Science vs Practice – You make the call.

A recent edition of the Behavior Analyst (the general magazine of the Assoc. for Behavior Analysis International) suggested new avenues and professions for behavior analysts. One of the fields mentioned was animal training with a focus on dog training. The article paints a picture that is wholly inaccurate. Dog training is a business driven by dog owners. No one cares about theoretical or intellectual achievements that do not benefit clients and their animals. Unless you own a million gallon tank and a selection of whales and dolphins, those “accomplishments” are moot points. As plumbers must know how to fix a leak, trainers must know how to stop unacceptable behavior, often immediately. That is the rub. Behavior analysts do not know how to stop behavior and almost universally oppose the logical, evidence-based tool of choice – punishment. (As proven in their own literature. Ulrich, Wolfe and Dulaney, JEAB, 1969, Punishment of Shock Induced Aggression…you can Google it and read it yourself)   Continue reading

Dorkies and getting close to them: From my Groomer to Groomer column


The other day I was working with a Dorkie – half Dachshund and half Yorkie. This little guy is territorial, fearful and aggressive…a perfect mix of the two breeds. When I first met him, he charged me at the front door. I dropped my soft brief case right in front of him and he turned and ran in the opposite direction, screaming as if he was being killed. After that experience there wasn’t any way he was going to warm up to me. Well, not exactly. I knew what he needed to jump start our relationship. I had the owner put him on a six-foot leash and then I sat on the ground. I took the leash and he hit the end of it like a tuna – trying to get away from me. Then I did something I have done literally thousands of times. I pulled him about two feet toward me. I waited a bit and did it again. I did it one last time so that he was touching my legs. Then I let him run to the end of the leash, where I started the process again. Continue reading

Every click gets a treat – foolish consistency

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“The only completely consistent people are the dead.” – Aldous Huxley

There you have it. Consistency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, for a very good reason. Life is dynamic. Things change. To be successful, complex organisms have to have the ability to adapt their behavior to circumstances. This fact illustrates the need for two types of variability if survival is the game. First, there is learning a new behavior. You are wet and you need to get dry. You scrape your skin with the curved rib bone of a deer you killed yesterday and use it like a squeegee. Once the use of a flat blade to scrape water off your skin is one of your skills, the second part of learning takes place. When confronted with a novel situation, do you use an existing behavior or learn a new one? Sometimes slightly modifying an existing behavior does the trick and sometimes something entirely new is required. Often, if you stick to old solutions you may die for lack of variability. Nature doesn’t like one-trick-ponies. Continue reading

Evaluating Behavior Services: For Vets and Boarding facilities

By Gary Wilkes (From a presentation at Central Veterinary Conferences: Washington, DC

The first thing to appreciate about animal behavior services is – there are no specific credentials that assure competence in this field. It will be a very long time before such credentials exist. Currently there are at least three scientifically oriented groups attempting to set standards for the business of animal behavior modification and training. There are at least four groups of professional dog trainers who have their own certification programs and concepts of competence. Outside the framework of formal groups are many thousands of dog trainers who have no credentials other than experience – and no particular interest in acquiring outside approval for their skills. Your resource-pool for behavior services comes from the totality of people who work with dogs and cats. Continue reading

Fool’s Gold – A Tale of Two Treasures

When I was in college I met a young woman who was going to school to be a hair stylist. I let her cut my hair to give her practice and pick up a few bucks. Her name was Terri and she had a remarkable history at age 20. She was one of two children of a man and woman who had a very rocky marriage. Her father was the ultimate dreamer and ne’er-do-well. He was always chasing a rainbow and investing money in schemes that perpetuated their poverty. The wife worked diligently at low-paying jobs to support them, only to see any savings squandered on another hair-brained, get-rich swindle. After years of this, the wife was at her last straw. One day the husband came home with wild excitement and announced that he had just bought them a gold mine in Southern Nevada – about an hour away from their home in Kingman, Arizona. The wife looked him in the eyes and started packing. Realizing that he had finally blown it, he grabbed then ten-year-old Terri, jumped in his truck and headed to the mine. He knew his wife wouldn’t leave without her daughter. Continue reading