In an era where language is being hijacked to further agendas, it should come as no surprise that the language of Dog Training is no longer exempt. The language is being tainted with a political correctness not seen to this degree in any other industrial vernacular. Within the last few decades, the AVMA has bestowed a degree trac in Applied Animal Behavior that is based on the linguistics of the scientific community with little or no practical applications. Their model has always been the controlled study (read sterile laboratory environments and clinical study) of marine mammals, primates and an assortment of animals in cages, tanks and mazes. Their principals are based either wholly or in part from the works of B.F.Skinner who practiced psychology during the mid 20th century.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/bhskin.html

The gist of his research gave birth to a revolutionary movement in dog training, spearheaded by the interpretations of the works of the Brelands;

http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Breland/misbehavior.htm

Bob Bailey and Marian Breland Bailey

http://www.webster.edu/~woolflm/bailey2.html and others.

In his work, “Training Dogs, A Manual” Konrad Most predates many of these applications of the 20th century with observations made from his work with dogs in military and civilian applications. His work stood as the hallmark for dog training throughout Europe and fell out of favor due to methodology that many deemed ‘harsh’ and ‘inhumane’.

But not without being plagiarized for it’s content before being dismissed as “outdated”.

Still the applications of positive reinforcement and negative inducers are still in practice throughout the world today. He explains the concepts of capturing behaviors using these inducements in work that was started prior to the turn of the last century and published for the first time in 1910.

According to Wall Street, a ‘correction’ is a swift change either upwards or downwards in sales of stocks.

According to Main Street, a ‘correction’ is waking up the morning after the stock market took a 500 plus point nose dive and you realize that your little nest-egg was just used for a souffle’.

According to Princeton’s WORDNET, a correction is defined as:

  • S: (n) correction, rectification (the act of offering an improvement to replace a mistake; setting right)
  • S: (n) correction, fudge factor (a quantity that is added or subtracted in order to increase the accuracy of a scientific measure)
  • S: (n) correction (something substituted for an error)
  • S: (n) correction, chastening, chastisement (a rebuke for making a mistake)
  • S: (n) correction (a drop in stock market activity or stock prices following a period of increases) “market runups are invariably followed by a correction”
  • S: (n) discipline, correction (the act of punishing) “the offenders deserved the harsh discipline they received”
  • S: (n) correction (treatment of a specific defect) “the correction of his vision with eye glasses”

In the current vernacular, it is always assumed that the use of correction is a use of force. Therefore, the definition of correction has become automatically to rebuke or discipline.

It is simply not so.

When teaching a dog to sit on cue, emphasis must be placed on what the dog views as meaningful. If a pat on the head serves as a meaningful reward than it stands to reason that the retraction of that form of reward can serve as a correction, or in the eyes of many; a rebuke or discipline. If a dog can be encouraged to perform a behavior for a treat, a toy or a game, the removal of that reward serves as a correction. This is what is termed as NEGATIVE PUNISHMENT, or the removal of something desirable contingent on an organism’s behavior.

See where the language of dog training gets puzzling? None of these things can really be construed as ‘punishment’ as we know it, however they are. All of them can serve as a ‘correction‘, but none of them really fit our mental profile of a rebuke or discipline either.

It gets worse:

In the Skinnerian vernacular, the addition of something to affect an organism’s behavior is called ‘Positive’. The subtraction of something that affects an organism’s behavior is called ‘Negative’.

A positive punishment is something added to the environment causing the likelihood of decreasing an organism’s behavior.

Huh?

Appetitive: something the organism finds meaningful and desirable. A strong wish, or urge.

Aversive: something the organism finds repulsive and is deterred by.

OK. So….
Negative Reinforcement is the encouragement of a behavior through the removal of a consequence.

Positive Reinforcement is
the process of following an action or response with something that the subject wants; a response is required before a positive event.

Alrighty then…

So am I adding something in order to decrease the likelihood of a behavior reoccurring, removing something to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring, adding something to …

OK, so now you get the picture.

My concern is this: In the study of marine mammals, these experiments are conducted in an environment so removed from the environment that we find dogs in that the correlations regarding their training are simply not applicable. Same with birds, primates, lab rats and so on. They live in labs, big tanks and cages. Our dogs do not. They live in our homes, on our streets. We come in contact with them in some way every day.

Whales do not chase kids on bikes, threaten the mailman nor eviscerate our family room furniture, but still their ‘training’ is held as the new standard for canine behavior. They live in TANKS at Sea World and other aquatic parks and demographically (considering the minuscule populations of whales in captivity) POSE A GREATER RISK to their “trainers” than the whole population of dogs on the continent.

There is an inherent risk of devaluing the dog at our feet in favor of training models that represent species housed in such a way that any of the variables related to the environment are FIXED.

A whale in a tank at Sea World has little chance of leaving for greener pastures if the chum treats he gets for jumping through big hoops fail to stimulate him. A quick search of YouTube gets you videos from as recent as a year ago where ‘trainers’ were toyed with much like they would be if they were prey animals in the wild.

I’ll be a b’leever when I see these techniques on animals other than captive ones.