Aversive Control: A biological and evolutionary perspective. Part 6

As I ended Part 5, I said this –

“The real problem is the use of one effect, positive reinforcement, to increase behaviors and the complete absence of punishment – the effect that stops behaviors.” So, now, take a look at these people. They have something in common.

elvis_fat_left Britney Spears634.Lilo.Mug10.mh.112912atnsck

FILES-CUBA-CASTRO-OPINION9aBust ofidi_amin_dada     At this stage in the conversation I am going to assume that if you are still on board, that point is inarguable. When you put an organism on a life-road that is always rosy you get problems. First, as positive reinforcement cannot inhibit or stop behaviors any behavior is capable of becoming exaggerated to the point of disaster. I will give you some examples of people who at some point in their life never heard the word “NO” or suffered any tangible punishment. Here’s our first irony. Any reference to punishment in public almost always includes the word ‘suffer’ – even though the real suffering is caused by a lack of punishment. So, here goes – my rogues gallery of people who lived in an “all positive” world.

Elvis Presley –  Britney Spears – Lindsay Lohan – Emperor Caligula  – Emperor Nero – Idi Amin – Fidel Castro – Howard Hughes

Think about that for a second. Each of them achieved a hedonist paradise. They could seek pleasure and avoid pain or discomfort forever. Nobody ever told them “No”. They all went off the rails. Of the bunch, Britney Spears is the only one that seems to be back on the right track as a result of having her money controlled by court order and the punishment that goes along with losing your legal adult status. Why would we think that a dog is any different? Let a dog have what it wants with no repercussions for unacceptable behavior and you have a dog looking for a euthanasia technician. They invariably find them.

Getting Started:
Now that I have gone well beyond what should have to be said to prepare the foundation of the real meat of the matter, we can get started on the reality of using aversive control. We now know that behaviorists and trainers who claim that punishment isn’t needed are pedantic, condescending, fools, indifferent to the real people who need immediate help to save their dogs. I am going to offer you a very real person as an example and a situation that is all too common.

Cats and Dogs, Kids and Kisses: Cat poop for all!!!
A single woman is trying to provide a good life for her children. They have a cat. They get a rescue dog so that they can “save a life.” The dog is perfect save for one thing – it licks the cat’s butt and then gives kisses to her children. One of her kids has an immune deficiency but loves animals in an innocent, devoted and compassionate way. The woman needs to have the behavior stopped or the children will not have access to the dog without supervision. The woman works long hours. To remove regular contact between the dog and her animal-lover child degrades their life and defeats the purpose of owning a dog. What she needs is what most dog owners need – a rapid, safe, effective method of stopping a single behavior, now.

Background: Dogs eat poop. It is a behavior that is common among dogs. The Navajo word for dog actually translates as “poop eater”. The behavior is not learned. It is self reinforcing. That is because cats shed protein in their poop that dogs can digest. Here are the factors that influence a behavioral solution:

  1. It needs to stop immediately
  2. It needs to be as close to zero maintenance as possible. Meaning an inhibition must be created that prevents regeneration of the behavior. Occasional touch-ups are acceptable.
  3. The two animals cannot be separated constantly. Confinement of one or both is not an acceptable solution.
  4. The cat’s butt acts as a treat for the dog.
  5. The child is going to let the dog kiss her. Stopping the child from this kind of contact would also require some form of punishment.
  6. The behavior is not learned and removing reinforcement or teaching an alternate behavior will have no influence on its occurrence or reoccurrence.
  7. The woman is not wealthy and any solution will have to fit into her budget.
  8. The dog will be tossed back in rescue at peril of its life if the problem cannot be solved.

Here are some basic truths that must be obeyed or a solution is impossible. Take too long and the dog is gone. Charge too much money and the dog goes. Create a procedure that requires too much diligence for the mom and the dog goes. Create a complex procedure and the dog is gone. Ignore the owner’s priorities and the dog is gone. Question: If you are a behavior counselor and can’t create solutions within the parameters of real life, why would this owner hire you? Answer: She wouldn’t. She must either find someone who can do the work, on-time, on-budget and with minimal focus from her or…the dog is gone.

Stop the Madness:

The solution to this problem is quite simple.

  1. Create associations between possible consequences and arbitrary sights, sounds or words. You need three. Of them, “c” is the most important and can be used immediately. The other two add elegance to the solution and can be taught while teaching functional behaviors such as sit, down and come.
    1. Click/Good: This sound will be followed with something you value
    2. Wrong/Oops: This sound will be followed by nothing you want
    3. “NO”: This sound will be followed by something you find intolerable
  2. Time the word “NO” to the instant the dog focuses on the cat’s butt.
  3. Deliver a tangible punishment that the dog finds intolerable.
  4. Optional: Click and treat for the dog allowing the cat to pass and not investigating its butt.
  5. Perpetuate this contingency. If the dog again investigates the cat’s butt, it hears the word “NO” and gets bonked.

Done. The dog stays in the home. The child does not have cat feces residue on her face .The dog adapts to the inhibition as all animals do. Any caution, fear or avoidance fades over a very short period of time. The dog is not afraid of the cat. The dog continues to give kisses to the child. (Stopping that would be a simple matter of repeating the procedure and making the face-lick taboo.)

How Tough is This?
With all the rhetoric about the use of punishment and how it can’t possibly be done correctly you can now see the fraud in black and white. I didn’t stretch your brain in the least by describing a procedure you could visualize perfectly. With a small amount of time invested in preparing the dog to be punished you eliminate all of the predictions of failure and doom normally pronounced about punishment. You have also solved a behavior in the real world where real people have real demands that are rational, reasonable and imperative. Fix the dog or it will be gone. That is the rule. Behaviorists and trainers who claim they cannot ethically solve the problem because it would require using punishment is a pitiful evasion. It really means they offer behavior services to feed their egos and their pockets. It also means they are indifferent to the fate of this metaphoric woman, her child and her dog. As there are not courses in academia that would teach this skill there is an inarguable fact: Academic credentials denote incompetence and indifference. “Scientific” trainers are simply lesser imps of bigger demons. They cannot solve the problem specifically because they were never taught to use the correct tool and they were brainwashed into opposing it. To present themselves as experts is unethical. To claim some sort of moral superiority is ludicrous – there is nothing moral about withholding treatment known to be effective. It is a sign of supreme egotism. They dismiss people they cannot help as if it is the fault of the person asking for help. Requests that fall outside the philosophy of “death before discomfort” are scoffed at as invalid. Of course a single mom on a limited budget with limited time should ignore her children and focus on nothing but the dog – or have no dog at all. So, for those of you scientists, scientific trainers and behaviorists I have a message to pass along. The landfills of America salute you and thank you for your assistance in helping them dispose of millions of dead dogs each year. Keep up the good work. The retirement plans of those who manage those landfills depends, in part, on your efforts.
To read the series, use these links
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

2 thoughts on “Aversive Control: A biological and evolutionary perspective. Part 6

  1. So if we are not inhibiting behaviors with positive punishment than we are enabling them with positive reinforcement–even if this isn’t purposeful.

    The idealogy behind positive reinforcement seems to be you can only allow the good actions, which in due order will dissuade from the bad. With the situations you’ve given it is a logic fallacy to think PR by itself would work… It’s sad that those who follow this ideology would rather blame a lack of implementation from the owner than their own behavioral modification theory…

  2. Airtight exposition of issues related to changing behavior in the most highly efficient, and humane manner. It is also refreshing to see that someone has taken the time not just to look into the evolutionary and anthropologic history regarding the role of positive punishment in shaping human history, but also points out with great alacrity the high costs of an ideology that ignores the full implications of a fundamental principle of evolution, i.e., natural selection, has on the unsuspecting canine loving public. This is not a neutral topic fit for ivory tower discussion groups. Real people, real dogs, and real consequences are in full effect for the lot. Just try to imagine a neurological system, even just in the operant (nor respondent realm), that is not responsive to aversive events in a manner that changes future behavior in a way that maximizes future survival rates. If you can do that, then imagine what such creatures would look like in terms of anything relevant to life. Including the ability to walk. There is no such “science” in the real world where approximately 98% of species that ever existed has already gone extinct. See Also: Very effective way of laying it all out, from start to finish, in ways that any literate person who just sits back and follows the discussion can understand. Somebody needs to be writing a book. And then start a school for trainers. People who are tired of being blamed for the natural laws of the universe will flock to such trainers and ignore the fabricators. Let them eat poop!

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