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.
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.
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
DRO stands for “differential reinforcement of ‘other’ behavior”. You can shorten it to “teach something different.” It is a widely recommended means of fixing behavior problems. For example, if a dog jumps up on people, teach it to lie down, instead. There are variations on DRO, such as DRI (teaching an incompatible behavior) and DRA (teaching an alternate behavior) In essence they all mean the same thing – teach the dog something new to replace an existing behavior. Despite the popularity of these tricks the reality is that they are not suggested because they are the most effective way to stop unacceptable behavior. They are suggested because they avoid considering punishment. This is often attributed to being the “scientific” way to solve behavior problems. It’s not. Continue reading
Punishment is generally considered the human application of naturally occurring forces that influence behavior. That’s about all you can say about the subject before hitting a fork in the road: the traditional, colloquial use of the term and the attempts by science to describe the phenomenon. Both roads, guided by good intentions, lead to perdition.
(Note: Part 1 is here… http://clickandtreat.com/wordpress/?p=388)
To refresh your memory about the topic, I have presented a case for the idea that punishment is innate in humans and a key survival behavior of both individuals and groups. For millions of years this fact has not been questioned.