A Study in Ethics: Pica

A well known dog behavior expert was quoted in a magazine column by another well known dog behavior expert as saying that if you are going to own a puppy you can expect to have at least one very expensive pair of shoes destroyed. The quoting expert agreed with the quoted expert and the rest of the column was a list of reasons why dog owners should lower their expectations, not of behavior modification, but of dog experts. If an expert says it can’t be done, then they can’t be held accountable if you lose a $3,000 hearing aid, right? Wrong. It’s not about shoes. It’s about socks. The sort of socks that lodge in a dog’s belly and block the intestines. ER vets cut things like socks out of dogs and puppies all the time. It’s called pica and it’s often fatal.

(Note: The following X-rays are of my dog, Petey. The white dots are barium beads used to detect the severity of the blockage. In this cased it was total. If we had waited to see what was going to happen, he would have died. The object that caused the blockage was about the size of three quarters stacked on top of each other. Needless to say, when we brought him home I had to do whatever I had to in order to keep him alive. 14 mos. later, he’s still breathing.)

Now I will put the above quote in a slightly different context. If you are a dog behavior expert and know how to stop a dog or pup from ingesting a sock, why wouldn’t you offer that service to someone with doesn’t want their hearing aid destroyed? How do you know the shoe isn’t going to create a blockage? Is it so difficult or terrible that it should only be done as a last resort? Nope. None of the above. It’s because the experts have no training in how to stop a behavior. Worse, they actively oppose the use of the behavioral 3193_8155-17367_5_s0effect that can stop behaviors. So, if you want to make a genuine modern, academically trained behaviorist’s head to explode or have them attack you, just ask them how to stop a single behavior, now. Not “teach an alternate behavior”, that doesn’t solve the problem. Teaching you French won’t stop you from riding a bicycle. Consider that what I am asking should have a simple answer. It does. By definition punishment stops behavior. That means the simple, scientifically proven way to stop a behavior is….punish the behavior. A full reading of the scientific literature confirms this – but what you will get from a modern animal behaviorist (including board certified veterinary behaviorists) is a cherry-picked smoke and mirrors that guides you to their door.

The Proof is in the Pudding:
Unlike my colleagues in the world of canine behavior I won’t offer you smoke and mirrors. Here’s a look at how to do it in the real world. Note: The pup was already ingesting socks at nine weeks. She wasn’t just chewing on them. Pups with this abnormal behavior do not grow 3193_8155-17367_4_s0out of it, they die from it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFuXOY7j3cw

All joking aside, this is a serious defect in modern dog training and behavior services. Ignorance with a PhD is passed off as valid because we assume their findings are scientific. One problem. There is not a single course, text, instructor, major, practical internship or certification what would qualify an academic to use any sort of punishment. Meaning they are not trained in any way to know how to stop a behavior. Real scientific research confirms that positive reinforcement cannot stop a behavior. So does common observation and our collective knowledge of behavior. You can misdirect, strengthen an alternate behavior and do all kinds of complex evasions, but getting paid to speak French does not disable your ability to speak English. Getting a treat for rolling over has no influ3193_8155-17367_6_s0ence on ingesting a sock. Period. When someone tells you that using punishment at any level is off the table but cutting a dog’s belly open is, you can ask the old Latin question – cui bono – who benefits? If it’s your dog at risk of ingesting something that might kill it or require risky, dangerous, belly-cutting surgery or you who will have to replace a very expensive pair of shoes, it’s not you who benefits.

If you are between the rock and a hard place of a dog ingesting inedible and life-threatening objects I suggest you find someone, somewhere who can answer our pivotal question. If that person can’t tell you how to stop a behavior then you need to find someone who can.

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