Monday, April 30, 2012

Are Pit Bulls Inherently Dangerous?


Are Pit Bulls inherently dangerous?

They are according to the Maryland Court of Appeals
which has voided a long-standing “one free bite” rule in the state regard­ing the rights of dog bite vic­tims to receive com­pen­sa­tion for their injuries.

In a deci­sion, pub­lished April 26TH in Dorothy M. Tracey v. Anthony K. Solesky, the Mary­land Court of Appeals ruled:

We are mod­i­fy­ing the Mary­land com­mon law of lia­bil­ity as it relates to attacks by pit bull and cross-bred pit bull dogs against humans. With the stan­dard we estab­lish today (which is to be applied in this case on remand), when an owner or a land­lord is proven to have knowl­edge of the pres­ence of a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull (as both the owner and land­lord did in this case) or should have had such knowl­edge, a prima facie case is estab­lished. It is not nec­es­sary that the land­lord (or the pit bull’s owner) have actual knowl­edge that the spe­cific pit bull involved is dan­ger­ous. Because of its aggres­sive and vicious nature and its capa­bil­ity to inflict seri­ous and some­times fatal injuries, pit bulls and cross-bred pit bulls are inher­ently dangerous.


Under Maryland law Pit Bulls will now come with strict liability, which is to say that under the opinion authored by Judge Dale Catell (42 pages):
Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull cross, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has a right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.

The facts of this case stem from a 2007 pit bull attack in Towson, Maryland that almost killed 10-year-old Dominic Solesky and seriously injured 9-year-old Scotty Mason.

Dominic's parents sued the dog's 27-year-old owner who retrieved the dog but did not tend to the injured boys who were covered in blood, nor did he call emergency 911.

Deaths from dog bites are quite rare (only about 30 a year -- far less than for swimming pools), but serious dog bites are not rare, and the majority of deaths and serious dog bites in this country are committed by Pit Bull-type dogs.

Yes, there is data on this -- look it up.

Does this mean that Pit Bulls should be banned?  The court said No.

Does that mean that Pit Bull ownership should come with strict liability? The court said Yes.

We recognize the problems that exist when breed specific legislation is proposed - which is opposed by pit bull breeders, owners and fanciers. Such opposition has been present for many years. Our opinion in the present case does not ban pit bulls, but puts a greater responsibility for vicious dogs where pit bull advocates have long argued it should be -- with the owners and others who have the power of control over such dogs. Our opinion imposes greater duties by reducing the standards necessary to hold owners and others liable for the attacks of their pit bulls.


Where you stand on the question of Pit Bulls depends, in no small degree, to whether or not you really stand for the dogs.

You see, both questions about banning Pit Bulls and strict liability are framed as if the Pit Bull issue is solely about the rights of dog owners and the rights of dog bite victims.

It's not.

It's also about the nearly one million Pit Bulls
that are killed every year in America's shelters -- over 40 MILLION POUNDS of dead Pit Bulls a year.

These dogs are bred by Pit Bull "lovers" and then sold to other "Pit Bull lovers" who then abandon these dogs to "shelters" where they are put down because no one wants them.

To put a point on it, more Pit Bull dogs are killed every year in America than the total number of dogs registered by the American Kennel Club every year.

This "Pit Bull problem" is not caused by people who hate Pit Bulls.

It is not caused by Dachshund owners or by unsympathetic landlords, or by State Judges, or by frustrated City Council members.

It is not caused by small children who are mauled while playing in city parks.

The Pit Bull problem is caused by Pit Bull owners who will not stop breeding these dogs despite the fact that there are far too many of them in the wrong hands.

The Pit Bull problem is, in short, caused by the toxic combination of over-amped dogs and sub-wattage human beings.

Absent action other than hand wringing by the Pit Bull community -- which has NOT proposed workable solutions on its own -- others have stepped in and will continue to step in with their solutions.

Will those solutions be workable?

One thing is for sure: they will not be less workable.

Denver has simply banned the dog and now has the lowest Pit Bull kill rate in the country.

San Francisco has mandatory spay-neuter and, as a consequence, Pit Bull deaths have plummeted.

Boston has mandatory spay-neuter laws and a muzzle law as well, and, as a consequence, Pit Bull deaths have plummetted

In every single case, legislation proposed and adopted by City Councils and opposed by the Pit Bull community, has resulted in legislation worked to reduce Pit Bull deaths.

Is that a win?

It is if you stand for Pit Bulls
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Dogs are Smarter Than You Think




I am not sure why Neil deGrasse Tyson was chosen to narrate this segment on dog intelligence, but he does a fine job.
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Your Argument Is Invalid

"Why the Kindle Will Fail" and Other Predictions

I have watched all of "Downton Abbey" on my Kindle Fire, and all but the last three episodes of "Foyle's War" as well as all of "Dr Martin." 

I have read about two dozen books and perused about twice that number. 

I check my emails (and sometimes answer them) on my Kindle, as well as listen to music when at the gym.

I goose through about 125 web sites and blogs a day on my Kindle as well as read the news.

So what's next on my agenda with my Kindle? 

I think today I will read Rick Munarriz's 2007 book Why the Kindle will Fail, which is now FREE for Amazon Prime members.

After that, I might read Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market (2000) written by the noted stock market liar-for-hire James K. Glassman.  I can buy a used copy for 1 cent, but I am not sure it's worth it unless Amazon Prime will chip in with free shipping. 

Not to be outdone by Glassman, other pimps, fools and book hustlers followed suit with Super Boom: Why the Dow Jones Will Hit 38,820 and Dow 40,000: Strategies for Profiting from the Greatest Bull Market in History, to say nothing of Dow 100,000And then, of course, there is Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust - And How You Can Profit from It.   A used copy of this last tract is available for 1 cent, but once again I am not sure it's worth it unless Amazon Prime will toss in free shipping.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Was Moses a Dog Trainer?



From The Wall Street Journal comes this ancient tale of operant conditioning:
Rabbi Robert Wolkoff has a recurrent nightmare. A congregant is lifting a holy Torah scroll high up in the air when it starts to tilt toward the ground. 

In the dream, the rabbi lunges forward to catch the scroll, screaming, "Watch out, watch out." Then he wakes up in a cold sweat.

Jewish congregations are struggling with the heavy weight of Torah scrolls as they look for more ways to include women and older men in the sacred act of lifting a Torah. That's prompting some to look to acquire lighter Torahs, WSJ's Lucette Lagnado reports.

It isn't all in his head.

Lifting the Torah scroll during Sabbath services—a ritual known as "Hagbah," which means to lift in Hebrew—is considered a tremendous honor. It can also be a perilous undertaking.

The average Torah scroll, which contains the Five Books of Moses, handwritten by a quill on parchment, can weigh about 25 or 30 pounds. Scrolls are mounted on long wooden poles; they are often hard to handle, and even harder to hoist. Some scrolls, encased in wood and silver, weigh 40 or 50 pounds or more.

Accidents happen, and when they do, custom calls for significant acts of contrition, including fasting. Lots of fasting.

"If you drop the Torah, the implications are dire -- the shame is enormous -- and traditionally one needed to fast for 40 days," says Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. The offender has plenty of company in hunger, as anyone who witnesses the Torah tumble must also refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.


Nice.

Of course, Moses did not actually set out the 40-days of fasting rule, but it is pretty old religious law going back at least many hundreds of years, and it probably helps explain why so many Torahs are in such remarkably good condition today despite extreme old age, war, travel, and other hardship.

But, of course, not everyone is comfortable with  a serious punishment hanging over their head, are they?

And so, in this softer world of disposable everything, the suggestion has been made that instead of 40-days of fasting as punishment for dropping the Torah, that money be paid instead -- a tzedakah contribution to a worthy cause.

But will that keep Torahs safe?  Will the person who serves as Torah lifter, or hagbah, fear a fine as much as 40-days of fasting?   Willcash be deterrent enough?
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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Secret Sauce is Commitment



When I was in Orlando over the weekend, Martin Deeley and I got into a conversation about some of the strange things people believe about dogs.

Trying to provide a helpful framework, I referenced the work of Harry G. Frankfurt of Princeton University, who notes (On Bullshit, 2005) that there is a difference between a bullshitter and a liar.

A bullshitter will say anything to get a rise -- he does not care what the truth is. A bullshitter is a fake selling his wares with whatever story, line or song he thinks will do the job that instant.

A liar, on the other hand, knows exactly where the truth is, never keeps his eye off it, and tries to steer folks far from its edges.

A lot of folks in the world of dogs are bullshitters or, to be more precise, they are squawking parrots repeating ad nauseum whatever humbug they were "told" by someone.. somewhere... sometime.

What's the pay off?

More often than not the purveyor of bullshit is simply searching for that warm glow that comes when he or she has demonstrated that they are a "special" person with a "special" base of knowledge that only those "in the know" share.

You know the type: "their" breed of dog is a rare breed designed to herd fish into nets or scoop puffins from cliffs. "Their" dog food is a boutique brand made from the dried placentas of Icelandic sheep. "Their" method of dog training is so modern and so scientific no one in the world of working terriers, sled dogs, bird dogs, running dogs, herding dogs, or guard dogs is actually using it.

A bullshitter will not provide footnotes, will not have any experience of their own, and almost everything they say will be swaddled in some sort of clap-trap theory.

To clarify, a bullshitter need not necessarily be wrong -- they are simply not very concerned if they are right. Or, to quote Tim Minchin:

You know what they call alternative medicine that works?

Medicine.


Bingo.

The world of dogs is old, and most everything has been tried. If something works in the world of dogs, it's no longer an "alternative" anything -- it's just another tool in the box, to be used if needed, depending on the problem at hand.

The simple fact is that Frank and Rudd Weatherwax, the owners and trainers of Lassie, were training dogs with food, praise and a choke chain long before B.F. Skinner saw his first pigeon or built his first "Skinner Box," complete with electrified shock floor and food bucket.

But of course, no one wants to pay homage to the old. Everyone wants to be "new" and everyone wants to be "special".

Ironically, in this way, we are all the same.

The result is that in the world of dogs, we are neck deep in bullshit.

Am I the only one to have noticed? Of course not!

I bet you too have noticed that pet people seem to be a little more susceptible than most to such complete malarkey as aromatherapy, homeopathy, and fear-mongering about preservatives used in vaccines.

Slap the words "holistic," "natural," or "human grade" on any kind of dog food, and pet people will buy it no matter if it has never seen a feed trial and if it is manufactured by a nameless, faceless third-party company that gets its ingredients from God Knows Where. Beef, chicken, corn and soy are deemed to be "bad" merely because they have stood the test of time, but pumpkin, flax seed, clover and potatoes are deemed excellent because they are brand new and sound great!?

And is it any different in the world of dog training?

Of course not.

Now, to be clear, I am not talking about any one method of dog training. As I have said before, almost almost all methods found in books actually work.

But isn’t that true for human exercise down at the gym too?

And really, is a dog trainer really that different from a personal trainer?

In both cases, the client comes to the table knowing the basics but willing to pay a little money if there is some some sort of "magical solution" that does not involve time, self-discipline, and (to tell the truth) mind-numbing boredom.

Eat less and exercise more? Who wants to do that? No one!

And so the rallying cry of the personal trainer is the same as that of the dog trainer:

  • Like me.
    .
  • Trust me.
    .
  • Pay me.


Both the personal trainer and the dog trainer may claim expertise in a bit of magic not found in a book, but you will have to sign up for the course or buy the system ("a $600.00 value for 3 monthly payments of $39.95") to find out the rest.

Right.

And what is this secret knowledge? What is the "secret sauce"?

Down at the gym the personal trainer may be pushing a special diet, or his own recommended rotation of weights, or a certain set of calisthenics.

And will it work?

Sure, provided you put in a hour of hard labor everyday and mostly eat vegetables. If you follow up on that by cutting out the fats, sugar, carbs, booze, cigarettes, and dope, I am pretty sure you can be whipped into shape in 120 days!

And what is the "secret sauce" of dog training? It's pretty much the same.

If you put in an hour a day, every day, exercising your dog, and if you read a few books on well-timed rewards-based training and measured consequences for bad behavior and follow the program every day, I am pretty sure you can transform your dog into a model citizen in 120 days or so.

Of course, neither your personal trainer nor your dog trainer is likely to be as transparent as I have been about the entire process.

And maybe you don't want them to be. I mean if you're going to pay money to get external reinforcement for your lack of internal discipline you may want a little "secret sauce" to hide that fact.

No problem. A lot of personal trainers and dog trainers know this is exactly what you want, and so they are only too happy to whip up a little "special sauce" for you.

Don’t be surprised then if your personal trainer talks about the Gylcemic Index, the Montignac Diet, the I-tal diet or the Kangatarian diet. He or she might talk about cross-training, periodization, plateaus, and isometric exercises.

While pushing their diet and exercise recommendations, don't be too surprised if they also start to demonize or minimize other systems as being less effective, slower, or perhaps "toxic" because they "create too much cortisol."

Remember, it's not enough that your new system works. The old system has to be bad. In most religions, it's not enough that you go to heaven; everyone else has to go to hell.

However it goes, though, one thing is always the same: If you really want a new body, you will have to get off your ass, exercise more, and eat less. Every trainer presents a different set of sticks and carrots, but not a single one of them has ever presented a magic wand.

And what about dog training? It's petty much the same thing.

Whatever dog trainer you end up going to, they are sure to talk about rewards-based training and socialization, fear-based aggression, canine motivation, and timing. The smarter ones will also talk about simple measured consequences to end unwanted self-reinforcing behavior.

While pushing their own brand of dog training, most dog trainers also demonize or minimize other dog training methods, explaining that they don't work or work more slowly, or are "cruel" or "old" or "not scientific" or don't result in a happy, health dog no matter what you may have seen or others may have said.

However it goes, though, one thing will always be the same: If you hope to end up with a better behaved dog you will have to get off your ass, exercise your dog, and spend more time communicating with it in a consistent and well-timed way every day.

Exercise, rewards, consistency, timing, consequences and lots of repetition. Though every trainer will present with a slightly different set of carrots and sticks, those are the commonalities and there is no magic wand.

Nothing I have said here should be too shocking. Market segmentation is as old as markets, and "secret sauce" come-ons are as old as cookbooks.

I am not opposed to secret sauce market segmentation up to a point.

All I ask is that people don’t lie.

Don’t tell me a Fruitarian diet cures cancer when Steve Jobs died of cancer after eating a fruitarian diet for years.

Don’t tell me early childhood vaccines are dangerous when nothing has improved the lives of people (to say nothing of dogs) more than vaccination.

Don’t tell me I can eat as much as I want and still shed several pounds a week.

Don’t tell me a toe tap is a kick, or that a leash pop is animal abuse.

Don’t tell me that every Pit Bull is as dangerous as a wild lion OR that Pit Bulls, as a breed, are exactly the same as every other dog.

Don’t tell me slip collars cause cancer or that electronic collars cause hypothyroidism.

Don’t tell me that bottled water is medicine, or that ground up seaweed is a cure for "chronic disease and premature aging."

Don’t claim to be "national research council" when you are nothing more than a vet tech with an opinion.

Don’t tell me you are a "scientific" dog trainer when you do not have a degree in science and do not use every quadrant of operant conditioning or classical conditioning at all.

Don’t tell me you are a famous dog trainer in Great Britain when you do not own a dog at all.

And, above all, don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining!

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dog at the Breakfast Table



When researchers let dogs choose between two plates of food, one with a single piece of food and the other with six pieces, the dogs generally went for the larger portion.

However, when a human showed a clear preference for the plate with the small portion, the dogs apparently recognized and responded to the human social cues and went for what we perceived as "best".  >> To read more

Pearl: In the Dirt and In Retirement

Pearl in the dirt.



Pearl is now in "retirement" with my folks a couple of blocks from where I work.  I took this picture with my cell phone at lunch yesterday.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Freak on a Leash



This is a champion Neopolitan Mastiff in India, and the worst looking dog I have ever seen.

It is important to note Neopolitan Mastiffs are very rare breeds, and are outliers in the dog world in the way that circus freaks are outliers in the human world. Of course, even in the world of circus freaks, there are some freaks that are more shocking than others, and this Neo falls into that folder. This dog's death will be a relief to itself. If it could load the gun and pull the trigger, I have no doubt that it would.

How did this dog come about? It was, as is the case with so many dog breeds, a conflux of pretender and pretension, avarice and ego, with defomity, disease and dysfunction held together with the glue of delusion and denial.   I tell the complete story here.
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The Truth About Consequences





Operant conditioning was featured in the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory, above, but of course it finds its way into our news cycle every day (see today's news headlines appended at bottom of this post).  

Notice what Sheldon says about the relative speed of using pleasant rewards alone, as compared to a more balanced approach that pairs rewards with less pleasant consequences. 

Of course in the real world things are a little less simple than the scenario presented here, and many issues have to be factored in, such as what behavior is being shaped, how long it has been going on, whether it is neutral, or whether it is strongly self-rewarding.

For example, would chocolate alone have been enough to prevent Leonard and Penny from having a sexual liaison?  Don't count on it!  

Would it be possible to "train a different behavior" for Leonard and Penny and have it reliably stop all geek love?  Don't count on it!

What if the behavior that Penny was presenting was not just annoying -- it was extremely dangerous to her, and a single wayward incident could kill her?   Would it be OK to engage in a little aversion then?

This last question is not a contrived situation, but one which Karen Pryor glosses over in her book Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer.


The porpoises and whale themselves, in their quests for entertainment, often created problems. One summer a fashion developed in the training tanks (I think Keiki started it) for leaning out over the tank wall and seeing how far you could balance without falling out. Several animals might be teetering on the tank edge at one time, and sometimes one or another did fall out. Nothing much happened to them, except maybe a cut or a scrape from the gravel around the tanks; but of course we had to run and pick them up and put them back in. Not a serious problem, if the animal that fell out was small, but if it was a 400-pound adult bottlenose, you had to find four strong people to get him back, and when it happened over and over again, the people got cross. We feared too, that some animal would fall out at night or when no one was around and dry out, overheat, and die. We yelled at the porpoises, and rushed over and pushed them back in when we saw them teetering, but that just seemed to add to the enjoyment of what I'm sure the porpoises thought of as a hilariously funny game. Fortunately they eventually tired of it by themselves.

Yes,  fortunately, they eventually tired of it by themselves.   

Fortunately.

One has to wonder, however, if perhaps a little aversive natural consequences had something to do with it. 

For instance, what about those scrapes and cuts?  If a trainer did those that would be horrible, but if the animal did it to itself and changed its behavior by itself, can we then say "fortunately"?  

And what if the trainers were a bit late or a bit slow to get a porpoise back into the tank?  Did the animals get both hot and uncomfortable?  If a trainer did that on purpose, of course, that would be horrible and cruel, but if it was simply "one of those things" and the animal learned and changed its behavior, then can we use the word "fortunately" again?

And what if we have the exact same situation, but instead of a porpoise, it's a dog climbing out of its kennel?   Freedom for a dog (especially an intact male that can smell a female in heat) is a very self-rewarding behavior, and most dog owners have had a dog climb out of a kennel as a result.  The age old solution is a fabric kennel cover and a hot wire.  Is it OK for an owner to put in a hot wire to create an "unnatural" consequence that, to the dog, will seem as natural as any other?  If not, why not?  If so, why so?   Does it matter that the dog may die if it gets out even once?


 

OPERANT CONDITIONING IN THE NEWS

Let's Slow Jam the News With Barak Obama!


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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More Domestic Terrierism Needed

From the BBC:
Foxes have damaged equipment during an Olympic shooting test event ahead of this summer's London Games. The animals have chewed cables, wrecked microphones and soiled the podium area at the event, being held around the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. They have evaded capture - or worse - even though more than 800 of the world's finest shooters are present. [ source ]
So has it come to this? Will domestic terrierists be needed to put the Olympics on a proper footing?
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When People Think Strange Things About Dogs


"You can train dogs all you want, but as soon as they die, they forget it all."


I was a speaker at the 12th Annual International Association of Canine Professionals in Orlando, Florida over the weekend and met a bunch of terrific people and their dogs.

I asked the same question over and over of all the dog trainers I met: "How did you get into the world of dog training?

The variety of answers I got back was dizzying.  I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of backgrounds -- everyone from the first woman ethologist in the U.S., to a former electronics technician who now had a decade of solid dog work under his belt.

Along with a diversity in backgrounds, was a diversity of training methods.  This was not a "one size fits all" crowd -- a point underscored in Martin Deeley's excellent presentation entitled "There Are No Magic Wands".

So what did I talk about?  My presentation was entitled When Good People Think Strange Things About Dogs, and it was a naked attempt to try to get dog trainers to suit up for a new American dog culture centered on meritocracy, rather than to parrot the contrived British dog show culture fashioned to salute aristocracy.

Dog trainers, it seems to me, have a stake in people doing things with dogs, and they have a stake in dogs living longer so that their training investments are not wasted by disease, dysfunction and death.

As I told the conference participants:  "You can train dogs all you want, but as soon as they die, they forget it all."

For those interested in the slides and the text of my presentation, I have put up a PDF of both here.
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Monday, April 23, 2012

Dick Russell Was All About the Dogs



Not the last of the dog men, but a very good one. This is an American story.

Kickstart this movie into existence.  Click and treat.
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Guide Dog Calls Cops When Blind Woman Attacked

Dogs Exercising Well



On the rings.



On a treadmill.



Doing squats.
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Saving Lawyers One Direct Mail Letter at at Time




As I have noted in the past, the vast majority of funds raised through direct mail by the Humane Society of the U.S. is spent on sending out more direct mail. Almost all the rest is centered on attacking farming. Not a dime goes to directly helping shelter animals.

This is not to say that HSUS does not do some things that have some value.

It is to say, however, that donating to HSUS is a stupid way to help animals -- the financial equivalent of heating up your coffee by burning a $100 bill.

By the way, I am not a huge fan of Humanewatch, either. This is an "astro-turf" group created by a fellow that has found his niche here in Washington, D.C. by running attack campaigns on behalf of ethically bankrupt industries.  And yes, that includes fast food restaurants, the meat industry, the alcohol industry, the tobacco industry, and the gun industry. 

Flim-flam men to the left of me and apologists for collateral killers on the right.  What a town I live in, eh!?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Opening for the Pope


People were lined up along the streets in Mexico to see the Pope, but this little fellow thought all the attention was just for him.   And why not?
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Friday, April 20, 2012

Funny Every Time


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Cheese and Choke Chains


A little more of this, a little less of that.

That's what training is all about no matter what type of beast is being trained.

Most people know how to reward positive behavior, and to be honest it's not that tough to train a small child or a new puppy.

But what about bad behavior that is strongly self-reinforcing, and may have gone on for years without any opposition at all?

"Train a different behavior" we are told, but of course those are just words. The answer to a barking dog is not to "train it to bark on command and then never give the command," no matter how often that bit of nonsense is repeated. For dogs, barking is a self-rewarding behavior, same as deer-chasing and digging in trash cans for stray scraps of food.

But, of course, not all training is about dogs and small children is it?

We also train adult people, organizations, corporations, and even clients.

And is all that training done using a "click and treat" paradigm?

Of course not.

Nor could it ever be.

For example, what are we supposed to be doing with criminals who rob our houses and shoplift in our stores?

Are we to reward them every time they decide not to rob us?

Are we we supposed to buy a meal and a movie ticket for a rapist every time they allow a pretty girl to walk by unmolested?

I think not!

And what about corporations that engage in illegal theft, profiteering, and bill-padding, or which manufacture products that maim, poison or kill?

Are we supposed to give tax breaks to all the companies that don't kill us and don't poison us and don't rip us off?

Are we supposed to "click and treat" companies full of liars, cheat and thieves as soon as they stop lying, stealing and cheating?

How do you "train" away corporate bad behavior with a purely-positive rewards-based system?

Believe it or not, that question reared it head a few weeks back when I was asked to speak at a conference entitled "Control the Corporation" put on by Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law.

Control the Corporation? We might need a pretty big leash for that!

So what did I suggest? Did I suggest "shooting the dog" and getting rid of big corporations, or jailing top executives?

Nope.

That's never going to happen. The biggest corporate scoundrels are companies that are "too big to jail," and their top managers are "too privileged" to jail, no matter what anyone might wish.

That said, I did not suggest "click and treat" as an appropriate solution to ripping off and poisoning America's oldest, sickest and poorest!

Instead, I suggested incentivizing the right good actors, and penalizing the right bad actors, and in both cases making the gain and the pain very personal.

In short, there is a place for cheese and choke chains.

It's not a matter of one or the other
-- it's a question of using the right tool on the right problem at the right time.   Training is training.

And YES, you can dog train the corporation!
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Fish on Friday

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Not a Fish on Friday


Bryde Whale, Baja Caifornia (source and click to enlarge)
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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kindergarten Drill Instructor?



How unpleasant does a "punishment" have to be in order to discourage a behavior?

That depends on the age and past experience of the animal, the temperament of the animal, and the nature of the behavior you wish to discourage.

A general rule is that the "NO" has to be at least as strong as the "GO," but if the unpleasant action is well-timed, and there is no previous pattern of bad behavior to break,  the correction does not have to be very serious, nor does it need to be administered for very long or very often.

Puppies and children, for example, can be steered with little more than a 95-5 mixture of verbal praise and slightly harsh words.  In fact it generally does not take too much to steer even a normal well-adjusted adult away from a neutral but unwanted behavior.  Tap an adult on the side of their nose with one finger, for example, and see how they recoil even after they have been warned that you are going to do it to prove your training point.  Ego deflation is a massive aversive with humans!

But what if a bad behavior is truly self-reinforcing, has gone on without consistent correction for a long time, and explodes a deeply ingrained genetic code as well?

How do you reduce bad behavior under those circumstances?

The U.S. military has found the cure.  Here is what they have been prescribing for a very long time:

  1. A lot of physical exercise;
    .
  2. The creation of a human pack dynamic by reducing personal identity (shaved heads and identical uniforms) and making everyone operate as a unit;
    .
  3. Clear instruction about expected behaviors, and clear instruction on how to do those behaviors, and;
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  4. Powerful aversives if those expected and taught behaviors are not performed.

When all four-parts of this program are put together, the result is the rapid transformation of undisciplined raw recruits into a well-oiled fighting force that is second to none in the world. 

People who once drifted in unhappy sloth and self-centered turmoil now have a life with a purpose.

Do Marine Corps Drill Instructors "click and treat" their young charges with bonbons, booze, and effusive verbal praise?  

Nope.  

The message of the Drill Instructor to a new recruit is the same as a dog trainer with an adult dog that is exhibiting bad self-reinforcing behaviors that have been tolerated for far too long:  You are no longer going to be treated like a child, we are going to give you basic instruction, and we are going to impose standards, consistency, clarity and consequences in your life.

Job One is exercise, and Job Two is basic instruction about daily activities to be reinforced with a rigid schedule.  And yes, there will be consequences for getting it wrong.

And, of course, it works like new money.  

There are, of course, different horses for different courses.  

If a parent tried to train a small child using the same training techniques employed on a green Marine recruit, the result would be a very unhappy childhood.


 




One size does NOT fit all.  Surprise!

You do not train a confused kindergartener the same way you train a 22-year old Marine Corps recruit with a sense of privilege, and you do not train a Marine Corps recruit with exploding hormones and oppositional defiance issues the same way you train a seven-year old who still wets his bed at night.






Is operant conditioning at work in both cases?  Of course.  But just as the recipe for a cookie is not the same as that for a cake even if the ingredients are basically the same, so too are the mixes of rewards, punishments, and cues different for people (and dogs) at different ages and with different life experiences, learning goals, and performance standards.

Is very serious "bomb proofing" of Marine Corps recruits done with aversive techniques?  Yep.  Think rubber bullets, live grenades, and mace, but also think a million push ups, a 1,000 squats, full- pack running for miles, and so many leg lifts that wayward recruits are sure they are going to drown in their own sweat. 

Of course no one in the Marine Corps or the Army is trying to cause unnecessary pain, but if a little aversion therapy is all it takes to make sure a life is saved and the unit works, then the Marines and the Army are more than fine with that.

In the military, you either see the light or you feel the heat.  The cost of failure is simply too high to settle for less.
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Shocking News About B.F. Skinner



I always smile a little when I hear clicker trainers talk about the "science" of dog training.

The transparent message is that people without science degrees of any kind are now armed with the cloak of science because they went to PetCo and got a clicker, read some sensible training tips on a list-serv, and have a few cubes of cheese in hand.

Why do I smile? Simple. You see, to the extent there is a "science" to dog training (and I will let others debate the semantic edges there!), it was sparked by B.F. Skinner who used "Skinner Boxes" to teach animals to press levels, guide bombs, play tic-tac-toe, and dance in circles.

Left out of the story, however, is the fact that Skinner boxes had electric floors and could administer "mild" electric shocks to rats, monkeys, and other animals inside. Please notice the power cord and the electric floor grid in the "Skinner Box" diagram at top.

Of course the fact that B.F. Skinner jolted animals with electricity is hardly surprising. After all, the three core parts of operant conditioning (which were well understood by circus trainers long before B.F. Skinner named them) are rewards to encourage behavior, doing absolutely nothing to extinguish behavior, and engaging in "punishment" to discourage behavior.

So, to put a point on it, if you insist on calling yourself a "scientific" dog trainer, be sure to show me where you plug in the electric grid, or how you administer your mild aversives. Science is not philosophy -- it is the opposite of that. Science, like Mother Nature, is not particularly soft. In fact, it is more likely to be red in tooth and claw than warm and fuzzy. Every dog comes with teeth to instruct. Not one carries a clicker.
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Goodnight Levon Helm and Thanks for the Music


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RIP.  Never dead.  Just resting on the other side of the mountain.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Boundaries of Life and Death


The Boundaries of Life and Death from Saskia Kretzschmann on Vimeo.

"The Boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"
. . . . . . . . -- Edgar Allen Poe

Then and Now in the House of the Tortoise

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Political Odd Jobs and Nut Bags

Spot on Mr. Rorschach!

OBAMA WAS RIGHT! This crazy lady IS a gun grabber! Where is the Republican OUTRAGE?

TED NUGENT FOR MITTENS ROMNEY. Because nothing says patriotism like draft-dodging by shitting in your own pants and wearing them for a week.

AND GOD SAID, "Let there be Chaz" and He saw that it was all Good.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Bunko Tales Told in Emails



The picture, above, was sent to me during the middle of Hurricane Katrina. It purported to be an Alligator found swimming down the middle of a road in the Ninth Ward, New Orleans.

The only problem, of course, was that the picture does not show an Alligator -- it shows a Nile Crocodile. And though this 21-foot beast is very real, it was shot in the Congo in front of the Petroleum Club, Plage Sportive, in Pointe Noire back in 2003.

Then, of course there was the email of the giant snake. It seems "an Australian sheep farmer was puzzled at the disappearance of sheep on his farm" and then one day he found the animal, below, killed by an electric fence on his property.





But, of course, it could not be true.

The snake shown is an African Rock Python, which is not found in Australia.

A quick search turned up the true story: the snake was found dead at the Silent Valley Game Ranch in South Africa. The snake had just eaten an impala and was trying to go under the fence when it was killed by the electricity from the fence.

And just to tie it back to dogs, the Silent Valley Game Ranch does have Jack Russells -- they had one that was gored by a Wart Hog.
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Bribery, Extortion or Incentivized Listening?

Over at TechDirt they dare to ask Is Lobbying Closer To Bribery... Or Extortion?

Actually, I think it's neither; it's something different -- what I would call incentivized listening.

It's pretty rare for a policy maker to be "bought" out right. More likely he or she is intentionally listening to only one side of the story.

The clip below was shot in November for a film in production about the DC Influence Industry. I am not sure why they thought I should be interviewed (I am no expert on lobbying!), but if someone wants to ask me questions on a Saturday, I will answer them, and let's see if anyone salutes!

IACP Conference in Orlando


I am one of the speakers at the 2012 International Association of Canine Professionals conference in Orlando, Florida this Friday and Saturday.  My own talk is about "When Good People Think Strange Things About Dogs," but the talk I want to hear most is that by Martin Deeley:
Martin will evaluate the narrow approaches and the radical movements that expound them, whether it be all positive or predominantly pressure. He will put into plain words how one must develop resourcefulness, instead of the one-equipment approach. Martin will use his own experiences, both with dogs and with the public, to explain the benefits of being versatile, as well as some of the pitfalls. He will look at the current trends in the canine world and ask the question, “Should there be any pendulum between total positive and total pressure? Should we pigeonhole canine professionals and criticize them by saying they only use one magic wand?”


In short, big tent or small tent?

One size fits all, or different breeds and different needs?

Or, to put it another way:  How come your boss at work does not scream or make the staff run laps for small infractions, but a Marine Corps Drill Instructor never cracks a smile, and yet no one trains their own children using either method?
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Monday, April 16, 2012

Golden Bullets: A "True" Story of Africa



In his excellent book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe, Peter Godwin tells the story of the early days of a certain section of Zimbabwe:

[I]n 1832, as the [followers of Nxaba, a Ndwandwe chief] fled further north, they came across the Portuguese settlement at Macequece, a gold-trading post and mission station. The Nxaba attacked it, and during the fierce battle the Portuguese ran out of bullets. In desperation, they broke out their boxes of bullion, melted the nuggets over the fire, and poured them into molds to cast bullets of gold. I had always been fascinated by that story when I was growing up. Imagine that, casting the bullets out of the gold that was your most precious possession? Literally using your riches to save your lives. And I used to think about the bodies of those Nxaba warriors felled in the bush, with gold bullets lodged in their flesh. And whenever I read in the press the phrase a silver bullet, or a golden bullet, to solve some problem, I thought of those Nxaba warriors, those Nxaba corpses, lying on the riverbank. And the fact that the golden bullets used by the Portuguese didn’t turn out to be golden bullets in a problem-solving way, after all. The Portuguese ran out of gunpowder, and the Nxaba killed them all

Do I actually believe this story? Not for a second.  If one is under attack, there is no time to make bullets.  Besides, if you are firing an 1830 smoothbore, and have powder, small stones will do as well as bullets, but neither will be as accurate or as quick as a bow and arrow or a pike.

But do I think this story of gold bullets was told in old Rhodesia, South Africa, and Mozambique as a warning and a lesson that all the gold in the world would not hold back the inexorable tide of Africa and majority rule?

Absolutely. In fact, I think this story still works very well on that level today.
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Just Stay out of My Woods ... Please


In a world of morons behaving badly, we now have how-to manuals:

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Going Negative as Dog Trainer Marketing Tool


Someone sent me this link, which I think says it about as well as it can be said:
The trainers that identify as “positive reinforcement dog trainers” tend to spend way more time explaining what methods, techniques and tools they don’t use, rather than explaining their own personal training ideology. Their website content, blog posts and Facebook pages are full of tired, now decades-old, rhetoric decrying any method that isn’t theirs as “un scientific” or “outdated” and “based on old ideas and mythology.”

In short, though they say they employ a positive methodology, their message is primarily negative.  Before I go on, let me set the record straight. When a trainer identifies as a “positive reinforcement trainer,” what they are essentially implying, or often saying outright, is that they reject the use of one of the 4 learning quadrants of operant conditioning -the use of positive punishment – in their dog training protocol. By doing this, they also imply, or also come straight out and say, that if a trainer doesn’t follow their philosophy, they probably just rely on the use of just one of the quadrants, positive punishment, to achieve results. Furthermore, they will go on to cite examples of extreme punishment techniques that they never do. They talk about old, “military style” training techniques. They describe horrific things like hitting, kicking or hanging a dog by the leash, and then categorize these abusive techniques right along with the use of any type of training collar. On and on they go. “Never work with a dog trainer who does this”, “I never do that”. Negative phrase after negative phrase.

What’s missing from their websites though, is an explanation of exactly what it is they do to achieve results, and what those results are....

... Effective dog training is results driven, and so is having a successful dog training business, especially in these times of social media, reviews, and instant status updates. If a dog trainer is not getting results, they probably aren’t getting much business. If that’s the case, then just like a candidate with slipping poll numbers, they begin to switch their message away from what they are capable of achieving, and focus on what others, like their more successful competitors, might be doing wrong.
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Coffee and Provocation



Terrierists:  It's Time to Rip Off the Insurance Industry:
It's time the pet insurance industry was made to subsidize terrier work.  In the UK, TescoBank pet insurance writes;  “Pet insurance doesn't have to be expensive. This option gives you essential cover - so if your pet is involved in an accident and hurt or is attacked by another animal, we'll cover your veterinary fees up to £3,000 per injury caused by an accident for up to 12 months from the first date of the injury or up to the vet fee limit, whichever happens first.”

Goodby Merial Hello PetArmour and PetTrust:
A group of former Merial pharmaceutical executives have left to start "FidoPharm" which is now making the generic versions of Frontline -- the same stuff at a lower price.  Is "PetArmor" really "half the price" as advertised?  Maybe.  That depends on what you were paying for Frontline.  FidoPharm is also selling PetTrust which is the generic version of Heartgard Plus. Again, it's the exact same stuff at less money.

Your Robot Overlords:
Will Robot Overlords patrol our forests for fire?  Count on it.  They will probably plow our fields too.

Why E-books are Not as Cheap as You Imagine:
One reason e-books are expensive is because paper does not cost very much.  If you want book to cost less, then we have to cut out author advances, design, marketing, publicity, office space, and staff.  Of course, the other reason that e-books cost more than you would think is that there has been massive price-rigging fraud going on.  The U.S. Department of Justice is on top of it.  Maybe.

Priorities:
The latest Indian census reveals the population of that country is more likely to own a cellphone than have a toilet at home.

Sleep Deep With Your Gun Safe Close at Hand:
How about a gun safe that doubles as a box spring?  Perfect for the responsible small-house paranoid!

Your State is #1 in What?
Virginia has the best high school in the country.  Maryland has the wealthiest families.  West Virignia is tops in toothlessness. North Carolina is tops in sweet potato production.  Alaska is tops in suicides.  Maine has the lowest incarceration rate.  Pennsylvania is tops in deer collisions.  Check out the rest!

Coffee bars in the U.K. in 1959:
Coffee is an American drink, and tea is for the British.  Here's why.

Real Patriots Pay Taxes



The voice on this cartoon is Cliff Edwards, aka "Ukelele Ike", an American singer and voice actor who specialized in jazzy versions of pop standards and novelty tunes in the 1920s and 30s and who later went on to voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio (1940).
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

One Out of Every 7 Dogs in the AKC...




  • One out of every 7 dogs in the American Kennel Club is a Labrador Retriever.
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  • The top ten most popular breeds in the AKC account for more than half of all registrations, while more than 100 of the more uncommon breeds account for less than 15% of the total.
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  • Or, to put it another way Labrador Retrievers account for more AKC registrations than the 118 least popular breeds COMBINED.
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Tomorrow Is Friday the 13th

63
source

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Sweet Tweet


Language With Terroir

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The Internet is an inspirational place
where millions of people reach out to locate kindred souls, share knowledge, and build worthwhile communities and information resources. Most of these people stand up straight, have real names, have real email addresses, do pretty solid research, and can look other folks in the eye.

Ironically, the Internet is also a sad place full of angry, pathetic and lonely losers who seek to destroy community, sow confusion and spread disinformation. Most of these folks are anonymous cowards who do not seem to have real names, do not have real email addresses, do not do any real research before typing, and who will never look anyone in the eye because they are fakes and know it.

Imagine my surprise to discover that this last group actually has a Wiki entry to describe them!

And yes, they really are called Anonymous Cowards.

Other terms that are apparently used are: "Anonymous Idiot" and "Random Fuckbag."

Lovely. And, of course, there is the old standard: Troll.

Run a blog, forum or web site and you will get such creatures showing up. They are like rats in a barn and they come in several forms: hit and run posters, cyber-bullies, flame-baiters and sock puppets, to name just a few.

Of course the Internet is increasingly international so "Random Fuckbag" has to find its equivalent in other languages.

And so I have recently learned the Spanish phrase: "Pendejo sin nombre," or "nameless asshole."

Cool. Very international.

But what about the other languages? What's the equivalent in French? In German? In Finnish? In Dutch? In Swedish?

A quick run at Google Translator suggested "anonymous coward" in Dutch (anonieme lafaard), French (lâche anonyme), German (anonymer Feigling), Swedish (anonym feg), and Croatian (anonimnih kukavica).

But how to begin to translate "Random Fuckbag"?

I decide"old condom" is about as close as I am likely to get with Google Translator, which obligingly suggests equivalents in Dutch (oud condoom), French (vieux préservatif), German (alte Kondo), Swedish (gamla kondom), and Croatian (stari kondom).

I know these phrases are not quite right and do not carry the necessary sauce for the goose. What is really needed here are foreign-language colloquialisms.

Sadly, however, the Internet has not yet been perfected to that level.

An "anonymous idiot" or "ashole" may work as descriptive insult in any language, but it lacks distinction as a result. "Random fuckbag" is handmade phrasing that is probably unique to the English language. It is idiom with at least a little bit of terroir left in it.

It is language with legs.
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