High trust high investment parenting

I like labeling myself as an “unschooler”, but often I’m interested in explaining what I’m going for with my parenting to people that don’t already have a detailed and nuanced model of what unschooling is! My best description of what unschooling means to me is  that I’m pursuing a high trust high investment strategy. I think most of my parenting decisions can be derived from those two principles.

High Trust

Unschooling advocates often talk about trust. Peter Grey, who talks abut “trustful parenting” in his book. And John Holt summarizes his approach as “trust children”. 

The word “trust” seems to capture a lot of what I care about, but it also requires explanation. When I hear people talking about why they don’t trust their kids, they tend to talk about how kids, especially little ones, don’t understand all the implications of the stuff their choosing to do. Which is totally true! (Of course, neither do adults fully meet this standard, but on average they have a much better model of how the world works.)

The sort of trust I’m talking about is more a characteristic of a relationship than a characteristic of a person. If a friend of mine who didn’t know Lydia well asked me “how much should I trust Lydia?” I wouldn’t have a clear answer. I could share a detailed model. I’d trust her to know what’s physically safe for her, I’d trust her not to physically hurt anyone. I’d trust her to give accurate answers about whether a toy belonged to her or her brother. I wouldn’t trust her to know which direction the playground was. I wouldn’t trust her to supervise her little brother around a dangerous object. I wouldn’t trust her to accurately predict whether she would pee if she sat on the toilet.

But to me, having a trusting relationship with Lydia doesn’t rely very much if at all on tallying up the ways in which I can trust her. It’s more of an attitude that I trust that she’s doing the best to make sense of the world given the constraints she’s experiencing, whether they are legible or not. It means that if she says something is important to her, I believe her, and if she acts like something is important to her, I believe her. Even if she can’t explain it and it doesn’t make sense to me. I trust that there was something important going on in her brain when she wanted to watch videos of people taking toys out of eggs and talking about them, and wanted me to put her toys in plastic eggs so she could take them out. I have theories about what was going on with that, but my trust isn’t contingent on the theories seeming likely to be true.

High Investment

I’ve also committed to using a high investment strategy with my kids. On the most basic level, I stay home with them and hang out with them for most of my waking and sleeping hours, so I’m investing a lot of time. We plan to homeschool, so there will be more of that. I also read books, think a ton about parenting philosophy, and discuss parenting stuff with my friends. I feel committed to working through neuroses of mine that make me a worse parent. (And I’m not claiming this stuff is the best way to invest in kids. Just that these are some ways I’m investing a lot. There are high investment strategies that look different from mine, but I think this stuff is clearer with examples.)

If my kids are doing something that’s inconvenient or frustrating for me, I make sure to consider solutions that involve me changing and doing work, not just solutions that involve them changing and doing work. I’ve been willing to do stuff like sleep with my kids as long as they want, nurse for years on end, carry them around a bunch, and fill my house with toys they enjoy, even though it takes work to organize them and clean them up.

I hesitate to write all that stuff, because it feels like I’m bragging or something. There’s an overall cultural narrative that it’s good to do stuff for our kids. (And naturally a complementary narrative that it’s bad to do too much for our kids.) There are also lots of things I don’t do for my kids. And I expect to invest less time in each kid as they get older. My resources are limited, and I spend some of them on other stuff too! Right now, I’m writing a blog post while they’re both with a babysitter they like, and that seems fine.

But it seems worth mentioning that it seems intuitively correct to me to invest a pretty large chunk of resources in my kids. I also don’t mean that I feel like I’m investing more than people in my rough reference class. I think most people invest a bunch these days. But by historical standards, I think we’re all investing a lot, so I don’t want to take it for granted!

Why these labels?

Articulating my parenting values seems useful for a bunch of reasons, and a big one for me is that it makes it easier for me to have useful and respectful conversations with people who do things differently. 

I’ve found that when I’m doing things differently from my friends, lots of the time it’s just because we have different circumstances and comparative advantages. I have multiple friends who feel happier and more energized when they get out of the house with their kids, so they think of fun stuff to do. I tend to feel more sane if my kids and I spend a lot of time at home, so I try to think of ways to make staying home fun. I have friends that have done soul searching about how to support their kids when they want to do physically dangerous things. I tend to be encouraging my kids to try things that are a little outside their comfort zones, because so far I’ve had pretty cautious kids. 

But sometimes things really do seem to boil down to value differences, and the ones I’ve listed above are the ones I’ve encountered and recognized most often. For example, there’s a paradigm that seems coherent to me where at younger ages, the parent prioritizes the kid obeying and submitting more than trusting. There also seems to me to be a coherent position where people think there’s something unbalanced and bad about investing as much in our kids as modern society seems to encourage.

So, if I have a deep disagreement with someone about parenting, the two values I listed seem like the most fruitful areas to explore.

Instrumentally Caring Intrinsically

A way of thinking that I’ve been using for a few years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever written up, is the idea of instrumentally caring about things intrinsically.  

Caring about something intrinsically is often very useful for coordinating with others.

When you care about something for its own sake:

  • It’s easy to strongly and coherently signal that you care about it.
  • People (rightly) expect that your caring will be fairly stable.
  • Your intuitions, aesthetics, and gut feelings will be aligned in such a way that you can act on your caring in realtime.
I remember being an overly analytical kid who wondered whether there was something fundamentally incoherent about caring about things other than my own sensory inputs. I’ve now come around to the opposite idea. Intrinsically caring about only my sensory inputs is incoherent–there’s a lot of utility that caches out in the form of cool sensory inputs that you can only unlock by intrinsically caring about things other than sensory inputs.

I see a lot of conversations break down when people can’t, or won’t, justify why they care about something. And I think there is something that can be a little “off” about trying to come up with justifications for intrinsic values, and in my experience it can actually mess up people’s epistemic to try. Then again, if the things you care the most about become semantic stop signs, I believe you’re leaving a lot of value on the table.

Instead, when these types of conversational roadblocks come up, I recommend people shift to discussing what’s good about caring about something intrinsically. 

A while back, someone on my facebook feed stirred the pot by doing a cost benefit analysis (IMO reminiscent of David Friedman’s stuff) of whether to call the cops on a bike thief. He got some pretty strong pushback from people who implicitly rejected his frame and said stuff like “fuck bike thieves”. 

According to me, the right way to continue the conversation at that point is to ask how the world looks when we do cost benefit analyses of reporting bike thieves vs. how it looks when we become morally outraged when we see bike thieves. This way, neither party is required to directly invalidate their sacred values by the things they protect at the object level, and the people can actually exchange information about their worldviews and whether they disagree with each other’s.

Discussing Tricky Stuff

When I’m discussing something hard, especially over the internet, I try to be careful about:

  1. Searching for and explicitly talking about tradeoffs, even when one option seems like a clear overall win to me.
  2. Trying to keep the ratio of positive to normative statements very high.

I don’t think these points are either necessary or sufficient for intellectually honest discussion, but I think they help. And when other people aren’t doing these things, I find it harder (in the sense of more cognitively effortful) to learn from them. 

With respect to the first point, I don’t think it’s very helpful, if it all, to emphasize tradeoffs that “seem reasonable”, but that the person presenting the idea doesn’t actually think are in play.

I imagine this post would be better with examples, but I won’t include any for now. My plan is to write some blog posts soon about object-level stuff and try to follow my own advice.

Boundaries

For ages, I’ve been hearing about how important “boundaries” were, and I’ve never been quite sure what people even meant by the word. A while back I went to parenting discussion about boundaries, and I think I finally figured out what the word means! (To me, that is. I’m not sure everyone agrees on how boundaries work.)

The word “boundaries” always bugged me because it was vague, and seemed to include some assumptions that I wasn’t sure I agreed with. One such assumption was the idea that good boundaries were bright lines. (Now I think it depends.) “Boundaries” also sounded like the sort of thing I was supposed be very careful to respect, more so than mere “preferences”, and I was confused about exactly why.

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Some Indian Recipes

These won’t be particularly well-formatted, and I don’t have any pretty pictures to go with them at the moment, but I’ve had a few requests over the years for the Indian recipes I regularly cook, so here they are!

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New Perspectives on IFS

I did some IFS with a friend last night around his nail-biting, an area where he hadn’t gotten much traction working on his own.

Early in the process, when he expressed some judgements about the nail biting, I clarified that I wasn’t interested in getting him to stop biting his nails if we couldn’t first find a better way to meet whatever need was currently being met by nail biting.

I assumed the nail biting was serving an important purpose.

Assuming that neurotic-seeming behaviors may be serving important purposes is part of the IFS instructions, so I’ve been saying stuff like that since I’ve started doing IFS. But saying it used to feel more like going through the motions. I’m not quite sure what I mean, because I really didn’t want to get rid of or change parts without their consent. It feels different now, though.

I trust that people’s internal ecosystems make quite a lot of sense.

On a related note, I haven’t had much desire to do IFS on myself recently. Or to have others do it on me. Mostly because I assume that I’ve internalized these processes enough that if things haven’t found a way to shift on their own in IFS-y ways, there’s a good reason they haven’t.

I’m still very open to conversations where I explore my psychology around a thing, but I want them to feel more organic.

I’m also more inclined to just try to give myself what I want instead of changing what I want, even if I sense that I want it in part because I’m hurt in some way. The example that came up most recently was thinking about how I often get angry after we hire cleaners, since they don’t do it exactly how I’d want them to. I think the getting angry is a bit of my own craziness, but these days I’m somewhat more inclined to actually get what I want anyway, instead of “healing” it.

This shift fits pretty well with the idea that paradigms work best as scaffolds instead of permanent structures. So, my IFS scaffold is pretty dismantled by now.

Probably not my clearest post ever, but I’ll leave it at that.

A Year of Updates about Operant and Classical Conditioning

A year ago and a couple of days ago, we got our dog, Argos!

Around then, I dived pretty deeply into learning about operant and classical conditioning, especially with respect to animal training. I read many books and blogs, attended ClickerExpo, and chatted with the trainers at our puppy socials. And after living with a puppy and a toddler for a year, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to experiment with ways to get behaviors I wanted from them. 

My very broad brush summary is that a lot of the technical points actually cache out in just being patient, caring, and creative. And, to me anyway, this is excellent news! I want to get better at those things anyway, and it (usually) feels good to practice them.

The most useful distinction in this area that I hadn’t really been making was between skill building and behavior choices

I’ll call something a choice if it would respond to Szasz’s “Gun-to-the-Head Test”. My dog wouldn’t eat butter off the counter if he knew it would be really costly, so I’ll count that as a choice. But he can only roll one way (I’ll call it to the left), so teaching him to roll on his back to the right counts as skill building. 

I summarized my heuristics for skill building in a Memocracy talk at Ephemerisle, and finally just put the notes from my talk into a blog post of its own because it seems like a separable topic.

Okay, so assuming you aren’t trying to help someone learn something new (like how to walk, talk, or give you a high five). Assume you have strong enough preferences over the behaviors the other person is already offering to try to influence their frequencies.

Plan A: Meet the Underlying Need

My first, best lever is still trying to meet an underlying need (or want?) that will get me the behavior I’m looking for. It actually did help Lydia ignore other kids’ water bottles to buy her a variety and let her play with them at home. It very clearly helps me get Argos to lie around calmly more of the time when I take him on long walks and run around the yard with him. Giving him stuff to chew helps him not chew Lydia’s toys.

In order to meet needs, I have to notice them, and one of the biggest things that help me do this is not blaming the subject OR myself. Either one takes the focus elsewhere. It also takes some experimentation to be pretty confident that you know what the underlying need is. 

More than anything else, maybe, meeting needs usually takes an absence of learned helplessness about meeting the need.

A lot of my recent thoughts about how to best meet needs have come from this unschooling website.

I don’t in any way consider myself an expert on figuring out how to meet people’s needs, though I do recommend a meta/intrapersonal approach. (Basically, meet your own needs too. Avoid unfunded behavioral mandates (HT: Mike Blume) by making it the job of the part of you that wants something to happen to figure out a way to meet the needs of parts that are blocking it. Or something kind of like that. I have a post building up in my head about my thoughts in this domain.)

Plan B: Assume New Tank Syndrome

My second lever actually covers quite a lot of the situations that aren’t solved by (straightforwardly) meeting needs, and that is helping the learner become more comfortable with an environment or stimulus. I covered already in this post, but I think it bears repeating and elaborating on. Very frequently, if it seems like Lydia and Argos aren’t processing what I’m saying, they’re are very focused on the environment, and spending lots of cycles processing that. 

The Behavior Adjustment Training framework helped me get clear on what to do to help a learner feel more comfortable with a stimulus. She tried a bunch of different approaches that I won’t summarize here, but what seemed to work the best and fastest was letting the animal explore the stressful stimulus at its own pace in an environment with other cool distractions for when it wants a break, only intervening to stop the animal from getting stressfully close to the thing.

In retrospect, this strikes me as being extremely commonsensical, but I think I now have a better model of why and how it works. This model results in greater confidence that, over time, behavior around a specific thing will get more conscious and flexible, with more room for input from other interested parties.

Karen Pryor mentions “new tank syndrome” in Don’t Shoot the Dog:

What is once learned is not forgotten, but under the pressure of assimilating new skill levels, old well- learned behavior sometimes falls apart temporarily. I once saw a conductor, during the first dress rehearsal of an opera, having a tantrum because the singers in the chorus were making one musical mistake after another; they seemed virtually to have forgotten all their hard-learned vocal accomplishment. But they were, for the first time, wearing heavy costumes, standing on ladders, being required to move about as they sang: Getting used to new requirements temporarily interfered with previously learned behavior. By the end of the rehearsal, the musical learning reappeared, without coaching. Dolphin trainers call this the “new tank syndrome.” When you move a dolphin to a new tank, you have to expect that it will “forget” all it knows until the new stimuli are assimilated. It is important to realize that berating yourself or others for mistakes in past- learned behavior under new circumstances is bad training. The mistakes will usually clear up by themselves shortly, but reprimands cause upset and sometimes tend to draw attention to the mistakes so they don’t go away.

I didn’t get how important it was though. At almost two, almost everything is “new tank” for Lydia. A circle of girls playing with attractive My Little Ponies at the playground is a “new tank”. Maybe the block we live on wasn’t a “new tank” last week, but it is now because her perceptual abilities are sharper and her interests are different. She’s not used to processing the neighbor’s flowers because she didn’t used to care about them.
 
For Argos, our neighborhood is still a new tank. I’ve been taking him on walks since the beginning, but the neighborhood is full of new smells, new dogs, new people, and new everything else. It’s not as true as it used to be, when he’d stare at bicycles. But it still mostly is. The new stimuli have not been assimilated. Which is fine. That’s part of why it’s exciting to go on walks. 
 
Argos and I have been finding a good rhythm on walks recently where he doesn’t pull me around too much (he’s big), but part of what’s helped has been… letting him pull me around quite a bit while he explores. He gets by now that he’s usually not supposed to interact with on-leash dogs much (because he’s not calm enough for it to go well, also because lots of dogs don’t like intact adolescent male dogs), and is actually pretty good at keeping himself pretty under threshold, in part by running away from dogs. Not in a scared way, in an I’m excited by I know I can’t really have it and now need to let off some energy way. Sometimes we still practice loose-leash walking around the neighborhood, and he can often actually do it for long stretches of time if nothing too stressful happens. (He’s a pro in the house, even when he’s excited because he knows he’s about to go on a walk.)
 
I’d read books and talked to trainers, but I hadn’t really gotten the thing about processing the environment being THE thing for loose-leash walking, assuming the dog can do it at home (which in our case took very little time to teach). I think this blog passage is what made it finally click for me:
Mindy has been in public a lot, but mostly in the suburbs, in shopping areas, in hotels and malls and such buildings. She hadn’t seen the press of a typical urban street during crowded times. So many people, so close together, with so much traffic, was a lot!
 
When one criterion is raised, another drops! so I didn’t worry about leash manners. She pulled, a lot, because she was so busy looking around and taking things in. I wasn’t worried about this; leash manners will come back when she’s able to think about them again. Fussing at her would only have frustrated us both and both kept her from processing all this new scenario and established a bad association with it. 

Miscellaneous Other Stuff

If I hadn’t been reading about operant conditioning, it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to reward behaviors I was looking for even when they were totally accidental and out of context. Baby signing was the relevant use case. I made a point of getting super excited WHENEVER Lydia made a motion that was kinda like a sign, since then she became conscious of what she just did with her body. She could hook the skill of doing the movement on purpose up to the actual meaning later, and she routinely did.

Similarly, if there’s a particular thing I’m looking for from another person, like being really attentive to what I’m saying, or empathizing, or not being defensive, these days I’m more on the lookout for opportunities to comment appreciatively on the thing even when it’s not happening at the time I feel like I need it. Because then, the person is more aware of the thing as a conscious skill they can choose.

On a slightly different note, Argos is actually pretty great about trying to be careful with his body even when he’s moving very quickly… except that he doesn’t get that his tail is part of his body. I think lots of dogs don’t understand this. My plan is to try to teach him to intentionally knock balls off the table with his tail, in hopes that it will improve his awareness in this area. I don’t have super high hopes for the approach, but I’ll probably report back if it works.

Classical Conditioning

If you consistently do something a few seconds BEFORE something else happens, the learner will connect the dots and start anticipating the second thing after the first thing. This won’t be as reliably true if they happen too close together, simultaneously or in the other order. Knowing this made me more inclined to announce my intentions with Lydia verbally before showing body language that I was going to do the thing. (Saying “Can I pick you up?” before putting my arms out.) I know she would have figured everything out anyway, but verbal communication is a big enough convenience factor for me that I’m willing to invest in optimizing my behavior to help her understand me more quickly.

It’s worth worrying about poisoned cues. Basically, if something good OR bad might happen when you ask someone to do something (you’ll get mad if they don’t do it or do it wrong), then they’ll easily come to dread hearing you ask. Fear is terrible for learning. Avoiding poisoned cues falls under being nice, but I thought I’d mention it specifically.

tl;dr Be nice. Work on one thing at a time. Everything else is new tank syndrome.

Skill-Building Heuristics

After I gave a talk at Ephemerisle, some months ago, I got some requests for a summary in writing. Here it finally is!

My intuitive model of learning spits out that I learn best when I’m “challenged”. I’ve come to believe that a feeling of accomplishment and a desire to “consolidate” what I’ve learned (by taking a nap or some other sort of break) are good signs. I’ve also come to believe that frustration and failure are suboptimal. Sure, it’s virtuous on my part to be able to learn from situations that aren’t designed for my learning experience (most of them), and that means learning strategies to cope with frustration and failure. But when I’m the one designing the learning experience, for myself or someone else, I now see it as my job to minimize frustration and failure in the learner.

Errorless learning is a thing, and it seems to me to be a good thing. (At least in certain cases. I was going to say it was great for people, like amnesiacs, who relied on implicit memory more since I had remembered reading that theory, but while looking up citations, I also found this, which says that for memory, errorless learning can trade off against effortful recall, which seems to be important. Interesting. For memory, I think spaced repetition is quite optimized.)

An unfortunate side effect of learning that does involve failure and frustration is that you can end up getting misplaced aggression in the learner. I’ve definitely observed this in my dog, my daughter, and myself, though not to any serious degree.

I think TAGteach is a pretty good methodology. Here are my main takeaways:

  • Work on one criterion at a time. (Practice either speed or accuracy, for example.)
  • After giving whatever longer instructions you want, describe what the learner should do in at most five word.
  • Easily verifiable criteria are the best. (“Arms above head” beats “hold your arms up high”.)
  • If the learner can’t do what you’re asking in three (or so) tries, make it easier!
  • If you can use a marker sound (like a clicker, or saying “Yes!”) to point out the exact moment the learner got it right, this can speed things up quite a bit.
  • If you’re increasingly the criteria in one area, expect performance in other areas to degrade. This is normal and expected and will go away once you get the thing you’re working on straight. (If you’re trying to jump straighter and you’re not jumping as high as you were, that’s fine.)
  • Being in a new location (or with new equipment etc.) is an increase in criteria.
  • To best get fluency, work on precision before speed.
  • For learners who want to learn the thing, getting the information that they’re learning it is potent reinforcement. But if anything is making the experience unpleasant, it can be nice to additional actual treats when they get stuff right.

Punishment is very problematic for building skills. It has advantages, and can be very effective, sometimes resulting in one-trial learning. It also seems to generalize well, but threat kills curiosity and experimentation, which I very much want to preserve in any learners I work with. Here’s a Karen Pryor quote from Reaching the Animal Mind:

Clicker trainers have a strong gut reaction against punishment; and the more experienced we are, the stronger the feeling. Well, thanks to Panksepp, we have a scientific rationale for why mixing correction and reinforcement is harmful rather than helpful to the learning. It’s not just a moral issue; it’s common sense. Correction or rebuke switches the learner from the hypothalamus and its SEEKING mode to the amygdala’s path of avoidance and fear.

And even punishment that seems mild to the one administering it can be very bad for relationships. 

I will emphasize that, since learning more about learning, it’s become increasingly obvious to me how much people, including me, tend to assume that teaching means telling people they’re wrong and “correcting” them. As a tutor, I’ve found it especially hard not to fall into this pattern. My narrative has historically been that I’m providing maximum value to people when I’m showing them something they don’t know yet, and that equates to giving them problems they can’t do yet. These days, I’m changing my approach to something friendlier and more success-based :-).

I’ve also largely moved away from “teaching” as a paradigm recently, since I’ve been working on grokking unschooling, and that’s something I’ll try to write more about as my thoughts feel ready to be put into blog posts.

Appreciating Contempt

A couple of years ago, Will and I attended an event where someone asked us all to consider which emotion we had the hardest time owning and were most likely to resist and push away. We both gave the same answer: contempt.

At the time I remember thinking that contempt seemed mean and not that useful. I talked to some people about contempt, and don’t remember anyone at the event giving me a compelling reason to embrace it, though it’s possible I did hear good advice, but wasn’t in a place to process it.

And I’m happy to say that I’ve finally made some progress on appreciating contempt!

In particular, I noticed that a lot of my internal dialogue was actually pretty self-contemptuous. I seemed to be using self-contempt to notice when my own positions didn’t make any sense and straw man them.

Noticing when my own positions don’t make sense is awesome!

Using self-contempt to do that seems pretty efficient. If you’ve never asked yourself, “what would my enemy think about what I was doing,” I recommend trying it. It’s been eye-opening for me in the pass, and my worldview makes the claim that most people assume most people are more virtuous than is actually the case.

But then, viewing myself with contempt is also costly. It’s easy for me to miss how costly it is, because these thoughts are tinged with the cold kind of contempt contempt, and that tone can slip under my radar pretty easily. But I end up feeling small and not very confident as a result :-(.

And even though my thoughts aren’t perfect, they’re usually a better guess than than my best arguments against them.

Here’s an example of my contemptuous voice being mean:

“I think it worked out okay that I didn’t obsess about not having the dog jump on people. He’s naturally doing it less as he gets more comfortable.”

“OR you’ve created a behavior pattern that he didn’t have to have that makes everyone like him a little less and a generally pushy attitude that doesn’t serve him or anyone else very well.”

Sometimes, it says things that imply that I’m doing something more right than not.

“Meh, Argos (same dog) gets so frustrated when I try to teach him stuff. It didn’t seem as bad before, so maybe I’ve poisoned the process somehow.”

“OR you just thinking that because you’ve accidentally reinforced frustrated barking a few times in a row, that factor is very salient for you, and nothing else is all that different. You weren’t sure he’d ever learn the other stuff either, but he did.”

The self-contempt thing isn’t about me being a bad person, or about me having done the wrong thing. It’s M.O. is telling me that my thoughts, flattering or unflattering, are generally crappy and not to be trusted. 

Kinda costly, but also useful and overall truer than not. Thanks contempt!

Brief Clicker Expo Notes

I went to ClickerExpo in January!

The whole experience was terrific, and I think I learned quite a bit. I got a few new ideas, but not many. But I do think I understand many of the things I’d previously read about it more fully and in a way that’s more actionable. Real-life examples are invaluable when it comes to updating all parts of my mind.

I jumped around between talks quite a bit, and when I wasn’t compelled by any of the speakers I went to the hands-on “learning lab” clicker sessions with dogs. 

This post is a bit shorter than I had originally intended. I realized that I wasn’t getting it written so I lowered my criteria :-).

Here are some rough notes:

  • I was impressed with Karen Pryor as a speaker. I found her quite engaging–particularly her talk about how most scientists aren’t actually using the conditioned reinforcer properly. Yet another lesson in how crazy the world is, and in particular how messed up our scientific institutions are. Seems like things are slowly improving though in this area!
  • I saw some fun videos about some dogs distinguishing between one, two, and three objects fluently.
  • There was quite a bit about emotions. Everyone agreed that behaviors originally associated with angry, scared, or other upset emotions do not retain their original tone when captured with clicker training. In particular, the faculty noted that clicker training dogs to act ferocious didn’t work very well, and that this had been a challenge for people training dog actors for commercials. And there also seemed to be consensus that behaviors would acquire the emotional tone of the reinforcers used to train them. I updated that using multiple marker signals with different emotional tones was an excellent idea. (I’d heard of this idea before but hadn’t been compelled by it.)
  • I both got some good heuristics for good shaping and a bunch of hours observing good shaping. I think I (and most amateur shapers) should raise criteria more slowly and take more breaks). It’s hard not to be impatient and overenthusiastic! One thing I hadn’t considered was that jumping ahead too quickly with criteria increases both the likelihood that garbage behaviors will get chained in and that the learner will then get stuck at a particular level.Variability is worth preserving.
  • Verbal stimulus control is hard with dogs! Argos and I have been practicing since ClickerExpo to try to get him to listen to my actual words, but it was actually fairly heartening to see in the learning lab that many of the professional dog trainers hadn’t done any better with their dogs.
  • Kathy Sdao gave a lecture on Premack’s principle that I found quite inspiring. It didn’t contain any entirely new information, but it was a very welcome refresher. I had heard the idea of reframing distractions as the best possible rewards for dogs, but I hadn’t actually thought of it that way for Lydia. I can tell I have a lot to learn about this whole clicker baby/toddler business, and I do think I’m slowly learning it.
  • I also went to Kathy Sdao’s lab on cues. If anything, I was comforted that the professional trainers who had brought their dogs didn’t seem to have much better stimulus control than I have with Argos for verbal stuff. We’ve been working on that since I got back, but he’s still confused about sit vs. down, since he often goes down by sitting first, so it has historically worked well enough for him to guess. I’m trying to clean it up bit by bit.
  • I had heard that Clicker Expo was an unusually positive and rewarding atmosphere. Makes sense. Not sure i would give the same review, but I think I’m implicitly comparing it to events I futurist-type events I usually go to that are usually full of my friends and people in my general demographic. I did get a few genuine compliments each day though, which was nice!
  • I’m now part of a Clicker Parents Facebook group! I was going to start a list, but then I found out that already existed.

Since it’s been a few weeks now since I attended, I can confirm that it seems totally worthwhile that I went. It’s impossible to run controlled experiments with my n=1 parenting situation, but I can see that my relationship with Lydia has changed for the better in ways that seem directly attributable to stuff that I learned and internalized at Clicker Expo. That’s what I wanted! I’m now working on writing up the details of the changes I’ve made in perspective and how we do things.