All Positive Trainers: Illogical, to say the least.

Lewis Carrol wrote Alice in Wonderland. He was also a mathematics professor and lecturer. One of his least known but incredibly interesting books is about logic, specifically syllogisms. Here’s an example of how Dr. Dodgson (his real name) used fantasy to teach a little used mental tool – logic.

  • Babies are illogical;
  • Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile;
  • Illogical persons are despised.

    Logical conclusion: Babies cannot manage a crocodile.

  • My saucepans are the only things that I have that are made of tin;
  • I find all your presents very useful;
  • None of my saucepans are of the slightest use.

    Logical Conclusion: You have never given me a tin saucepan.

  • No potatoes of mine, that are new, have been boiled;
    All of my potatoes in this dish are fit to eat;
    No unboiled potatoes of mine are fit to eat.
  • Logical Conclusion: The potatoes on this plate are not new.
  • No ducks waltz;
  • No officers ever decline to waltz;
  • All my poultry are ducks.

    Logical Conclusion: My ducks are not officers.

Here’s how Carrol/Dodgson would have created a puzzle out of modern dog training ideology.

  • Leashes punish;
    No “all positive” trainers use leashes;
    All trainers use leashes.
    Logical Conclusion: There are no trainers who are “all positive”.Pretty clear, now, isn’t it? The rhetoric of “all positive” trainers is just that – words intended to persuade rather than to explain or define. They all use leashes. Leashes punish a dog’s free movement and autonomy. Leashes also negatively reinforce an arbitrary proximity to the handler. i.e. Those are examples of aversive control. Here’s another little syllogism for you.

–B.F. Skinner opposed the use of aversive control throughout his career.
–Effective behavioral control requires aversive control to stop or inhibit behavior.
–B.F. Skinner created what is now called “learning theory.”

Logical Conclusion: No one who uses “learning theory” offers effective behavioral control.

…and a final one to keep your mind sharp.

–Modern trainers and behaviorists claim to use scientific principles to guide their methods;
–Science confirms that to stop a behavior, especially aggression, the correct tool is punishment; (Ulrich, Wolfe & Dulaney, JEAB, 1969, Punishment of Shock Induced Aggression)
–Modern trainers and behaviorists do not use punishment to stop aggression.
Logical Conclusion: Modern Trainers and Behaviorists do not use scientific methods.

If you have followed the process the conclusions are pretty clear. To believe in “all positive” training one must never use aversive control – but they all do. That is because they use time-outs…withholding desirable experiences to reduce unwanted behavior. That is a clear example of negative punishment. They also use leashes. Leashes punish an animal’s desire to go where they want to. Every time a dog bumps up against a leash they are being punished. If the animal inhibits bumping up against the leash it is an example of positive punishment. As I stated in my syllogism, ALL trainers use leashes. All trainers use some form of punishment. So, how can one contradict this simple logic? They distort the language to create illogical arguments. Specifically, they twist the definition of the word punishment. In their lexicon it means “abuse”. That is clearly unscientific. The scientific definition of punishment does not imply abuse. It does not imply nasty, dangerous, painful or traumatic, either. When you refrain from stepping into a heavy rain storm you are demonstrating an inhibition created by past punishment. When you put up your collar to protect your neck from a cold, hard wind, you are showing previous negative reinforcement. How are these influences bad? i.e. Aversive control is a normal and incredibly important part of learning to survive on planet Earth. It causes you to hold still and not walk in front of a bus. It teaches you how to hold and use a knife without cutting your fingers off. For dogs, it is critical that they experience aversive control to teach them to live with people. They must not bite people, destroy things or jump on ancient aunts who come to visit. To suggest that there is some benefit to the fantasy of “all positive” training is as illogical as having a baby manage a crocodile or, if you are a fan of Lewis Carrol, as illogical as hunting a Snark.

4 thoughts on “All Positive Trainers: Illogical, to say the least.

    • Julie Cook, of course it’s used incorrectly – but that is intentional. It trades off the common cultural assumption that “positive” things are good and “negative” things are bad. Then they use the word “reinforcement-based” but neglect to mention that negative reinforcement is just as much reinforcement as positive reinforcement. As for force-free, that would be equally incorrect as a simple leash or collar applies force and changes behavior. Reward-based training is as meaningless as “balanced” training. I use about 1% aversive control in my work and whenever I mention punishment at a seminar or on the internet I am attacked. Meaning their public statements are contradicted by their zero tolerance of any suggestion that aversive control may be necessary to create a polite dog. The straw-man of reward-based trainers is the “punishment based trainer” – a non-existent boogeyman.

  1. Lee Charles Kelly, the Gentle Leader is a punishment tool. That being said, it illustrates the intentional distortion of the language by ideologues. The assumption that the word punishment = abuse has been fostered for about 70 years in our society which makes it difficult to impossible to discuss it logically.

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