Do you give what the dog needs, or only what you like to do?

It is easy to get comfortable with specific practices and expectations. The more we refine our methods the more likely we are to unintentionally offer a cookie-cutter approach – because of our past successes. Those accomplishments positively reinforce specific courses of action that generally lead to beneficial outcomes. However, our choice of tools may be the result of something else…our own comfort. In the majority of cases that isn’t a problem. When a dog doesn’t fit the mold, doing what comes naturally may not be the best solution. The biggest casualty of such complaisance is the dog sitting right in front of us. If we fail to examine a dog’s needs as an individual we may well go astray and give them, not what they need, but what we choose to give them. Continue reading

Let Biting Dogs Lie: Fix ‘em or forget ‘em.

My best friend recently put down his 3-year-old Rottweiler, Zeus. He had a very aggressive cancer. I trained him when he was 12 weeks old and he was part of my extended family. When the diagnosis was confirmed, it was a slam dunk decision to give him his last few weeks of life based on quality and then end it before he suffered. This loving and thoughtful decision points out a glitch in our cultural perceptions. While ending a life to prevent pain and suffering seems to be the logical choice in all cases, what would you do if the problem was behavioral and not medical?
Continue reading

Emperor Skinner’s New Clothes

In the late 1930’s, Burrhus Frederick (B.F.) Skinner wrote his magnum opus, The Behavior of Organisms. Today, his perspective on behavior is the foundation for almost all behavioral fields that deal with non-verbal animals. Skinner is the creator of the term operant conditioning, or “learning by consequences.” Skinner’s primary desire was to create a science of behavior. He promoted the idea that scientific behavioral control would make the world a better place. The essence of his ideology was a non-punitive society that would control behavior through “reinforcement” – the strengthening of behavior through rewarding good behavior. (See: for more about the “non-coercive society of B.F. Skinner)  If you have noticed that scientists with an agenda often stray from the essence of science, you’d be correct. B.F. Skinner failed to create a science of behavior. Instead, he created an ideology that fails even cursory tests of scientific validity. You can skip any reference to veritas – truth for truth’s sake.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

Abuse or Not Abuse, That is the Question:

About 15 years ago, I spoke at a conference of one of the largest dog training professional organizations. I gave a demonstration of how to safely and quickly stop food aggression. My demonstrator for the event was a five-year-old German Shepherd – not just any German Shepherd. This dog was a FEMA certified search dog. Her problem was that as she grew older, she started attacking any dog that came near while there was food present – which in most cases was another search dog.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Political Correctness and actually caring about the fate of dogs.

Imagine your dog becomes epileptic. Your vet says that you have to record each seizure, how long it lasts and some general details. How long will you do this? If you are Sandy Duxberry, you’ll do it 24/7 for two years until Gypsy is seizing constantly. Your life is a shambles from lack of sleep, the pain of watching your dog go through writhing, mindless seizures and spending 80% of your waking time taking care of your dog. That is one end of the spectrum.

Continue reading

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

Faster isn’t better…or is it?

In the litany of illogical excuses to ban and condemn punishment one is especially ludicrous and most often deceitful and malicious. That rule is “faster isn’t better”. This is usually stated in the context that people who use punishment use it as a short-cut, because it’s easier. Then it is stated that positive methods are “better” somehow because they take longer. Continue reading