Saturday, April 29, 2017

The "P Word" Some Dog Trainers Have Forgotten

Training is going on all around us all the time.

So too is bad behavior.

Most of the time, however, bad behavior is put in check, not by rewards but by aversive consequences.

These two men will stop fighting pretty quickly once the police come, and they will not be quick to fight again after the police haul them to the station, book them, and they have to explain to their spouse, children, and boss why they have to go to court, pay a fine, and spend the weekend in jail.

No policeman ever said:  "We have to know why they are fighting in order to change their behavior" 

No policeman ever said: "It will take a long time to teach them not to fight."

Police and the criminal justice systems know something; Fighting is a self-rewarding behavior.  

Sometimes it feels good to get the adrenaline up and pop someone in the nose.

And yet, it doesn't happen too often in our daily lives because time and experience has shown us that staying calm and walking away results in a better long-term outcome almost every time.

When did we learn that?  Was it second grade when we were pulled down to the principals office and our parents were mortified because we were suspended for a day?

That didn't take? Then the penalties got higher until they did. How much do you want to lose? Your allowance? The car? Your freedom? Your job? Your future?

Our entire legal system swings on penalties to stop self-rewarding behavior, whether they are penalties for simple assault or robbery, sexual assault or embezzlement.

Why is our legal system focused on penalties?

Because they work.

Rewards are great for encouraging people to show up early, study hard, and help paint the gym, but none of those behaviors are internally self-rewarding, which is why they have to be externally self-rewarding.

How do you stop internally self-rewarding behavior, and how do you stop it pretty damn quick?

Punishment.  The "P" word.

And does punishment work?  What if it physically hurts these two men?  What if it psychology damages them or their community?  Is there a better way?

Those last three questions are good ones to ask, but they are subordinate to the FIRST question: Does it work?

Did having the police show up, book these guys, and send them to court and jail (while taking a deep dive into their wallets) discourage them from rushing out to fight again?

Yep. That works.  Significant memorable consequences are remembered and shape future behavior.

That's why punishment is the core response used to stop self-rewarding anti-social behaviors all over the world.

But that's not how the modern dog trainer does it, is it?

They suggest we try to distract these two men with something shiny or fun.  Perhaps a girl, or a martini, or a five dollar bill.

They suggest we exercise these two men more so they are too tired to fight.

They suggest letting them fight and as soon as one slows down and is not swinging quite as hard as the other one, that we jump in and say "what a good boy" and toss them an Oreo cookie to encourage more of that kind of behavior.

They suggest turning our back on them and just ignore the fighting.

They suggest having one work the night shift, and the other the day shift, so they never run into each other.

They suggest that we try to figure out why they are fighting.  Maybe they need to be socialized more? Maybe it's a medical thing?  Maybe they're bored or its a dominance thing? Have they both been neutered? Is it smell?  Are they resource guarding?  Is a woman in heat nearby?

But you know what they never quite get around to suggesting?  Punishment.

And you know what they never quite get around to asking?  Did the punishment work?

Ask the trick trainer how to stop a dog barking at every squirrel it sees through a window, and it's either "pull the blinds" or "teach a down stay," or my absolute favorite:  "teach the dog to bark on cue and then never give the cue."

Putting a bark collar on the dog is not suggested. That's too easy.  Where's the 50-hours in training at $20 an hour in that?

But does it work?

Like new money.  


Buenzlihund said...

What a great post. I am laughing hard here but it is actually very sad, that you even have to do a post about it.
I think it is about the simplest part of dog ownership (or horse ownership, which I feel is even worse than with dogs): To know your Nos and Yesses. Not every dog will make it very easy for you -here the e-collar would serve you well if you may use one-, but knowing the goals and boundaries truly is for beginners.
With my first Jack, educating him was a walk. The second one is much much headstronger and suffers from severe distractability. IF he catches a command, he will execute it (or start to execute it) and will be distracted right away by the next sight, sound, smell, itch or his perpetually running legs... like quicksilver. Now -he's almost 5 now and more organized. There was quite some training put into him with trainers (he was my mom's dog at first, but since I had to take care of him when she went on vacation, he changed hands at some point when she got frustrated with his crazy obsessive behaviour). Things improved only little. It wasn't a learning issue or handling in general nor dominance etc. He was just very lively. I was pretty pleased how he performed when with me, but it wasn't good enough to safely let him off leash or even lead him on the short lead along a road. He'd just always forget what we are doing. So i finally decided to ignore all law and get an e-collar. A good one. Tested it on myself first, then on my old dog and put it to use on the current one. Voila! Off leash in the field at all times, comes, stops, heels and breaks any behavior at a mere whisper over distances... it is a marvel. In short: a changed dog. A happy dog. And the best thing is the fact, that now he works almost as well without the e-collar. I think we need a change of law... but that's unlikely to happen.


Pretend dog trainers or is that modern dog trainers?

I don't agree with calling 'positive only' modern. There is no such thing as positive only. You watch a 'positive only' trainer, and the with-drawn rewards, praise and affection all the time. This is negative punishment.

It's like people can't actually get there heads around operant conditioning as a learning model and prefer to just play it safe with 'positive only' like a politically correct alternative to a bad person who abuses a dog using negative reinforcement. So cruel.

Thanks Karen Prior for mis-educating the masses and the masses being dumb enough to buy it. Well some of them. The divide is so evident these days with many topics, isn't it! lol.

Realistically there are great modern dog trainers out there, using all the tools in the bag, including and most important their knowledge of dog behavior. Look at the likes of Bart Bellon for Sport and TYler Muto for general manners. Both are open and honest about the techniques they use and apply them scientifically while honoring the spirit of the dog they work with.

Whats the difference between Karen Prior and Cesar Millan?

Karens seminar will have 200 dog behavior psychologists, a submissive Labrador and a clicker....

Cesars will have 100 rowdy dogs, with owners in tow.

It's like who actually knows what they are talking about?

Kenya said...

My money would be on Cesar in yhat scenario. Pet dog owners are some of the most irresponsible people I've met and seen when it comes to caring for and training a living being. It's funny, I've been training dogs on my own since I was 12, and never seen positive reenforcment work on a wide variety of dogs. It only really works for the behaviors the dog WANTS to do. Like chasing,biting, barking and playing. It's how you get great hunting dogs. Take one that WANTS to do it, encourage him to do it and teach them when not to do it or restrain him so he can't do it. So if 12 year old me could train dogs and have dogs that not only listened, but seemed to enjoy doing so, then anybody could essentially train their own dog. Btw, I never used a shock collar or choke collar, but I did use a boot to the butt if they got out of hand. Still do.