Fear and Fun: A Behavioral Approach to Vacationing

“As I mentioned before, I work in behavior, and my specialty is managing fear and aggression, so all my professionalism is coming to bear right now.”

I have newly returned from a dream trip I’d been planning for fully ten years, a visit to New Zealand and then a cruise back across the Pacific. Yes, it was awesome.

I wanted to take the fantastic opportunity to do things I cannot do at home. Indiana has plenty of caves (our limestone supplied Washington D.C.’s and most other major cities’ buildings and monuments, and limestone country is cave country), but we have a distinct shortage of glowworms, so I wanted to go down under to see them. And rather than take a boat, I wanted to do something a bit more adventurous. So I booked a spelunking tour.

I knew the tour would involve abseiling (also called rappelling) and swimming/floating through 50-degree water. I didn’t realize that the abseil would be 35 meters through a narrow neck into the cave itself, and thus would be the very first task.

Heights, dark, tight spaces, all the classic fears in one go. Whee! Continue reading

Puppies and Imagination

Do dogs and other animals have imagination?

While scientists now agree that animals are conscious (duh!) and many or most agree they are sentient, it’s harder to say how much creative and meta-thinking animals might do. We can listen to a human child tell us a silly story he’s invented, but the language barrier makes it harder for a young animal to do the same. Take away a common language, and would we think an other-speaking child incapable of inventing the story, just because we can’t hear him tell it?

We know animals can think creatively for problem-solving; it’s one of the aspects we treasure about clicker training in particular, this encouragement of creative and analytic thinking in our learners. But I hadn’t thought much on if or how animals use imagination on their own. I’m a storyteller, but only for my own species. I mean, a game of keepaway can be just as fun if it’s a piece of wood or some faux treasure, because the game is in the chase, right? When we play tug, it’s a fun game whether we’re pulling on a rope or a freshly killed caribou. Imagination isn’t a clear component. Continue reading

Puppy Socialization: the Physical

I have been a terrible pet parent, and I have not been spamming the blog with puppy photos and puppy stories. I apologize, I’ve been crazy busy, and in the end it’s more important to spend those extra minutes with the puppy rather than writing about her.

But today I’m going to officially spam about the puppy.

Meet Undómiel, who is 12 weeks old now and already gi-normous. Her paws are dinner plates. She’s going to be bigger than Laev.

I went to Denmark to pick her up, so she could fly home in the cabin with me. Continue reading

Jurassic World and Training Dinosaurs

 

You might not have noticed, but there’s been a bit of a reaction in the animal training community to the blockbuster release of Jurassic World. And not just the recreations of actor Chris Pratt’s pose — which I absolutely love, by the way. (No way I’m picking a favorite pic. Go scroll through them.) Continue reading

The Training Game and What It Teaches: The Rat Is Always Right

Many clicker trainers are familiar with what is almost universally known by the ridiculously simple name of The Training Game. It’s a shaping game played among humans, and most often a learner is sent from the room while the group determines a (physically and socially safe) behavior to shape, and then a trainer shapes the learner with the clicker to perform the chosen behavior.

There are a number of variations on this game, many useful. The trainer (and observers) can learn a great deal by doing this! and it’s a great way to test various training concepts and approaches. There is a variation I have not used in nearly a decade, however, with good reason: It broke the learner.

Continue reading

A Trip to the Clinic with a Reactive Human

Did you ever wonder exactly what the heck could be going on inside your dog’s head at the vet? Maybe why your toddler is freaking out, or why your cat tries to make your insides into your outsides when it’s time for a medical exam or treatment?

We don’t have mind-reading equipment yet, but we’ve got the next best thing — a human who can explain from inside a clinic where she’s uncomfortable. Continue reading

A Behaviorial Look at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

photo by clickthing.blogspot.com/2008/10/tennish-anyone.html

So right now a lot of writing friends and I are stocking up on coffee, candy, and Prozac, building our bunkers for National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo). Only I don’t like coffee, so I make up for it with chocolate. To each her own.

NaNoWriMo is a blitz to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days. (Of course, no, one isn’t writing a publishable book in 30 days, nor is 50,000 words a complete novel in nearly any genre. But that’s not exactly the point, either, so work with us here.)

Considering that at my sugar-and-caffeine-induced perfect zone, I peak at about 1000 words per hour, and that’s not really sustainable — I know a lot of professionals who are quite pleased with 250 words per hour — and considering that normal life doesn’t actually suspend for most of us, you can see the challenge here. So motivation and discipline are big concepts for the NaNo community.

There are lots of ways NaNo writers motivate themselves, but it boils down to several commonly-used terms — small incentives, big incentives, anti-incentives, and rituals.

Let’s look at them from a professional behavior perspective, and maybe you’ll find them useful for any big projects you’re facing. Continue reading

Polite and Pushy Deer

Nara deer beg for handouts outside a shop on S...

Nara deer beg for handouts outside a shop on Sanjo Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday my friend Mark sent me a page about polite and, hmm, less polite deer in Japan. And of course (as he suspected would happen) my little behavior brain took over, and we have here not only a great example of deer learning to work a system of tourists, but how we unintentionally create behaviors both cute and dangerous in our pets. Continue reading

Movies & Monkey Pellets

I need to stick at least one actual behavior post in here between medical updates, I think, so here’s one from the creative side of things.

Besides my day job in training and behavior, I also write fiction. I just spent three days at the Midwest Writers Workshop, charging up my creative batteries and getting new techniques for revision and for developing ideas. And while I didn’t run into this Joss Whedon quote there, it was brought to mind again: Continue reading