I am a Humane Hierarchy trainer. That is the name of the roadmap I use to make ethical choices about the training methods I use. I’m going to describe the method in this post.
(Humane Hierarchy Part 2, which is now also published, comprises real world examples of all the methods in the Hierarchy.)
I don’t call myself a clicker trainer, although I have used one, nor do I call myself a force-free trainer, although that is certainly a goal, nor do I call myself “all positive,” since that could include positive reinforcement and punishment both. I do use the first two terms, along with several others, to refer casually to trainers who use those names and have similar goals to mine.
But the Humane Hierarchy is a concept I love, and a name I take on for myself comfortably and with pride. And I was born a non-conformist, and throw off labels as fast as anyone can put them on me. But this one I’ll take. Because it’s a non-label of a label. You’ll see.
Susan Friedman, PhD, published “What’s Wrong with this Picture: When Effectiveness is Not Enough” in 2008, and in that article proposed the Humane Hierarchy. The article is about incorporating ethics into the choices we make when training animals, rather than considering only “what works.”
I have written about Dr. Friedman frequently. She is a behavior analyst and strong proponent of humane, ethical treatment of all animals. Here is my review of her course on Living and Learning with Animals, and here is her website, Behaviorworks.org. Be sure and check the free articles.
The Humane Hierarchy is not a set of rules. It is a general ranking of training methods, starting with the least intrusive for the animal and ending with the most intrusive. Least intrusive is defined as the procedure that leaves the animal with the most control over its outcomes. Any person who uses the Hierarchy as a guideline must inform herself about the species of animal she is working with and carefully observe the behavior of the individual animal, because different animals will respond differently to different methods.
Dr. Friedman takes behavioral intervention seriously. It is a large responsibility to intervene in the behavior of an animal, and her approach directs the user to consider the animal first: its needs, wants, likes and dislikes. What does the animal want, and how can we figure out if there is an acceptable method for it to get it? It’s only fair, since in all cases we are the ones with the keys to the cabinet, the cage, the car. But that’s a pretty radical concept for a lot of people.
So here is her newest graphic of the Humane Hierarchy. To use it, think of a behavior of your animal that you might want to change. Then start at the bottom of the picture, in the little car, drive forward, and take every right turn. If the consideration on the side street is irrelevant or doesn’t work when tried with full information and skill, drive forward again and take the next right turn, but note the stop sign before you get to positive punishment!
Here is a link to a different version of the Humane Hierarchy graphic that may be visually easier than the roadmap version.
In a previous post, “But Every Dog is Different!,” I hope I showed that the claims that trainers who avoid force are somehow employing a cookie cutter method or limiting themselves are wrong. This graphic makes it explicit, because here is the whole toolbox right here in front of us. But the speedbumps, caution sign, and stop sign warn us to take care as we reach the more intrusive actions. The path a person will take will be absolutely different with every animal she trains.
(The fact that no procedure is ruled out does not mean that for me personally, and I dare say most people who use this roadmap, that certain commonly used tools are under consideration. If I ever did get to the positive punishment turnoff, unlikely in itself, you can be pretty sure I would not be strapping something around my dog’s neck to administer it. I’m thinking more in terms of yelping when a puppy nips me.)
Someone who habitually shoots up to the end of the road with only a nod in the direction of the other turnoffs is showing their limitations. I don’t mean this in a snarky way. I mean that each turnoff and its method requires care, consideration, and often creativity to employ well.
And look, positive reinforcement is third on the list. The first two considerations are new to lots of people, and discussed much too infrequently in my opinion.
Part 2 of this post will give an example of every method on the map, all centering around a common theme: crate behavior. So come back to read about “antecedent arrangements” if you’ve never heard the term before.
One of Dr. Friedman’s foci is that labels are not useful in observing and documenting behavior. “The dog is dominant” and “the parrot is acting hormonal” tell us nothing about actual behavior. One of the skills I am always working on, and which got greatly exercised when I took her class, was observing my dogs’ behavior and working on putting it accurately into words. That’s harder than it first seems! (Again I’ll refer to the great FaceBook group Observation Skills for Training Dogs. There’s the place to go practice.)
So even though I very much support the “Unlabel me!” campaign for our animals, as a writer I really struggled with some kind of term to refer to the type of training I do! I welcomed a term for my training approach. I sure didn’t need to write a paragraph about quadrants and force and aversives and management every time I refer to my training.
“Humane Hierarchy trainer” describes perfectly what I seek to do. It’s not a rubber stamp. I don’t have to qualify it or explain away anything. I just need to define it from time to time, since it is new to some folks. Thanks again, Dr. Friedman!
Thanks for reading!
Afternote, 5/29/13: Because of the comments of a reader, I realized that I did not mention something important. The hierarchy applies to operant learning and behavior change only. If your dog is fearful or aggressive, you will almost certainly be using classical conditioning and desensitization techniques. In those situations, no knowledgable trainer will ever recommend that you try any aversives or even negative punishment. Although classical conditioning usually involves food, it is not the same as positive reinforcement because there is no contingency on the animal’s behavior. The goal is to elicit a respondent reaction that changes its emotional state. Thanks for helping me clarify!
- The Humane Hierarchy 2
- Movies, Translated (Portugues)
- What’s in a Name?
- Arguing with Logic and Grace
- When Management Succeeds
- Level 1 Breakfast (quick behavior drills)