So maybe you are new to clicker training and you keep hearing people talking about lumping and how bad it is. Be a splitter, not a lumper, they say. You have a vague idea about it but maybe aren’t exactly sure what they mean except that lumping is bad.
Or maybe you are a teacher and you would like a really clear example of lumping vs splitting to show your students.
Do I have a video for you!
For the verbal types: splitting is to look for and reinforce small steps in the right direction. Lumping is skipping the small increments and hoping that the whole perfect behavior will somehow still appear.* But having said that, to a newbie that’s still a little confusing. What do the increments look like? What really happens if you lump and you are sitting there hoping? Is there fallout?
This video shows the second training session wherein I am teaching Zani to nose target a piece of duct tape on the wall. This can be the predecessor to other behaviors such as pushing an object around or closing a cabinet door, or even teaching “go outs,” an obedience behavior where the dog runs out away from you on cue and stops when you say so. The behavior is also useful just to give the dog some exercise: run them out to a spot, then call them back.
Zani already knows how to nose target my hand, my foot, and various objects I am holding in my hand, but I have never taught her to target a spot on the wall. We are following the directions in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels, Level 2 Target Step 4. The increments are as follows:
- nose touch my palm
- touch the piece of tape in my palm
- touch the piece of tape on my fingertips
- keep touching the tape on my fingertips while I move my hand in increments towards the wall
- touch the tape on my fingertips while my hand is flat against the wall
- (handler quickly sticks tape on the wall while the dog is getting the treat)
- touch the tape on the wall
I skipped #4 and #5 and you can see what happened.
I wish I could say that I planned this so as to gift the world with a movie. Not so. This is what my dogs have to put up with from me a lot of the time. But I know I’m not the only one. Lumping is incredibly seductive. The backstory is that we had practiced this behavior the very day before, and I had gotten Zani successfully touching the tape on the wall. So today, I decided to be a good girl and start from the beginning again with touches to the tape in my hand to remind her what we were doing. Then the little lumping devil came and sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear: “She gets it. You don’t need to do that silly ‘getting closer and closer to the wall’ stuff! Just go for it!” I did, and you can see what happened.
The training session took four minutes. It’s pretty clear that if I had just done the increments to the wall in the first place, we would have gotten to our goal faster than when I tried to skip stuff. That’s why people say, “Slow is fast.” More importantly, I would have avoided getting my dog irritated with me. (Isn’t she cute?) But seriously, as I say in the video, lumping creates fallout for the dog, then for the handler. If Zani weren’t pretty seasoned at our training games, she could easily have given up when I suddenly made things too hard. That’s how lots of people come to say, “I tried clicker training but it didn’t work,” or “My dog just sits there.”
Got any good lumping stories? What did your dog do? How did you apologize?
*Note: I would have bet that Bob Bailey invented the terms. But I looked it up and the earliest usage of “splitters and lumpers” dates to Charles Darwin, on the topic of species classification. He wrote in 1857, “Those who make many species are the ‘splitters,’ and those who make few are the ‘lumpers.'”
Discussions coming soon:
- Superstitious behaviors (almost done!)
- “Errorless learning”
- Dogs enjoying petting
- Comparing licking and tongue flick behaviors
- Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
- Feral Clara
Zani has learned the behavior very nicely despite my errors. You can read about it and see a short video here.