As Easy as Falling off a Bike: What punishment teaches us.

Part of the litany of modern behaviorists and trainers is that punishment doesn’t teach an animal what to do and the implication is that the results of punishment are baaaaad. Terrible. Horrible. Traumatic. Confusing. Evil.

“But just punishing the animal for doing something else does not teach it to sit. At most, punishment only teaches it what not to do.” Murray Sidman Coercion and Its Fallout (1989)

It does not teach the dog WHAT to do.” Pat Miller, Pitfalls of Positive Punishment

“Punishment teaches an animal what you don’t want it to do but fails to teach it what you expect of it.” Valerie Tynes – veterinary behaviorist

In all cases, these people limit the discussion to incorrect applications of punishment by untrained people. As there is no course, text, instructor, practical training, internship or certification in the use of aversive control, they are all blowing smoke. Continue reading

Never-never, say it-say it, twice-twice: Commands and Signals.

Commands vs. Cues and Signals

Originally printed in Front & Finish by Gary Wilkes

Almost every hobby, discipline or science has a way of adopting words to suit it’s own purpose. Often, these special terms have older and more basic meanings in general conversation. For instance, in the context of obedience regulations, a command is a verbal cue and a signal is a visual cue. In order to fully discuss how dogs learn to respond to specific cues, we need to use these words in their more general meanings. So, for the purpose of this column we will stick to Webster’s definitions. Continue reading

Keller Breland and “Instinctive Drift”

(Note: I am very new to WordPress. My footnotes are at the bottom of the page)

Not many people know the name of Keller Breland outside marine mammal and dog training. Keller Breland was B.F. Skinner’s first graduate student at University of Minnesota – before Skinner became the icon of behavioral psychology, AKA behavior analysis. Keller was brilliant and highly motivated. Once, in 1940, Skinner showed Keller a toy clicker. Skinner had noticed that the click-click of the mechanical feeder magazines used for rat experimentation somehow caused the rats to learn the experimental process faster. A few months later, according to one of Skinner’s autobiographies, he entered the General Mills labs where his psychology department was conducting research for the war effort. Breland had taught a pigeon to push a marble down the alley of a toy bowling game to hit the pins. Skinner recalled that this was his epiphany. For someone who knows this topic intimately, this sets off red flags. Skinner had shown Keller a toy clicker in 1940 – three years before. He told Keller that you could use it to increase the rate at which animals learn. It is obvious that he was speculating and not speaking from experience. Continue reading

All Positive Trainers: Illogical, to say the least.

Lewis Carrol wrote Alice in Wonderland. He was also a mathematics professor and lecturer. One of his least known but incredibly interesting books is about logic, specifically syllogisms. Here’s an example of how Dr. Dodgson (his real name) used fantasy to teach a little used mental tool – logic.

  • Babies are illogical;
  • Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile;
  • Illogical persons are despised.

    Logical conclusion: Babies cannot manage a crocodile.

  • Continue reading

The Legend of the Trained Monkeys

Once upon a time there was a family circus that was down on its luck. They had a string of shows that didn’t draw big crowds and couldn’t make payroll. Their “roadies” quit and left them sitting near a railroad siding in Kansas. Their circus cars, animals, wagons and tents were on a rail siding with no hopes, prospects of future. The family was about to sell off the whole shebang when they got a telegram from Canada. A group in Toronto wanted them to come and perform their show. They would even send an engine down to haul the circus train north. The family realized they wouldn’t be able to set up the tent when they got there but figured it was better to take the money and try to find a way to insure that the show would go on. Continue reading