Cats pose a significant problem for behavior therapists. First, most cat owners are attracted to them because of the perception that they don’t need to be trained. The number of cats with any kind of formal repertoire is minute. When a cat offers unacceptable behavior, cat owners are even less prepared than dog owners to solve the problem. Common misconceptions about feline learning contribute to this problem – cats are untrainable, aloof, finicky eaters who resist all efforts at inhibiting their behavior.
I routinely get people who object to any use of aversive control attempting to claim that it has horrible side effects. They also pump the idea that ‘free shaping’ – waiting until a dog does a behavior and then clicking and treating – is some kind of realistic goal. When I point out that the likely end of a dog that can’t be polite is that the end up with a 60% chance of being dead, they simply blame the owners and expect them to live at a dog’s level rather than elevating the dog to live with people – the intended and necessary position for a living, breathing artifact. (We made them. They do not live in nature. They can no longer live in nature. I know that because I have trapped out several feral dog packs. They have a constant mortality rate because life in nature is very nasty.) Continue reading
On several occasions I have posted videos on the internet that include shaping behaviors. I periodically get comments from people who think they know the process and critique the timing of the clicks. One problem. Behavior is not a one-dimensional process. “Shaping” isn’t all about ‘successive approximation’ of starting with a seed of a behavior and gradually building complexity. That makes parsing a multi-dimensional training session an exercise in smuggery and fully displayed ignorance. Continue reading
If you ever go to Kansas in November to hunt pheasants, there is something you should know. There are two types of pheasants; pen-raised and wild. You can kill pen-raised pheasants with bird-shot normally used for much smaller birds. To kill wild pheasants, it takes bigger balls. Why? Wild pheasants are toughened up by the environment. Pen-raised pheasants are wussies, by comparison. This is not an isolated example. One type of pine tree in Yellowstone won’t open up its cones to drop seeds if the tree isn’t exposed to extreme heat – like a forest fire. No forest fire, no replication. By fighting forest fires, a natural event, forest service workers have limited the population of those trees.