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