Where the Head Goes, so too the Dog:

Consider two owners walking their dogs down the street. One is walking comfortably with a loose leash while the other is being dragged, unmercifully like a reluctant piece of baggage. The dog walking comfortably is the result of one of two things – either the dog isn’t very interested in going anywhere or the owner took considerable time teaching a decent heel. The majority of dog owners don’t have it so lucky. They walk with a wheezing, struggling nuisance that makes going for a walk a painful experience. It is unlikely that many of those owners will ever gain control over their dogs. Fortunately, there is a solution that does not require main strength or hours of practice – it’s called a head-halter. Continue reading

Twenty Questions: Trainers and Behaviorists

Modern dog training and behavior is a generally unregulated field. I think that is a good thing. Regulation rarely brings excellence because it stifles advances in the profession. Additionally, we humans have trained dogs for more than 15,000 years. The angst and argumentation over methods of the last 35 years is largely a created thing. The revelation of “modern dog training and behavior” can be explained by a simple Latin question – cui bono? (Who benefits) In most cases, the client/dog owner isn’t the beneficiary. This “argument” is merely an attempt to dominate the market by vilifying trainers who don’t use “modern” or “scientific” methods. Meaning it is not a substantive argument. It damns what has come before and attempts to replace it with rhetoric that is meant to persuade with little consideration for ethical or practical standards. The beneficiaries are those who wish to elevate their status and income without establishing their bona fides. As dog owners are my clients I provide this set of questions both for them and for trainers who wish to have a broader knowledge of the underlying ethics of our profession. While I have my own answers to these questions, they are offered without prejudice. Your answers may wildly vary from mine – which is why this field shouldn’t be regulated. You never know when I might be made Emperor of Dog Training. That might or might not be a good thing by your standards.  Continue reading

Skinner’s magic, myopic little box:

Imagine suggesting that all one needs to know about football is the quarterback’s completion percentage. By counting how many passes and analyzing how many ended as receptions we need look no further into the topic. We are now all football pundits and can make a ton of money on the various sports television networks. After all, using that method we would have known in advance that Denver was going to beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Oops. If you aren’t a football fan, what actually happened had nothing to do with Peyton Manning’s record-setting season throwing completed passes. The day after Manning was selected as the NFL player of the year for the fifth time, Seattle decimated the most powerful offense in NFL history, 43-8, with a little thing called defense. If you think tabulating a single stat is a whacky way to look at a complex sport like football, how much more whacky is it to attempt to pigeon hole all behavior as a single number – how often a pigeon pecks a key or a rat presses a lever. Don’t bet on it.

The Assumption of Imagined Harm

In the war over ethical training techniques there is a boogeyman – imagined harm. Trainers that pander to exclusively “positive” methods use this boogeyman to suppress logical and open discussion of the topic. That is because their perspective has no rational basis and cannot become paramount unless they suppress logical criticism. Their primary tool is to propose that any use of aversive control is dangerous and will lead to some imagined harm. That is obviously an irrational statement. A leash and collar inhibits free movement and compels the dog to hold an arbitrary distance from the handler. Not only is this not automatically harmful, all trainers, vets, shelter workers and pet owners use leashes and collars – even the anti-punishment ideologues. This begs the question of why someone would propose a wide-sweeping claim that the most casual observation contradicts. The answer may surprise you. They do this because it allows them to create the fantasy that they are ethically superior while silencing anyone who would question their statements. i.e. The anti-punishers promote imagined harm in order to win the argument. Continue reading

Blocking effective treatment: Fraud posing as moral superiority, Part I.

“LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles doctor was sentenced Friday to 14 years in federal prison for bilking patients out of more than $1 million by promising them that an herbal supplement she hawked could cure late-stage cancer and other diseases.”

A medical doctor convicted of selling snake oil. This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. The allure of positive reinforcement in the form of money and elevated status is highly corrosive to ethical behavior. One patient of Dr. Christine Daniel avoided treatment known to be effective for her lymphoma and died. Why? She relied on the promises, not of a fake, but of an academically trained scoundrel with real credentials. The same kind of behavior is common in the world of animal behavior and training. If you rely on the promises of an academically trained behaviorist or modern trainer using “scientific methods” and you are told to avoid treatment known by science to be effective, is it any different? Nope. In the law, it’s called fraud. Continue reading

A Cogent Rebuttal to a Spurious Attack:

A few years ago I was the target of a not-so-nice comment on an internet list. An acquaintance forwarded the comment to me and I replied. Here’s the gist of it…

>>The reason I don’t promote Gary Wilkes is because of his introduction of P+ (positive punishment)into clicker training circles. I would be happy to discuss this privately with you if you wish — just not on this list, as I’m sure you’ll understand. ”

I do not remember which “Ms. Miller” made this comment, but I was obviously responding to a public comment that left no room for public rebuttal. I do not know if my acquaintance actually posted my comments. It’s really a moot point. However this kind of stuff is wide-spread on the internet and depicts the tendency of “all positive” trainers to make insinuations or innuendos without any opportunity for a response from the target. – GW Continue reading

The Only Scientific Presentation of its kind – in history

Author’s note. In 2009 I was pretty much fed up with scientists who distort reality. I have been a member of the Association for Behavior Analysis International since 1992 and have given many presentations and been an invited speaker more than once. I decided to give it one more chance and peel back the onion for those learned doctors. I submitted this handout to the review committee for the international conference. It was accepted. I gave the workshop. My demonstration assistants were two adult male Dobermans that had fought viciously several days before. They were still wearing a multitude of stitches from their battle. I had them lying side-by-side within ten minutes. They fell asleep about ten minutes later. Of the 1500 presentations that year, mine was the only one to demonstrate punishment and discuss it as a viable, humane, ethical means of modifying/removing unacceptable behavior. I also presented a paper on the topic and one of the only clinics in the world that uses punishment to stop serious behavior problems did several presentations about work. In all, that makes a comfortable 150:1 bias against any discussion of aversive control. That is why I get stuck talking about this topic. I hate deceit. Pretending that punishment is evil, harmful, risky, dangerous and traumatic leads to an unethical practice – withholding treatment and knowledge of treatment known to be effective. In that spirit I hope you enjoy this. (UPDATE: At the 2015 ABAI conference a catalog search pops up three abstracts containing the word “punishment”. None of them actually discuss anything substantive and one is actually an attempt to control behavior without punishment. That makes the odds up to about 1500:0. The proof of bias is plainly statistical in a group that is obsessed with statistics about behavior.) Continue reading

Rescues, Strays, Adoptions, Shelters and County Pounds: Here are some things you may not know.

For almost eight years I worked in shelters – three private shelters and one municipal animal control agency. Later, I was on the board of directors of one of the largest humane societies in the country. I’ve seen every aspect of pet overpopulation, shelters, adoptions, rescue, animal cruelty investigation, leash law violations and enforcement, humane education and warm fuzzy puppies that lick your face and tickle your nose. I’ve seen adoptions go right and adoptions go horribly wrong. I’ve seen just about every wrinkle you can come up with to deal with this horrendous cultural problem. After I gave my heart and soul to the “humane movement” for those very difficult years, I got out, kinda. I started fixing dogs retail after being completely unable to help them, wholesale. Continue reading

Harley, Death Row and the best and the brightest.

Note: Harley was a purebred Golden retriever. I didn’t make him up. I was the shelter manager in this tale. I remember clearly which kennel he was in and the various scenes presented here. i.e. It’s not a fantasy. It’s the reality that few people realize. Oh, I should mention that I am the person who very reluctantly killed him. There wasn’t really any “death row” – merely my subjective decision on any given morning. We kept him three weeks – far longer than any other dog I remember.

At two years of age, Harley was in the prime of his life. He could expect many more years of service to his master. Then one day his life changed – his owner died in a car accident. Harley’s owner had left specific instructions for Harley’s future. He was to go to the owner’s brother, Tim. Tim had other ideas. Tim was going through a divorce. Harley went to the pound. Continue reading