The Big Day: Caution, this is the Real World. If you are squeamish you might want to skip it.
One morning I was doing euthanasia just like every other morning. The night before a 125 pound St. Bernard X Pit Bull was brought in by his owner along with a 14 week old puppy of similar breeding. The adult dog was intact. The owner handled him rather gingerly and gave as a reason for surrendering the dog that he couldn’t control him. Not a big deal. The next morning, however, I decided that we didn’t need either one of them to be adopted. If that sounds cold, it is. For the last three years working in shelters I was killing about a ton of animals a month, personally. I was purely objective about which dogs I killed, when. Continue reading
I taught my Cattle Dog, Petey, to ‘roll over’ about two and a half years ago to please my wife. Both of us got tired of it, especially me – it competes with a preferred behavior of turning around to face an opposing direction. The other day, while working on turn around, Petey threw in a ‘roll over’. Why is that important? Because I have not reinforced that behavior for over two years, since he was a pup.Why is that important? Because it demonstrates a very important point. Teaching a competing behavior does not remove an existing behavior. You are merely adding to the dog’s repertoire. A simple miscue can instantly bring the behavior back, full strength. If you rely on teaching an ‘alternate’ behavior to suppress something you never want to see again, you run the risk of getting it when you least expect it. Continue reading
There are two polarities of thought in the world of behavioral control. That’s a problem. Behavior is not a one-dimensional phenomenon. It’s almost never a choice of positive or negative to solve a single behavior problem, let alone to guide a life. That is because it’s about the human or animal you are trying to teach or help. It’s not about your personal preferences or ideology. It’s not about your laziness or passion that causes you to be skilled with only one end of the spectrum. If you say the words reinforcement and punishment with any emotion, you shouldn’t be offering behavior services. If you use those two poles to guide your efforts you will paint yourself into a corner. Using an either/or mantra may put money in your pocket or elevate your status but it doesn’t help the person or animal who needs the help. Continue reading
Shaping is the use of positive reinforcement to arbitrarily strengthen a behavior. The process includes positive reinforcement for a specific behavior which, when it emerges, is called an operant. The term is used to describe a positive reinforcement procedure. The problem is that unless an absence of reinforcement for all “other” behaviors occurs, a discrete operant cannot form. To accurately describe the process one must include the effects of negative punishment for “other” behaviors. However, that is never done. The effects of negative punishment are assumed but not stated.
By contrast, DRO is shorthand for differential reinforcement of other behavior. It is the process of applying negative punishment to a single behavior and positive reinforcement for any other behavior. This is the logical opposite of shaping. To be accurate, for whatever shaping may be, DRO is anti-shaping – a symmetrical process applying opposite behavioral effects. The relationship of a single behavior receiving one behavioral polarity and all other behaviors receiving the other behavioral polarity is identical. The language of behavior analysis does not reflect this.
In the world of veterinary medicine, shelter management, police enforcement of civil laws and modern behavioral treatment of the mentally disabled, restraint is an acceptable response to violence. If a dog, cat or human attempts to initiate violence they will be subdued. The problem is that such restraint does not prevent the violence from occurring in the future. In the case of mentally disabled animals and humans, it may lead to a perpetual nightmare of attack and defense that never goes away. Imagine how a person incapable of controlling their behavior internally responds to being jumped by thugs on a daily basis, ad infinitum. My question is, why is such restraint acceptable? It is risky, reactive, chaotic and dangerous. It triggers fear (and often escalates the violence) and can cause pain and damage, no matter how careful the restrainer may be. The literature of behavior analysis and common objective observation of nature suggests that contingent punishment can stop or dramatically reduce such violence. That is almost never mentioned and is opposed, routinely. That generates some interesting questions.
It is quite popular for animal trainers to claim that they use “scientific” methods. They also like to use the word “evidence-based” which implies that a higher standard of proof was used to find knowledge. Hogwash. It’s actually a cheap attempt to elevate their status and shut up the competition. Nothing more, nothing less. If you doubt the sweeping range of my accusation, let’s look at the real evidence – evidence that would stand up in a criminal court of law. Continue reading
Recently a person posted on Facebook a wish that all children be trained with “positive” methods. The specific Facebook page is run by the largest professional organization of behavior analysts. Comments of that ilk are common along with grandiose promises of behavior analysis as the tool to save the world. I think not. Here’s my reply to that wishful thinking.
“Dualism is closely associated with the philosophy of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today.” Wikipedia Continue reading
In the war of positive vs. negative training there is something sadly missing – logical analysis. This is ironic because the people most responsible for “positive” training call themselves “behavior analysts.” These are scientists who claim to use scientific investigation to learn how to predict and control behavior. They have lots and lots of statements about aversive control that sound incredibly wise and are supposed to be the result of objective research – but they aren’t. They are actually ideological statements that reveal an underlying philosophy that is anything but scientific. I know that because of something that is totally missing from their arguments – blind trials. (Note: There is no such thing as “negative” or “punishment-based” training. Those are simply pejorative terms used by “postiive” trainers to limit objective discussion and vilify evidence-based trainers) Continue reading
But don’t applied behavior analysts use electric shock and other forms of physical punishment?
“Throughout his career, Skinner opposed the use of all forms of punishment; he advocated positive ways of changing behavior.
Standards for practice in applied behavior analysis severely restrict the use of electric shock and other forms of physical punishment. For example, it can be used only when other methods have failed, and when the behavior involved is a threat to the safety of the individual or others.An autistic child who repeatedly hits himself in the eyes with his fists, for example, is likely to cause blindness. If other forms of treatment (e.g., positive reinforcement, extinction) are unsuccessful, the child might be sprayed in the face with a water mister each time he hits himself. This mild form of physical punishment is usually effective in reducing the frequency of self-injurious behavior. Stronger forms of physical punishment, such as brief and mild electric shock, are seldom used and then only as a last resort with severe behavior disorders that have not responded to gentler procedures.” Continue reading