Guest: Kiki Yablon

Kiki Yablon, CPDT-KA, is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and faculty member as well as a co-instructor for Susan Friedman’s BehaviorWorks. She holds a master’s degree in applied behavioral science from the University of Kansas, where her thesis research involved dogs who engaged in so-called “demand barking.” Kiki lives in Chicago with her husband and their dog, Finn.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The history behind Kiki’s master’s thesis project.
  • Signaled Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior to Address Excessive Vocalization in Dogs
  • What gave her the idea – the case of the dog barking when guests are over.
  • How training stay on a mat actually seems to have caused the problem.
  • The new strategy – signalling that food will not be available when towel was hung up (“if this van’s a rocking”).
  • A discussion of DRO w/o extinction.
  • Does this strategy apply to other behaviors like demand whining?

Links mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Kiki Yablon: [00:00:00] And in the COVID environment– When you had one conference call a week or something, your dog can just eat a frozen Kong through that. But when you’re working on Zoom like eight hours a day, most dogs are not going to be able to just eat their way through it.

Hannah Branigan: I mean, I did try to eat my way through COVID. So…

[Intro music]

Hey there, fellow training nerds! You’re listening to Drinking From The Toilet. If you like to geek out about combining the science of behavior with positive reinforcement philosophy in real life, you’ve come to the right place. And I’m your host, Hannah Branigan: teacher, trainer, podcaster, and author of the book Awesome [00:01:00] Obedience and its companion, Awesome Obedience: The Field Guide, which are both available from

So this week, we are wrapping up– we’ll say we’re coming to a stopping point talking about demand barking. I’m sure I’ll think of other things that I want to say or talk about later. But this is the third part in that three part series that I promised you. If you haven’t listened to parts one or two yet, you might check those out. I’ll link them in the show notes.

This time we’re having a conversation with returning podcast guest Kiki Yablon, who actually did a really cool legit research project around the topic of demand barking. We’ll talk more about those details after I thank the supporters of this podcast episode.

So this episode is brought to you by the MET Conference (I hope you’ll be joining me) and really awesome folks like Hannah C (great name by [00:02:00] the way, Hannah), Randy G and Janet A. If you would also like to support the podcast, get your questions answered and get access to our super secret extra podcast episodes, you can go to

[episode begins]

So Kiki Yablon is a returning podcast guest. She’s been on several episodes for us so far. I’ll look those up and put those in the show notes so you can check them out. She’s got some really great ideas. She’s one of the people that I really enjoy brainstorming with, bombarding with questions about behaviors, ideas that I have and just observations that I ran into. She’s really great for that. She’s a CPDT-KA. She’s also a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and a faculty member of the Karen Pryor Academy. She’s also a co-instructor for Dr. Susan Friedman’s Behavior Works. And she holds a Master’s degree in Applied Behavioral Science from the University of Kansas.

And her master’s thesis project is what we’re going to be [00:03:00] talking about today, where her research involved dogs who engage in so called “demand barking.” Kiki’s from Chicago, and she lives there with her husband and their dog, Finn. And in our conversation, we talked about where she got the idea for her project – we talked about stimulus control. If you listen to the preceding episode to this one, you have some ideas of what we’re going to be talking about there.

But specifically looking at long-duration, persistent, owner-directed barking, which I think is a great way to describe what we’re thinking of when we’re thinking of that demand barking issue. We talked about what gave her the idea and why some of the more common strategies that we often try don’t seem to really work and the new strategy that she came up with.

We talk about some other kind of adjacent concepts that show up or that surround strategies that we might use around behaviors like this, such as [00:04:00] DRO and DRA and extinction. We also talk about adjacent behaviors, things like other types of vocalization and other demand behaviors and generally meeting dog’s needs.

So anyways, we talk about a whole lot of stuff in this area, and it was a really interesting conversation. I’m really fascinated by the work that she’s doing there and has continued to do with clients in real life. And I think you’ll find it interesting too.

[interview begins]


Hannah Branigan: Okay, so tell me the title of your project, your thesis.

Kiki Yablon: So it’s pretty dry title. It was called Signaled Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior to Address Excessive Vocalization in Dogs. 

Hannah Branigan: That does sound very fancy and I’m very impressed. What gave you the idea? Like, why were you passionate about this?

Kiki Yablon: It was something that I had done with a client just before everything locked down [00:05:00] for COVID.

I had a client with a lovely. English springer, I think, who barked very persistently at the female owner, mostly, when there were guests over. He wasn’t unfriendly towards guests. He wasn’t aggressive. He was standing and barking in the direction of the guardian. And then what she would typically do is get a mat out and get some treats out and start reinforcing him for laying on the mat.

Initially, my assessment was that the problem was that there wasn’t duration on this behavior. And so I talked to her about how to build duration and she ran with it and did an amazing job. Like I came back and she had built 15 minutes of duration between treats.

And when I looked at [00:06:00] that picture, I just thought, “I don’t think this is what we want because he is still working and she is still working and they just want to have people over and be able to hang out with them and have the dog kind of hang out as well and not have to be have everybody working all the time.”

And I recognize this picture because I lived this picture for a long time for different reasons. My previous dog Pigeon was not universally friendly towards all humans and so for a number of years with her, anytime we had guests, I had her on her mat pretty much the whole time and it was exhausting.

And I had recently seen Jesus [Rosalez-Ruiz] give his talk Don’t Fight Extinction, where he talked about not trying to fix the problem behavior in the [00:07:00] context that is cuing the problem behavior. And particularly not withdrawing reinforcement for the problem behavior in the context where the problem behavior has been previously reinforced, because when you do that, you get all kinds of predictable effects. You get extinction bursts, you get variability, you could get aggression, a bunch of stuff that we might put in a bucket called frustration or anger or whatever.

Hannah Branigan: On both sides of the team!

Kiki Yablon: Right? Yeah. And the way I described this originally in a blog post was that I think there used to be a restaurant across the street from our house. (There’s a new restaurant there now. It’s not the same restaurant, just in case anybody from my neighborhood is listening. I don’t want to tarnish the one that’s there.) But they would look open and not be open basically. There would be a sign up that says we’re open 9am to 3pm and then you’d go pull on the door and it would be locked. And it was super frustrating and made [00:08:00] me angry at the restaurant.

But if you put up a sign that says closed, then you don’t even get the door opening behavior. Right? So if everything looks like when the restaurant is open and then it’s not open, that’s a recipe for extinction, frustration, whatever you want to call it.

So my idea with this dog was, first, what if we just– what if the mat goes completely away and the treat pouch goes completely away and we take those antecedents out of the picture? Does a guest still set the occasion for barking?

And the answer was yes, probably because the mat– most people don’t leave their mat and their treat pouch out all the time and she probably went and got them when she needed them.

Hannah Branigan: Oh, I see what you’re saying. So you’re saying that the guest arrives, the dog barks, she goes to get the mat.

Kiki Yablon: She goes, “Oh, should have had the mat out!” you know?

Hannah Branigan: So the guest arriving still cued the barking because the [00:09:00] mat wasn’t cuing the barking, the barking was cuing the mat.

Kiki Yablon: This is speculation, but yeah. 

Hannah Branigan: I like this story! Let’s run with it. This is true as far as we can know.

Kiki Yablon: I did not investigate that hard. I just tried taking the treats and the mat and putting them in another room and having me be there and the dog still barked.

So then I had the idea, Okay, so if you can’t change or get rid of the antecedents that were cuing the problem behavior, what if you add some new signal into the environment for a new set of rules to get attached to? So like I put this sign up and when the sign is up, you learn “I can’t open the door.” And so pretty quickly you’re going to be like, “Okay, when the blue triangle is in the door, that means I cannot open the door and I won’t even bother trying.”

That’s also [00:10:00] called an S-delta. It’s an antecedent signal that means there’s not reinforcement available. It’s not going to work now.

But it’s a little bit more than an S-delta in this case. So what we used was a towel on the doorknob, sort of a, “If this van’s a rockin don’t come a knockin sign,” like the tie on the doorknob of the dorm room or whatever. 

Hannah Branigan: I mean, I wouldn’t know, but I’ve heard.

Kiki Yablon: And then what I did instead of just making it like “If this towel is up on the doorknob, then barking is just not going to work for you,” I ran what’s called a DRO, or Differential Reinforcement of Other behavior program.

What that looks like– it’s often misinterpreted as something where you reinforce a lot of other specific behaviors. But actually DRO [00:11:00] is time based. It just means that you reinforce after the absence of problem behavior for a certain amount of time. And so it’s kind of a cruddy procedure generally because it doesn’t reinforce any particular behavior, so it can be kind of slow. It’s called a reinforcement procedure, but there may be a number of reasons besides reinforcement that it works. It could be extinction. It could be that when there’s a signal that means the timer gets reset because the problem behavior happened, that becomes like a conditioned punisher. It could be that other behaviors that happened to be occurring when the timer goes off and the dog had successfully met the time criterion could be reinforcing just whatever’s happening at that time.

Hannah Branigan: I could see that being crazy making for me. Like [00:12:00] if I were to just, “Why did I get reinforced this time?” Because, consciously or unconsciously, you’re bumping around in the world trying to figure out how to access your reinforcers and if there’s no pattern emerging, you become weird.

Kiki Yablon: It can also work on satiation. If your criteria is really low at the beginning, then you keep getting treats, probably more treats than you were getting otherwise, then by the end of a session, you might be full or not want a treat anymore.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. You’re not likely to do barking because barking was in order to access treats. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, basically, if you look at the literature on DRO, it’s thought that almost any principle could be in play. So it’s a little messy. The advantages to it, I think, are that it’s relatively easy to run. Although if you look at the literature, there’s people who are [00:13:00] saying like, “DRO is problematic because it’s too labor-intensive” and other people saying “DRO is good because it’s easy.” Like you don’t have to have an eye for a particular behavior. You don’t have to be paying too much attention. You just, the timer goes off and if the thing hasn’t happened, you feed the dog.

And there’s also like other versions of DRO that we don’t need to really get into where you don’t even pay attention to the behavior. At the time the timer goes off, if the behavior isn’t happening, you reinforce. And I think that’s really confusing.

Hannah Branigan: I think that’s probably what we end up doing a lot of the time. Like, whenever we’re applying the, “Well, I’m going to wait him out until he stops barking” or fill in the blank, the thing, and then we reward that moment. And in my experience, we end up capturing a wide range of things. That may or may not be helpful.

Kiki Yablon: Susan Friedman said something really– Not the [00:14:00] client I was just talking about, but another client where I use something similar, I presented a case study on that at Clicker Expo as part of one of Susan’s presentations at the first online Clicker Expo. Somebody asked a question about “Does this use extinction?” Susan chimed in and said, “Basically DRO without any extinction is basically a non-contingent reinforcement. It’s just time based feeding.”

So not all differential reinforcement procedures need to use extinction. That used to be part of the definition and it’s not anymore. You can reinforce one problem behavior, less than the other behavior, with lower value reinforcers or whatever, but DRO is not really– 

Hannah Branigan: [00:15:00] So when we’re saying we don’t need extinction, the difference would be– Do we need to let the problem behavior happen and not be reinforced so that it can extinguish or can we just not include letting the problem behavior happen and we can do other things to effectively build reinforcement history for another behavior or any other behavior or like it maybe it gets reinforced less. But it’s the trying it out, expecting reinforcement and not getting reinforcement, that would be the extinction. 

Kiki Yablon: So I think it’s kind of an open question whether DRO with no extinction (a) is DRO or something else or (b) if it works. There’s also some evidence that DRO is like slower than just straight up extinction.

With the dog I first did this with, [00:16:00] the rule was not just the DRO either. So the rule was like, “If the dog does anything other than barking for–” I think the initial criteria I tried was like 20 seconds and that was way too long. So we brought it down to 10, I think, to start with. And the way to figure that out, which I did not do in that case, would be to take a baseline and you could set the criteria slightly below the average amount of time that the dog went without barking already. But I just did it by feel and was wrong.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, again, realistic how a lot of us do things.

Kiki Yablon: I think we brought it down to 10 seconds pretty quickly. During that time, when the towel was up, there was another contingency running too, which was, “If you come near a person, they will offer you petting.” [00:17:00]

I didn’t want the dog to just be like roaming around being like, “Why is everyone completely ignoring me?” I wanted to basically be able to say like, “Some things are available right now, but food is just not one of them.”

And part of the reason I use DRO rather than requiring like the dog lay on a mat for three seconds or whatever to get the reinforcer – which was bringing out the mat, by the way. That’s what we use to reinforce X seconds of quiet is that she would bring the mat out and do it like a minute of mat training. I forgot to say that.

So the setup was:
– The towel goes up
– Timer is set for whatever the time criterion is right now
– 10 seconds elapse without barking
– The towel comes off the doorknob
– We bring the mat out and we do a minute of mat training, totally [00:18:00] arbitrary number.

And then we would do another rep. And then if he met criterion three times in a row (also arbitrary), then we would go up by some small increment: five seconds, three seconds, whatever. Initially. Later, as the dog starts to get it, you can make bigger leaps. Once you get into the minutes, it generally goes pretty quick.

Hannah Branigan: My personal experience is the same with these kinds of things.

Kiki Yablon: And then also petting was available. He could also jump up on the couch and sit next to his mom and get petted by her. He could leave the room, which he never did to my recollection.

Hannah Branigan: Did he have like toys available around, or? 

Kiki Yablon: I think there were some toys out. I can’t remember if there were toys. It wasn’t part of my plan, but it’s possible there were [00:19:00] toys out or it’s possible I’m forgetting that there might have been a reason. They had two dogs so there might have been a reason that there weren’t certain things out. I’d have to go look back at the case files. It was like 2019.

So he was able to make good progress within one session. And then again, really fantastic, sharp client ran with it and reported back that they had had a guest over for the first time in forever without him barking and then they didn’t even really need the towel anymore. I think probably other things about the situation started to– 

Hannah Branigan: Isn’t that so fun? I get very excited when they put it together and like they’re coming in contact with these other reinforcers that are available. 

Kiki Yablon: You can just chill. There is no food and there’s not going to be food, but you [00:20:00] can get petting and other stuff that you like. You can hang out with us.

Hannah Branigan: You have other options. Like you can be more flexible here.

Kiki Yablon: Then the next client that I did it with was after COVID hit. And that’s the one I presented on at Clicker Expo. The problem was barking at the people when they were trying to have a Zoom call, which all of a sudden, like that’s primarily how they were working or one of the guardians was working at home in a very small apartment and it just wasn’t possible to like put this dog like in another room. Either he didn’t have the skills to be confined to a bedroom comfortably. He had learned that barking on Zoom, same thing, got them to bring the mat out [00:21:00] and stuff.

In this case, I take responsibility for that because I had taught them that previously when I worked with them a few years earlier or whatever, like that’s the solution we give people. That’s the solution that they’re going to use next time. And if we’re lucky, then they generalize it to other situations. So that’s why I think it’s worth being careful about what we recommend for this when it’s a one-off problem. 

Similar thing with them. I did the sessions with them and it took like four Zoom sessions to get him up to five minutes and beyond.

And that one was interesting because initially I assessed that what was happening when he did that with them– I should say also that they had tried ignoring him and when they ignored him, he would [00:22:00] do things like start pulling all the cushions off the couch. 

Hannah Branigan: Yes, I know this dog. I mean, I don’t know that dog, but I know this dog.

Kiki Yablon: The situation happens when the dog maybe has learned that reinforcement is available in this picture and then maybe you’re doing what your trainer told you – not dissing anybody else, me, your trainer – told you and you’re reinforcing your dog with food on the mat. And then you get busy actually talking to the person on Zoom and your dog goes, “Hey, hey! You forgot about me! What do I need to do?” and they get frustrated because their rate of reinforcement plummets. And then the person is in a negative reinforcement contingency where they need to silence the dog instantly and they will do anything to make it happen so they will go, “Excuse me a second” and go out and get the dog a bully stick or whatever. It’s really common. We’ve all been there. And it just starts to [00:23:00] create this cycle where we try to ignore, we try to ignore, we get unignorable behavior, and that’s what we reinforce.

Hannah Branigan: I mean, that’s one of my problems, like just the problems that I’ve experienced with– I think it can apply to a punishment scenario as well, where maybe that behavior doesn’t work, but it leaves the vacuum. If I haven’t pre-programmed other things to fill that space, I have no control over how that space gets filled. And it may be filled with something worse than the original behavior I was trying to get rid of, like destruction of property. 

Kiki Yablon: Absolutely. So an inconsistent, intermittent schedule– basically an intermittent or random schedule of either reinforcement or punishment– Because an intermittent schedule of punishment is essentially an intermittent schedule of [00:24:00] reinforcement. If you don’t punish every time, then probably some of those are getting reinforced in some way. 

Hannah Branigan: Well, if it’s continuing, it’s being reinforced in some way in principle.

Kiki Yablon: Exactly. So with that dog, initially, the reinforcer for X seconds of quiet was a minute of mat training. And then he started to not want to lay down on the mat. So we switched reinforcers to a throwing a ball, which was a skill that he only recently had been able to use because one of the things we worked on with him was guarding the ball. We had taught him to drop and trade for another ball or whatever, drop the ball to get another ball thrown.

We switched reinforcers midstream to, “Well, do you want to play? If you’re quiet for X [00:25:00] amount of time, you can play. We can play ball for a little while.”

It was really interesting, because the first rep after we put the ball away – like we’ve reinforced with the ball and then put the ball away and there was like an extinction burst. We had like regression right after the switch in reinforcers. And then it went back. The introduction of that reinforcer as a possibility brought up probably behaviors that have worked in the past, I guess.

Hannah Branigan: You changed the whole contingency by swapping out the reinforcer. That’s really interesting. I wonder if someone might explain that as, “Oh, when you’re throwing the ball, he was aroused.” How would you explain the change?

Kiki Yablon: I don’t know exactly what [00:26:00] his history was. They had thrown a ball for him before, but then they had stopped to work on the drop thing. So it could just be behavior that has produced– He’s barked to get ball throws before. When you put the ball in the antecedent condition, then it’s going to help evoke behaviors that have been reinforced before in the presence of a ball. If I remember right, this was like a situation where the ball gets kept in a closet because it’s exciting. Again, I should have brought up all these case files.

Hannah Branigan: It was 2019. We were all different people. I don’t remember– We all have like a three to five year gap in our memory and existence. [00:27:00] 

Kiki Yablon: I could be misremembering that that was the case with him, but he really liked a ball. They had stopped going to dog parks because if there’s like a stray ball around, he would lose his mind. He would guard it from people and other dogs. What was really interesting with him is that when we got up into the minutes, he started just going over to a bed that was there and laying on it. And it wasn’t because he had been laying on the bed at some point when the timer went off. It wasn’t like a accidental reinforcement by the DRO process. I think it was just that bed was there and became–

Hannah Branigan: He just made himself comfortable since he’s going to be here a while.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, basically. Like it might even be somewhat of a predisposition, like a species typical behavior that when there’s no [00:28:00] reinforcement available, maybe you go conserve energy.

Like a lot of ethology, that’s just like, “Sounds logical.” It’s a good guess about what might be beneficial to the species. I have no idea.

So that’s where I got the idea for the thesis. And also, I got the idea for the thesis because necessity is the mother of invention and I had a whole other thesis ready to run when lockdown happened and in person research got shut down. So I had to come up with something that I could do over Zoom. So I thought about what I had done with that client and decided to examine that procedure.

There are a couple of other things I like about using this signal. One is that my hope– And my thesis does not demonstrate this. It was not designed to test this fully. Just want to say that this is still just a guess. [00:29:00] My hope is that using that signal protects the training from inconsistencies that happen between training sessions. So my goal was if you don’t have that towel on the doorknob or you don’t have, in the other case, it was a scarf over a chair, if that’s not there and you need to muddle through, go ahead. Do what you need to do to survive. This isn’t trained up to for an hour Zoom call yet. So if you are going to be on Zoom for an hour, don’t use this signal. Use this to protect your training. And it’s almost like a cue for the person, what the rules are for the person as well as what the rules are for the dog. 

Hannah Branigan: I think I found that myself with my own training – not a scarf on a chair – and then also with my my students. Okay, if I [00:30:00] put my treat pouch on and I have a clicker in my hand, I’ve put on a suit. I’m a different– I’m a dog trainer now. And when I’m trying to unload the dishwasher, I’m not always a dog trainer right then. So it cues my behavior as much as it cues the dog’s. 

Kiki Yablon: Right. And like many things, that can be used for good or evil. You don’t want– There’s some things that you don’t want to have to have your treat pouch on for your dog to respond to. Like all your sports things. But there are other things where it’s really beneficial to have really tight stimulus control like that. You make a container for it.

So people can muddle through when they’re not, but then when the thing is there, the rule is in effect.

And another thing I thought about was, “How would I do this if I had a kid that I needed to not bother me for 20 minutes while I was [00:31:00] on a phone call?”

And that’s part of why I chose DRO, even though it’s kind of a cruddy procedure. I think there are other choices you could make for the same reason, but whatever. I picked DRO partially because I felt like if it was a kid, I wouldn’t be like, “I need you to not bother me on the phone. So I’m going to have you do a single alternative behavior of sitting on a stool.” Like that would be gross.

Hannah Branigan: My initial response just then was “Good luck with that.”

I have a sign that you can’t see, but it gets hung on my door when I’m recording. And it literally says “Recording! Do Not Enter Unless Bleeding Or On Fire!” And before I put that up, I say, “You’ve got your crafts. You can watch a documentary–” That’s her thing. Like I’m not forcing her to watch a documentary, but she loves to watch documentaries, so I [00:32:00] use that. Why not? She has three or four different things that are set up for her that she knows she can do and we run through it before I close the door and I hang the sign up.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was after. The difference with kids or typically developing kids is that you can state a rule, right? You can tell them what the contingency is. That’s what a rule is. It’s a statement of a contingency. 

Hannah Branigan: I would question the value of that just in a day to day basis.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, well.

Hannah Branigan: Because I also feel like it should be very valuable. In my lived experiences, it’s not as valuable as we would like to think. 

Kiki Yablon: Statements of contingency can be pretty weak in terms of their control over behavior, but it is one of the things that a lot of humans can [00:33:00] do, is learn without direct experience because someone told you what the contingency would be. So I haven’t murdered anybody, [trailing off tone implying “but I know there would be consequences if I did].

Hannah Branigan: That would be a lot of effort anyways. It’s just lack of work ethic. That’s the main reason. 

Kiki Yablon: I know that if I speed past a speed camera and I know that, well, actually I do know it from experience.

Hannah Branigan: I have tested that contingency personally.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah.So I wanted the dog to be able to do whatever. Not just sit in one place. The thing is though, with kids, you can tell them what’s available or you can lay out what’s available, I guess. For dogs, you can’t really convey the rule verbally, so they sort of need to learn through [00:34:00] experience “what does this signal mean.”

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. We can set out invitations for the dogs, like the bed is available, the toys are available, sort of Montessori style. 

Kiki Yablon: Yes. We just can’t tell them, “I’m going to be on the phone, so your options are this and not this.”

Hannah Branigan: “I’m going to be recording, don’t knock when you get here, just walk on in.”

Kiki Yablon: I do think of the signal is a signal for a set of rules. And then I’m going to teach you what those rules are by arranging the environment as opposed to just telling you about it, which would probably be more effective for children too. The thing is that there just aren’t as many options for a lot of dogs, like a lot of the things that we– The kid has crafts and an iPad and a [00:35:00] documentary and TV and books and video games and stuff like that. A lot of our dogs have food toys, and now in the COVID environment– So maybe when you had one conference call a week or something, and your dog can just eat a frozen Kong through that. But when you’re working on Zoom like eight hours a day, like most dogs are not going to be able to just eat their way through it. 

Hannah Branigan: I mean, I did try to eat my way through COVID. I’m not going to say it worked for me, but.

Kiki Yablon: I think what dogs do– A lot of dogs don’t play with toys if nobody’s there to play with them. So, I think good options are like to come to your side and get petted under the desk or to go lay [00:36:00] down, probably. So in the future, before I started a thing like this, I might focus on teaching the dog first, like, “When I’m at my desk, I will pet you,” like “when I’m not on Zoom, come and get petting from me.”

And so I didn’t do this for my thesis, but this is something that doing my thesis made me think about, was like maybe you want to pre-install some of the behaviors. So like maybe I put the towel out and then I immediately offer petting under my desk and then we put it away and we leave or different ways to sort of pre-teach what you want to happen under that signal. But I did not do that for my thesis.

So for the thesis, I recruited four dogs that were described as persistently barking at their caregivers [00:37:00] when their caregivers were on Zoom.

And I landed with three subjects, which for those listening who are not familiar with how behavior analysis studies are designed, four is a perfectly good number of subjects for what’s called a “within subjects design.” So it’s not a comparison between two groups where you can end up comparing the average of one group to the average of another group. Each little study of one individual is supposed to be designed to have internal validity, meaning good demonstration of cause and effect that intervention is causing the effect for that individual. And then you get external validity through replicating it with a second and a third. 

Hannah Branigan: So if we were to compare it: You’re not looking at the percentage of the population that’s [00:38:00] allergic to this particular medication. You’re asking the question, “Is this particular medication causing your personal symptoms?”

Kiki Yablon: Yes. It’s a different question. So the gold standard is to be able to turn the behavior on and off within the same subject, like if you put your intervention in and the behavior changes. But a lot of things complicate that, like sometimes learning is not reversible and in those cases you can get some additional validity through replicating with other subjects with, say, a staggered baseline, like everybody starts at baseline, then you put the intervention in on one, the other ones stay at baseline, and if you see across three different subjects or three different settings or three different behaviors, that the behavior doesn’t change until the intervention is put in, that can give you some confidence that it’s the intervention that’s [00:39:00] causing the behavior change as opposed to like the puppy maturing or something that happened in the world around all three dogs or whatever.

Hannah Branigan: So if you give up dairy and your adult acne clears up and then you start eating dairy again and it comes back and then you give it up again and it goes away.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. That’s pretty convincing for that one individual. And then if you have a second individual. And you can show the same thing and you third individual and you can show the same thing – so over time you can build up generality of your findings. But a lot of us, when we’re working with dogs in our client’s home or whatever, we don’t really care what the average dog does. We care what this dog does. 

Hannah Branigan: I feel like I’ve personally been in the like “less than 6 percent” of whatever the population is for anything. I’m like, “It sounds great that that works for 79 percent of people. I’m never going to be in that 79 percent [00:40:00] for whatever the question is being asked.”

What’s in it for me? And you know, what’s going to work for this dog?

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, that’s really what we care about, but it’s nice to know that it works a lot. It gives you a sense of where to start.

The other thing is that if single subject design doesn’t work for one dog, there’s a reason. It’s not due to chance or whatever. There’s some other variable that you didn’t control for or that’s that’s influencing that individual behavior or something in the way you’re doing the intervention with that one or whatever. So behavior analysis designs have a lot of stuff built in for that too. Like flexibility and like, “Okay, you can just change what you’re doing for one subject” or based [00:41:00] on the data that you’re getting, you can go like, “Oh, this isn’t working for them. What did we miss?” And then you can go back and try to figure that out anyway.

So recruited these three subjects. Two were professional trainers, full or part time, and then one was like an enthusiast, someone who does activities with their dog and has multiple dogs and stuff like that.

And the first thing I did was interview them and sort of get a rough idea. And it sure seemed like, yes, the dogs were barking a lot while we were trying to talk on Zoom. So I interviewed them without the dogs in the room and then I had them bring the dogs in and talk to me and the dogs were very barky. But I wanted to kind of test if it was– I wanted to make sure that Zoom was really the antecedent. And I wanted to have a pre test for each dog [00:42:00] where, “Okay, so if our goal is that the person can talk on Zoom for five minutes without attending to the dog or feeding the dog or whatever, what do we have now?” So, bring the dog in, set the timer for five minutes, person sits down, starts talking to me. I recorded it and I went back and actually measured the durations of quiet.

Which I have to say, don’t recommend. It was a real bitch. Just like scrolling, scrolling the timer on QuickTime, like back and forth. Like, “Is it two seconds? Is it one second? Like, when did this barking actually start?” Horrible.

But my measure was duration of quiet. That was the dependent variable. For that baseline, I also had them take food [00:43:00] out of the environment. So if they normally had like a bucket of treats on their desk that they were using or a mat, like all that was out of the picture, because that’s the picture I wanted at the end.

And for one of the dogs, when there was no food on the desk, there was no barking. And then I reversed that twice. Well, I reversed it. Put the food in, kept everything else the same. He came in, did some chuffing around, and then ran through some other behaviors. When there was no food, he just curled up and laid down for the whole five minutes. When there was food, he sat up straight, laid down like with his chin on the ground, backed up, then started barking. And then I took the food back out, no barking.

So we decided to keep them in the study, but we changed it so [00:44:00] the antecedent condition wasn’t “dog on Zoom.” It was the caregiver like eating a snack, because if the caregiver had her own food, this also happened – like a bowl of popcorn or any kind of food. Like they basically crated the dog when they wanted to eat. Which is a totally fine, totally fine solution. But, you know, it’s nice to have flexibility.

So, yeah, then the other two didn’t matter if there was food out or not. Barking still happened as soon as they sat down and started talking on Zoom.

Then I also did a short functional analysis of just one hypothesized problem condition, which was the owner eating or person talking on Zoom. And then I had two conditions where either when the dog barked, [00:45:00] they immediately were fed one piece of food and that was the test condition. So like if he gets one piece of food every time he barks, does the barking go up over at least three reps, like we did three of those conditions, alternating with a control condition where the dog got food at about the same rate, but not contingent on barking. So just like every two seconds, they fed a piece of food. And food was at least a reinforcer for all of the dogs in that case. And then anecdotally, like how we usually do functional assessment in dog training, what they described doing when the dog barked when they’re on Zoom was either cuing them to do something and then feeding them or just feeding them. Or getting up and getting them a puzzle, refilling a puzzle toy–

Hannah Branigan: Refilling the Kong or getting a chewy, yeah.

Kiki Yablon: So then [00:46:00] I did the DRO with all three dogs. The baseline criterion was I think three or four seconds for all of them, and that was based on how long they were quiet during the pretest.

I had some pretty rigid rules for how to raise criteria, which I think were too rigid. I’d never done it that rigidly with clients. Like if I saw that it seems like the dog’s getting a little frustrated, then I might change temporarily. Like, “let’s lower the criteria” or whatever. But because it was my first time doing research and I was very concerned about experimental control, like about the procedure being something that you could replicate, I kept it pretty strict.

I think the dog had to go through more extinction than maybe they [00:47:00] needed to. It was basically like if they get it right three to five times in a row– It was three to five because the particular design I was using, varying the phase lengths is part of the experimental control to show that the criteria is controlling the behavior. So three to five times getting it right or maybe two to five times getting right, then we would raise criteria. And they always had to reach the criterion. If they had resets of the timer on their way to meeting the criterion, then I would lower it the next time.

And this is one of those questions that we were talking about later, where if someone asked me, “Well, why did you do that?” And I would be like, “I don’t know. I’m not sure why I picked that.”

Hannah Branigan: No, it’s hard. It’s really hard! I have a lot of sympathy, because when I’m trying to write instructions – or God forbid, a book, which now you can’t change because it’s on paper – and they’re like, “Well, how many [00:48:00] times should I do that? And how will I know?” And I’ll be like, “Oh, I don’t know.” And I’ll watch videos of myself training, and I can see myself making changes in the moment based on what I’m seeing, but trying to figure out how to articulate what I’m aware of that I’m responding to to make that whole decision tree of when to do what? That’s really hard!

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, I always have trouble sticking exactly to protocols And I think that’s why, is because you really need to respond to the animal in front of you in the moment.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah! You have to taste it and then you’re like, “You know, I think it needs a little more salt.”

Kiki Yablon: Even though you put in the amount that the recipe said, there’s that particular tomato is not very acidic or whatever.

So I did stick to that and I think that made the procedure a bit more clunky than it could be in real life. But also raised some [00:49:00] interesting questions for me. A lot of behavior analysis studies, if they use shaping – which I would argue that this was sort of a form of shaping – it’s like, “Okay, can you be quiet for this long? Can you be quiet for this long? Can you be quiet for this long?” Approximations towards your goal. A lot of the studies that use shaping will just say “and the behavior was taught by shaping” and then they go on to say whatever they did with behavior.

And shaping is very hard to represent experimentally. It’s very hard to quantify it to demonstrate experimental control. And some people have tried! There was a guy that wrote a paper about shaping by mathematical– But you have to make decisions based on the data. The data that you’re making decisions on is the last rep. You don’t have time to like go record it, look at a graph, and then make your decision for the next repetition. Like you should be changing your behavior repetition by [00:50:00] repetition.

And most of us animal trainers, when we’re shaping, we’re looking at our target behavior, but we’re also looking at a bunch of auxiliary behaviors. Are we starting to see cheek puffing? Are we seeing other measures besides frequency, like are we seeing latency? Is he taking treats a lot harder? And things that we would call emotional behaviors. So it was a good opportunity to think about some of those things and how you might account for them in an experiment.

Anyway, so the upshot was that it was successful. Two of the three dogs got to five minutes of quiet within I think it was about eight sessions and the sessions were between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on sort of the duration that we were working on – basically that [00:51:00] made the sessions longer.

And then after that I made a rookie error and I think I did my conditions in a stupid order. I took it to a different environment, so I tested generalization first. And I think that was a problem because I wanted to see if the five minutes generalized. So we went to a different setting for each dog, like a different room in the house. Kept the criterion at five minutes. So, like, the dog might be quiet for two minutes, but then bark and then the timer would get reset. So what you should do in that situation is re-teach it quickly to see if you can teach it more quickly in the new environment.

Hannah Branigan: So like they were doing it like in their bedroom and then they went into the living room or like they were in the kitchen–  [00:52:00] 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. One of the dogs, the dog that was barking because food was in the environment, got it. They got up to five minutes pretty after a few reps in the kitchen, but we didn’t keep going really. I think it got to five and then had like one like lesser rep and then I was like, “Okay, let’s quit doing this now.”

And then the other dog did better in the new setting than they originally did. They did better than baseline in the new setting, but didn’t get the five minutes.

The other problem with that is that I did not test how they did in those [environments]. So that’s kind of a flaw that I thought of afterwards.

So we did generalization in a new setting and then I did a post test. So back in the original setting, [00:53:00] without the scarf, without the signal in the environment, how did they do there? And my goal there was to see if the signal had attained control over the behavior or not, but it’s not a complete test of that.

So for the dog that where food was the antecedent, the behavior continued to look great without the signal in the environment, which doesn’t mean that the signal didn’t help. It may just mean that something else acquired stimulus control. Basically there was a cue transfer. 

Hannah Branigan: So you had it set up where they hung a scarf on the chair and for X number of seconds, no barking happened. And then the scarf comes off the chair and they [00:54:00] get rewarded.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. They would get back on. She would get the food out of a drawer on her desk and– Oh no, sorry, she was eating food. So that was in the antecedent condition for her. She was just holding a bowl of snacks and eating the snacks. Yeah. Rough participation in science. And then when the timer went off, she would take the scarf off the chair and she would turn to him and she would give him X pieces of her food. And the number of pieces of her food that he got increased with the time requirement. So it went from like five pieces of food to like twenty pieces of food for five minutes. And again, arbitrary. Arbitrary number.

And there’s some interesting research that I found later about how you might determine how to increase the food with the– like basically making a unit price. Like per unit of behavior, you get X pieces of food. [00:55:00] For the dog, where the Zoom was the thing, the conditions without the scarf, it kind of went back to baseline. Interesting. Went down pretty low.

Hannah Branigan: So they started barking again if the scarf wasn’t there?

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, more barking. And then I, and then I put the scarf back in for that dog and performance was slightly better. It took like 6 trials and then he hit like 250 seconds, which is, what is that, 3 minutes? 3 minutes ish? 4 minutes ish? My math is terrible. Please don’t ask me that right now. I mean, 300 seconds is five minutes. [00:56:00] He looks like he got up to around 250 pretty quick when the scarf got put back in.

And then we did another generalization thing for him in a different environment because the first generalization thing for him got messed up because there was stuff out the window that he was barking at. So barking, but a different antecedent and there’s some barking. And he actually generalized more quickly in the home office setting, which was the second generalization setting.

And then for both dogs, we did a maintenance test. So two weeks after we were had done the last session, I just came back to them for one session and we put the scarf up and did the thing in the original setting. They both did better than in baseline – or in the pre-test; [00:57:00] it’s not really “baseline.” 

And the dog who was barking for food did amazing. Like just came in and nailed it.

The other interesting thing was that the dogs, again, tended to lie down, to go lie down. 

Hannah Branigan: So that is interesting. I’m always curious to know what happens, like what else is happening. There’s the thing you’re measuring, but then what is happening that’s not being measured directly when you’re looking at stuff.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. And the food dog went and laid down on a dog bed that had been there the whole time. And never got accidentally reinforced, just like at a certain point, the dog was just like, “Meh, might as well.”

I should also talk about the dog that didn’t work for. So that dog, the vocalizations were [00:58:00] less barking and more sort of whining. Which, for one thing, made it harder to measure. It was really difficult to measure the quiet part. So the dog that it didn’t work for– The other two dogs basically, the owners, when they were managing the situation by like putting the dog away or going somewhere else to do their Zoom work, like a rented studio. 


Hannah Branigan: I have an important question for you. Are you in the Ken Ramirez fan club? Okay, I know that’s a silly question because of course you are. We all are. All the cool kids approach their most perplexing training problems with the question, What Would Ken Do? WWKD.

So you might be looking for another opportunity to hear Ken talk about things like improving stimulus control in the real world through [00:59:00] generalization and desensitization, which is something I’m very interested in. Or maybe an always-sexy topic, aggression treatment comparing the most modern tools and strategies.

In which case, you’ll be very interested to know that he will be presenting at this year’s MET Conference along with other familiar names like Simon Prins, the author of Dog Training Decoded and Victoria Stilwell, who needs no introduction, and maybe some less familiar names to most Americans, like veterinarian and dog trainer Veronika Uhlířová, who will teach us about taking care of our dog’s musculoskeletal system, and veterinarian Jana Radošovská, who will teach us about dental health. And also someone named Hannah Branigan, who’s apparently planning to ramble on about reinforcement and building motivation in dogs that you might consider to “lack drive,” if you’re into that kind of thing.

So MET stands for Modern Ethical Dog Training, and this is the fourth year they’ll be holding it. It is entirely virtual, and yes, it will [01:00:00] be recorded. One of the things I like about this conference is there’s always time for live questions from the audience. This conference is approved for CEUs for both IAABC, and CCPDT, and you can find out more by going to their website,, or of course, click the link in the show notes.

[episode resumes]

Kiki Yablon: For the other dog, this person didn’t need to be on Zoom quite as often, I think, like wasn’t on Zoom all day. What this person did to manage Zoom calls was an array of food toys, puzzle toys, snuffle mats for like an hour at a time. And this person also does amazing freestyle training and stuff with the dog.

And one thing I noticed – this is just a total guess, but on one of the videos that I saw of them working together that didn’t have music [01:01:00] over it, the dog does some of these vocalizations sort of in training. 

Hannah Branigan: And this dog was whining rather than barking?

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, their vocalizations were more on the spectrum or more towards whining than barking. And we were counting all vocalizations. It wasn’t just barking. Actually, we were looking at all vocalizations. So I wondered if– And I’m not saying that’s a problem that it was happening during training. It clearly was not a problem for this team. But what I thought is that it might have been kind of baked into a lot of different situations, including a lot of situations where a novel prop was introduced. Like, “Okay, today we’re gonna go around a hat and I’m gonna put this new thing in the environment and [01:02:00] whatever we do together.”

Hannah Branigan: “Oh, we’re doing training now. This is what we do when we do training. We do this.”

Kiki Yablon: And so I just think it might– And that made me think of Michaela Hempen, who was on your podcast talking about her thing and she was talking about cribbing horses. Some of the cribbing was like baked into the eating process and some of it happened when the horse was under stressful conditions or whatever, and that that was easier to work out then the cribbing that was like part of the eating behavior if I remember right from how she talked about it. So so that’s one guess.

We also had a lot of technical issues working over Zoom with that one, like sometimes the earbuds were working and sometimes they weren’t, so I feel like the antecedent environment got a little bit mushy. So I have some [01:03:00] ideas about what might have gone wrong there, but I didn’t test them out, so I can’t say for sure.

Hannah Branigan: That’s a hard, whining, just in my experience working with vocalization as a problem in training. One of the things I ran into with the personal dog of mine that forced me to learn how to work with these kinds of behaviors– One of the problems that I had was that really what I was calling “vocalization” was too– I was leaving out– Like her breath would change, the way she was breathing would change and she would go from normal breathing to like different breathing to like supersonic high-pitched whining monkey noises to actual whining to then barking. And when I was looking at barking, I would never get rid of it because that whole group of behaviors was really what was being reinforced. So then I went to the [01:04:00] whining and then I went to the monkey noise. I finally only got ahold of it when I paid attention to the changing of the way she was breathing as things would start to fall apart. And that was the only time when I finally started seeing consistency in the impact that I was making. 

Kiki Yablon: I was just thinking about that the other day because a lot of times, when teaching the KPA exercise, the default stand, when people are first starting out with that, they’ll try and try to build duration. They’ll wait, and then the dog starts to like shift their weight backward because they’ve been like, click, click, click. And you basically are shaping sitting or backing up.

Hannah Branigan: I taught one of my horses to be a rocking horse in exactly that way. It’s actually really remarkable how far back he can shift, slide back and come forward and slide back [01:05:00] and come forward. And I bought that and paid for it. And now I live with it. At some point, I’ll have to do something about it.

Kiki Yablon: So when I talk about this – and I’m still reluctant to talk about it at some point because it was a master’s thesis and I made a lot of mistakes. But as you and I were talking about earlier, that’s kind of the point of a master’s level thesis is to learn from your mistakes and be able to identify them and come up with ideas for future research.

Hannah Branigan: I mean, that rather is the scientific process in general, right? Like there’s no way to have the PERFECT, all capital letters, because we can only ever draw. Like, there’s always gonna be limited in scope and so you just ask more questions and then what you get from that, you ask more questions. Like, that’s just what we’ve been doing for centuries and longer.

But [01:06:00] I get what you’re saying. We’re clumsy at first.

Kiki Yablon: Yes. And this study, it doesn’t demonstrate that the signal was important. It doesn’t strongly demonstrate that the signal was important. The fact that the signal wasn’t Necessary for the behavior to maintain, to me, doesn’t necessarily mean the signal wasn’t helpful either, particularly because, given that it was an experiment, the procedure was very ritualized. The one where the scarf didn’t matter anymore in the post-test was– She sat down, she opened a drawer, she got her food out, she closed the drawer. She held the food in the same place every time. 

Hannah Branigan: She was not looking at the dog, then she was looking at the dog. 

Kiki Yablon: Other thoughts [01:07:00] about this: Is eight hours of training a lot for this? Is it inefficient? Or is it pretty good? I don’t know the answer to that either. I’ve had it brought up that a timeout might be more efficient and effective. That may be the case, but I think that it probably depends a lot on the individual, how long they’ve been practicing the behavior, how diligently this person has tried to ignore and then ended up reinforcing big bursts and things like that.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. And I would also think, so we’re saying timeout, just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing. I think timeout, we’re talking about like getting up, removing the dog from the room, closing the door every time they bark, or maybe you get up and leave the room and close the door, or there’s different ways you’re separating the dog from access to you contingent [01:08:00] on barking. With the idea of you’re moving them from access to reinforcement. So it may be a negative punisher if it influenced the behavior. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. And so I think there’s a lot of questions I would ask. One of which is what does timeout look like? Because timeout is supposed to be a negative reinforcement contingency, but if you are going and grabbing a dog and hauling them down to the bathroom or whatever to do your timeout, that’s probably a positive punisher that’s happening before.

Hannah Branigan: Having been hauled out of church by my arm, yes, that was.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, there’s more immediate consequences involved. If you’ve nicely taught your dog that you taking their collar is a good thing, is there an immediate conditioned positive reinforcer there? [01:09:00] You could leave, but I think the problem there– so even with a timeout contingency like that in a situation like barking on Zoom, I would still probably think about using a signal around the training. Because there are gonna be times where you’re on Zoom and you can’t just get up and take your dog out. Right? 

Hannah Branigan: Right. You’re in the middle of your part of the presentation and you can’t just stop.

Kiki Yablon: You can’t do something with your dog. You can’t take your dog out and you can’t leave. And that’s gonna end up being an intermittent schedule of punishment / reinforcement. I’m probably gonna stick you right back where you were or make the behavior worse. And then there’s the question of, I mean, eight sessions with me costs a lot of money, so I would like to find a way to make this faster. [01:10:00] But I also think it’s a procedure that you could learn and then do with– like you could call your mom instead. I have one client where we did something like this and her goal was actually to talk to her mom on the phone. It wasn’t Zoom, it was just that she had regular calls with her mom and the dog would bark. And we taught that dog that like a blanket on the floor meant petting was available and food wasn’t. Without the DRO, actually. It was just “this means petting is available and food isn’t.” And that actually went really fast.

Hannah Branigan: And I have to wonder, thinking about the parallels with being interrupted by a child when you’re trying to get something done– because I had the same problem trying to work full time while also parenting full time without support during the pandemic. The fact that I was just physically and cognitively damaged by that experience. [01:11:00] 

But a big part of what determines success, that I would think would have to be very applicable here as well, is the how many and what kinds of other reinforcements are available and how strong are those behaviors and how clear are those, the variety of it. That’s part of it that I always think about when we’re trying to eliminate a problem behavior, is what else–

So we used to think like, “Oh, we’ll teach the alternate behavior.” And then I would pour a lot of psychological cognitive effort into trying to identify the perfect alternate behavior. What is The Correct Behavior? The One Right Behavior to replace this thing that I would like to stop happening. And I’ve kind of let that go. That’s been part of my journey. There’s many right behaviors. And then I kind of moved to like, “actually having multiple right behaviors is even better [01:12:00] than picking one right behavior because now we have some flexibility.” And that seems to give me just anecdotally faster, better efficacy like you were talking about before with making sure that there’s like pre-programmed experience with doing whatever that thing is, petting on a blanket or playing with that other toy or whatever, separately.

Kiki Yablon: In the presence of the antecedent conditions or the signal that you’re adding to your antecedent conditions.

Hannah Branigan: Right. So having those and having those be very strong and then having like more of a menu of options that are all pretty good options that can compete more effectively with the thing I’m trying to reduce or eliminate.

There’s a lot of pieces. If you were to do that exact thing in a really sterile– a vet exam room where it’s like, you’ve got two folding [01:13:00] chairs and a tile floor and there’s nothing else to do other than sit there and mentally try to remember what your credit card limit really is. 

Kiki Yablon: It’s usually what you’re doing there. 

Hannah Branigan: So there’s not a lot of– you don’t have a lot of other options. I mean, as a person, I’ve got my phone and I’m scrolling, checking my limits, but my dog is like looking at the door and looking at me and panting. And there’s not a lot of other options. Versus provide like a Chuck E. Cheese kind of environment, you could play video games or you could do ball pit or you can eat snacks – there’s lots of things that aren’t pestering me. 

Kiki Yablon: And I think also– I mean, you see all this stuff on the memes, like “dogs need X amount of sleep or rest per [01:14:00] day” and different from, theoretically different from what humans need. Although it seems pretty similar to what I would like. Yeah, my preferred state. So maybe rest is a– I think rest / relaxation is a real rich area for exploration. Like if that’s kind of the behavior or the category of behavior that we want in these situations, what does that mean? What are the naturally occurring reinforcers for that behavior? 

Hannah Branigan: Why do we sit down on the couch and curl up? Like, why do we do those things?

Kiki Yablon: Because I think a lot of times, we talk casually about teaching relaxation with food. [01:15:00] And I do think that sometimes we do. But I think it may be more– This is just total spitballing. Don’t anybody go quote me on this, but I wonder– Let me put it that way. I wonder if it’s more that with some dogs, the food or the delivery of the food induces relaxed behavior, like it’s an antecedent for relaxing, whatever relaxing looks like: breathing slower, getting blinky, like lying on your side, starting to fall asleep. And while with other dogs, because of either their predispositions or their reinforcement history, their learning history, food is an antecedent for things that would compete with those desired behaviors. 

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, [01:16:00] like behaviors that are mutually exclusive to the ones that we would label as relaxation. I mean, like my dogs don’t get reward– The priority behaviors that I’m teaching, especially early on, there’s movement, there’s feet off the ground, there’s running back and forth and targeting and a lot of active behaviors that are the opposite of what my dogs are doing right now, which is curled up in comfortable locations.

I’ve had that same thought as well. This is what we do when food’s around. We do these things.

Kiki Yablon: And for that reason, uh, during the experiment, the trainers did not have food on their workspaces. The participants did not have food on their workspaces. When it was time to deliver the food, they went and got it out of like a cabinet or something. Like I took food out of the antecedent picture while the time requirement was in place. It only came out in the [01:17:00] consequence position.

But once food is– It’s sort of like that ball I was talking about for the case study dog. The first time you bring the ball out and then you put it away, now it’s still an antecedent. And that may be an argument for trying something that doesn’t involve reps. I don’t know. This is all new. I’ve never said that out loud before. It just occurred to me, so I don’t have to think about it, but you know, when we do reps, whatever we did in the reinforcement position is now in the antecedent for the next behavior.

Hannah Branigan: Because we’ve got the loop, the behavior cycle, the end of the reinforcement becomes part of the cue for the next behavior. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, for sure.

Hannah Branigan: Okay, so we were touching on something– So I [01:18:00] let my Patreon folks know we were going to be having this conversation to see if they had any questions or anything they wanted us to work into the conversations. And so I think we almost started to talk about it and then we got sidetracked into something else. Several of them had questions that kind of come down to this idea that, “Well, if the dog is demand barking, they’re demand barking because they need something, they want something.” And one of the strategies or pieces of advice I think that’s been floating around a lot is to make sure that your dog has everything that they need first. At one point it was, “Oh, well, you have to exercise your dog more. A tired dog is a good dog, so you have to take him for a walk. And if they’re still doing the irritating thing, if they’re still barking, walk them for two hours, walk them for eight hours, walk them for seven days without a break and then they’ll eventually stop barking.” Which, I mean, in my opinion, we increase cardiovascular fitness, and then it just becomes– [01:19:00] we just have to go further.

But, but I think the same idea we’ve kind of extended to “do they need something else, do they need enrichment, do they need this or that?” Which I think has, at least in my case, has led me down a path of doing some of what you were describing as like the before condition where I’ve got the snuffle mat and I’ve got the stuffed food toys and we’ve done a training session and an exercise side. We’ve gone hiking, we’ve gone on the sniff walk, we did, we did an agility session, we did an obedience session, and now you have your toys and I’ve got the mat out and I’m being a Very Good Dog Trainer. with capital letters.

And it’s not better. So what– I don’t know, I’m not coming up to an actual question this way. But just the idea that like we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do and it’s still happening. What is the piece of needs are met before [01:20:00] we do this kind of session?

Kiki Yablon: Well, I made myself crazy with that last summer. So last summer I had just finished defending my thesis and this friend of mine whose family has like places in Maine said, “Hey, I know you don’t do– This isn’t the thing that you do with dogs, but my sister is looking for a dog sitter for a big chunk of August for two Portuguese Water Dogs and it’s a beautiful place on the water” and stuff and I was like, “Yes, that sounds like a great thing to do the month after I defend” and I went there planning like, “Okay, I’m going to use this time to make my Clicker Expo presentations.”

And when I got there, one of the dogs– I would sit down on my computer in the beautiful living room overlooking the water and [01:21:00] one of the dogs would start going around to all the windows and barking out the windows. And there wasn’t anybody out there. Sometimes there was and then it felt different. I filmed him doing it so I could not look at him and still watch him. And he would like bark out the window, and then he would kind of look at me like, “Huh? Did you see that one?” And so when I talked to the caregiver, she said that what she would usually do at that point would be to get him something to play with. And there was like kind of a complicated situation because he couldn’t just have toys out because he had ingested pieces of toys before, so he had to be supervised with toys. So I couldn’t just give him something to play with and then go do my work.

And then there was also another dog who, after a while of the first dog barking on the windows, she would start to desperately try to engage him in play, I think. So it was very hard to do work. And [01:22:00] even with who I am, my first thing was started to think, “Okay, what did Portuguese water dogs need?” And I mean, I was walking them. It was like a full time job. Like I get up in the morning and we’d go walk for an hour. We go into town and they get to smell all kinds of stuff. Then I come home, they had breakfast, we did some play. Then I would try and sit down, and this would happen. And then in the afternoon, I would take them to this like insane thousand acre off leash dog park (on long lines, because they weren’t my dogs) and they would get to go swimming, maybe they need more swimming because they’re water dogs. And just on and on!

And then I was like, “Okay, dummy, let’s take a step back here. It’s probably the environment.”

So I asked myself the question that I find super useful from the [01:23:00] constructional questionnaire, which is “Where does this not happen?” Where does the dog do what I would like, which is pass out or just lay around? And one was, if you put his leash on, he was less likely to do this. Just dragging a leash around.

And then the other was, there was a very nice basement. It was not like “you lock him in the cellar.” And I think that in the past they had been crated in the basement when people weren’t around or something, but there weren’t any crates down there. I just went down in the basement where it was like a media center and it’s a finished fancy basement, like a family room, not a dungeon.

So I went down there. I took one chew toy for the younger dog, like a Nylabone for the younger dog went down there and I would go down there [01:24:00] and in five minutes they would pass out and they would sleep for like three hours. So, basically, I removed the windows – which again, I don’t think he was barking at things that he saw out the windows, it’s just the presence of the windows was the opportunity to bark to get toys. Went in the basement, got tons of work done and then like took them out, enjoyed the nature and the water and everything afterward. Probably less distracting for me too. “You’re welcome.”

But the difference was striking and I was like, “Okay, I didn’t do anything different in terms of meeting needs.” I just changed the conditions to someplace that doesn’t signal the opportunity to get reinforced for barking. So I do [01:25:00] think sometimes– There’s definitely times where we didn’t get their walk in. Or like my dog Finn was on restricted activity for three weeks or whatever, and was a little like, “What the hell!” But don’t discount stimulus control. 

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, it goes a long way. I think about that a lot because I think about– My dogs have taught me so much, but they’ve just showed me at different times things like I’ve– We have a lot of conversations, especially in the sport dog world about like, “Oh, dogs need to have an off switch,” and like many constructs, not everyone agrees with what that looks like or what it means. If we were gonna go with, “when I’m not paying attention to them and there’s nothing in particular going on, they’ll find somewhere and lay down,” for me, that’s functionally [01:26:00] what I need to have in order to enjoy a lifestyle with dogs so that I can go out and do the hiking and do the fun stuff with them. I need them when I’m not doing that – if I’m cooking dinner or going to the bathroom or working so I can pay for their organic food and their chiropractic, et cetera – I need them to chill out.

And people will say like, “Oh, I could never have a border collie or fill in the blank breed that I have that I have or have had because they’re just so high energy. I need dogs to have an off switch.” And I’m like, “Well, this dog – n of one, right? Small population sample. This particular dog is one of the best dogs that I have for finding somewhere to lay down when I’m busy doing stuff and it’s not dependent on whether or not we’ve been herding that day or I’ve gone for a hike that day. It depends on if I’m sitting down and I’m doing something and I’m presenting the picture. There’s never been reinforcement associated with this picture. Not those kinds of reinforcers, [01:27:00] not the kind I can control.” Versus if I go and stand in the front yard, you’ll see a totally different dog.

So I think about that a lot, like, “Oh, do I really want to bring a lot of food into the living room TV watching picture in the first place? Do I want to bring a ball into that?” Because I’ve also had the dog that when you sit down to watch a show, you get a ball in your lap and then you throw the ball and then the ball gets placed in your lap and you throw the ball and the ball gets placed in your lap. And if you ignore it, they like poke the ball that’s in your lap until they like regrip against your thigh.

Kiki Yablon: Or worse. Right. Exactly. 

Hannah Branigan: And I hated that. Once we got to that point where I was having my leg regripped and there was barking in that as well. And then just by default, I fell into, “I’m just going to put the toys away when I want to watch TV and I don’t want to do this” and then of course without toys that behavior didn’t [01:28:00] happen. Then it evolved with future dogs to “I don’t ever throw toys when I’m watching TV” because I had the habit of sticking all the toys in a bin before I sat down if I knew I wanted to be still for a little while and then all these generations of dogs since then, that hasn’t come up.

But I absolutely– If I stand up and pick up a frisbee or a ball, I can still get those same sets of behaviors.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. Sarah Owings, I think, has a lot of great thoughts on this, like clear cues, because she was forced to really clarify everything for Tucker. People want to go look up – she’s got a lot of stuff on Vimeo about it.

I’ve given that advice before with people who have puppies. It’s like, decide what it is that you want to do in each room of your house. [01:29:00] Yes, you want your dog to respond to the sit cue or whatever in all the rooms, but like, do you want to play tug while you’re watching TV or do you want the only reinforcers that are available in the TV room to be like petting and the occasional piece of popcorn if you’re already settled.

And I think like Emily Larlham’s stuff about how she thinks about teaching calm behavior around food first and foremost, like it’s the first thing on her list. I think that’s really smart.

The room that I’m in now, my previous dog, Pigeon – I never used this room until I started grad school in 2018. And then I came back here to what was like the repository of unwanted furniture and would sit on the bed in here and just like head in my computer. Pigeon would occasionally [01:30:00] come back here like “We don’t do anything in this room. What are you doing?” And then she would see that I was on the computer, which was already like, I’m very good at tuning everything out. She would come in here and be like, “Nah, she’s on the computer and just like boring when she does that.”

And then COVID hit and I was like, “Uh, I need you to come in here and do training.” And she initially was like, “What?” 

Hannah Branigan: Isn’t that fascinating? 

Kiki Yablon: “I don’t eat in here.” Um, and so then I was like, “Okay, what is a signal to her to eat?” And so I started like having her sit on the mat by me when I needed her to demo and then she developed a very, very slight whining behavior occasionally. But never turned into anything that was like super annoying. Then what I learned to do is if I was not going to be– Basically if the [01:31:00] welcome mat was out, right, food was available. And if the mat wasn’t out, then food wasn’t available. And she would like kind of look in here and be like, “Bummer.”

And that was like one of the first things that made me really start thinking about like, “Well, what am I teaching? What am I teaching people when we go train in the living room with food” or whatever. Like, maybe you want to map out carefully what you want each room to tell your dog to do. Like we do with sleep hygiene. 

Hannah Branigan: Ohh, don’t threaten me with sleep hygiene – I have some anger around that! But I get what you mean.

Kiki Yablon: Like the advice to not have all your toys in your room and your TV in your room and stuff.

Hannah Branigan: What about the pile of clean laundry that you intended to fold, but now it’s 10:00pm and it’s still not folded, so you just kind of [01:32:00] crawl underneath the covers.

Kiki Yablon: I’m sorry, I believe that belongs on the treadmill. 

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. So the advice that your bedroom should only be for sleeping or sex. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. 

Hannah Branigan: No TVs– And I think about that too. And then I also think about like, as someone who lives in a small house, every room has to be multi-purpose.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. So then you need some other way to signal.

Hannah Branigan: And I think also part of it is– I extend this beyond like rooms in the house, but just training with a young dog in general, I think about training with flexibility in mind from the beginning so that I don’t– I try really hard– Inevitably some pattern emerges that I’m unaware of. And the reason I find out there’s a pattern there is because I get stuck on something. But trying to train and specifically avoid [01:33:00] rigid repetition in any one way so that I’m never too far down a path before I realize I need to make a correction, like a course correction. And I have more options, more paths are there.

So if I am going to do training in the living room, I do things like I don’t ever sit on the sofa and do training. I sit on the floor, but that’s not because I’m thinking, “Oh, I’ve fully thought out this whole training plan. And I want to make certain that the cue of sitting on the sofa is preserved.” It’s because what I’m trying to train my dog to do is logistically served by me sitting on the floor, but it turns out to be that way. If I sit on the floor, we’re training and they’ll pester me. And if I get up and go sit on the sofa, they look and they’ll all kind of go, “All right.” And they go lay down.

But then it ends up being a thing because in a couple of weeks, I’m going to sit on the floor and try [01:34:00] to wrap Christmas presents and I’m going to have all kinds of dogs up in my face, “helping.” “What is this? Do you want me to bring this? What are you– Is that a toy? Should I interact with this? Is this it?”

And like, AAH! And then I’ll remember, “Oh, normally when I sit on the floor here, we’re doing a training and I might have put some random item for you to interact with in some way.” So yeah, it’s not about training problems. Like that’s not something I need advice for how to fix this. I can also go to the dining room table if I were to clear the mail off of it 

Kiki Yablon: And go to the basement.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, go to the basement.

Let’s assume that one was answered. So Ellen asked a really good question. I’m going to actually read hers.

I’d be interested to hear observations about how demand barking spreads between antecedents or maybe how to make that not happen. (So kind of on topic for what we’re just talking about.) I’ve been too nervous to teach my dog to bark on cue because he has generalized tricks as “demand behaviors” before. Chin rest gets me every [01:35:00] time. 

Kiki Yablon: I also an a sucker for a chin rest.

Hannah Branigan: And I can totally envision him being an incorrigible demand barker. I know the answer is probably stimulus control, but truthfully, I don’t know what that would actually look like.

So I love that question because that encapsulates what we were just talking about.

Kiki Yablon: What stimulus control looks like is that a behavior becomes more likely in the presence of the stimulus as an antecedent and less likely in its absence and the way that you get that to happen is by what you reinforce in the presence of that stimulus and what you reinforce in its absence. So I think whether–

There’s two behaviors that I am careful about teaching clients to do. One of them is [01:36:00] barking on cue, and the other is shake or paw. Because if you’re not attentive to what you’re reinforcing, then I think that you can get that antecedent spread where, when the dog wants any old thing, they paw you, even if you’re not offering your hand, or they bark at you if– I don’t know. I think probably putting barking on cue is less dangerous than shake.

Hannah Branigan: It’s an interesting question because I definitely know what she’s referring to because my dogs will do this. Like if they want something, they’re going to cycle through previously trained behaviors and then eventually tip into whatever their extinction looks like.

Dogs kind of have, I don’t know, their personal [01:37:00] extinction variations. And for many of the dogs that are in my house, barking tends to be high on that list, but it doesn’t have to be. But like the chin rest is one. And I like that. And this is where I guess it’s just a labeling issue because I consider that a request behavior, which is just a different word for the same thing. The barking could also be called a request behavior as a more polite version instead of demand barking. We call it that because it’s irritating and chin rests are adorable. And I love that if I’m eating something or my dogs want my attention and I’m doing something, they’ll chin rest on me if they can reach me (which is adorable). And if they can’t reach me, they’ll chin rest near me or in my general direction. So they’ll chin rest like whatever surface they can access that is oriented towards me. And then they’ll cut the eye and they’ll give me the Significant Eyes. And I’ll say, “Aren’t you cute?” And they’ll look towards whatever the thing is that they want. And I love that. Because I think that’s one of the most politest [01:38:00] adorablest ways to make a request.

But they will totally cycle through other things. And that’ll get me – especially in a training session, right? Like I’m slow with making an adjustment that I should have made and the result is I’m getting 30 different behaviors which were never put under stimulus control. And they’re all being thrown at me at the same time while I’m like, “Oh, I need to get myself out of this before I dig a hole.”

And I’ll see, similar, they’ll offer, “Then could it be this, you love it when I do this, you love it when I do that.” But the barking in particular is interesting because of the way we teach barking when we’re teaching it as a trick and there’s more than one way to teach it–

Kiki Yablon: Capture it offered. 

Hannah Branigan: And it’s often captured as part of a frustration / extinction situation. Like a lot of times, the way that we’re taught to teach is that you put the dog behind a barrier and tease him with a toy and when he barks, you click and treat. But then part of the challenge there is the [01:39:00] topography of the bark changes once you bring the food in.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. Pigeon used to go “hufffff. arf.” Yeah, exactly. 

Hannah Branigan: It’s a totally different bark. And it’s actually harder to get the bark back for a while because like a lot of dogs will go like “pfff” or “huffff” and it’s a totally different bark. It’s very quiet. 

Kiki Yablon: Like trying to laugh on cue.

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, exactly. And different behavior. I’ve always found that to be challenging – not insurmountable, obviously, but it’s part of that process. So that’s very interesting. It’s an interesting question to me.

Of my dogs that I’ve taught to bark on cue for different reasons and how I’ve taught them and has that influenced the behaviors that show up when I’m trying to do work? I don’t have an answer for that.

Kiki Yablon: I put it on cue with Pigeon and I did not notice like barking more for [01:40:00] stuff, but that’s probably also because I reinforced lots of other ways of asking for things. And I do. 

Hannah Branigan: That’s my answer to a lot of these kinds of questions.

Kiki Yablon: Also I was like sitting down facing my computer. Like she didn’t start barking at me from the side of the chair. The cue’s different. I didn’t teach her to– I didn’t generalize barking on her. This was her cue. Like I didn’t give her that cue ever. I don’t think sitting like this, I was usually probably standing or sitting facing her, looking at her.

I think the– let me let you finish and then I have something else to say about the antecedent spread. 

Hannah Branigan: Well, I was just thinking that I guess part or maybe most of the answer is going to be to not do the generalization steps that I would do if I did want the behavior to show [01:41:00] up, like there’s a lot of behaviors that I do exactly that: I turn, I changed my body position. I’ll turn sideways because I want to make sure that I don’t have to be looking right at you with eye contact. I don’t have to be standing a certain way. I can be turned sideways to you. I can have my head and you can see the side of my head. You can see the back of my head and you can still find your way to heel position, um, no matter what picture looks like.

And for something like that, I didn’t want to show up in other situations. I would just like mostly not.  I would keep it more structured and rigid. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. I also think before I get back to the antecedent thing, I think the glib answer is “don’t reinforce it when you didn’t cue it.” But barking is one of those behaviors that is just– It comes very naturally. It comes with the dog package, like that’s how dogs vocalize. And [01:42:00] before you ever teach your dog to bark on a cue, there are tons of other cues for barking already. So if you’ve taught your dog to bark on cue, then you probably taught them to do that specific kind of bark that you’ve taught them to do, the kind of bark that you reinforce, which ends up being sort of a different behavior. Your dog may bark at other times; it may have nothing to do with the fact that you turned barking into a trick. Like substitute the word talking.

Hannah Branigan: Barking is a lot of different behaviors.

Kiki Yablon: It just happens to have a lot of different functions and a lot of different situations where it is likely to be the behavior of choice. I guess I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

Hannah Branigan: I don’t. I mean, that’s my conclusion: I’m not gonna worry about it too much. And I guess what I would think [01:43:00] about is like, I think back to the original description of generalization, the process of generalization with pigeons and the lights and they pecked on the yellow light or whatever. And then the closer to yellow the color of the light was, the more pecking happened. And then I would expect something similar here. The closer it looked like the picture under which that behavior had been reinforced, the more likely I’m probably going to see the barking and the further away that it looked, the less likely I’m going to see the barking. Still other barking might happen, barking at the window, barking at the UPS guy, barking at another dog, like lots of things could happen and they’re not related. 

I just had a thought– 

Kiki Yablon: This is the topography function discussion. Barking, barking in this situation, barking in this situation, barking in this situation, they’re in the same class [01:44:00] topography-wise. They look similar, right? But the function– We tend to categorize, behavior by what outcome it produces, then this barking and this barking are different behaviors in different categories. 

Hannah Branigan: And I feel like if we were to ask the dogs – which we can’t but if we could – I feel like they would say, “those aren’t the same behavior.”

Kiki Yablon: Yeah! “Over here I said, ‘screw you, Tony,’ and over there it’s just laughing.”

Hannah Branigan: I do think of like– I have heard the, “Oh, you shouldn’t teach your dog to bark, especially if they’re a reactive dog, because you’ll just make them bark more at other dogs.” And I’ve never found that to be the case. I also haven’t found teaching them to bark on cue for food to have any impact on barking at other dogs, like other kinds of barking. I think they’re just really different behaviors, functionally, so they’re just not, they’re just not connected.

Kiki Yablon: Now, if you [01:45:00] don’t put it on cue well, then you might increase barking for food.

Hannah Branigan: Oh, that’s where I was, that was a thought I had. I was thinking the other part of the problem with, “Oh, just don’t reward it when you haven’t cued it.” I think that would work great if we were always fully aware of exactly what we were cuing and like what the cues were. And that is usually not the case.

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. And that brings me to the next thing I think, which is that we often talk about in training like “the cue,” but there is never just “the cue.” There’s always context. And when you do positive reinforcement training, a big part of your context often is the presence of food, so food in the environment.

Hannah Branigan: Food in the environment and all the things you did like when you were cutting up the treats or you went to the cabinet and you got out a bag and you [01:46:00] did certain teasings of like, “Oh, we’re about to do a training session.” Those are all parts of it. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. So I think, in general, our food is an antecedent for a huge functional category of behavior. Our dogs have a wide variety of topographies of behavior, forms of behavior that they use for the same purpose, which is food. And we increase the number of behaviors they do for food when we capture behaviors that they were doing for some other reason – like their legs were tired, so they sat, and then we click and treat.

And when you put food in the environment and then are unclear in some way, then you get to see your learner’s history of behaviors that were reinforced with food. And barking is inevitably one of those. And does that mean that I won’t do a treat scatter if my dog is [01:47:00] barking? Like, yeah, I’ll do a treat scatter to stop some barking in the moment. But then I am going to think a little bit about how next time I can get that treat scatter in for just looking.

I think there was one other question that might segue into about this. I think there was a category of questions about like, “Well, what do you do in the moment when the only options are all sort of bad.”

Hannah Branigan: Right. When you’re stuck in a conflict where the dog is barking and you can’t do it. You can’t live with it right then, you can’t ignore it right then. And so you’re having to choose between– 

Kiki Yablon: Or you or you could ignore it, but yeah, you know– 

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. So here’s one of the questions.

So, as an example, if your young dog is demand barking to get out of a crate, you can’t instantly convert that dog into being better crate trained. [01:48:00] So in the interim, how do you navigate between the need to avoid reinforcing the barking by letting the dog out of the crate versus the need to avoid leaving the dog to just bark it out while inside the crate?

It’s hard to negotiate training theory versus day to day realities, I agree. And also I would add to that– They’re barking in the crate, but also sometimes I have places to be, like I gotta get my kid to school and I don’t have time to wait for the dog to stop barking or whatever the thing is – I’ve just got to get on with life. Like we’ve just gotta do these things so that we can keep going. So I think there’s a lot of situations where it can feel sticky there. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, this is the muddle-through thing that I was referring to before. So what I’m going to say is not always what I practice, but it’s what I think I should practice, but then sometimes my Puritan side or whatever kicks in.

If the dog is doing something you don’t want in the [01:49:00] moment, you have no perfect options, right? Your options are punishment, if you control the reinforcer then extinction, ignoring, or redirection. And what I think that we should probably be doing, but sometimes I chicken out about, is just redirecting as quickly as possible. Get the dog – and this comes from listening to you and Eva and Emelie talking about in a sports context, like just get the dog back to a place where they can do it right, where they can do something to get reinforcement.

But the problem I see when I give that advice alone is that people redirect over and over and over and over again without changing. So you do it once and then you fix something. Change your setup or whatever.

Hannah Branigan: [01:50:00] My thoughts on that are the same. Well, my first thought that I have that I’ve come to with regards to the majority of problem behaviors– I don’t know if I’m comfortable saying “all” here, but I’m going to say most of the ones that I can think of off the top of my head right now – if doing the behavior a little bit is bad, doing it for a long duration is much worse. So if it’s an unavoidable thing that I’m going to end up reinforcing this particular behavior, and I think crate barking is probably a really good example of that. At some point, that dog has to come out of the crate. So somewhere it’s going to happen. So I am better served to reinforce the least amount of that behavior than to actually wait and end up reinforcing a huge chunk of it.

Because what often happens is you try to ignore it, you try to wait it out and then you can’t because you’re out of time or you’re out of patience [01:51:00] or whatever.

Kiki Yablon: You’re out of eviction notices. Right. 

Hannah Branigan: So you end up rewarding it and then the next time, “Well, this time I’m really going to wait.”

It’s like trying to teach shaping. And people know you’re going to look and watch and wait for the dog to do something and so you wait and you wait and you wait and the dog looks at you and you look at the dog and then finally you give up and you lure. And then “this time I’m going to really wait” and so you wait a little longer and you finally give up and lure. And that’s how we shape duration.

And I think that is how I have gotten into trouble with a number of behavior problems that I tried to do the best that I could. And like Catherine’s question, life got in the way, like just the reality of trying to be a person and not like having competing priorities.

Kiki Yablon: I think that’s part of the argument for putting a signal in front of your training.

Hannah Branigan: Having some way to differentiate between when I’m able to be perfect.

Kiki Yablon: Protecting your training until it is big and strong enough that you can then [01:52:00] transfer– like use a signal that you can then put in the problem environment and then start looking for like what in the problem environment can take over.

So I think there has to be like a way to let people muddle through. Nobody who lives with a dog or a child or a partner or whatever 24/7 has perfect interactions every time. That’s what living with another being is like. And you decide what can you cope with and what do you really need to change?

I have a dog right now who I’ve barely done any training with because he’s basically my little dream guy and does– Like I was talking to Emelie earlier and she said that you have a movie trailer in your head of what your dog is going to be [01:53:00] like. And he’s like my movie trailer dog 99% of the time. And then he barks at the mailman and I haven’t done anything about it. I’m like the “thank you for barking lady” and I have not lifted a finger.

Hannah Branigan: And I will say that it would only matter if it’s something that bothers you.

Kiki Yablon: It bothers me. But it’s five seconds a day.

Hannah Branigan: So it doesn’t bother you that much. It doesn’t bother me enough. You know, it’s for the same reason. Have you tried yelling, “knock it off?”

Kiki Yablon: Uh, yes. Not in those words, but.

Hannah Branigan: Well, that’s okay. That’s all I got. [laughter]

Kiki Yablon: Yes, of course I have. And as has the person in my house who’s not a dog trainer. But it’s like why people don’t work on nail trims or vet visit stuff. That happens like once a year and you just kind of [01:54:00] go, “Oh, okay.” 

Hannah Branigan: I think there’s a lot of situations like what’s being described here, because we’re always– In trying to deal with an imperfect world, there’s always a certain amount of unpredictability and inevitably you’re trying to– You end up needing to do some husbandry or grooming or medical procedure with an animal that you you’ve not yet fully prepared for that thing. Like sometimes we have it in advance and we can work up to it, but usually that does not seem to happen very often for me. Even knowing what I know, it’s like I’ll be halfway through establishing something and “Oh great, I guess we’re doing eye drops for the next 10 days. Hadn’t trained eyedrops. I’ve been real worried about nail trimming. So I guess we’ll throw out nail trimming and we’ll try to work on eyedrops, but I can’t take two weeks to train eyedrop behavior with the dog that has an ulcer. So I’ve got to do the eyedrops.”

And so I think about, was it Jesus Rosalez-Ruiz that was talking about putting on like the Spider Man suit? If you have to just get– [01:55:00] 

Kiki Yablon: I think he said that and then Ken has something similar, the hat. Just make it look totally different. At Natural Encounters, they have like a bad guy. So if a bird needs to be like toweled and whisked away and they don’t want to ruin the relationship with the trainer, there’s like a guy, there’s a bad guy. 

Hannah Branigan: And I’ve done similar things. So I have a thing for when I have a baby dog at my house and baby dogs are going to need – especially with the lifestyle that I live – they’re going to need a bath before I have trained bathing. They are going to roll in shit or otherwise end up with substances that need to be removed for hygiene reasons, not cosmetic reasons. And I bathe them in a different bathroom than where the no-choice bathroom. Again, [01:56:00] part of it sounds like, “Oh, I’ve done all this planning.” No, it emerged originally because that’s the more convenient because I can lift them up over it when they’re little and I’m not going to lift an adult dog. And also I don’t need to. So that just worked out well. And then it turned out, “Oh, they hate this bathroom, but it gives me time to train the other bathroom so we’re okay. We can wash you in the utility sink.”

Kiki Yablon: And of course there’s a chance that the dog won’t pick up on those differences. And the main thing will be it’s you and that will be an insurmountable problem. There’s always a chance of something like that happening, but you can increase your chances a little. 

Hannah Branigan: Yeah. Hedge your bets, I guess to a certain extent.

Cool. Well, I think we hit the mink. We covered, in some way at some point, all of the questions. And this is really interesting. It’s definitely given me a lot of things to think about [01:57:00] in terms of barking, but I mean, bigger than that, right? Like problem behaviors in general, and then also just behaviors in general.

Kiki Yablon: And like thinking a little harder about antecedents. You tend to think a lot about reinforcing the behavior and like getting into like treat escalation patterns. Like “This isn’t working. Let’s try this. Okay. This isn’t working. Let’s try chicken. Chicken’s not working. Let’s try a squeeze tube.” And instead, like, can we go back and change the harness the dog is wearing? Teach them to eat a treat that is convenient to–

Hannah Branigan: Yeah, it is easy to get a little just psychologically stuck and have a hard time looking right or left when you’re like “This is what it has to be. I have to be able to do it like this.” 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. And I’m not saying I [01:58:00] never do that. I definitely– It’s okay. Let’s use chicken. 

Hannah Branigan: Right. No, I got it. That’s what I was thinking. That’s the sort of thing that’s easy for me to point out to you watching your training and then I’m going to need you to point it out to me watching my training. Do you have to put the harness on that way? Could you just sit down when you do it? Or like, does it have to be– What if you just had the Velcro already done up and he just put his head through it like a turtleneck? There’s things that don’t feel obvious when you’re the one doing it that are easy to see from the outside.

Kiki Yablon: I only have three sessions with this person, so I’m going to bust out the chicken. Like we don’t have– I’m not going to be given the opportunity to teach this dog a whole new eating pattern and and the chicken is working. So like there’s best practice and then there’s “it’s reality” sometimes, so there’s getting by. 

Hannah Branigan: And I love your– I don’t know that I would have thought to notice when the leash was on your portuguese water dog that the [01:59:00] barking didn’t happen as much, but that’s such an important thing–

Kiki Yablon: I want to know why! Although I actually know that some of the dogs training history and he worked with like a good positive reinforcement trainer back at home. So I have no idea why. We don’t necessarily need to know why.

Hannah Branigan: Oh, so I didn’t even put that together. Like, I guess they could have corrected him for the barking with the leash on. I wasn’t even thinking about that. I was thinking, “Oh, they probably put the leash on when they were getting ready to go for a walk. So he didn’t need to bark at the window because he was about to go for a walk.” Cause they like snapped the leash on and then went to go get their coat and put their shoes on and then they went out for the walk and the behavior that emerged with the leash on was just something else. 

Kiki Yablon: It’s also possible that maybe dragging around is slightly aversive, makes going to the window more costly. But I actually didn’t use that very much because it was sort of weird. And I just went in the basement– the basement, [02:00:00] much clearer effect. Going in the basement was like within five minutes they were stretched out. 

Hannah Branigan: And I didn’t mean to like get too overly focused on that particular detail. It was just as you were going through the process of where didn’t it happen, “well, these are the conditions where I happen to have noticed” and that’s a question I need to ask myself more often to get to the bottom of how to set up my training session moving forward.

Again, easy for me to do for other people, not always easy for me to remind myself to do. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah. Much, much easier. What is it? “Better coach than player.” 

Hannah Branigan: That’s most days.

Yes. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for hanging out! This was a really, really interesting conversation. 

Kiki Yablon: Yeah, thanks for having me!


Hannah Branigan: Thanks for listening. If you liked this episode, well, you have good taste and I hope you’ll hit the subscribe button on your podcast app to make sure you don’t miss the next episode. It might be even better than this one. If you are already [02:01:00] subscribed, well, thank you. I really appreciate it. And there are still some ways that you could reinforce me if you were so inclined. You could always leave me a five-star review on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to be listening to this podcast. And you can also check out and support the sponsors because they help make the podcast possible. You can find links and information about them and the other things that we’ve talked about in this episode by going to the show notes, which can be found at

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