Lumping and the Environment, Part 2

What does it mean to “lump the environment”?

Most of us who practice “clicker training” already know about splitting the behavior into smaller pieces when shaping a new behavior.  What would be easier than this behavior?  Was that a tiny bit of offered behavior I can shape into something?

If we get greedy and ask for too much behavior by raising the criteria too high, it’s called “lumping” the training.  We get too focused on outcome and not focused enough on movement.

Shaping for movement rather than outcome is an important thing to remember when shaping behavior.

Here‘s a neat blog about that topic.

Now, what about “lumping” the environment?  “Lumping” the environment means that we’ve made the environment be too hard.  Or we’ve let it be too hard.  We’ve started at a point that’s too hard for the animal to be successful in with the lowest-value reinforcer possible.

Why did I add that last part about the lowest-value reinforcer possible?  Because it’s possible to “cheat” in our training in difficult circumstances or fearful environments by getting the animal to play our game by using a high-value reinforcer.

For example, I was training my Ollie various trailering skills.  The most important thing for him to learn is to back off the trailer without rushing.  This means that he has to not be fearful about backing off.

I found that if I used pieces of Stud Muffins while shaping him to back off, he would slow down.  If I tried to use Alam cubes, he would ignore the click and rush off the trailer backwards.  This always scared him even more because it’s a step-up trailer and falling out the back was scary!

Early in January, I was talking to Eva Bertilsson via email about the idea of using high-value reinforcers to kind of cheat in our training or use them to try to over come aversives in the environment.  I wrote about that in my last blog here.

As I said then, as soon as she said that I was “lumping” the environment, it clicked for me.  Of course!  I just hadn’t thought about it in those terms.

I had already lowered the criteria for Ollie by staying out of the trailer and just working with the pedestal.  But this pedestal is at least six inches high and I have another that’s only about three or four.  And I have a plain board.

What if I backed up all the way to backing off the board until he was comfortable with that?  Then using the short pedestal until he was comfortable with that?  Then maybe I could combine the two pedestals if they remain stable and work on that height.  Then whe Ollie is fully comfortable with that height, maybe we could go back to working from the trailer itself.

Here are a few videos to show our progress.

The first one is how Ollie was backing ONTO the short pedestal.  This was filmed a few months ago and he’s much better about it now.  In fact, I split the environment for this, too, by having him back onto a flat board.  For fun, count how many times his foot hits the platform.

This one shows him backing onto a board:

This next one is how Ollie was backing off the tallest pedestal a couple of months ago.  For fun, count how many times he hangs his right hind off the pedestal.

This one is Ollie a few days ago.  How many times did he drop his right hind off the pedestal?

And this one is Ollie yesterday.  How many times did he drop his right hind off the pedestal this time?

Whatcha think?  Does this help you understand how to avoid “lumping” the environment?

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About Laurie Higgins

I play with clicker training - with my horses, dogs, and cats. I also attempt to grow vegetables with the hope of one day being able to feed my family from my garden. My daughter and I are learning ballroom dancing. Well, we were. But she left me for a paying horse job, so now my husband and I are learning ballroom dancing. I'm also now helping Peggy Hogan, of Clicker Training Horses (and The Best Whisper is a Click) to teach people how to train their own horses using "clicker training".
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