Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Clicker Training and Depth Psychology Working Together

Some would say there is a world of difference between Clicker Training and Depth Psychology.  However, coming from both worlds, I see how both blend and compliment each other.  Behavior psychology and training stems more from B.F. Skinner who studied and wrote about operant conditioning.  If a consequence is unpleasant, the chances are the behavior or actions won't continue.  On the other hand if the consequence is pleasant the action or behavior is reinforced and more likely to be repeated.  Behavioral psychology would generally be defined as polar opposite to depth psychology that is based more on the intuitive, dream and symbolic world of an individual.  However, having worked using both modalities, I see the connection and beauty of understanding both areas especially working with animals.  I use clicker training extensively to modify and create new behaviors in my alpacas and dogs.  However, it is my intuitive side and experience that helps me greatly in connecting with my animals.  I would venture to say that behavior psychology is more left brain thinking and depth psychology is more right brain.  So, in essence, I'm actually using both sides of my brain at the same time! 

When I was counseling, I worked mainly with children.  Being able to use positive reinforcement techniques and understand depth psychology was invaluable.  Children heal emotional wounds using their imagination.  They don't possess the emotional vocabulary to sit in a chair and discuss issues.  They use symbolism so art and play therapy work well with them to understand the issues and to work through them.  Combining that with positive reinforcement to teach or modify a behavior works so well together.  The two modalities truly compliment each other.  Now that I work with animals, I find that the skills I learned working with children are very similar.  I need both my intuitive abilities to listen and communicate along with my positive reinforcement or behavior modification techniques.  I love studying alpaca behavior and it is even more fun trying to figure out how to modify their existing instinctual behavior to one that is more user friendly.  It has been a wonderful experience being able to connect to the alpaca in a deeper fashion.  We often mistake their flight instinct as lack of intelligence but in my experience, they are very smart.  Once I started clicker training them, I was amazed how fast they learned a behavior.  They often picked it up faster than my dogs did.  And, I know they have learned and accepted clicker training because I "listen" to them with that third ear or eye. 

Perhaps the most important reason that behaviorism and depth psychology work well together is because to be a really good trainer and alpaca handler, you need to be self-aware.  Training and handling still involves being in a relationship.  The relationship is between the trainer or handler and animal.  As in any relationship, there are two coming to the partnership.  We humans tend to think that it is the animal's behavior needing to be modified but what we don't realize is that we are helping to create that behavior.  So it is important to understand what we are bringing to the plate along WITH the animal. When I'm teaching my alpaca handling workshops and I see an alpaca jump or act startled, I quickly ask the individual handling that alpaca what happened.  It often takes some time to get them to realize they moved too fast and that is what created the alpaca to jump.  They see other things first so it is a big part of my workshop to help the people to hold up the mirror and see what their body is doing.  Are they breathing?  Because, most people hold their breaths when they are holding an alpaca for the first time.  When you hold your breath, you tense up and the animal senses it too.  It becomes an endless loop -- you tense, they tense, they tense you tense more, etc.  Once I make the student aware of their breathing, I have them notice what the alpaca is doing.  Do they feel the alpaca relax any?  It takes practice and concentration in the beginning to be aware of what we are doing as we work with the alpaca or animal.  I do it now without thinking.  If an alpaca acts startled or not doing what I want, the first place I look is within myself.  Where is my body, am I breathing, should I try a different stance?  I ask myself a ton of questions first before I say, the alpaca just isn't getting it.  If the alpaca isn't getting the idea, then I'm 99% sure that it is because I haven't done the right thing yet.  And, I'm certain that if I keep examining what is going on, I will figure it out.

The hard part for us humans in looking at ourselves that way, is that we sure get caught up in a lot of our own dynamics!  But the beauty of doing it is that it does get easier and the alpaca really doesn't care about our dynamics so what a great and safe place to let those things come out a little and be worked on!      
Alpacas Being Taught Namaste   

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