Aversive Control: A biological and evolutionary perspective. Part 3

MousetrapNow that we’ve laid out the foundation for the topic it’s time to talk about specifics. First and foremost I have to clear up a widely held fantasy. Training is not the only situation where your dog might experience some fear inspiring or painful events. People who predict dire consequences from using aversive control in training seem ignorant of this fact. Scary and often painful events are part of life. Dogs are built to deal with it. Some of those events change a dog’s behavior and sometimes – like a vet performing a terrifying and/or painful procedure – they simply have to bite the bullet.
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Contrast: The Secret to Changing Behaviors Effectively – Pt. 1

At any given time in a dog’s life there exists a readiness to be influenced by the environment. The dog’s senses are designed to monitor every waking moment for changes or anomalies. This means more than you think. It is not simply novelty that triggers focus. It is more than that. Any deviation at all is noticed. Deviation itself creates novelty. That can include the absence of some normally occurring thing, an odd combination of objects or sequences that are individually long-standing associations.
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Rebound Aggression:

61Iw-+dSv5L._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of the big bugaboos of the modern, ‘positive’ training ideology is the generally promoted concept that if you punish aggression you will trigger “rebound aggression.” Most of the people who say this pretend to be “scientific” in their perspective and claim scientific validation of their opinion. Bunk. Their fascination with rebound aggression simply displays their ignorance of a full reading of the literature and their unwillingness to look at the world around them. For starters, here’s a quote from The Effects of Punishment on Human Behavior by Axelrod and Apsche. They are referring to a foundational study that is never cited by ‘positive’ ideologues. In the study, monkeys were shocked into attacking other monkeys. (Ulrich, Wolfe & Dulaney, JEAB, 1969, Punishment of Shock Induced Aggression) This was called ‘elicited attacks.’ They caused the monkey to attack with electric shock – and then stopped that aggression with electric shock. They used electric shock because of the ability to tightly control the conditions of the experiment.
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My Biggest Fear and Safety, Safety, Safety.

A few years after I got married, my mother showed my mother-in-law, Opal, my baby book. Soon, Opal came running up to me and asked, “I bet you don’t know what your biggest fear was when you were three?” I instantly replied, “dogs.” She stood shocked for a second. “You remember that?” she asked. I think my answer surprised her. “Do you think I’d be likely to forget it?”

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Gradual Desensitization and Counter Conditioning: Too little, too late

Author: Gary Wilkes
From a presentation at the Central Veterinary Conference, San Diego 2010

In the world of modern behavior therapy, there are two popular mainstays – gradual desensitization and counter conditioning. If a dog is terrified of thunderstorms, one plays back a sound recording of thunder at very low volume and “desensitizes” the dog to the thunder over a long period of time. Counter Conditioning refers to replacing a currently objectionable behavior with an acceptable behavior. Though widely used and recommended, these tools have very limited ability to control unacceptable companion animal behavior.

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Operant Modalities: Alternatives to Psychotropic drugs – Presentation for CVC, Washington DC By Gary Wilkes

One aspect of veterinary behavioral therapy is the use of psychotropic drugs to control behavior. To set the context for my comments, I am not a veterinarian. I do not claim any direct working knowledge of these drugs – but I routinely work with animals that do. Note: This presentation is not about abandoning or curtailing the use of chemical therapy for treating behavior problems. Diagnosis and treatment with psychotropic drugs is often a needed component for a dog’s sustained mental health. The goal of this presentation is to offer a different perspective and potential solutions that dovetail standard medical diagnosis and treatment.

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Secondary Reinforcers: Primary Blather

In the language of modern dog training a clicker is a “secondary reinforcer.” Sorry, but the term “secondary reinforcer” is simply eight syllables of blather. Why? Because reinforcers must, by definition, strengthen a behavior connected to them. That isn’t what happens when you click a clicker (or say the word, “NO”) and then not provide the tangible event that is supposed to follow. I can prove it. No, I have proven it – at MIT no less. You can prove it too, in the privacy of your own home. No lab coats, no rat or pigeon cages needed. Just you, a clicker and a hungry dog.

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Broom-Whacking 101

The most commonly used tool for changing a pet’s behavior is punishment. When a dog chews the couch, eliminates in the house or barks excessively, our first thought is to create an unpleasant consequence for Fido’s actions. Despite our common leaning toward aversive solutions for bad behavior, it might surprise you to know that few people know the first thing about it. This ignorance is responsible for the fact that punishment rarely works as planned.

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Left or Right: You make the call.


The chart above signifies something. First, you have to know that this is a standard celeration chart. The horizontal lines increase logarithmically. Meaning from the baseline to the first line is 10. From the first line to the second line is 100. Next is 1,000 and the final one is 10,000. The individual human in this study is doing an undesired behavior, such as self-injury, up to 100 times a day. More than 5 per hour. The left side of the chart shows the use of positive methods to control the behavior. (That is the meaning of “positive programming” in this example.) The chart below shows the full cumulative record after a change in treatment. It shows a dramatic drop in the behavior. What was the change? The introduction of contingent punishment in the form of skin-shock. Meaning if you do X (pound your eyes) you will be shocked. If you do not do X you will not be shocked. Continue reading

A Study in Ethics: Pica

A well known dog behavior expert was quoted in a magazine column by another well known dog behavior expert as saying that if you are going to own a puppy you can expect to have at least one very expensive pair of shoes destroyed. The quoting expert agreed with the quoted expert and the rest of the column was a list of reasons why dog owners should lower their expectations, not of behavior modification, but of dog experts. If an expert says it can’t be done, then they can’t be held accountable if you lose a $3,000 hearing aid, right? Wrong. It’s not about shoes. It’s about socks. The sort of socks that lodge in a dog’s belly and block the intestines. ER vets cut things like socks out of dogs and puppies all the time. It’s called pica and it’s often fatal. Continue reading