What is the right way to train that behavior?

Mary Hunter with Emily Larlham's dog, Kiko

At the end of September, Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and I gave a two-day PORTL shaping workshop in San Diego. We had an awesome group of participants, and it was a really great weekend. Emily Larlham, who hosted the workshop, posted a video with some highlights from the event.

(In the photo to the right, Emily’s chihuahua, Kiko, is hanging out on my lap!)

During the workshop, we did an exercise that involves shaping action behaviors. The teacher is given different actions, such as “push,” “turn upside down,” and “spin.”

The goal is to “capture” the action by choosing an object or objects that will make it very, very likely for the learner to do that behavior.

One of the actions that some of the participants taught was “hover a finger over an object.” Afterwards, we discussed what happened. There were at least four different strategies that participants used to teach this behavior. Some of the ideas were quite creative!

This brings up an important point. In online discussions, I sometimes see people ask, “What is the RIGHT way to teach my animal to __________ (fill in the blank)?”

However, for any behavior, there are many different ways to teach that behavior. There is not one “correct” way.

Depending on your skill level, the animal’s previous training history, the training environment, your long-term goals, and other factors, there will definitely be some approaches that are better than others. Even so, in any training situation, there is always more than one way to teach a behavior. 

There is always more than one way to teach a behavior. Click To Tweet

So, the next time you get stuck during training, remember that you don’t have to teach the behavior this way. You can modify your plan to add some additional steps or find a completely different approach.

Now, I know that some of you are wondering how our workshop participants taught their learners to hover a finger over an object. But, I’m not going to tell you because there is not a right answer. Instead, if you find this behavior interesting, try training it! See if you can figure out an interesting way to teach it.

If you want to learn more about PORTL, check out the PORTL manual, which Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz and I published last month. It’s available for purchase on the Behavior Explorer website. 

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