Does flooding have a place in the world of dog training?

I recently hosted Chad Makin for his Pack To Basics workshop. We had a wonderful event and many trainers went home with new skills and knowledge to add to their programs in helping dogs and humans deal with aggression issues.

Because the work involves immersing dogs into a group (“pack”) as a main part of the protocol for dealing with dog – dog aggression  issues, Chad discussed several concepts early in the day before we moved on to practical applications. The discussion facilitated greater understanding in how the approach served the dogs who would be participating.  I found Chad’s view on learned helplessness particularly interesting so I asked him to share those thoughts here on The Truth About Shock Collars.

Give it a read and let me know what you think:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” — Serenity Prayer

There is a term used often in dog training circles usually used in association with abuse.  The term is “learned helplessness.”  Generally, it calls to mind images of a dog so abused, that is has given up hope of anything from life other than abuse.  The image in my own head is one of a cold skinny dog shaking in the corner at the approach of an abusive owner but no longer trying to escape the inevitable beating.  Even the term itself has a hopeless ring to it.  “Learned helplessness.”

But what does it really mean?  The behavioral definition refers to the state where an animal learns that it is unable to affect it’s environment, and as a result stops trying.  It is a terrible thing when learned helplessness is a response to abuse, neglect or cruelty.  It is truly heartbreaking.  It’s heartbreaking whether we are talking about a dog, a cat, a mouse, a human, or any other creature really.  And it’s important to note that humans also experience this state.

When an animal responds to abuse with learned helplessness they usually “shut down”, meaning they retreat into themselves and stop interacting with the world. They can do this as a response to any number of stresses as well.  In training, any time an animal shuts down, it’s a sure sign that the trainer has pushed the animal too far.

But what I am mainly concerned with is the nature of learned helplessness.  Is it always a response to abuse?  As I’ve said, it is often considered to be synonymous with abuse, but is that fair?

I am writing this on an airplane.  There is a small child crying in the row behind me. He stops every now and then for a few moments, and I think I am going to get some rest, and then he starts again.  I look around, everyone seems a bit irritated by this and his mother looks both irritated and embarrassed.  I have my headphones on, and am listening to music to try to drown out the noise, but it’s not working.  He’s right behind me and it seems as if he’s screaming into my ear.  I’ve reached  a point where I am aware of it, I am mildly annoyed by it (like an itch that I can’t scratch) but I have come to accept it.  I live with it because I don’t have a choice.

In other words, I have moved into learned helplessness. Or as we put it with humans who aren’t abused, I’ve “accepted it.”  I’ve “gotten over it.”

When my three year old screams because I won’t buy him a toy, or because he doesn’t want a nap, or because he doesn’t get ice cream on demand, I let him cry, and eventually (every time so far) he gets over it.  He learns that he cannot change that aspect of his environment and makes a decision to move forward through life despite that disappointment. That is a variation of learned helplessness.

The reality is that all sentient organisms practice learned helplessness every day.  For us humans, our lives are full of it.  Every time we do something we wish we didn’t have to do we are practicing it (for example, paying taxes).  Life involves disappointments and hardships.  Those who cannot accept disappointment and hardship are never happy, and never can be.  Learned helplessness in the face of simple, or abject disappointment is a necessary life skill. Those who don’t develop it are likely to be frustrated and upset all the time.

I can hear some readers saying, “But dogs don’t have to pay taxes! Your examples are all constructs of human society! Dogs don’t have as many disappointments because they don’t have as many wants!  Give them a warmth, affection, and a full belly and they are happy.” To which I reply, “This is true, if they’ve learned to accept life on life’s terms.” Which is kind of my point.

When a litter of pups is dealing with the absence of mom for the first time it is often their first experience with learned helplessness.  Mom just gets up and leaves.  They scream and cry and try to climb out of the whelping box to no avail.  Mother ignores their frustration and anxiety.  Somewhere inside, her motherly instinct tells her that this is a good and necessary process for them.  Eventually, they all accept that they are without the warmth and protection that their mother provides them.  They calm down and get on with the business of exploring their immediate environment.  This is natural. This is healthy.  It aids in their emotional and physiological development (puppies exposed to low levels of stress early on develop stronger nervous systems).

What we don’t see is the mother dog practicing counter-conditioning, feeding food treats etc. She is instinctively doing what many trainers and behaviorists see as setting the dog up to fail.  She is practicing “flooding”.  The critics of this practice will tell you that flooding only results in learned helplessness. Based on the way I’ve described learned helplessness, I agree.  Where I disagree is in the assertion that such a response necessarily indicates abuse.   I don’t believe it does.  If they want to define “learned helplessness” in that way, they are more than welcome to do so. But at that moment, they need to exclude the act of acceptance outside of abuse from that definition and recognize that such a response is indeed a possible (if not likely) result of the entirely natural process of flooding.

Accepting that life will not always be as we wish it is part of the maturing process for all species.

So learned helplessness isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s the best thing. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that makes any sense.

The plane is starting to descend.  They flight crew has informed us that we need to shut off our electronic devices.  I am suddenly aware that the crying child has, during the time I have been writing this, stopped crying.  Unable to change his surroundings, he’s chosen to accept them.  Flooding, once more led to acceptance. Which is as it should be.

Comments

32 comments
  • We (Kyra the super dog and I) just had a 2 hour flooding this past Friday evening. Lighting the Christmas tree on the square. Probably near on 1200 folks, kids, dogs, wheel chairs, horse drawn carriages, constant infusion of noise. While occasionally she was anxious it was a great experience. Moving thru crowds (really tight crowds) required constant attention. Was she stressed? Sure a bit. At least anxious. But, never any fear or aggression. At the end a half hour laying on a table near the carriage ride line being touched/petted/kissed etc., by a minimum of 100 folks. My take is ‘controlled flooding’ is a wonderful opportunity. I was probably more stressed than Kyra. She did sleep immediately upon getting in the vehicle. For every dog??? With proper ‘professional’ training probably. All I can testify is for us it was a great experience and looking forward to the next chance.

  • Katie,
    Thanks for clarifying.

    The kid on the plane was probably responding to any number of stressors, including the nerves associated with flying and the frustration of not being able to move about as he wanted (young children seem to have an innate inability to sitting still). So I suspect we are both right in our assessments of his behavior and both missing other elements of the equation as well. What we can agree on is that he was “over threshold” and was reacting to that.

    We are not as far apart on the flooding solution as it may seem though. I can say that I have used immersion in social groups as a tool for solving complex social issues (including fear) for years now and have yet to see anything more effective.

    In truth I often succeed where years of different trainers and methodologies have produced little to no lasting results. But I do not merely “flood” the dogs in the traditional sense of the word. I offer a lot of support for the dog who is facing his distress, I offer escape routes and really help him manage his stress and adrenaline level (I also manage the adrenaline level of the other dogs in the room). I am always aware of the dance of pressure and release that the dog is experiencing.

    Today I had a dog who has reacted violently (bite and hold) to other dogs in his face in the past loose in daycare all day without the slightest hint of an incident. He was playing with other dogs enthusiastically throughout the day, and napping from time to time as well.

    The only “training” I did was short (10 minutes or so) sessions of immersion as described above over two days time. We did 4 of these prior to today.

    This dog isn’t unique or a special case. I do this sort of thing on an almost daily basis. I do it in workshops all over the country also. There are hundreds of witnesses to the effectiveness of this process. There are trainers all over who are successfully implementing these same concepts all over the place.

    So I have to say that based on my experience, flooding, in the right way, does in fact work consistently and quickly for social anxiety, fear, aggression etc in dogs, and it works in the long term also.

    • Chad,

      Are you planning on any east-coast seminars? I would love to see your methods first-hand as I am intrigued. I truly believe dogs are happiest in groups (thus why I have 5 of my own 🙂 ) and a different perspective on social integration would be fresh and exciting. I have had personal success using desensitization and counter conditioning with the shelter dogs I work with, but at the end of the day sending them “jumping into the deep end” so to speak by integrating them into my own group of very socially savvy dogs is most rewarding and beneficial thing for them.

      • Katie,

        I have nothing scheduled for the east coast at the moment, though I usually end up there at least once a year. If you have space and are interesting in hosting or know someone who can please let me know.

        Currently I have workshops booked for January, May, and October (March and April and June are pending) . The rest of the year is open (except Feb and September). I only do one per month so 2013 is about half full now … let me know if you want more information and I’ll be happy to send it to you …

    • Chad wrote: “This dog isn’t unique or a special case. I do this sort of thing on an almost daily basis. I do it in workshops all over the country also. There are hundreds of witnesses to the effectiveness of this process. There are trainers all over who are successfully implementing these same concepts all over the place.
      So I have to say that based on my experience, flooding, in the right way, does in fact work consistently and quickly for social anxiety, fear, aggression etc in dogs, and it works in the long term also.”

      I’ve seen it equally successful as well. And not only in dogs.

      I believe it is how I approached much of my child raising and my own challenges in life. For many years now I’ve lived by the motto “just do it”. As an example I had a horrid fear of heights….so I booked myself on a rock climbing trip in near Shovel Point, MN. Approaching the “cliff” I was shaking like a leaf…but I rappelled my ass down 150 feet (we were over lake Superior so no route in/out at the bottom) and then climbed my way back up (with the guidance of a good instructor!) I spent the rest of the weekend all over the rocks and sat on the edge of the cliff like I had done it all my life.
      I recall my son screaming “don’t let go mommy” when we took the training wheels off his bike for the first time…after about 100 feet of wailing he actually turned around and realized I was still standing at the top of the drive…then he began to laugh. Same with my daughter who refused to jump off the diving board. I finally climbed up took her hand and we jumped. She’s a good swimmer and loves the water to this day.

      ….it does take knowing when we’re ready and that is part of the art of living and training dogs…but unless we take leaps and “force” (for lack of a better word) our dogs to do so as well…it is very easy to stay stuck. I think when human or canine discovers “wow, I did it and the sky did not fall today!!” it is a joyous occasion.

      I commend you on your work Chad and those others who are doing similar.

  • I don’t think the child was crying because he didn’t like being on the plane. I believe it was because he was denied the freedom to run about as he wanted. I don’t think it had anything ti do with the plane. Which was part of my point in writing this.

    Usually, the best way to learn to deal with disappointment is to simply deal with disappointment.

    I think we all agree that we want to solve dog problems in the least stressful way possible, where professionals differ is on what constitutes those lower stress responses.

    The flooding question comes down to, “Is it better for the dog to have 5 minutes of acute stress or 20 minutes of more mild stress?” Ultimately, we each Must answer based in our own experiences and preferences. I suspect it varies for each of us from situation to situation.

    • It’s hard to assume why the child was crying without knowing the child and being there. In my own experience with myself and my children, anxiety and fear would be the more likely scenario because unless you are frequent fliers, airplanes are scary at first! This is a great example of how useful getting another perspective is because the child crying from lack of freedom never crossed my mind. The issue would be handled completely differently in that scenario, but it still would not be learned helplessness.

      Least stressful would vary from person to person and dog to dog. I think one of my dogs would rather have her toes cut off before wearing a harness of any kind, even a super nice wool lined tracking harness. We do tracking in an agitation collar instead. In the end, it is a personal agreement between dog, handler, and trainer and not a universal standard of what is stressful and acceptable in dog training.

      The flooding question cannot be answered simply. Flooding has a purpose and can be the best way to temporarily overcome an aversion and “get the job done” so to speak, but sometimes it is not enough to perminantely change an emotional response to an uncomfortable example.

      Example: I am a childhood AML (leukemia) survivor. I was subjected to many unpleasant and painful procedures as a young child which led to an adult phobia of needles. Even something as routine as a blood draw would put me in a panic, however going in and getting the job done so to speak got me through it uneventfully. I still hated having it done and felt incredible fear and dread whenever I needed to get it done. I avoided visits to the doctor because I was so afraid of having to undergo a needle procedure.

      Two years ago, I had knee surgery and the nurse anesthetist realized just how much my heart rate and pulse increased when he was about to start the IV. He asked if I was afraid of needles, I said yes and he spent extra time making sure I understood what I was going to feel, explaining all of the precautions he was going to take to make sure I would feel as little discomfort as possible, and making sure I was comfortable enough to let him continue. Simple reassurance and allowing me to control when to move forward without going “over threshold” so to speak cured a two decade-long phobia of needles in about 20 minutes. By taking 20 minutes for a procedure that usually takes under 5, that nurse made it so I no longer fear getting stuck by a needle, and I no longer skip routine physicals and bloodwork because I’m afraid of a needle stick.

      Understandably, there is a communication gap between dog and human so this exact tactic won’t work, however the idea is the same. If I needed to bring a fearful dog into a packed vet’s office waiting room, I’m not going to ask everyone to leave the room or stand on the other side of the room so I can keep him under threshold. I’m going to take him in and force him to be around the scary people so he can be treated. On the street, I will take a more conservative approach and work under threshold. My goal is not for simple tolerance to an unpleasant stimuli, rather it is to change the dog’s emotional response to that stimuli to a neutral or even positive response.

    • Why is it some kids never cry or scream on the plane?
      Why is it some dogs run away screaming at perceived fears never substantiated by action?
      Why is it some dogs come into group ready to play and others seek to hide?
      We get trapped into terminology of theory and forget the dog is in the drivers seat of life.
      Social groups give the dogs the space and time to learn at their pace and within their emotional guidelines of trial and error.

  • Learned helplessness =/= acceptance. If you read the book on the subject by Maurice Seligman, he defines it as “…a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to act or behave helpless in a particular situation, even when it has the power to change its unpleasant or even harmful circumstance. Learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation ” By definition, nether the dog cowering and shaking in a corner afraid of being beaten nor the child who stops crying on the airplane is displaying learned helplessness. If the dog simply sat still and was entirely nonreactive to his/her abuser’s presence neither positive nor negative, the dog would be displaying learned helplessness. If the child boarded the airplane at a later date and exhibited no response such as excitement or anxiety despite percieving the airplane as an unpleasant environment, the child would be displaying learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is a “why bother” approach when faced with a fearful situation. You will internalize that dread and anxiety, however you will not express it because that response has not been reinforced in the past and it didn’t change the outcome.

    The child stopped crying because his emotional reaction to the airplane changed because he realized nothing bad was going to happen. This was accomplished by flooding. The same end result could be accomplished by desensitizing the child to an airplane bit by bit before the actual trip, however that may not be practical in all instances. When dealing with humans or dogs, even though both flooding and desensitization achieve the same goals, I personally would prefer to solve problems as pleasantly as possible, and fear is not a pleasant experience. There is an element of fear in flooding before relief and acceptance. That being said, with humans and dogs alike, sometimes the outcomes justify the means and flooding is necessary, so I wouldn’t outright discount it and as a trainer it is prudent to have ALL skills and tools in your bag before endorsing or discounting them. Learning to use flooding or any other technique or tool as effectively as possible cannot possibly be a detriment. What you choose to use yourself is a matter of personal preference and your own set of morals.

    As far as the “shocked dogs display learned helplessness argument,” a “trainer” would have to torture a dog for it to reach that state. I use a remote training collar with my dogs. Electrical stimulation is not pleasant by nature, however at the level I use it, it is not enough to even extinguish a behavior. It is a mild unpleasantry that makes my dog reconsider what he or she is doing and look to me for more information.

    • As far as the “shocked dogs display learned helplessness argument,” a “trainer” would have to torture a dog for it to reach that state. I use a remote training collar with my dogs. Electrical stimulation is not pleasant by nature, however at the level I use it, it is not enough to even extinguish a behavior. It is a mild unpleasantry that makes my dog reconsider what he or she is doing and look to me for more information.

      I don’t disagree with your statement. I do have a question..
      you state “Electrical stimulation is not pleasant by nature”…in your opinion does the dog always perceive it as unpleasant or are there times it is simply perceived as information you have taught him/her how to interpret? the reason I ask is that often I believe the stimulation is quite neutral to the dog. It is through our teaching process that it acquires meaning. (and I am not arguing that is certainly can be unpleasant if we intend it to)
      Robin

      • Robin, that is a great question and one I am not 100% sure I know the answer to!

        The first time I felt the stim (~level 20 on a Dogtra IQ, and it went from nothing to suddenly feeling “something”) I did jump, but I had absolutely no hesitance to press the nick button and feel it again. If anything, I wanted to feel it again to figure out if I was jumping because it was unpleasant or simply because it was a new and foreign sensation to me. I think a bystander would be quick to say that I jumped because it hurt me, but I really jumped because it was unexpected and felt weird. One of my dogs cocked his head curiously (like they do when they hear a weird noise) the first time he felt it so I think he had a similar reaction to me.

        I classified it as a “mild unpleasntry” because it seems it does startle the dog when they are focused intently on something else(my dogs at least) and I find that startle is mildy unpleasant, but that is attaching my own messy human emotions to things. People at the casino don’t mind being startled by the bells when they win a jackpot, so why would my dogs mind being startled to be given the opportunity to earn food or play?

        • Katie, Thank you for your participation. I have truly enjoyed reading your thoughts and perspectives. Most importantly I appreciate your ability to discuss topics that often get emotional with such a civilized attitude.
          best regards,
          Robin

      • Do you ever apply the shock as a reward? good boy (shock)? Or is it always applied as P+ (stop behavior by adding shock) or R- (increase behavior by removing shock)? That should tell you how the dog perceives it.

        • I do not use it as either. Since shock/stim is not a pleasant sensation by nature (not necessarily making it unpleasant, but it is not dopaminergic like say tickling or a caress) it is not rewarding for the dog. Is the sound of a clicker, a whistle, or a marker word inherently rewarding for a dog? No, it is simply a bridge to reward. Now I bet you’re asking why I don’t use a clicker, whistle, or marker word. The answer is, around 90% of my training with my dogs is done using a clicker as a marker and food/toy reward. Could another trainer get my dogs trained to the same level of reliability without an e-collar? I don’t doubt it as there are some incredible trainers using all sorts of methods. I was unable to do it so I found a tool and a method that both me and my dogs could live with and find success. I do not train all of my dogs on the collar in fact only 2 of my 5 have ever been exposed to it.

          Does the shock decrease behavior on its own? Not at the level I use it. I could push that button until the batteries die and if I do not tell the dog what I want him/her to do when they redirect their attention to me, it will not stop the dog from doing what he/she wants because it simply is not aversive enough. He/she will look at me and without further instruction go back to what he/she’s doing. It’s not a magic button. My training goals do not include inhibiting ANY behavior.

          Do I use it as R-? NEVER. I do not use the continuous button or use repeated taps to get the dog to comply. I find R- to be extremely unfair to the dog and I believe that is the most likely way to make a dog exhibit true learned helplessness.

          I am in no way saying that an e-collar is a magic bullet that will prevent and solve all of your dog training challenges, or that it is the best way to train a dog. It is a tool that when used thoughtfully and carefully can help many owners and dogs live a better live together.

        • Kim in my training of dogs I have used stimulation in all of these quadrants and most often as something more neutral as well.

          I agree that the dog perceives it in whatever way we are going to intend and that is dependent on our level of skill. I take for example e-stim that I’ve received many times. It has been pleasant and I’ve sought it out for relief (I also have had it applied to one of my dogs and swear it is why he is still walking today, although his was in conjunction with acupuncture needles…quite amazing to watch and observe as he fell into bliss) I’ve also had e-stim turned up too far on me and caused my muscles to contract uncomfortably but not painful…but did cause me to turn the machine back down. And I’ve had those “startling” (but again not painful in my perception) static shocks from a door handle. Electrical stimulation is a tactile sensation that we can apply meaning to depending on our ability to read/understand how the level is perceived by the dog and equally important how we go about helping the dog comprehend the meaning we want the sensation to have.
          best regards,
          Robin

        • I teach the collar as a reward. Since the collar has no meaning to the dog, we create the meaning for them just as we do with a clicker.
          Learned helplessness is either poor genetics or lacking proper exposure to problem solve. Dogs who cannot resolve, overcome or adapt to their environment or become unable to find solutions is a dog who would not survive in nature. A dog has to learn to find options. Option seeking is a normal part of learning. In training we reward the options which meet our intended goals.

  • Kim,

    I agree with you on your distinction between extinction and learned helplessness actually. I have seen a number of people recently calling extinction learned helplessness. Which is why I wrote the following segment: “The critics of this practice will tell you that flooding only results in learned helplessness. Based on the way I’ve described learned helplessness, I agree.  Where I disagree is in the assertion that such a response necessarily indicates abuse.   I don’t believe it does.  If they want to define “learned helplessness” in that way, they are more than welcome to do so. But at that moment, they need to exclude the act of acceptance outside of abuse from that definition and recognize that such a response is indeed a possible (if not likely) result of the entirely natural process of flooding. ”

    I have a video of a learning to stay while in the presence of his owners (he stayed fine when they weren’t around). It took 45 minutes for him to work through it and relax. Each time he got up I simply put him back. The comments? He’s not relaxing, he’s practicing learned helplessness.

    Ultimately the question was not about what we call the dog’s experience, but whether the dog was abused or not.

    So long as people are using the proper definition of learned helplessness then I’m ok with it. But when they assert (with the sense of authority only the Internet can produce) the only possible or likely result of flooding is learned helplessness (thereby implying abuse) then that assertion needs to be answered.

    • of course learned helplessness is not the only outcome possible if flooding is used. If flooding is applied until ALL the baseline criteria returns to normal (body chemistry, brain chemistry, heart rate etc), then the outcome should be that the subject overcomes it’s fear of the trigger. If the process is incomplete, one runs the risk of increasing the subjects fears of the trigger or creating learned helplessness. And even when flooding IS successful, there is always the possibility of a spontaneous recurrence of the fear.

      however, neither of the examples in the blog were examples of either flooding OR learned helplessness. They were examples of a attempts at extinction (I do not know if they were successful or not, that would depend on knowing how future behavior was affected by the attempt). I personally have no issue with extinction as a technique and use it frequently, usually combined with teaching and alternative appropriate behavior to avoid extinction bursts or extinction aggression.

  • I think some of the problem is, people that don’t understand the use of the collars think that there is no teaching part. Put the collar on, start pressing the button, and the dog figures it out on their own. They are missing a large portion of the process. Like Robin said, the dog is ALWAYS taught what to do to control the stimulation!
    I agree with Mike as well! When I ask my dog to do something, I expect them to do it. I have asked them for a reason.

  • I think you are confusing learned helplessness and extinctions.

    This:

    “When my three year old screams because I won’t buy him a toy, or because he doesn’t want a nap, or because he doesn’t get ice cream on demand, I let him cry, and eventually (every time so far) he gets over it. He learns that he cannot change that aspect of his environment and makes a decision to move forward through life despite that disappointment. That is a variation of learned helplessness.”

    And this:

    “When a litter of pups is dealing with the absence of mom for the first time it is often their first experience with learned helplessness. Mom just gets up and leaves. They scream and cry and try to climb out of the whelping box to no avail. Mother ignores their frustration and anxiety. Somewhere inside, her motherly instinct tells her that this is a good and necessary process for them. Eventually, they all accept that they are without the warmth and protection that their mother provides them. They calm down and get on with the business of exploring their immediate environment. This is natural. This is healthy. It aids in their emotional and physiological development (puppies exposed to low levels of stress early on develop stronger nervous systems).”

    Are extinction, not learned helplessness.

  • Excellent post, you have changed my point of views in a few ways. Just my personal opinion, but when I`m at the park with my dog, and he decides to chase a squirell towards the road, I want him to recall on the first command. Simply because I told him so. You can never guarantee that you will always have control of the dogs environment, not out in the real world. As such,dogs need to experience unpleasant stimuli while they are young, so that they can learn to be confident in any situation later in life. It is called distraction proofing, dog training 101. I personally would rather not be restricted from bringing my dog into busy, and loud places, simply because I did not desensitize him to such things when he or she was a pup, all because I did not have the nerves myself. It does great injustice to the dog, and deprives them of a rich life.

  • I have so much to say, I’m not sure how to begin. The way I think about learned helplessness is this: There is a rat in a box with a wire floor that shocks can be sent though. The rat has a hole it can escape though when it feels the shock. When you remove that hole and there are no other escape routes, the rat gives up and just takes the shock. THAT is learned helplessness – it’s not tolerating something because you know you wont have to deal with it in a few minutes/hours. It’s giving up because there are no routes of escape- at all. Also, as far as my dog goes, I would never want him to have to “tolerate” anything he doesn’t like if I had the power to remove him from that situation. I don’t need him doing things “because I said so.” That is not the relationship I want with him. I want him to trust that I will take care of him and protect him. As the human in the relationship, we have the power to control their environment – to manipulate it – so why not set them up to enjoy situations that make them uncomfortable. Why not make life experiences a GOOD thing instead of making them just “tolerate” it because “we said so”? Lets make good associations in their minds with those scary people, dogs, etc because WE have the power to choose.

    • Hi Ines,

      I figured it wouldn’t be long until someone brought this around to “shock”. So thank you for opening the conversation. Although I’d say your example would be considered abuse, not learned helplessness. Why would there be no escape route for the rat? What is he/she supposed to be learning in this box? That is never how we use a remote collar to teach. For one, the levels I advocate 99% of the time aren’t “shocking” and most importantly the dog is ALWAYS taught exactly what to do to control stimulation. It is actually giving the animal great control, not taking it away.

      • Considering this is the example given by a college professor (in Animal Behavior), I think it is considered learned helplessness (which can be abuse – they are not mutually exclusive). I did not give this example because I knew you used shock collars, I gave it because it is what my college professor gave. And actually he used a dog in the example, not a rat, so I was trying to be non-confrontational by changing the animal, but still get my point across…

        • That IS the definition of learned helplessness. There IS no escape and no behavior will make it go away. Nothing stops the aversive, no matter what the subject does, good, bad or ugly, it continues.Learned helplessness is the condition of a human or animal that has learned to behave helplessly, failing to respond even though there are opportunities for it to help itself by avoiding unpleasant circumstances or by gaining positive rewards.

        • correct me if I am wrong but I believe your point was to address the topic of remote collar training and the use of stimulation? So I am trying to understand how would your example of a rat with no escape route is relevant to rc training? I don’t think it surprises anyone here that those of us who choose to train with remote collars are frequently accused of achieving nothing more than learned helplessness with the dogs we train. I know I have heard the accusation many times…which is why I perked up when I heard Chad mention the term in his discussion…although in his presentation and this blog it related to flooding, not to the use of remote collars…just thought it was interesting fodder to discuss further. IMO, remote collar training (done correctly, OF course) does not create learned helplessness, quite opposite actually. It creates confidence and a dog who has a much better handle on how to respond to situations.

      • Electrical shock/stimulation/whatever you want to call it is widely used in behavioral studies because it is an easily quantified and easily adjusted way to apply an aversive. You can apply the same exact “dose” easily and consistently among the experimental population. A toe pinch for example cannot be administered consistently across an experimental group or even be administered consistently in repetition to a single subject.

        Ines was referring to a famous psychological experiment. It is not a learning exercise, rather a scientist answering the question of “what if I applied an inescapable aversive to a living creature?”

        • Hi Katie,
          I understand Ines reference was to an experiment. I also understand why shock (not stimulation) is used in scientific experimentation. But she also then brought in the idea of dogs and teaching them to tolerate what they don’t like…so I am trying to understand what comparison she wishes to make…since remote collar training is the primary topic of this blog I am assuming she has something she wishes to say about remote collars, dogs and learned helplessness…But perhaps I am misunderstanding her intentions with the comment. That is certainly possible since communication via the internet is full of misunderstandings.

          • I don’t think it had anything to do with remote collar training. She was simply challenging your use of learned helplessness and offering a definition for that term. Ignore the shock, nothing to do with RC training at least how I read it.

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