Recently a person posted on Facebook a wish that all children be trained with “positive” methods. The specific Facebook page is run by the largest professional organization of behavior analysts. Comments of that ilk are common along with grandiose promises of behavior analysis as the tool to save the world. I think not. Here’s my reply to that wishful thinking.
There is an old saying that you should never turn your back on a strange dog. I’ve done it literally thousands of times and never been bitten. There seems to be a big of a disparity between the old saying and what I know to be safe. Turning your back is often the best way to greet a dog you don’t trust. Facing front can be a trigger for a bite. That is because many threatening dogs are scared. If you let them off the hook they aren’t going to bite you. If you do things that make them more fearful eventually you will hit their breaking point. With that in mind I’ll tell you about how I caught a dangerous Akita, one day.
A recent scientific study determined why humans love dogs. They claimed it was that humans who make eye-contact have an edge. Apparently dogs that gaze into a human’s eyes love them. To counter this finding I will tell you my rule, derived from eight years of humane and animal control work and more than 25 working as a behaviorist. I never make direct eye-contact with a dog I haven’t slept with. Continue reading
“Dualism is closely associated with the philosophy of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today.” Wikipedia Continue reading
OK, so you want to be a great dog trainer. Believe it or not it starts with the most basic concepts. The problem is that most people don’t start at a foundation and then build on top of it. They start from a half-way point of hearsay from someone who is considered an expert, like me. As there is no shortage of experts the information is overwhelming and often contradictory. Eventually the person selects one or more experts and starts training. As a result of depending on hearsay, the beginner assumes that their existing level of skill is complete because they have memorized all the rules of the expert. The problem is that the beginner can’t know if there are glitches in their education. By accepting information on faith they may have wide gaps in their knowledge – gaps of ignorance. Then, one day, a problem arises that requires a fundamental solution they don’t know. The most common way to side-step this is to create a complex solution based on existing knowledge that doesn’t really solve the problem. That is the norm.
I could have made this several thousand words long, but sometimes simply listing the logical points is a better way to illustrate a problem – like a blue-print rather than a pretty rendering. From my many years in and around this problem these are some logical points that any solution has to consider – in my opinion. Your perspective may differ. Continue reading
(Originally published in Pet Boarding and Daycare magazine)
Hans Christian Andersen once wrote a story about modern dog training, without even knowing it. The story is called, ‘The Princess and the Pea.” It seems that a prince wanted to find the perfect princess for a bride. He searched and searched but couldn’t find the perfect princess. One night, a great storm came. A bedraggled princess knocked on the town gate to seek shelter. (You really have to stretch to come up with that part of the story, but perhaps it was common in those days.) To test if the girl was really a princess, the queen stacked 20 mattresses on top of each other and put a pea under the bottom one. In the morning, the girl reported…
In the war of positive vs. negative training there is something sadly missing – logical analysis. This is ironic because the people most responsible for “positive” training call themselves “behavior analysts.” These are scientists who claim to use scientific investigation to learn how to predict and control behavior. They have lots and lots of statements about aversive control that sound incredibly wise and are supposed to be the result of objective research – but they aren’t. They are actually ideological statements that reveal an underlying philosophy that is anything but scientific. I know that because of something that is totally missing from their arguments – blind trials. (Note: There is no such thing as “negative” or “punishment-based” training. Those are simply pejorative terms used by “postiive” trainers to limit objective discussion and vilify evidence-based trainers) Continue reading
But don’t applied behavior analysts use electric shock and other forms of physical punishment?
“Throughout his career, Skinner opposed the use of all forms of punishment; he advocated positive ways of changing behavior.
Standards for practice in applied behavior analysis severely restrict the use of electric shock and other forms of physical punishment. For example, it can be used only when other methods have failed, and when the behavior involved is a threat to the safety of the individual or others.An autistic child who repeatedly hits himself in the eyes with his fists, for example, is likely to cause blindness. If other forms of treatment (e.g., positive reinforcement, extinction) are unsuccessful, the child might be sprayed in the face with a water mister each time he hits himself. This mild form of physical punishment is usually effective in reducing the frequency of self-injurious behavior. Stronger forms of physical punishment, such as brief and mild electric shock, are seldom used and then only as a last resort with severe behavior disorders that have not responded to gentler procedures.” Continue reading
In the movie “Guns of the Magnificent Seven”, one of many sequels to “The Magnificent Seven”, a cowboy is accused of being a horse-thief and is about to be hanged. A stranger suggests they test who the horse responds to as a means of determining ownership. They put the horse half-way between the two men and each tries to call it. The horse goes away from its owner and to thief. Why? The owner is standing by the saloon and the thief is standing in front of a horse-trough filled with water. That is the power of an opportunity for immediate “reinforcement.” If I want to over-power your control over your positively trained dog it’s not hard to do. All I have to do is trump your aggregate reinforcement over time by providing something more powerful in the immediate future.