Science vs Practice – You make the call.

A recent edition of the Behavior Analyst (the general magazine of the Assoc. for Behavior Analysis International) suggested new avenues and professions for behavior analysts. One of the fields mentioned was animal training with a focus on dog training. The article paints a picture that is wholly inaccurate. Dog training is a business driven by dog owners. No one cares about theoretical or intellectual achievements that do not benefit clients and their animals. Unless you own a million gallon tank and a selection of whales and dolphins, those “accomplishments” are moot points. As plumbers must know how to fix a leak, trainers must know how to stop unacceptable behavior, often immediately. That is the rub. Behavior analysts do not know how to stop behavior and almost universally oppose the logical, evidence-based tool of choice – punishment. (As proven in their own literature. Ulrich, Wolfe and Dulaney, JEAB, 1969, Punishment of Shock Induced Aggression…you can Google it and read it yourself)  The obvious problem is that clients almost always have at least one unacceptable behavior that must be stopped immediately to save the dog’s life. That is not hyperbole. Animals taken to shelters have about a 20% chance of being adopted. The rest die. Dogs with behavior problems have an even lower chance of survival. If the shelter withholds facts or simply lies to get a dog adopted the behavior will return and the new owner will return to the shelter or simply get rid of it another way. To avert this tragic but common end,  timely, cost-effective and simple solutions are the gold standard of dog training. If an owner decides that it a solution is too slow, arduous or costly, the dog goes on a one-way trip. No amount of opining over their lack of commitment is going to change their mind. They need the behavior stopped and they need it stopped now, for the right price. If you cannot fulfill that request you are in the wrong business. That is exactly what happened to Keller Breland, wunderkind of “modern, scientific training.”

According to his wife, Marian Kruse Breland (Bailey), when Keller left Skinner’s tutelage in 1945, the first species he worked with was dogs. She said that he couldn’t make a living at it. That should not surprise anyone. Though Keller is arguably the first person to formally acknowledge the use of a marker signal (a tool with more than 15,000 years history behind it) he couldn’t fully capitalize on his discovery. That is because he carried B.F. Skinner’s ideology with him. Keller didn’t know anything about aversive control and was biased against it – much like virtually all modern behavior analysts. You cannot successfully train dogs without some use of aversive control. That is a fact. Ignore it at your peril. Vilify punishment and the dog will be able to offer any innate behavior at any time for the rest of its life. That includes biting people, destroying furniture, jumping on guests, digging holes, running away when called and a host of behaviors that are statistically about 80% likely to be fatal. Why barring the use of aversive control is presented as an ethical position eludes me. All medical and psychological professional organizations consider withholding treatment and information about treatment known to be effective unethical. That is because such behavior prevents or delays fixing the problem, leaving the patient at risk and the potential that the malady will get worse. In the case of dogs, that means dead.

EG: As proof that the Skinner/Breland perspective is effective, modern trainers cite Sea World and marine mammal training as the pinnacle of operant conditioning. However, captive marine mammals routinely injure each other and sometimes their trainers. A dog kennel that allowed captive dogs to hurt each other would quickly be run out of business and no one would point to them as the pinnacle of anything desirable. If you doubt my contempt for this argument look at the hides of dolphins and whales in captivity. They show rake marks delivered by the teeth of their fellows. They also have chunks taken out of their fins that suspiciously have the same shape as the mouth of their play-mates. If marine mammal training is so wonderful, why do their animals hurt each other? The obvious question is: why don’t the trainers use their wonder methods to stop the aggression? The answer is simple – they can’t. That is because positive reinforcement cannot stop anything. As they do not use aversive control they have less than half the tools necessary to deliver excellence in behavioral control. The reality of “positive training” it that it fails anywhere it is tried. “Failed” by any logical standard or comparison to the professional standards of animal training. If zoo tigers had hunks taken out of them by their fellows, animal rights activists would torch the tent and lynch the trainers. That is why behavior analysts really need to stay away from the world of practical training. They are the originators of positive, ineffective methods. No amount of hyperbole or hubris will change that fact.

Ignorance does not normally lead to expertise: Dogs are supposed to hunt.
To offer professional services, a trainer must know what clients want and also know how to deliver that service within the time and cost restraints of the owner. There is nothing within the curricula of the various behavioral sciences that would qualify one to work in this field. Currently there are no courses, texts, instructors, practical training or certifications in the use of aversive control. That insures that no one within their “profession” is actually a professional other than in the world of academia. They profess an anti-logical, subjective restatement of normative hedonism. (Pleasant experiences are good, regardless of context or outcome and unpleasant or painful experiences are automatically assumed to be bad.)  The current understanding of dog training within behavior analysis is that the existing straw-man army of dog-trainer-abusers will fade away when confronted by superior, scientific methods. That’s what Keller Breland thought, too. Be ready for a rude awakening. To offer a Southern colloquialism, the behavior analytic dog don’t hunt.

If you are not familiar with that phrase it has a simple and perfectly applicable meaning. In Southern culture, dogs are supposed to hunt. A dog that “don’t hunt” denotes anything that does not satisfy its raison d’etre. No one within academia has knowledge that would allow them to get their dog to hunt. A handful of academically based practitioners are competent specifically because they disobey their academic training (or lack of it) If you doubt this, consider the word of Dr. Murray Sidman – student and colleague of B.F. Skinner, from his book, Coercion and Its Fallout…

“Some behavior analysts, like some psychologists, some psychiatrists, and some educators do advocate and use coercion as a therapeutic and educational technique. They resist public regulation on the sensible grounds that the treatment of the ill, the uneducated and the developmentally disabled should be left, not to politicians or to the well-meaning but uninformed public, but to the professionally qualified. But it is not correct for behavior analysts to claim exemption from public regulations on the grounds that their training qualifies them to use punishment and other forms of coercion. Such a claim is incorrect because competence in the application of punishment is not the mark of a qualified behavior analyst. I know of no training program or degree, whether in psychology, psychiatry, education of behavior analysis that qualifies its recipient to use punishment. ”

You may not perceive the irony of a man speaking as an expert while stating that his credentials do not confer expertise. His education did not confer understanding, either. That is what bushwhacked Keller Breland. That is why Keller failed at train-for-hire when he left academia and worked with dogs. Dog training, post WWII, was a large industry – it wasn’t that there were no potential customers. It was specifically because Breland held to Skinner’s restatement of normative hedonism. As Breland knew nothing of aversive control other than Skinner’s fantasies, he could not have succeeded. Breland’s only success was with browsing, grazing animals in giant Skinner Boxes – marine mammals. His “High Q Zoo” was nothing more than single-operant display cases where a chicken was taught to scratch on the top of a guitar, thereby “playing guitar” in a penny arcade. Some trick. What Breland failed to do was take the descendents of predators and improve on their existing repertoires.

Worse Than it Looks:
However,  the abysmal lack of study and imbalance of topics is worse than it looks. A the 2009 Association for Behavior Analysis International conference there were 1500 total presentations. Less than ten actually suggested that punishment is a valid tool for behavior treatment. Only two went as far as actually showing the process in the real world. Neither of those presentations, a six-hour workshop and a paper presentation, were given by academics. There were given by me. In the workshop I stopped two adult male Dobermans from fighting using positive punishment. They were still wearing the stitches from a violent battle between them only two days before. I had them lying down quietly next to each other in less than ten minutes. They fell asleep about ten minutes later. There is nothing in the world of modern behavioral science that can come remotely close to that level of effectiveness. None of the much lauded terrible side effects of punishment occurred. That’s because unlike anti-punishment ideologues, I know what I’m doing. The dogs went to sleep from boredom after I stopped the aggression. That is typical.

False Claims Both Ways: Why are there no objections to cant?
It’s not just the actual results of punishment that are fudged in behavioral science. A great deal of the information regarding “positive” methods is bogus, as is the common criticisms of aversive control. Both poles are viewed through muddled glass and yield distorted images while hiding obvious truths. EG: As an expert on punishment, I can discern one very important fact from the imbalance of academic research into reinforcement vs. punishment. You can only get several thousand highly intelligent people to ignore the elephant in the living room via one behavioral effect – contingent positive punishment for acknowledging the beast. That is because Young Turks always question the premises of their elders. If there are no Young Turks, they have either been driven away, whipped into submission or bought off with contingent positive reinforcement. The only other option is that behavior analysis does not attract the best and the brightest. Take your pick. As I have been the target of attempts to silence me by members of ABA and their acolytes, I have no doubt about what keeps the lid on the pot. Speak openly and objectively about punishment and you will be punished by those that oppose any use of punishment. That is ironic, stupid and nasty, all rolled up into one. Hint: Anti-punishment ideologues are not nice people. Dog trainer Gail Fisher says that speaking openly about punishment is professional suicide. I know she’s wrong. Speaking openly about punishment triggers professional homicide via character assassination. This is done by ideologues who must destroy anyone who questions their catechism.

To any objective observer, it is obvious that behavior analysis is a deeply flawed academic activity. It cannot truly be called science because it does not look at the world using scientific objectivity. Consider my citation above. Imagine physics if momentum was studied at a 150:1 ratio over inertia or vice versa. There is always a group within any science that moves to study the unknown. This leads to a balanced investigation of subtopics within any discipline. The great behaviorist, Ogden Lindsley, often said that in any field of science great discoveries are tested, heralded and integrated – except in behavior analysis where they will be shunned and attacked. He was right. I can stop a five year old Cane Corso (Northern Italian mastiff) from attacking people. Behavior analysts can’t. I have been a full member of ABAI since the early 90’s. They are not qualified to teach group classes at one of the big-box pet stores. If you doubt that, I gladly accept objective observations of comparable methods and outcomes. Here’s my first statement.

Watch these videos…

Side Effects of a Punishment Procedure to Fix OCD

The original problem and immediate solution.

Note: I didn’t write the script on the second video. I don’t do self promotion. Pay attention to the dog rather than what he says about my service. This dog’s life was consumed by meaningless activity. The second video is of Chloe as she was, as she became within about ten days of my intervention.


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