Anchoring: The Art of Association


We’re revisiting anchoring

This blog post and podcast follow on from a couple of weeks ago where we rediscovered some fundamentals of NLP. You can find that podcast and blog here.

In this post, I’ll tell you how to train your dog, parrot or other pet using the technique. And (shush), don’t tell anyone, but you can use it to train your kids or parents as well! If you’d rather just listen to the podcast, scoot right down to the bottom of the page.

The mind/body response

Anchoring is a technique used to create an association between a stimulus and a particular state of mind and body. The stimulus can be a physical touch, a sound, a smell, or any sensory input that triggers a response from an individual or an animal. We use this association technique widely in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to help individuals manage their emotions and behaviours.

You can create an anchor by associating a particular emotion or behaviour with a sensory input, such as a touch or a sound. That touch or sound then becomes a trigger that can access the associated state or behaviour.

Train your animals using association

You can use the same techniques to train your pets, particularly dogs, to perform specific behaviours on command by associating something pleasant with a behaviour.

As a human, you probably want to feel confident when giving a presentation or attending an interview. If these are challenging situations for you, you can create an anchor by associating the feeling of confidence with a specific physical touch, such as touching your thumb and middle finger together. I have another blog post, with audio instructions on how to do this. It’s called How to Achieve Instant Confidence.

Using anchoring to train pets

In dog training, I use anchoring to associate a specific behaviour with a signal or command. The signal or command is then an anchor that triggers the desired action I want from my pet.

For example, if you want to teach a dog to sit on command, you can create an anchor by associating the command “sit” with a physical touch, such as pressing down on the dog’s hindquarters. By repeatedly associating the touch with the command, the touch becomes an anchor that triggers the dog to sit.

Over time, you’ll only need the command (and perhaps a treat!) to get the dog to sit. Here’s a video of my Tibetan terrier, Ragz. I used clicker training initially, but by the time he was 6 months old, when I filmed this video, I no longer need the clicker to get the right responses. And, as you can see, we both had a lot of fun.

Training more complex behaviours

You can use anchoring to train dogs to perform more complex actions, such as retrieving an object or walking on a leash without pulling. To train a dog to retrieve an object reliably, you can create an anchor by associating the holding of the object with a specific word or command, such as ‘hold’. Put the article into the dog’s mouth and repeat the ‘hold’ command with the dog holding the object (without chewing it). With repetition, the word and the behaviour become linked.

The next step, once you’re sure the dog understands the word ‘hold’ would be to hold the object against the front of the dog’s mouth and use the command ‘hold’, praising the dog as it opens its mouth to take the article. Obviously, there would be several more steps involved to get the dog to retrieve something. And this blog isn’t about all the ways to train your dog to perform, it’s about some applications of anchoring.

However, contrary to popular opinion, if you want your dog to have a consistent retrieve, you begin by sitting the dog beside you and have it hold the object (without chewing on it) until you take it from him. It’s a good idea to have another command to get the dog to release the object too, otherwise, you might get into a tussle with your dog. ‘Leave’ or ‘give’ are nice, simple words.

Train your dog to walk on a leash without pulling

You can create an anchor by associating walking calmly on the leash with a specific sound or touch, such as a clicking sound or a gentle tug on the leash. By repeatedly associating the sound or touch with the desired behaviour, the sound or touch becomes an anchor that triggers the desired behaviour.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re training an animal and inexperienced dog owners can be slow to praise and reward their dog for the behaviour they’re trying to shape. This results in miscommunication and rewarding the dog for the wrong response.

Clicker training is an excellent way to address this issue

A clicker is a small device that makes a distinctive clicking sound when pressed. Initially, when clicker training, you’d click and follow immediately with a small treat (small being the keyword here — no one wants to create a portly Poodle or a fat Fox terrier). By using the clicker to create an anchor, the dog learns to associate the clicking sound with a reward.

The precise timing of the click, followed immediately by the reward, is all that’s needed. No speaking, praise, hugs, or anything else is required, so it’s a ‘clean’ way of training.

Repetition is key #1

You repeat this click/reward association until the dog understands the click results in a reward. After you’ve created this association, whenever the dog hears the click, they know that they have performed a desired behaviour and can expect a reward. You must be consistent in rewarding every time you click. If you make a mistake and click at the wrong time, that’s your problem; you must reward the dog.

That’s the deal you’ve made with your pet.

Now you’re ready for clicker trainingclicker for training your pet.

Once you establish the association between the click and the reward, you can use it to train your dog. As an example, whenever your dog sits, you can click and reward him. You don’t need to say anything. The dog (I’m using the dog as an example, but it works with most animals. In fact, they developed it to use with dolphins) will wonder why it got a click/reward and will try to initiate behaviour to get the click/reward again. Next time your pet sits, you click/reward him.

After he’s consistently sitting and getting clicks and rewards, you can introduce a word that will become the command. ‘Sit’ is quite useful. 😜 Only focus on one behaviour at a time or your pet will just become confused. Be patient. Keep your training sessions short, say 5-10 minutes or during the TV ad breaks (that’s if you still watch TV!).

When I first moved to Raglan and didn’t have a dog, I used clicker training to train Shaggy, my parrot. Here’s a video of what I taught him to do over just a few weeks.

Negative anchors in pet training

While we can use positive anchors to reinforce desired behaviours, negative anchors can also form accidentally, resulting in unwanted behaviour. For example, if a dog gets frequently scolded or punished in a specific room, he can form a negative anchor that triggers fear or anxiety.

It’s important that you’re mindful of negative anchors and work to undo them by creating positive associations with the anchor. Create a connection between the trigger and positive behaviour to replace the negative anchor and teach the dog to respond positively.

Consistency is key #2

Training any animal requires repetition, kindness, patience and consistency. Practising desired behaviours in many situations is key. If I had a dollar for every time a dog handler exclaimed ‘He does it right every time at home!’ I’d be a very rich woman! At home, there are few distractions. It’s relatively easy to gain your dog’s total attention (especially if you have treats!).

Outside in the community, there are other dogs, a zillion luscious smells and things to eat, unknown people to meet, and limitless other absorbing diversions. So practising the training in a variety of environments is key to having your dog respond reliably.

In short

  • We can use anchoring as a powerful technique in NLP and pet training to positively shape behaviours and emotions.
  • By associating specific stimuli with desired behaviours, NLP Practitioners can create anchors that help individuals to manage their emotions and behaviours effectively.
  • Pet owners can use similar techniques to shape the behaviour of their pets.
  • It’s important to be mindful of negative anchors and work to undo them by creating positive associations with the trigger.
  • Whether used in NLP or pet training, we cannot underestimate the power of anchoring in shaping behaviours and creating positive change.
  • Repetition and consistency, as well as patience and kindness, are essential to training a well-behaved dog.
  • Most of all, training should be fun for the dog and owner.

PS What have you inadvertently anchored your pet to? For example, Shaggy, now believes that I love sticks!!! So whenever he wants something, he goes and gets me a stick. He is also adept at picking up people’s body language, as well as what they say, and responds accordingly. So if my visitors do any of these:

  • Pick up a bag to leave.
  • Say, “I’d better be going” or anything similar.
  • Pick up their keys.
  • Get up and put on a coat or jacket

Shaggy wishes them an emphatic ‘Bye!’

And these days, the mischievous little toad sometimes says ‘Bye’ because he wants them to leave!

Drop me a comment and tell me what you’ve inadvertently anchored your pets to.

PPS. In case you’re wondering, the image at the top of the post is one I took of a group of dogs belonging to handlers I was involved in training for competitive obedience. (This was in a previous life! Mine are the two hairy Bearded Collies; Tawny and Rowf. Yes, I adore long-haired dogs!)

Want more?

Click on any of the blog posts below to expand on the material covered in the interview.

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Tags: Communication skills, Learning and memory, Managing mood and emotions, Podcasts and audio tips


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