Thursday, November 25, 2010

The hardest behavioral intervention

Our Husky mix loves to play hide and seek. She stalks the gate, bolts through an opening, and runs with joy. She races across the neighborhood then hides for the seek. She cannot be seen, she is a natural predator. She'll do this for an hour or so, waiting for us to walk nearby then bolting past us.  Eventually she's sated, and she comes to us. Until recently she got a treat on the return, because our expensive experts told us that's what we needed to do.

Running, playing with the pack, eating the treat. Doesn't get better than that. We spent more money than I care to think about on this problem, consulting with the best experts. None of the expert advice worked.

Kind of like with our eldest. Almost everything that's worked with him we invented.

Lately, we've been trying the hardest behavioral intervention of all our our mutt. Doing nothing. Extinction is the technical name, it's how to train husbands, exotic animals, and special needs persons. When she runs, we don't pursue her. We leave the gate open. We go for a walk. We wait. It's painful because, of course, there are cars out there. Even very smart dogs don't really understand cars; even seeing eye dogs don't get them.

She's coming back sooner now. We greet her with subdued affection and without treats. If she survives the cars, I think this will work. Of course if she ever actually ignores an open gate and comes to us, she will be rewarded. (We also stopped playing chase games. That was my bad.)

Dogs and humans - same difference. We're in a good spot with our #1 child now. It's been that way for a few months; but there was a bad time before it. There will be more bad times ahead; probably worse than those we've known. That's our life. It's a way go get old fast, and maybe wise too.

During this good time, we've been applying extinction methods on some obsessive behaviors that caused us significant distress. We don't deny the behavior, instead we a version of it officially approved and regulated - though with an undertone of muted disappointment. We've stripped the behavior of all emotion and context. It's not gone entirely; it may never go. It is, however, very much diminished.

Extinction is a good behavior modification technique. It's very hard to apply, but sometimes you have to go with what works.

No comments: