DRO, DRA – silly concepts and dead dogs.

Behavior analysts have a language of their own. This makes sense as their language is designed to describe what happens in a tiny little box where rats press levers and pigeons peck keys. Most of it doesn’t make sense. All of it demonstrates a bias that ignores reality. Perhaps the weakest concept to come from behavior analysis is the idea that positive reinforcement can remove inappropriate or unacceptable behavior. According to them, all you have to do is create a situation where you apply “differential reinforcement.” The differential part is that one behavior is reinforced and other behaviors are not. Supposedly this will cause the unreinforced behavior to go away. For instance, many modern dog trainers and behaviorists suggest that you can stop a dog from rushing the front door by teaching it to lie down for treats. The two jargon terms for this process are differential reinforcement of other behavior (DRO) or differential reinforcement of alternate behavior. (DRA) At best, these two terms reveal an unscientific bias that permeates behavior analysis. The bias is in favor of “positive” methods and opposed to “negative” methods.

The first proof of this statement is that in behavior analytic language there are two polar opposite forces – reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement increases behavior while punishment decreases or stops behavior. To “shape” a behavior, on selects specific criteria for reinforcement. (That’s why it’s called differential reinforcement) Those aspects of the behavior that are reinforced increase. Behaviors that are not reinforced decrease. To be accurate the decrease is the result of what is called negative punishment. However, when the process is described, the “P” word is never used or acknowledged. i.e. It’s not differential reinforcement, it’s differential reinforcement and punishment. As a single operant emerges through differential reinforcement, all other behaviors decline because they are punished.

If this sounds like something is missing it means you haven’t figured out the bias, yet. Behavior analysts hate punishment and will not use the “P” word if they can help it. They have created a fictional world where merely giving treats can arrest and reverse any behavior – without ever mentioning that the disappearance of the “bad” behavior was achieved through punishment. To them, DRO will cause a dog to stop rushing to the front door in answer to the door bell. All you have to do is reinforce the dog for lying down, away from the door. One veterinarian behaviorist attempted that with what looks like a peer-reviewed research project. She taught 20 dogs to lie quietly when before they would have been fractious at the door. The project was not actually objective scientific research. Her motivation was that she wanted to prove the efficacy of a costly “remote feeder” (A product with her name on it with a share of the profits going to her pocket). Her findings were these – it took four months to get all 20 dogs to do the trick. It also required professional trainers to help the dogs’ owners achieve this result. In reality, it takes less than ten minutes. I have given you three parts lists for variations on a theme that is highly effective. .

How to Inhibit Charging the Front Door, Including Aggression:

  1. Voice controlled: Cost – nothing if you have a towel and a couple of rubber bands.
    1. One 24″x36″ bath towel
    2. Two #64 rubber bands.
  2. Trip-wire with alarm: Cost – $5.00
    1. Window and door alarm from Harbor Freight Tools ($2.00)
    2. Towel and rubber bands
    3. Dispenser of cellophane tape from a $1.00 store.
    4. Spool of neutral tone cheap cotton thread
    5. Sharpie marker.
    6. 3-6 feet of 3/8″ braided poly rope – red and white or blue and white candy-stripe. ($1.50)
  3. Fancy Infra-Red sensor version: Cost – $23.50
    1. Doberman Security Passive Infra-Red Entry Alarm (Available at Home Depot for $19.00)
    2. 3-6 feet of 3/8″ candy-striped poly rope. ($1.50)
    3. Towel and rubber bands.

These parts lists can be used to perform a differential reinforcement and punishment procedure. That is the most powerful type of behavior modification. They all take about five minutes to completely inhibit the behavior. The differences are simply that of convenience and increased inhibition over time. They can be performed by a fifth grader. No harm comes to the dog. It’s your choice. Blasting out the front door can get a dog killed. If it takes four month to “kind-of” control the behavior (the vet behaviorist didn’t include any information about how long the control lasted or how much maintenance it took) then the animal is at risk for four months. If a solid inhibition can be taught in less than ten minutes by an amateur the real question is why one needs a vet behaviorist to solve that problem.

Here are two views of the process – one was produced for both content and production values and the other is live.


Note: Virtually every behavioral wonk and modern dog trainer will attack this as cruel and propose terrible horrible side-effects that prevent a humane trainer from using these methods. The Pit Bulls were going to be killed if they went out the door again. Maricopa County Animal Control does not make idyll threats. The naysayers never actually suggest a practical way to stop any behavior. They can’t – they don’t use punishment and reinforcement. By definition, positive reinforcement cannot stop a behavior. Positive reinforcement increases behavior. To propose using exclusively positive reinforcement means that there is never a need to stop a behavior. That means that if an owner hired one of those experts to stop their dogs from going out the front door immediately, professional ethics would require the positive trainer or behaviorist to reject the case and not take their money. I am not aware that they ever do that. They mostly tell the owners that punishment is evil and risky and has terrible side effects. In this case, their objections are specious. 20 mos. later, those two pit bulls are still alive because I immediately created an inhibition regarding their front door behavior. The “four month” DRO program would have likely ended their lives. I saw the dogs about 6 times after the initial training with the door. I used lots and lots of positive reinforcement for other behaviors – but the inhibition at the door never needed to be repeated. The dogs didn’t hate me or their owners. When I arrived they were joyous – but they didn’t greet me until I get into the family room. I created this process more than 25 years ago. I have done it thousands of times and never injured or alienated a dog by teaching immediate, effective boundaries. Anyone who wishes to propose dire consequences has merely revealed that they do not know how to do it correctly or at all. If you should meet such a person ask their actual training and experience using both reinforcement and punishment.

As an aside, I have never understood the calloused attitude of people who preach the use of exclusively positive training. Their methods lead directly to death for untold numbers of dogs. The only way they can get away with their rhetoric is to ignore the reality of dog ownership in America. They do that to gain elevated status as “nice” trainers and to grab a market share. i.e. Cash in their pockets. They demonize anyone who uses punishment in order to garner business with methods that are plainly ineffective. – methods that cannot compete with a balanced, logical, professional use of  reinforcement AND punishment. Because their methods yield poorly, they spend much of their time getting the public to lower their expectations and bad-mouthing effective trainers. The dogs they train are not dependable so they must convince people that effective training is highly over-rated. They studiously avoid the grim reality that lies underneath ineffective training. EG: While working in shelters I destroyed thousands of dogs for plainly innocuous behaviors – jumping on people, darting out the front door, chewing up a $5,000 hearing aid or sofa. No one will keep a dog that is continually destructive or dangerous to their children, neighbors, themselves or other animals. (Jumping dog = child’s concussion as he hits the floor. Dog gets in the pantry and consumes a pound of cat food = death from pancreatitis) If you can stop the behavior the owner will keep the dog. If not, not. 80% of animals taken to shelters die. How does bonking a dog with a rolled up towel compare with being dumped in a landfill as a lifeless corpse? That is the choice. Claiming that DRO is effective is self-serving rhetoric, nothing more. If anyone out there wishes to do a blind trial to test my conclusions, I am at their service.


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