10 Problems with positive reinforcement

  There is a list out there on the internet of 10-12 reasons why punishment is problematic. As with most unrealistic ideologues, those who wish to espouse that perspective never use logic to examine what they have said. As an exercise in balancing the scales, I offer this list as complimentary to the other one. I no more believe these things than I do the other list. That is because I don’t look at abuses to determine proper use and I have no bias in favor of either behavioral effect. Neither can be determined good or bad without providing a context for their use and an examination of their outcome. So, here goes. These are things that are problematic about using positive reinforcement. I have added the most important problem with positive reinforcement at the end of this list.
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Punishing the Warning Signs of Aggression:

dog-displaying-food-aggressionI work with a lot of aggression and have for about 35 years. I spent 8 years in shelters and saw it daily and handled it when I saw it. That is the proving ground for a lot of the things I know. Here is a concept that is often promoted that needs to be debunked. Animal behaviorists say that if you punish aggression you will simply submerge the warning signs. If they say that, then they did it wrong. They didn’t go back “upstream” and apply the punishment before the animal was aroused. When aroused, the dog’s brain focuses on resistance and aggression to get them through the fight. The best place to see this is a vet clinic. The dog learns the “warning signs” of a painful procedure and ironically goes “upstream” to initiate the violence earlier in the sequence. The logic is this – if there is a sequence and you keep applying what should cause a suppression of the behavior and all you suppress are the “warning signs”, you don’t really understand how to make a specific behavior connected to a specific consequence. Continue reading

The Ideology of Restraint vs. Punishment: Paradoxical and Odd

“Splasher” on his sleep-number bed.

  Consider this rather interesting paradox. Let’s say by pulling a stuck dog free from a rapidly filling drainage culvert, you break its leg. If you refrain from doing it, the dog drowns. Meaning your logical choice is a broken legged dog vs. a dead dog. Animal emergency people make these kinds of choices on a regular basis. This is not a hypothetical situation. I’ve been in similar situations dozens of times. I once pulled a dog out of a large irrigation canal. He didn’t want to come to me – he was a street dog. He had a big gash in his leg and by pulling him out it was going to hurt considerably and possibly further injure the cut. It’s the same basic choice – a dog with a damaged leg or a drowned dog. I pulled him out – he tried to bite me. Splasher lived to be 17 years old.
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