E166: Dr. Lore Haug - "Classical Conditioning & Negative Reinforcement"

This week we have on Dr. Lore Haug, one of the 45 presenters participating in the Lemonade Conference, to talk about theory and application of classical conditioning, and humane use of negative reinforcement!


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today we'll be talking to Dr. Lore Haug.

Dr. Haug graduated summa cum laude from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine in 1993. She completed a one-year internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.

Then, in 2002, she completed a Master's Degree and residency program in animal behavior at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. She ran the Animal Behavior Service at Texas A&M from 2002 to 2007, and then moved to Sugar Land, Texas, to begin a private referral practice.

Dr. Haug speaks frequently across the country at veterinary and animal behavior venues, with an emphasis on canine, feline, and equine behavior. She has a special interest in neurobiology, behavior modification, and pharmacology, and has published articles in several veterinary journals and contributed chapters in several books.

She is a past president of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and is a long-standing member and past Chair of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists Examination Committee. Dr. Haug is also a certified consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Hi Lore, welcome to the podcast!

Lore Haug: Hi, how are you? Thank you for having me.

Melissa Breau: I'm good. I'm excited to chat today. To start us out, do you want to tell us a bit about the animals you currently share your life with?

Lore Haug: I have two animals. I have a mixed-breed dog that is shockingly almost about 9 years old now. She's a little bully breed mix and a super-great dog. And I also have an Arabian gelding who is also shockingly getting into his senior years because he just turned 22 this year

Melissa Breau: Why shockingly?

Lore Haug: Because it's just hard to believe that they're entering their senior years, and I try to refuse to believe it and just pretend it isn't happening.

Melissa Breau: I can certainly understand that. I want to talk a little bit about your background to start us out. How did you originally get into veterinary medicine, training, and behavior?

Lore Haug: I actually started training dogs when I was 12. My mother had always done some general, typical obedience training with her dogs, and so I was familiar. When she'd get a new puppy, it would go to obedience school, and this was old, traditional obedience school, you know, wait until they're 6 months, put the choke chain on, and around the parking lot you go.

But she bought me a puppy when I was 12, partly because I was very shy. She was trying to facilitate social interactions. And so I started training, and then I got involved in competitive obedience for a number of years.

I grew up around animals. We always had rabbits and guinea pigs and ferrets, and we rehabilitated cottontails and barn owls and nighthawks, and we had finch aviaries and we bred parakeets. So I was surrounded by animals, and everybody just assumed I would be a veterinarian.

Of course I had to … not so much rebel about that, but I was actually concerned that if I became a veterinarian, I might get burned out, and so I decided I was going to be an ocean engineer instead.

One day, at the end of my freshman college year, I was walking with one of my professors and I was like, "I'm a math/science major." He goes, "You must like the math and physics best in your classes." I was like, "No, I like biology the best." And then I thought, Wow, what am I doing? I went back and changed my major the next day.

I'm always been interested in behavior, and as a career I thought it might be a good way to meld those two together, behavior and veterinary medicine.

Melissa Breau: Talk about a life-changing conversation.

Lore Haug: Right.

Melissa Breau: It's a unique mix, though, having all three of those pieces come together, so it's a cool melding.

Lore Haug: Yeah, and I think a lot of behavior consultants like learning about medicine too, because I talk to a lot of them. But I hope that by having a background in veterinary medicine, behavior consultant, and training, including the performance aspect of training, that I can provide a more wholesome experience and treatment plan for our families and our patients.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned you got started when you were 12, with a not exactly positive training bent. So what got you started in positive training? How did you make that switch?

Lore Haug: I look back at some of those things I did and they're just horrifying to me, but I was a kid and you do what people show you.

I was fortunate to meet two life-changing people, Cheryl Trotter and a veterinarian named Kay Stephens. Cheryl Trotter unfortunately passed away last year, but we were friends for many years. She and Kay Stephens took me under their wing and also took me to my first APDT conference back in 1995 and exposed me to a whole different world of behavior, Murray Sidman and a lot of the Pawsitivity in Training people, and a whole different set of books and outlook on behavior, and that was just it. I was like, "Oh, I love this."

Like a lot of people, it was difficult sometimes to make that switch in practice, though, because you're raised or developed initially thinking, I've got to tell this animal when they've done something wrong. How do you get a well-trained animal without ever correcting them? And so it was a little bit difficult transition for a while, but I was also fortunate at the time, I think, to have the right dog. The dog I had at the time was a good dog to help me leap all the way over that fence.

Melissa Breau: What was it about that dog?

Lore Haug: Well, one, she didn't have any horrifying behavior problems. And she was pensive. She thought a lot about things, so she wasn't spastic and energetic. It wasn't like trying to train a chicken.

Her reactions made me stop and think about what I was doing, and her behavior and her temperament allowed me to be patient and more empathic because … this is terrible to say in a way, but there wasn't anything about her behavior that would make me angry. Sometimes people get animals with behavior problems and they get so frustrated that they're angry, and that does make them want to lash out and punish because they don't know what else to do.

So fortunately, like I said, she was just passive and pensive, and she really helped me work through a lot of those difficulties and questions that I had about switching to a truly positive-reinforcement-based paradigm.

Melissa Breau: It's definitely a huge switch. To look back where you came from, how would you describe your training philosophy today?

Lore Haug: Today, every day, I hope that I maintain a commitment to LIMA principals and most positive, least intrusive. We're not perfect, but I'm always looking to find more positive solutions to things, help people do that, and also try to constantly remind myself is there a way to give an animal even more choice in this situation than what is occurring. So it's still a journey. I think I do a pretty good job, but it's still a journey for me because I always want to try to do better.

Melissa Breau: I'm sure it's also partially a journey because you work with, I mean, non-canid species are a little bit more difficult. They're just a different ballgame than some of the dog training stuff out there.

Lore Haug: Yeah, they're just different. I wouldn't necessarily say they're more difficult. Certainly have a lot of respect for people that are working with zoo and exotic animals, especially if they're not in protected contact, because your mistakes are much more costly.

I think horses overall are pretty forgiving a lot of times. There's certainly a class of them, just like the dogs, where mistakes are more costly because they just don't tolerate errors. But they're definitely overall not more difficult.

And I think as we get more proficient with cats, we find they're not really so difficult either, if you have the right motivators.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. I mentioned earlier that I thought it was interesting that you have these three different backgrounds and they merge together. I'd love to hear how being a trainer, a behavior consultant, and a vet impact how you think about behavior and training. It's really rare to find somebody who checks off all three boxes.

Lore Haug: I try to obviously start with, again, these intervention hierarchies like Susan Friedman has, like, is the animal's biological needs being met.

I think one of the particularly useful things about my trio is we want to not only think about how medical things might impact the behavior, but I think sometimes we forget to take into account how medical issues might impact the treatment program. I don't mean just whether you're giving them medicine for a problem, but what type of issues may affect the animal's mobility or their cognitive function that might require you to change your approach to accommodate that. Just like we would change our approach to accommodate an owner, for example, that maybe was in a wheelchair or had a hearing impairment, those things impact the treatment program, not just the etiology of the behavior. And all those things are ongoing.

I do say I miss — because I've been doing just behavior mod stuff for so many years now because I haven't been in competition for years — but I miss some of that, and I think there's a lot of value that performance people have to share in terms of training techniques that would help us be better behavior consultants too. So I hope, like we do in this conference, there's more of a blending so that we learn all these pieces from each other.

Melissa Breau: Anytime you see different areas of expertise cross over, there's always opportunities for learning.

Lore Haug: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned this idea of thinking about how medical issues affect the treatment plan. Do you have an example or a recent case that you can give as a little bit of an example?

Lore Haug: One of the things we see commonly, I guess two big categories, are animals with orthopedic issues, like they have undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, torn cruciate ligaments.

One of the dogs that I saw for leash aggression to dogs, she had had an amputation of one of her hind legs, but she, unbeknownst to the owner, had relatively significant arthritic changes and pain in the remaining hind leg. And I'm like, we can't teach this dog to sit and look, and practice that fifty times a day, or be doing these B.A.T. approaches where you're walking the dog up and down and up and down. We can't do that with her because her mobility is so affected and it's going to make the dog more painful, so we just have to adapt to that.

So orthopedic issues are a big one.

The gastrointestinal issues are the second big group that I see, where the animal either has either a food allergy, so we're restricted with what type of food reinforcers we can use, or they may have chronic GI upset, which affects how the animal feels, so there may be waxing and waning of their behavior correlating to how their intestinal tract feels.

So we have to keep watch for that, and we may have to put treatment plans not really on hold, but there may be days when we have to recognize the animal feels bad and we change the training plan for that day or maybe don't do any training at all.

Melissa Breau: That's an interesting thing to think about. I think most people think about it for themselves for sure that if I don't feel good today, of course I'm not going to do my best work. Maybe today is not the best day to take on a brand new big project. But thinking about how that influences how the dog is going to feel about other things that you're trying to change their emotions around too.

Lore Haug: Yes.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the conference, and we're lucky enough to have you joining us as a presenter for the upcoming Lemonade Conference, where you're presenting for us twice. The first topic is on theory and application of classical conditioning. I think most people know enough to associate classical conditioning with Pavlov, but for anybody who maybe hasn't brushed up on this stuff in a while, can you give us just a working definition?

Lore Haug: Classical conditioning — obviously Pavlov is a good example. It was how it started. We think a lot about conditioned emotional responses, and really Pavlovian conditioning is a way for animals, or maybe evolved, if you will, to give animals survival advantage. It is there to prepare them to learn associations between significant stimuli in the environment: "If I see or hear or smell this, it might mean there's something in the environment that is beneficial to my survival, or it may mean there's something in the environment that is detrimental to my survival, like predator, toxins, fire," whatever, so that the animal can learn to seek those things or avoid them. We think about "ring a bell and salivate," but what was really helpful to me when I was studying this topic for the lecture was to remember that this is a survival paradigm, if you will. Its basic purpose is to help animals get important things or avoid important things.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Can you share a little more on what you'll cover during the talk?

Lore Haug: Obviously, I cover a brief definition of what classical conditioning is, and then I touch on again some of these factors about the survival advantage and looking at it like that. We talk about some of the types of classical conditioning, like delayed conditioning or simultaneous conditioning, and some of the things that facilitate conditioning, like the intensity of the conditioned stimulus or the intensity of the unconditioned stimulus.

We talk a little bit about how you can hopefully set up training sessions, like knowing what influences number of trials, training time in an inter-trial interval have on the likelihood of conditioning. I also talk a little bit about some interactions between Pavlovian and operant conditioning, which is super-complex, obviously.

And then I try, because this is why I did the whole … this was a self-serving lecture, because one of the reasons I did it was to try to take that theory that you read about, which unfortunately when you read textbooks, it's always about dogs and bells and salivating or rats getting food pellets or getting shocked. And then I'm like, how do I take that and apply it to a dog guarding a bone or lunging at other dogs on walks?

So I try to bring at least my interpretation of how these things are translating out into that environment, and how this knowledge may help us be more effective at treating those things, and also understanding why it's so much harder than it sounds like it should be.

Melissa Breau: It certainly does seem to be harder than it sounds like it should be. It seems like just a simple concept when you think about the basic Pavlovian experiment: thing, thing, done.

Lore Haug: Right, right.

Melissa Breau: The presentation title specifically calls out both theory and application, so I think you did a nice job of talking us through how you're going to approach each of those. Thinking about the title, it made me think that there's both overlap and some places those two aren't exactly in sync, which is in line with what you were saying. Can you talk a little more about that? Where are places where the theory and application don't quite line up?

Lore Haug: I don't know that it's so much that they don't line up, but that there are obviously situations that you can set up in a laboratory, where you have many, many more controlled variables that you just cannot set up out in the real world.

A rat in a box — you can control other reinforcement and punishment and extinction contingencies, and focus on one behavior and one contingency, whether it's Pavolovian or instrumental. But when you get out in the real world, you're bombarded constantly with all these different schedules of reinforcement and contingencies and associations, and we can't just pull one out.

The laboratory also allows much more or somewhat of an in-depth look at how Pavolovian and instrumental conditioning interact and either augment or oppose each other. And again, those experiment are complex, and it's not something that you can do in the real world because you just can't control enough variables to be able to say, "This instrumental behavior is having a 36 percent reduction in the Pavlovian response," or vice versa, and "In this situation, the Pavlovian influence is augmenting the operant behavior by 60 percent." You can't do that.

Melissa Breau: Carrying that through, obviously you've got the environmental situation, and then if you're working with a client, the dog belongs to a person, then it's their behavior also that you have to look at, and their ability to be consistent…

Lore Haug: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: So that totally makes sense to me.

Lore Haug: I think, too, we forget that our clients and their pets shape our behavior, sometimes even unbeknownst to us. I don't think sometimes we're consciously aware of over time how we've slowly changed our behavior, our thought processes, and also our physical actions because of reinforcement and punishment contingencies from the animals and their owners. So I think, like I said, the more aware of that, maybe we can help control them when they're not heading us in a good direction.

Melissa Breau: It's so interesting, because I know in sports training recently we've been having some conversations around the idea that often it's so reinforcing for our dogs to get the step that we're at that maybe we don't increase criteria, because the moment we increase criteria, we increase the chances that the dog is going to be wrong, or make a mistake, or do something slightly different than we anticipated. And so we end up plateauing at progress, which I'd imagine is similar.

Lore Haug: Yes, I could absolutely see that happening. I think when we talk about different focuses — negative reinforcement, punishment, positive reinforcement, what you have — there are pros and cons to each of those, and reinforcing is reinforcing. It is reinforcing to me to click and treat my horse or my dog and that makes me want to do it more. And like you said, sometimes we keep doing it for the same criterion and maybe get stuck there, and get the animal stuck there.

So it's not really a bad thing about positive reinforcement per se, but it's something that we need to try to be self-aware so that we don't fall into that trap. Because I have fallen into that trap.

Melissa Breau: Haven't we all? I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your second presentation. Your second topic for the conference is on Humane Use of Negative Reinforcement, which seems like we could easily spend a whole episode just talking about that. Again, just to make sure we're all working off the same definitions here, can you explain what you mean by negative reinforcement?

Lore Haug: Just as a slight tangent, it may be a good thing that we ended up doing this conference online. That way I don't have to stand at the front of the room and get tomatoes thrown at me during this lecture.

Negative reinforcement is what it is. It's the removal of a stimulus that results in the increased probability of a behavior. Like I said, the definition is pretty straightforward. Obviously, just like many things, bringing it into the world we live and work in, a little bit more complicated.

Melissa Breau: Let's talk about that just a little bit. How can trainers use negative reinforcement humanely? Can you talk us through a couple of examples?

Lore Haug: The fact of the matter is that it's happening, and sometimes I think it's often being used without us realizing it.

There's a lot of contention about this topic. I haven't even given the lecture, and I've already received information from some people on Facebook and stuff that this is causing angst in individuals that I'm doing this lecture.

One of the things I think punishment or positive reinforcement or whatever, I don't go around punishing animals, but I do need to understand how it works. I think we need to understand how negative reinforcement works, one, so that if we do want to use it, we do it properly, and two, we can recognize if it's happening when we don't want it to happen, so that we can change it.

Examples include simple things like front-clip harnesses. You walk along, the dog pulls, the dog feels the pressure, a little bit of the torque of the harness, and the dog backs off the pressure. Sometimes we do that on purpose, where we're standing somewhere, the dog is standing still, maybe you put a little bit of tension on the collar or the harness, and then you just stand there and wait patiently. Eventually the animal maybe gets a little bit annoyed by the pressure, and they move into the pressure, and then we release it.

If people have ever trained their dog to put their paw on their nose by putting a piece of tape on the nose, that is negative reinforcement, because the tape annoys the dog, the dog paws at the tape to get it off, and when the tape comes off, the annoyance is gone. It's negative reinforcement.

So it's happening a lot and let's own up to it, as long as we're doing it well.

Melissa Breau: I'd go so far as to say "nagging." Sometimes, if we think the dog knows the behavior, we nag: "Do it, do it, do it." It's the same idea, but most people probably wouldn't think of that.

Lore Haug: Right. You lean down in the dog's face and stare at it to get it to sit, and then the dog is like, "Oh," and it sits, and we stand back up. For a lot of dogs that's negative reinforcement. Not all of them. Some of them may enjoy that. But there's plenty of them, especially our behavior cases, that don't enjoy that.

Melissa Breau: Obviously the things we're talking about seem to me like most positive trainers would probably not think of those as extreme things, like repeating a cue and even just a little bit of collar pressure. So where do you draw the line? At what point does it cross over from humane use to becoming inhumane or unkind?

Lore Haug: For me, I think there's two big points or reactions on observing from the animal, which is, one, when you apply the aversive, does that aversive impact the behavior the animal was doing at the time you applied it. Is it reducing the frequency of that behavior? If your dog is standing beside you and you put pressure on the collar, over time, is your dog less likely to stand beside you.

The second thing is, does the animal still want to do the training. If I'm giving them choice where they can get up and leave the session whenever they want, but they choose to stay there, then to me that implies that this aversive is not significant enough to damage the bond and the animal's willingness to continue to participate in the process.

Melissa Breau: And obviously that will be totally different depending on the animal in question and the dog's temperament.

Lore Haug: Absolutely.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned the idea of getting tomatoes thrown at you. Why is it that trainers typically think of negative reinforcement as such a dirty word? How did it get that rap? What can we do to recognize it in a way that …

Lore Haug: Because it has the word "aversive" in it. You can define it by saying "the removal of a stimulus that increases the frequency of the behavior," and a lot of people would also define it as the removal of an aversive stimulus increased frequency of the behavior, so as soon as they hear the word "aversive," everybody's brain explodes, and instead of having a rational, objective thought process and discussion about it, again I've become much more open about this process since I got so involved with horses many years ago, because the negative reinforcement is rampant in that discipline and some of it is just horrible. Horrible. But there's a lot of it that is very thoughtful and humane, and there's again things we can learn from that. Us dog and cat and parrot and stuff trainers can learn from that. And the horse people can learn from us.

Melissa Breau: I think that's a good note to wrap things up on. I've got three more questions that I usually ask at the end of every interview, so I'm going to go through them. The first one is what's the training-related accomplishment that you're proudest of?

Lore Haug: Honestly, and this is really sappy, but I guess I'm just really proud that I was able to so fully make the transition from a compulsive, traditional-style training over to this. That when I started the transition and it got hard, and I had all these questions, how does this possibly work, that I didn't just give up, but I thought about it and I got people to help me. I think that's important is to reach out to people to bolster you and not just try to snow you, and then pushed through it to come out the other side.

I'm not glad for the things I did to the animals back then. I am glad for myself that I had that experience because it does make me more committed to the avenue that I'm on now, because I've seen and done both sides of the fence.

Melissa Breau: I like that. It's a good perspective to have. My next one is what's the best piece of training advice that you've ever heard?

Lore Haug: One from Bob Bailey, which is to always go back to the basics. You can never go wrong going back to the basics. I think that's super-powerful and important. And then all of the many individuals that have really helped us think about choice and giving animals choice.

Melissa Breau: Last one: Who is somebody else in the training world that you look up to?

Lore Haug: That's also super-difficult. Can I list ten or twenty people? I have to give, like I said, kudos to Cheryl Trotter for really mentoring me back when I was younger. I think I've learned a lot personally and professionally from people like Susan Friedman, Kathy Sdao, Chirag Patel, and Laura Monaco Torelli. I think they're all phenomenal. There's many, many, many phenomenal people. I could do a whole podcast just listing, like the Oscars: "I have to thank these 5000 people." So that's the short answer.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast Lore! It has been fantastic to chat through all this with you.

Lore Haug: Thank you so much for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to our listeners for tuning in! We'll be back next week. Don't miss it! If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. 


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training!

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