - it sounds awful lot like forgiveness.

That I believe is and has been for me the most valuable lesson I've learned whilst working and spending time with animals. We do need that kind of talent with animals but above all in our every day life.

What would be your treasured catch?


Kai Mattsson

Meritime Consulting

p.s. If you look at the words I wrote in bold - isn't those the kind of characteristics we need also in parenthood or in any other relationship?  When I started my career as a young dolphin trainer, this was one of the most memorable teaching I got from my tutor: A good trainer has those same (good) tool for parenting.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Creating positive feedback loop when building the trust.

Is this something  brand new or just a principle every parent is well aware of ?

What is the secret behind quality relationship with animals under our care?
Often times we ignore this topic a bit too much. It is something we think happens naturally.

At the time when we are planning to acquire an animal, let's say in our household many of us are captivated of the image that we have in our mind; 
 - What would that kind of life be -  a life with our favorite animal or breed?
Which is good!
No-one would ever get involved with animals if we'd be too pessimistic. Everyone needs a dream to be fulfilled.

Often times we can accomplish those goals but sometimes the reality is utterly and completely different; "There's something wrong with my pet, it's not operating the way I anticipated !"

The word operate in the previous sentence is intentional. Animals have characters, they are different from one another. I remember when I was consulting one dog owner how surprised she was when she had  acquired their second dog in the family as a companion to themselves as well as to the "old faithful" one. The breed was the same and so was the sex, both were females of a commonly recognized "easy" dog breed.

"Man's best buddy "

But still - the characteristics that they had were very far from one another. Each individual had its own personality and preferences.
Another example is bit more sad - a single parent had bought a nice looking dog of a fine breed for the family to be a additional companion, only the breed was one of the shepherds. They lived in a block of flat. The situation was unfortunately not very good - this time due to the reason that innate behavior needs of that breed were not met with the individual.

The diversity of animals and their characteristics - that they have "personalities" is something that is actually very moving to me. I've thought of it many times, how rich our nature is. With domestic animals we can rather easily see these differences but I was truly moved about this fact already when I was working with dolphins. 

I was just mesmerized of the vast variety animal kingdom has. 
If we think of it a bit more closely;
- In the North Sea area (= Ascobans agreement area *) there is, according to the SCANS II research, an estimate of 2000 individuals of bottlenosed dolphins (tursiops truncatus) and an estimate of 75 000 individuals of short-peaked common dolphins (delphinus delphis). If we imagine that each of them have their own preferences and characteristic's say for example of which kind food they'd prefer, what is the favorite play or companion etc.

The thought of it is just breathtaking !

*ASCOBANS = Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas, 

What is the feedback we're giving ..or getting? 

So - when we are accomplishing and building up a relationship with any animal under our care we should always also take into account the animal factor (ref. human factor) of each individual.
This is something you can't learn from any book or publication. You just need to spend time with those animals!
Ever heard of feedback loops or of a Premack principle in animal training & animal care?
If you haven't don't worry it is ok. These are not very commonly used.

A behavior is determined by it's consequences !

This is one of the main principles in animal behavior training. Very commonly we are using food as the main way of reinforcing our animals when they are performing a behavior we've been asking them to do. Some primary reinforcer is used which  is highly valued by the animal in question and food is an easy option and usually it has a high value by the animals.

But ...
- why there is always a BUT in almost everything we go through ?? 
This one however is a good one.

What if the animal is not feeling good or there is some other facture why food loses its value? ..or maybe it is a species or breed of which food intake is very low? How to work then?
One solution is to use secondary reinforcers. Those are extremely valuable in any training situation - whether it is our dog, budgie or even our beloved children we are raising.
Sometimes establishing a valuable secondary reinforcement needs a bit of training - or at least thinking. - What is or can be trained to be valuable to the individual in question?
I'm tempted to say that almost everything by the means of conditioning and making it very positive for the individual in question. In real life, as we all know, it is not always that easy.

However there are a few "ace's" to be used in this kind of situations.

Premack principle?

Let's look at this one first.
This behavioral principle is named after its originator, psychologist David Premack.
He was studying cebus monkeys when he made interesting notices when observing their play behavior with different toys. Some toys were more favoured than others. After a while he gave longer access to the toys they chose to play with most frequently, but only after they had played a while with the other not so favourable toys. The monkeys picked up this soon and played with less desirable toys to get access to the the more desired ones.
Soon after discovering this David did similar test on children with preference on eating candy or playing pinball. He found the same results.

The question is: Do we need a scientist to find this type of thing out? 
I wonder how many are familiar with a phrase that goes something like this; "You need to clean up your room before you get to play your video game!"

So in a nutshell we as well as animals will do things we enjoy doing (higher probability) over things that we don't that much enjoy doing (lower probability). The principle means that organisms will do something they don't quite like doing (like exercise, or as in teh example; the cleaning of the room) in order to do something that they do like to do (like playing a video game or eating delicious snacks etc.). Some refer this also as "Grandma's rule"; - "You need to eat some veggies before you'll get any cake."

The Premack principle states that a higher probability behavior will reinforce a less probable behavior. 

So -to answer the question above; Did we need a scientist to make this conclusion? 
Obviously ...
Many of us parent do know how this works. Also it is noticeable that one thing is rewarding to one kid as it can be a punishment to another. By generalization - the same applies to animals as well.
It seems like David took a longer path to get this conclusion but his work did form a basis on many later psychological treatments and studies. Obviously it also made a change in the concept of reward - it can be also individually rewarding behaviour - not only ie. food related reinforcement.  

Positive feed back loop in building the trust

As I mentioned this is not very often referred in animal training - but basically this is all about making a reliable and rewarding environment for the animal under our care to live and grow in. 
Of course we need to think of rewards, reinforcements, different stimulus and enrichments in their environment.

Positive feedback loops are most often referred when speaking of ie bio-chemical balances in our body; Like how sugar levels are reacting in our body after a good lunch (presuming of course one is not diabetic.) 
Another example of positive feedback loop could be a herd of animals; When one of the individuals in the herd gets for some reason scared - it affects others, thus reinforcing them to get frightened which on the other hand may then reinforce the one starting this chain of  herd behavior. As an end result all this will escalate the herd to go into a wild panic of all individuals.

We all wish to give the best care to the animals under our care. It also involves a good relationship with them. In order to build up the relationship we need positive reinforcers but not only primary reinforcers.  It is quite the same as it is with kids: We don't just feed them candy in order to get our relationship with them reliable and trustworthy. 
Same applies with animals - we need primary and secondary reinforcers but also high valued behavioural reinforcement on our behalf...and time with them. Sometimes a time spend with your animal without doing anything is the most valuable time you both can have !

The idea behind positive feedback loop is to be able to get a continued Premack's principle in training or everyday life. 

In positive feedback loop a behavior A is reinforcing behavior B which on the other hand is reinforcing the occurrence of the behavior A.

So - if our relationship is building up well we are actually reinforcing good and "appropriate" behavior just by giving the animal our attention.
Self reinforcing behaviors are often correlated to unappropriate or unwanted behaviors - but what if we manage to create an atmosphere where just by being with the animal or showing affection to it, would be most valued feedback - a different kind of jackpot in rewarding the animal? 

What are self reinforcing behaviors? 
When animal makes the decision in behaving the way we've asked it to behave, wouldn't you say that it is then made by free choice?  The possibility of choice is the key element of animal welfare. Having  good welfare can be said to be self reinforcing to the individual. 
Are you getting my idea behind this topic?

If an animal wants to join us or "please" us by choosing to behave the way we've asked them - even if that would have some training history behind it? Wouldn't that be then rewarding to the animal? The animal may experience our presence or affection or attention etc etc somehow rewarding to itself. 
I believe that we have then managed to established trust in our relationship. A trust that is based on a positive feedback loop. We may reinforce animal via primary reinforcer or secondary reinforcer - it doesn't really matter which way. The key idea is that the relationship is on a solid ground of our common history, which on the other hand has builded up a devoted and reliable trust.
In other words; we've created a positive atmosphere or a positive feedback loop which has and is  reinforcing us and the animal in making the trust ever stronger.

In short - This really isn't any "rocket science". It is more like a way of life with a twist of animal factor and human factor heavily involved in every day life we are living with our animal companions.

(The title & context of this blog is based on thoughts from a manuscript I am processing on animal training. )

Kai Mattsson
Meritime Consulting

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Punishment & reinforcement

Welcome to my animaltraining related blog again ...

This time this blog is just presenting my video-post of "Vahvisteet ja Rankaisu" my consulting company: Meritime Facebook-page.
The topic is of reinforcements and punishments.
What do they really stand for?

The narration in the video is in Finnish - but if your more into English you may want to take o look at my previous post here in my blog of the same topics:

A link to my facebook post is here first:

..and next is for the blog;

What has cookie jar to do with animal training??

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Training lemming to purchase overdose of toilet paper ...

...a life under threat of corona.

Everybody is talking about it - it's everywhere and it is scary and truly a deadly disease.
It is probably the first time after the World Wars since the whole human kind is threatened in this scale - this time by a common enemy.
It's not from the outer space - nor any nation against another - but an invisible enemy which is closing borders, schools and people from one another:

A virus originated  from - I'd say at least a bit questionable animal trade. However to my knowledge it's mostly legal and Chinese government has set up a law which actually encourages the domestication and breeding of wild animals (where the virus is said to have it's origin). For private smaller farmers, catching and breeding wild animals provides a way to sustain themselves. Unfortunately this legalized wildlife farming supports also illegal animal trafficking.
We are affecting this planet more than we often think - one or a few single acts can eventually end up into a drastic outcome.

However this is not really the topic of the text this time but the focus is on things that has happen because of this threat and how do we act upon it. ...or more closely it's about some side effects upon our behavior.

I've worked professionally with the animals now almost for four decades. Animal behavior is my great interest. Therefore I'm interested in what lies behind animal behavior? What are the triggers that make animals behave the way they do in different situations? Is it hormonal or other chemical transmitters  (inside body) or environmental stimulus (outside of the body) or forces that makes animals behave the way they do?
This time the animal in question would be homo sapiens.

Herd of lemmings

It's been a top story or joke in social media and I've also wondered it with many of my friends;
Why do people buy so much toilet paper because of this pandemic situation?
I have not found anywhere any suggestion that  the symptoms of this disease would be diarrhea or any other similar "inconvenience" for the infected person. Therefore the consumption of toilet paper should be the least concern for us.

What is the trigger for this type of behavior?
Why do people run for toilet paper and lust after it?
It seems very irrational.  (Some could even define it as; insane.)

I've heard or read a few explanations;
- it's any way in stock and all of it will be used.
- it is difficultly replaceable product in case it would not be available.
- it gives a false feeling of control of the situation - something has to be done.
- in case of quarantine it would be a necessity, at least for two weeks.
- some truly think that stores will run out of it.
- etc. etc.

...or maybe it is some other factor I am not aware of ?

Many of these are probably quite justifiable reasons.
... or are we after all just a punch of lemmings?

A lemming is a small rodent that usually lives in the Arctic areas or tundra type of bio-types. Periodically populations of lemmings boom and at the moments like that they will start seeking food and shelter from other areas as the present habitat cannot provide enough of it for all of them. Lemmings will disperse in large herds in order to survive.
Because of this exploration of food and new habitats lemmings posses a very strong myth;
"Herd of lemmings commit a mass suicide by jumping off seaside cliffs because their instinct drives them to kill themselves whenever the population becomes unsustainably large."
This of course is not true. I cannot think of any animal species that would commit a suicide, whether it is a lemming, a dolphin or any other species.
All in the lives of animals strongly supports adaptation and coping, energy efficiency, reproduction and survival of the individual, local population and at the end the species. Therefore suicide in animal kingdom is to my opinion anthropomorphism and it supports irresistible metamorphism on human behavior. Therefore sometimes our behavior has been compared into a behavior of a herd of lemmings.


As I was not fully satisfied with the explanations mentioned above for the lust of toilet paper - I started to study it through forces effecting behavior of any fauna and what psychology is saying about this type of behavior.
We all - at least animal keepers or owners - understand the basics of how a herd can behave. How one or a few animals in the herd can cause the whole herd to start for example an escape behavior. How the reaction escalates within the herd. It can lead eventually into a panic type of behavior. But all in all with animals the question is about survival.
This lead me to the question if we humans are just another heard and all this is some sort of sophisticated escape or survival behavior? ..or if it truly is falsely giving a feeling that we are prepared for the worst - which in this case unfortunately is far from diarrhea.
In the case on lemmings the trigger is obvious - too little space and food leads into a search of new habitat that can support the species or current population. On their way to new habitats they may come to cross i.e. a river. Lemmings can swim but some of them may drown because of a strong stream. This does not make them suicidal behavior wise.

The Bandwagon theory

One theory that I believe could possibly explain the phenomenon would be so called bandwagon theory.
The bandwagon term originates from USA, as in early 1800 when a circus entered the town it arranged a parade through the town's main street. The first wagon was the bandwagon which understandably had the band in it. Loud music attracted people to come, watch and join the parade. This was the best advertising for the circus and parade would lead people to the circus.

Obviously this was very successful way of attracting people, as it was soon expanded to get people involved in other activities as well. It was probably used for the first time also in the politics by a famous clown Dan Rice (1823-1900) - when he started to use the bandwagons to promote his political campaign.

Dan Rice was a circus entertainer of many talents, most famously well known (and the first notable) clown in USA but also obviously very talented  animal trainer. He used at that time unique round stables that were especially build for training purpose (ref. modern round pen training with horses). He among other things created the act featuring the first ever trained rhino in the United States. According to some sources he is also said to be the model for Uncle Sam; with his favorite striped trousers, a star figured coat, top hat and the goat resembling beard - surely this is giving a strong hint to that direction. )

He could be considered to be the father for bandwagon theory. He was using this method for his short campaign for running to the presidency of USA but also for his friend in politics, the president Zachary Taylor. Rice invited Zachary to campaign on his bandwagon, it was the center piece of his campaign. The expression "Jump on the bandwagon" got started - in order to support Taylor, people were asked to jump in. This made his campaign more successful than his competitors. The idea was that by acting this way you'd be in the winning team because so many others are also doing the same. Later in the turn of 1900 bandwagons had become a standard in political campaigns.

What does it stand for ?

It's effects are risen from multiple areas of life; psychological, sociological and even economical factors. People want to be in the winning team, which is rather natural and in a way a primitive force in our lives. It is a survival instinct. Already in early human communes or tribes survival and staying alive was beneficial if one could get within a successful hunters group. The same can be seen in animal kingdom, when it is beneficial to all individuals and if we are not talking of solitary type of species.

The bandwagon effect covers many aspects and fields of our daily life, from stock markets to trending clothes. Even in the politics it can be seen and it may cause people to jump into a winning wagon even if they wouldn't support all the values of the political agenda in question. The effect of surveys or polls has been studied to rise the support of the most successful party or candidate, at least periodically after the publication of the results.
Or getting the top fashion clothes which are worn by "every one"!!
People just want to belong to the majority. The voice of the majority cannot be wrong!

The financial markets kind of rely on this effect; as if certain stock is  getting a good reputation of being valuable and worth acquiring the more  investor will "jump into" that wagon to get better benefit. On the other hand this is also making markets vulnerable. It will raise the value of the purchase and eventually someone wants to cash his or hers merchandise which then may create another wagon; the one which is going fast on downhill.

Consumer behavior

Finally getting into the consumer behavior.
Of course if a X-product has a good reputation that will increase the value of it in the eyes of consumers. It is studied that the more people are interested in it - the more it will draw interest from others as well.
This is studied in many occasions but first one to give a name or label for this type of behavior has been Solomon Asch (1907-1996), a Polish-American psychologist and a pioneer in studying social psychology. He is the most well known for his experiments in which he demonstrated the influence of group pressure on opinion of an individual. His conformity experiments showed how peer pressure can change opinion and even perception of a single individual.
The experience consisted a group of people who were true participants in the test but also of the participants who were fake "actors" forming a majority in the group, they knew what the purpose of the experience truly was. They were given clear guidance how to respond to each round of comparison questions.
The group was shown a card with a line on it, following by another card with 3 lines in it, they were labeled A,B & C. Then the participants were to identify which line would match the one in the first card and say it out loud. The "real" participant were to give the answer last in the group.
First two rounds of questions were easy as all participants gave the correct obvious answer. After that all fake participants started to give clearly wrong answers, the test consisted of 18 rounds of which in 12 all fake participants gave wrong answers. In those trials where fake participants gave clearly the wrong answer the "true" participant could choose to ignore the majority or go along with them.

Most of true participants ignored the decision of majority and stayed on their correct answers but approximately one third defined their answers according to the majority.
Even though they chose the wrong answer, still many of them didn't think that the opinion of the majority was a correct one. They wanted to adapt their decision because of the majority in order to be uniform with them. "Majority must know better.." was most likely some of theirs thoughts. This way they would get in the winning team.
The result clearly was that the power of majority influences the subjects opinion notably.

Long story short

I will rest my case.

These are just a few theories which may explain our lust for purchasing extended amounts of toilet paper. I don't really believe any of us would think that by having tons of toilet paper would make us look richer or better than our neighbors, nor it's because it would be some fancy product that would make us 'hip'. Neither I do think that suddenly the reputation of toilet paper would have gone sky-high - except maybe in our minds.
Maybe it truly is some sort of primitive reaction for survival of ourselves and to protect our closest family. In the case of quarantine it is naturally wise to have an adequate amount of essential necessity items and food.
Or maybe we are in the winning team with a significant storage of toilet paper? It would make our probability to survive higher in some primitive state of our thinking.
Or is it because the majority of people purchase so much toilet paper? So, I must do it also - because I would then be in the bandwagon team even though I kind of think it is obscure and irrelevant for the issue. "What if I don't know everything or enough and all the others know something I don't ?"
...or maybe people just wanted to belong to a social act ? ...and also to be part of a herd and honestly jumped into the bandwagon due to the power of virus threat.

One thing is obvious - the pressure of majority has a strong influence in behavior of many consumers.

All in all:
Let's be wise and jump on the bandwagon of common sense and wisdom; let's take care of us and our beloved one's safety and promote good hygiene, keep an adequate social distance to each other for the time being ... and try to find something good even from this ride.
Godspeed to all 💛

- Kai -

Ps. No toilet paper was harmed, misused nor purchased during the typing of this blog-text 😉

#behaviormodifacation #lemmings #coronavirus #herdbehavior #clickertraining #eläinkoulutus #klikkeri #toiletpaper #vessapaperi #laumakäyttäytyminen

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Dr Dolittle !

Last weekend it was finally time for us to see this new release of the movie Dr Dolittle! 

A movie we all with my children had been waiting for a while.

Doctor Dolittle - a person who can talk with animals and has a cure for almost all diseases that can affect them. What a talent !

As being animal lovers, we all were excited in seeing this new adventure of Dr. Dolittle.

A story or actually a character that originally has been created, written and published for the first time already in 1920's. ...and what a surprise - it is 20's again. This means that the story is at least hundred years old. 
So - the lesson number one is that a good story lives for a long time. 
I can't imagine that Hugh John Lofting (1886 – 1947) a British soldier, when he was sending letter of imaginary person capable of talking to animals, wrote stories from the trenches of World War I to his children knew that we - after 100 years - would be spending time with those stories.

The other thing this definitely is telling us is that this type of talent; understanding languages of all creation, is still and has been fascinating us humans throughout our history. It is just the way we are; we have the ultimate, never ending curiosity in us. This is also most likely the reason of how human race has been so successful in surviving in so many circumstances.
Animals have been with us according to modern science and knowledge at least the last 15.000 years. So, the curiosity and the benefit of being with animals does have historical value, not only for us but also for each animal individual that has spend time with us.


After the movie (which we by the way all liked), we got of the theater and I almost knew what my daughter would say to me.
"Dad - I wanno be able to talk with animals !!"
"...and further more, I do want to understand their language !!"

There it was ! 

The fascinating talent human race has been wanting to posses at least that one hundred years, probably a hole lot longer. I was also mesmerized of the movie - and I kind of started to reply to her; "Wouldn't that be something !"
- BUT -

Before giving her the reply that was in the tip of my tongue, I changed my phrase into a mild question.
" Well my sweetheart - don't you think we can?"
She looked at me for a while ...and then  smiled.
"Yes dad - in a way...we have been with many animals"

Being with animals improves our skills to interpret what animals are telling us - not with an understandable spoken language but with other means; like body-language, behavior, postures and facial expressions and of course also with their vocalization. 

Nowadays it is fashionable or hip to talk about whispering; 
I've heard of so many different whisperers; horse, dog, cat, fish even a hippo whisperers just to name a few.
I do understand the reason behind us using this term. Traditionally animal training and work with animals has had more kind of authoritarian approach. We humans have been the leader of the pack in a very traditional way. If we'd think of modern leadership training or it's trends nowadays, I'd say fortunately we are moving in that field also into the direction of enabler instead of authoritarian leadership.

This is it !

We, as trainers or leaders should be enablers for our companions - whether they'd be our employee, colleague mates at work or animal companions. 
Authoritarian way of treating animals has changed into more soft way of studying and understanding what would motivate animals the most.
It has begun to be whispering.
However my opinion is that it is not really whispering but listening and observing what would be the best way to encourage our animal companions for success - in what ever we are working with them. 

A good trainer is a talented enabler 

This way we'd be giving the best guide to the animals under our care. 
Animals are in a way learning machines, they learn to mold their behavior constantly - weather we want it or not. So we need to be ahead of them. We should be capable of anticipating different possibilities they have, different choices which will then eventually direct their behavioral directions or modifications for a successful outcome. 

Knowing your animal...

Learn to understand you animal, as a species, breed and for most as an individual !
This to me is one of the most vital elements in the process of getting your animal well motivated and successful in training. What are the preferences this particular individual is good at and what are the factors that motivate her or him most likely?
We have a marvelous gift when we spend some time in studying our animals and their behavior & character. We can almost speak to them and we certainly learn to understand them.


I have to say that I  did resonated with the new adventures of Dr. Dolittle. 
For a while I let my imagination fly and  - just like my daughter and son - I imagined that I know the languages of different species. Especially I was moved when he spoke to whales; Humpback whale is one of my favorites and of course dolphins. Three decades work and time spend almost every day with dolphins makes them my favorite, it almost makes me feel I do have a common language with them.

I wish you Dolittle-moments with you animal companions.

   -   Kai   -

ps. check the link below of my upcoming clicker training event and come to hear more how to "speak" with animals :-)

Saturday, December 7, 2019

What has cookie jar to do with animal training??

Well – there is a clear reason and correlation and it has a lot to do with the work and time we spend with our animal friends. Let me enlighten you with my thoughts behind the title.

Quite often when discussion turns into modern animal training principles I do refer and compare those with the ways we are and could use when raising kids.  Some people get offended if we do comparison between children and animals but in principle we all are under the same behavior modification rules as our animal companions, this is not to diminish in any way the value and respect  of children. Of course human mind & emotions etc. are a lot more complex in wholeness in comparison to animal mind. Small kids react differently than a bit more grown up children or adults, our reactions are probably a bit more sophisticated to the ones with animals but still underneath, we  all are governed with same basic principles.  

An example I’ve used several times is frustration - and the very primitive reactions we all do because of it. Many times one of the reasons for frustration is that we don’t get what we want or actually, we don’t get what we are used to getting in a  similar situation, for some reason there is no reinforcement available after the event.

Let’s imagine you’re getting into your room at work and for some reason the door is jammed. The first thing you do to get to the room is – try harder, use your keys or eventually get some help from someone else.
This modification of your behavior is due to frustration – because you cannot get in to your room. So to receive the reinforcement you are usually getting (entering the room) you do something more vigorous. Your behavior has changed and maybe it is even a bit twisted - the environment or the changes in the environment has made you behave on a different way. This process of trying harder to get the reinforcement we are used to getting is called extinction burst. It happens for a while before we give up.

The Cookie jar

A cookie jar; for many it is the embodiment of promise or anticipation of some sweet and delicious delicacy.
This is in a way how we in principle work with animals under our care. Of course all this is due to repetition. Repetition comes into its greatest value through the number one principle in animal training; 
The behavior is determined by its consequences.

Combine this principle with some chocolate brownies – and you can get most of humankind working with you in a very positive and rewarding manner.
Behavior of getting the cookies from the jar is utterly reinforcing, unless you are allergic to chocolate or other ingredients in the cookies.

Photo from Karamel kompagniet cookie jar cover

Scene 1
Let’s consider that these cookies are very pleasing to the person getting them. Imagine that the jar of these cookies is in a certain well known place, like in a higher shelf in your kitchen.
By the way; Weather you know it or not. All, even the most hidden & secret hiding places you can think of for this kind of delicacy is most likely well-known by your kids, if you’ve been blessed with them.
So the occurrence of having your child to go to the cookie jar is relatively high, especially in the case that she or he has been successful in getting into the jar and having one or two cookies from it.
So – if the consequence has been very positive it is reinforcing the behavior to occur more often and the child is reaching for the grand prize more often – even if they don’t have a permission to get one.

…maybe you’re gradually getting the correlation between the cookie jar and animal training?

The previously mentioned chain of behavior and consequence is called positive reinforcement. If something good happens after the behavior the behavior has a tendency to increase. Nowadays the expression is that if something positive is added in the environment the behavior is likely to occur more often.

Scene 2

What happens if you are home and you see the little hand reaching for the grand prize from that jar?

A parent could grab the hand and say no – or just say no. In the ideal world the behavior of reaching to the jar should stop in this kind of situation. Eventually the parent will only have to say no, or just be present in the room / environment - and the child will stop reaching for chocolate brownies from the jar. Through repetition the child will learn that it is not beneficial for her or him to go for the cookies.
At this scenario we are having a negative stimulus, or by behavior modification vocabulary; an aversive stimuli, present in the environment. Something not so pleasant happens if this behavior has the possibility to take place. A negative element has been added in the environment to stop the unwanted behavior – in this case it is the parent who is denying the child to proceed.

So – if we break it into operant conditioning terminology; the following forces effect on behaviors present in the situation.  
The fact that this child in the situation is not even going to reach for the cookies from the jar is positively punished. This means that an incorrect type of behavior (not stealing the cookies) is punished by having or adding in the environment an aversive stimulus – something unpleasant; the denying parent.

Scene 3
But … What happens if this parent goes to another room or out in the garden to do some other responsibilities.. or even further, to a grocery and the child is left alone in the room with the cookie jar.
The child can be obedient and just keep on playing with hers or his toys. In any case what happens is that the negative force, the aversive stimulus, has now been removed from the environment.
With the scheme we are now playing with we would anticipate that the child would go to the jar and reach for her / his grand prize; a tasty chocolate brownie. In this case the behavior of getting the brownie is still very much positively reinforced but planning and going to the cookie jar is actually negatively reinforced; as the negative element (the parent) which previously stopped the behavior to occur has been removed from the environment.
It is important to understand the geometrics of the operant conditioning theory, even though we would only focus our way of managing the behaviors of our animal friend by the emphasis on positive reinforcements and rewards.

Scene 4
There are still two other ways to solve this problem behavior of stealing the brownies without parents’ permission. An easy solution could be that while the parent leaves the room he or she would take the cookie jar with him/her. This leaves an empty space on the place where the jar used to be. So there is no need to go and try to get any of them if they just aren’t there anymore.
Now we are talking about negative punishment. This means that we have taken away the original trigger from the environment (the cookie jar) which caused this stealing behavior in the first place. So we have removed something pleasant from the environment and therefore there is no way for the child to get to the jar anymore for a brownie.
By the way when we are talking about punishment in behavior modification, we should rethink our way of understanding the concept of punishment. In animal behavior management the punishment is always affecting the behavior never the individual animal. This is very important as we don’t want to hurt animals in any way!

Scene 5
One could think that we have already all the possibilities available for making the scheme work on a way we (as parents) would like it to work. However, there is still one more option – only that wouldn’t bring us the solution that fast as the one’s mentioned earlier. This actually has something to do with the topic mentioned at the very beginning of this blog text; frustration.

It is not really frustration that we can use but similar situation which may cause a bit of frustration. What if the parent would exit the house and just leave the cookie jar all by itself in the shelf only this time it would be utterly and completely empty?

The mere existence of the jar in the shelf would most likely agitate children to go to the jar in the hope of some delicacy. Only to find out that there is none left.
What would happen next? - A bit of frustration maybe and sooner or later another try. “What if, despite of finding it already once or twice empty, for some reason the jar would have magically filled with some brownies?” – This is totally irrational thought but something of a kind happens in real life.
Before giving up we or the animals would make a few trials just because in the past it has worked and given a very positive experience and reinforcement for the behavior to increase. This phase will not last long and quite soon it and the whole behavior shall gradually fade out. There is no reason to go back to the empty jar! It is a phenomena that can be seen relatively often in training situations and as we all now know it is called extinction burst. If you are skilled it is also an excellent tool in training you animals.

Eventually the jar is not any more interesting as it has lost its value as a source of brownies. The behavior gradually fade away, in other words the behavior is extinct. The process is called extinction which describes extremely well the whole chain of events in it.

So, cookie jar is THE aid-memoire for me as it has all the elements of reinforcement and punishment in it. 

So, have a cookie and enjoy it...

By the way ... did you know that today, the 8.12, is the national Chocolate Brownie day in USA? In Finland, where I come from, it would be most likely called the mokkapalapäivä.
Happy chocolate brownie day – where ever you are !

..I may also bake some pieces of  mokkapala for me as well J