But I Want to Use All the Tools in the Tool Box!

Have you heard the one about the toolbox?

This is the sixth in a series that details and rebuts fallacious arguments against force free training. Today’s erroneous argument is directly related to “But Every Dog is Different!” in that it claims that training without punishment (certain “tools”) is just too limiting. But since it centers on the potent metaphor of the toolbox, I’m treating it separately.

OK, about that metaphor. Naturally, I went and got a public domain graphic of a toolbox for an illustration. Here it is.

Toolbox

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thought experiment. Is this really a good metaphor for our methods when training dogs? Tools for cutting, prying, banging, twisting? Yipes!

This led me to do a little research. It may well be the great trainer and author Terry Ryan who originated the toolbox metaphor with her two books, “The Toolbox for Remodeling Your Problem Dog,” and “The Toolbox for Building a Great Family Dog.”

The blurb for the “Remodeling” book says,

The toolbox is a set of principles and practices you can use to analyze and address any behavior problem you encounter.

She goes all the way with the building metaphor in those books, with chapters on raw materials, building supplies, the foundation, etc. But I think something really interesting has happened.

Ms. Ryan’s metaphorical toolbox was a “set of principles and practices.” The metaphor caught on, but started to change a bit. The expression came to mean a set of training methods. Get the difference? That’s a little narrower and more concrete. Methods rather than principles. And finally, nowadays for many trainers, the tools they are referring to are often, well, physical tools. Gear including correction collars of various sorts.

I personally may be done with using that metaphor–if only I can think of something else!

Who’s Got a Bigger One?

But on with the discussion. First, I would wager that the average trainer who relies mainly on positive reinforcement and negative punishment already has a much bigger toolbox than someone who uses aversives. The aversive “tools” (for instance prong and shock collars) are pretty one-dimensional. Not that they can’t be used with more or less skill. Sure they can. But as I’ve mentioned before, it takes no special expertise or devotion to figure out how to hurt an animal. Countless Joes and Joannes on the street have figured out how to do it.

But trainers who seek to use positive reinforcement would already have a big toolbox to begin with, and if they found the dog difficult to motivate, the onus would be on themselves to expand it. They would be working hard to find all possible wholesome motivators for their dog, with the goal of getting reliable behavior with a happy dog, free of fear and threats. So this image of the big gleaming toolbox with certain wondrous tools “off limits” for force-free trainers is not accurate.

Please see “But Every Dog Is Different!” for an expansion of this point.

Are you back? Great!

See if you think the following logic holds.

(Almost) Everybody Has A Limit

I propose that the problem with a force or balanced trainer saying, “I don’t want to limit myself to only certain parts of the toolbox like you do”  is that in almost every case there is another trainer further down the line who can say that to them.

I put forth that almost every trainer knows about some aversive techniques they will not use. It is not only the force free trainers who ignore certain sections of the huge fictitious toolbox. Most trainers have their limits.

I would guess that most balanced trainers would not use Koehler’s method to remedy digging: filling the hole with water and holding the dog’s head under. Neither would most use a method I read about in a bird dog training book on teaching the dog to hold steady:

“You’ll need your checkcord, a choke or spike collar, and an assistant who is strong enough and willing to jerk a dog over backward with the checkcord at the proper moment…  When he hears the shot and sees the bird fall, the dog will break. Don’t say a word, and be sure your assistant remains silent but braces his feet and gives the dog the somersault of his life when he hits the end of the check cord.”–Ultimate Guide to Bird Dog Training, Jerome Robinson

You certainly could find people who still do these things.  A quick perusal of YouTube can show these methods and worse. But even for those trainers–there might be a method they wouldn’t employ.

Next time a trainer says they want “access to every tool in the toolbox,” try asking them whether there is any method in the world they wouldn’t use. If they need prompting, you could name some. The point is not to be aggressive about it.  The point is that you might get across that it is not at all “limiting” to avoid methods that don’t fit into your ethical stance. Especially when your “toolbox” is gloriously full and varied already.

If someone uses the toolbox metaphor to you, I think you could get in some really interesting discussions if you asked them why they don’t employ certain methods. Doesn’t the same metaphor apply? If it breaks down, then why are they saying it to you?

A Different Metaphor?

Like I said above, the toolbox metaphor is much too entrenched to fight. But for me, the more I think about it the less it fits. Besides the harshness of the idea of applying hardware to dog training, the whole tool thing fails to highlight the mutual learning that goes on between a trainer and a dog. I’m really not as interested in sculpting my dog into some ideal as much as I am interested in that magical partnership that is born when we learn together.

So I thought about it. I tossed aside “cornucopia,” “toybox,” and “treasure chest.” My new metaphor is a “bag of tricks.” And it’s a bag that my dogs and I can both open.

Photo credit: Kenneth Rivenes. Thanks Kenneth!  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sprengstoff72/3294941579/

Photo credit: Kenneth Rivenes. Thanks Kenneth! http://www.flickr.com/photos/sprengstoff72/3294941579/

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek.

Eileen Anderson on Google+

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37 Responses to But I Want to Use All the Tools in the Tool Box!

  1. Sharon Wachsler says:

    But, Eileen, “bag of tricks” sounds so fun and playful and…. Oh, wait.

  2. Sonya says:

    I get the feeling I’m missing an inside joke with the “bag of tricks” comments above 🙂 I do like bag of tricks. I shall use it until I find a metaphor of my own. Or I may never find my own and will forever pay you royalties LOL Now that you’ve mentioned the tool in the toolbox metaphor, I don’t like it so much. Not only the idea of tools for “cutting, prying, banging, twisting”, but also for fixing. I don’t like to “fix” dogs (or people) in the way we refer to inanimate objects such as cars and appliances. Behavioural change and modification is not “fixing”. It ‘aint cut and dried and it’s always fluid.

  3. Sue Alexander says:

    Interesting post and not what I was expecting.

    I don’t want to “use all the tools” but I really do feel that there are times when many of the tools are the best choice. Primarily I use R+ and P- in my training but from time to time, I will use R- and P+. My question isn’t which quadrant am I in, but rather “is this humane” when I am training. I think that defining being in the R+ quadrant as being humane is simplistic at best.

    • Hi Sue, and thanks for the comment. I agree that defining R+ as humane is simplistic. Hope I didn’t imply that; I’ve written so much about it in other posts. For me though, the quadrants help. I don’t mean in a “recipe” sort of way. My study (I’m not a pro) of dog body language and quadrants inform each other.

      • Sue Alexander says:

        You didn’t, but your blogs are being used to support that point of view, widely on the net in places like Facebook.

        You mention above that you think that trainers who limit their choices to R+ and P- are already using a toolbox bigger than those trainers who choose to use aversives. What do you base that observation upon?

        In my observations of dogs trained by pro retriever trainers and schutzhund trainers, they have a much more subtle understanding of reinforcement than you might imagine. The good trainers; not Joe Q Public who slaps a choke collar on his dog and lifts him off the ground every time he sees another animal that might elicit a response, but the good trainers, set their dogs up to succeed every time they possibly can. They use the minimal level and number of aversives they are able to do. They take a great deal of care to make the work interesting and relevant to the dog. I don’t see this in the R+ trainers doing this. What I am seeing is a lot of R+ trainers self congratulating that they never use aversives, without ever asking the dog if he wants to participate in the game at all, without being aware of the issues that surround asking the dog to do things he may not be interested in. I also see a whole lot of R+ trainers who quite simply don’t train the dog. they dispense a lot of treats, but they don’t get stimulus control over their dogs.

        I would ask; have you watched much training using aversives in the hands of people who really understand what they are doing? Or are you basing your thoughts on the myths that abound related to the work that is done by the average dog trainer who doesn’t understand the technology, the motivation of the dogs, or the theory behind it?

        I want to be clear; I am not advocating that we all go out and put prongs and shocks on our dogs. But I am challenging the view point that this is all bad and always bad.

        • Those are very good questions, Sue. And it’s always good to call someone on a sweeping generalization (the toolbox thing). Let me answer your last question first. I haven’t viewed that much training by people who know how to use aversives. But I have polled balanced trainers (who identified themselves as such) to ask them how and when they use aversives. There were definitely some with very thoughtful approaches, who did understand learning theory and were basing their actions on trying to optimize the learning experience and end behavior for the dogs and themselves. So I’m not lumping them into the franchise folks who slap on a shock collar. And it’s good to remind me not to do that.

          Also I agree that there are R+/mostly trainers out there whose dogs are stressed by and/or uninterested in the process. Every kind of trainer across the board, and absolutely me too, would benefit from more observation of the dog. And stim control, well yes. I don’t see the numbers of people you do, but speaking for myself only, as a pet owner stim control isn’t always high on my list. And sometimes it can be important and a humane consideration. But I think about these issues (trainer unaware of stressed dog, and dog throwing behavior because of lack of stim control) and I see how much worse they can/would be if the person were using aversives. (That’s a short cut statement. I’m still thinking about it and will write more about this at a later date. I have limited time today and I think they are very important points.) It’s complicated since we are talking about different populations of trainers and different goals.

          Finally, on what I base my observations. The toolbox particularly needs to get big when the trainer (whether Joe Public or IPO competitor) gets a challenging dog, yes? Or when they are training something very difficult. I’m truly not trying to micromanage the metaphor, but I think it does get bigger if a person is determined to do it without the tools we mention than if they do use them. I have learned from your comments, however. I think I did say that R+ trainers automatically have a bigger toolbox. I think there are plenty whose toolboxes are small, now that you mention it. But given that they are small, I’d rather they contained (maybe too many) treats than aversives. I really didn’t mean that to sound like a rim shot line.

          You’ve given me good food for thought. I value calm discussion and logic and I don’t want to get overblown.

          • Sue Alexander says:

            I too value calm discussion and logic. You might enjoy some of my blogs that also deal with these issues.

            I deal with some very complex dogs in very complex situations. IME, the more complex the problem the stronger the foundations need to be. So when I am working with a dog who has killed another dog (two on my casebook at the moment), then I want to simplify their environment dramatically, and then start teaching foundational behaviours to fluency. Most of that would be done using R+/P-. But perhaps I want to teach the dog that charging other dogs is just not allowable. Ever. Perhaps I don’t have the luxury of managing the environment for duration while I change the dog’s motivation. Perhaps the dog is a risk to the animals he lives with. In that case, learned suppression of the predatory sequence MIGHT, maybe be a better alternative than manage, change the motivation and then train alternate behaviours. Do I “want” to use aversives? Not particularly. But it might in a given scenario be the best alternative (shock IS painful; but is much less stressful than being degutted by your housemate).

            I think one of the biggest fallacies of the R+ versus P+ argument is that P+ is by definition unfair, abusive or stressful. I ran a workshop at one point where we did an experiment related to aversive control of behaviour. We used a child’s blow toy as the aversive. Any time the learner did a behaviour on the list of unwanted behaviours, the trainer would blow the blower. The blower was a small tube of cardboard with a curled paper tube that would flick out and honk when blown. It took the learners very few tries to learn that when they did one particular thing, the trainer would do a silly behaviour that was mildly annoying but that they could avoid that by not doing the behaviour. No one was stressed; they just didn’t like the blowers and so worked to avoid them.

            I hear a lot from the R+ crowd about how you learn nothing from punishment. Not true. My learners learned not to do a perfectly benign behaviour (I think it was sitting down if I remember rightly), in order to avoid a consequence they didn’t like. Real solid learning happened. No one got hurt, stressed or even really annoyed. They just learned to not do something.

            When we talk about the tool box or the bag of tricks, you have to realize that to say that those who include P+ in their repertoire often are every bit as careful and well thought out as the R+ only trainers. If you are going to use P+ you in fact have to very careful not to create learned helplessness and ending up with a dog who won’t do anything at all when you are using aversives. You have to use the least level of aversive control to suppress the behaviour and you have give the dog the opportunity to be successful frequently lest he quit. A lot of the really good trainers who use P+ just don’t talk to the R+ crowd any longer because they are tired of the rhetoric. They are tired of being painted as one single group. And the view that the use of P+ makes you an animal abuser is as limited as the view that using food makes you an ineffectual cookie pusher.

            good chat; thank you for the thoughtful replies.

            • I think about mild aversives in human life a lot. I’ve thought about writing a post titled, “I’ll never do that again!” Punishment happens in life all the time without our giving it much thought. For instance, let’s say one day taking my favorite route home they are doing some extensive work on the street. Being delayed is aversive so I don’t go that way the next day. This fits the definition of positive punishment. (If anyone wants to argue that it’s negative, that I got my freedom to drive home in a timely way taken away, substitute some oak trees in the springtime along my favorite route dropping sticky pollen on my car.)

              However, if that’s my favorite route home, I won’t be permanently avoiding it. Sooner or later I will try it again. Especially if I think the roadwork will be done or I know that pollen season will be over. My behavior of taking that route was not permanently suppressed.

              And that’s the issue I see with your story of the noisemakers. It’s easy to suppress an unimportant behavior temporarily in humans with a very light aversive. And not particularly traumatic, I’ll take your word for that. But I am having a hard time imagining a realistic situation of that type with my dog.

              If I had a corner of the room that I just didn’t want my dogs to go into, I could run over there and pat them on the head (positive punishment using a light aversive) every time they went there. As long as there were nothing attractive there, they would probably start avoiding that corner of the room. But we are rarely in that situation. The behaviors we want to suppress are usually being reinforced. Dogs don’t want to go hang out in a neutral corner of the room; they want to go where the soft couch is or the food crumbs are, and those are the reasons we don’t want them there. Reinforcers. So as soon as the behavior is attractive in some way, the amplitude of the aversive necessary to punish it has to go up, usually way up.

              (Also, even if the corner of the room weren’t attractive, I would probably have to do the head patting enough times that they would also start avoiding

                me

              . And that’s another problem with most punishment in a nutshell.)

              I want to say to other readers about your shock example that using shock in a dog aggression case is fraught with peril. (I appreciate your saying that shock hurts. The denial of that is perhaps the corollary to “punishment doesn’t work,” which you will never hear me say.) What I will say, and what is backed up by decades of research, is that punishment has fallout, no matter what someone’s skill set is. And if the precise behavior to be punished is “charging another dog,” then the other dog will always be there when the punishment occurs. The shock can become associated with the other dog and potentially increase the aggression. A known and well documented result of the use of punishment generally is increased aggression.

              Finally, I would be silly to argue that punishment, done with good timing and appropriate amplitude (minimize fallout, maximize result), takes no skill. In the piece I mentioned that there is certainly a wide variety of skill level possible with using an aversive. Sure, doing it “well’ is harder. I don’t know that I have seen it, though. I’ve read what people say and am willing to believe someone is doing it skillfully. But the balanced trainers I see in person, as well as many in videos online, tend to bring out the aversives pretty early, and often on dogs who without question haven’t generalized the behavior, or are overstimulated in the environment. And while it seems that the skilled R+-based trainers are becoming ever more artful at fading food and toy treats, I don’t see collar pops or shock collars fading in that way at all. The level of aversive being used has to be maintained.

              I do thank you for your posts, Sue. You have given me food for thought.

            • Sue Alexander says:

              Let me play devil’s advocate here for a couple of minutes. I want to be clear that I rarely use punishment and I am not advocating that we start using MORE, but just that it is a poorly understood quadrant that rarely gets talked about any more and there are a lot of assumptions without the science behind them that they might have.

              To start with, let’s look at your car analogy. You could also argue that construction is a form of management effectively setting up an environment where you decrease the likelihood of the behaviour not through learning but through control over the environment. And let’s move one step further into your car analogy to the sap dropping tree. Trees drop sap for only a certain time of the year. I remember my grandparents discussing which route to take late one summer. No Warren my grandmother said; it is late summer and we will get sap and bugs all over the car. Let’s go the other way. The rest of the year, they took their normal route, but during August, they skipped the tree lined street they loved. It effectively suppressed their behaviour of going down the street at a certain time. You could say that late summer acted as a conditioned positive punisher for their driving habits.

              Now let’s look at the durability of punishment. In isolation, you are right. The rules for punishment (and yes, there are rules-but most folks don’t talk about them!) state that the punisher must be severe enough to immediately suppress the behaviour. If you are using the punisher over and over again without effect, then the punisher isn’t strong enough and you are being abusive. OTOH, if you use a punisher that is SO strong that the dog is completely shut down, you are also abusive. The second rule is that the punishment must occur every time the undesired behaviour happens. So let’s say that you put a spray deterent can in the corner of the room disguised behind a plant so that the pet could not see it. Every time he went to that corner, he would get sprayed. You would be following the rules. But let’s say instead, you the trainer sprayed the dog with a super soaker every time you noticed that the dog was in the corner. At first, you notice every time the dog goes in. But over time, harassing the dog becomes boring and you only notice 80% of the times that the dog goes towards the corner. Now you are not playing by the rules and the dog begins gambling because everytime a punisher does NOT happen is actually a reinforcer. This sets up a condition where the dog is actually on a variable schedule of reinforcement for going into the corner and this creates a stronger not weaker behaviour. Something else that the R+ crowd seems not to consider when they are thinking of the consequences and fall out of punishment. You can and often do set up a situation of VSR for the target behaviour. hmmmm.

              Now. let’s turn the situation around. Let’s talk about the resiliency of reinforcement. Let’s consider what happens when you train a behaviour, and then stop reinforcing it. You would hold punishment to the standard that it must work in few repetitions and last forever but you forget that positive reinforcement works on the same principle. I trained a dog four years ago to heel off leash. We haven’t been working on it for the past two years because of a back issue (his not mine!). If I asked him to heel off leash, he could do it, but he would not have the flash, panache or accuracy that he had four years ago. Why? Surely if I am a good trainer, the dog will develop a skill and maintain it! Not so. Brains are organic and when you don’t use the information you lose it. Worse, if you practice the behaviour but you don’t reinforce it from time to time, the dog will get annoyed and stop working. So punishment and reinforcement actually follow the same rules when it comes to resiliency of effect, except that a behaviour with a strong punishment history drags along with it the effect of becoming a reinforcer when it is absent.

              The fallout of punishment is well studied and understood. Paul Chance wrote a terrific book called “A First Course in Appllied Behaviour Analysis”. In his book he has a chapter devoted to the fallout of punishment. The effects include:
              1. frustration on the part of the learner, including an increase in defensive or aggressive behaviour.
              2. Mimicry; the learner does what the trainer does.
              3. Two factor effect-the association between an unpleasant consequence and the environment. If you go into the research, there is actually a lot of supporting evidence that one factor effect is also valid. One factor effect or theory is that only classical or operant conditioning occurs at one time. I wrote a blog about this calle the Kettle and the Killer Whale.

              If we are going to criticize punishment we really need to know more about it. When I started studying for the CBCC-KA, I had to read Coercion and its Fallout by Murray Sidman. I was looking forward to the read because I had heard from many respected trainers about the importance of this work. From the very first page, in the very first chapter, it was fraught with fallacies. This led me to go and start reading more deeply about punishment. It led me to read the source research about punishment. There are a lot of myths out there about punishment. Most of the criticism about P+ is based on the bias of the writer, the retelling of the stories, and the criticism not of the method itself but of the misuse of the method. We need to learn about what science is (I wrote a blog about that last week) and how to evaluate research. We need to actually read the source material about punishment. You say in your comment that there is a lot of research telling us about how dangerous punishment is; can you cite that research? Have you read it yourself? Is it solid research or is it research with too small a sample size?

              I will never say that punishment is the first concept we should be drawn towards, but when we are critically examining a situation, some of the time, it is the better choice, when properly used.

            • Just a couple of things, since I have some other posts in the works.

              I knew you or somebody would get me on the seasonality of the sticky pollen! I was tired and that was the best one I could think of right then.

              I am well aware of the issues of the magnitude of punishment. In my dog example I deliberately chose a mild aversive that would take a few iterations for the dogs to detect the contingency of since that correlated with your noisemaker example. You said, “It took the learners very few tries to learn that when they did a certain thing…” I understand that P+ has to be spot on to be effective in limited iterations. I.e., not just abuse. The Goldilocks rule. And there is more than one metric going on; not only what will be effective up against a competing reinforcer, but what can the animal tolerate?

              I don’t think, speaking honestly, anything you wrote above about punishment was news to me. And neither do I disagree with most of it. It didn’t come across as devil’s advocacy, rather learning theory review. I’m fairly well versed in the guidelines for successful use of punishment. I think you’ve made a really good case for the problems of using it.

              I would say that it’s the P+ people that I see who don’t understand about the VSR of the undesired behavior! Their name is legion!

              I have read parts of the Chance book but don’t own it. Been intending to get the latest edition. I have read Coercion and Its Fallout, but it was some time ago. I would be very interested in some researchable critique from you if you care to write it. I’m quite curious. But if you do, please email me (sidebar of blog) because if you put it here I am obliged to respond here in a timely way. I’d rather do that homework privately for now. Fair enough? Maybe you already have something somewhere written about it so it wouldn’t be any trouble?

              I read original sources. I’m not going to do a lit review here, but I have some projects in the works that might address your questions. I’m going to respectfully disagree that the fallout of punishment is commonly exaggerated.

              I appreciate your candor in the discussion.

            • Sue Alexander says:

              I will contact you off list, certainly, but I do want to correct you on two things you said about my last reply. Firstly, that I did play devil’s advocate to your specific argument and then provided supporting information about punishment that many, many readers won’t know. And second, I did not say that fall out is exaggerated. I said that punishment is poorly understood and rarely discussed. What I said about fallout and have said all along is that two factor theory is the theory upon which the idea of fallout rests, and there is compelling evidence that two factor theory does not always prevail. Sometimes it does, but not always. Presenting two factor theory without identifying it or its source, and presenting it as the only point of view is a fallacy in and of itself.

              Thanks for the discussion. No need to reply. I will be in touch towards the beginning of next week off list.

            • Well this devil’s advocate issue is one of the stranger disagreements I’ve ever had. You have never identified what I said that you might be arguing with. The best I can discern is that you were arguing, in the comment in question, the point that punishment takes skill to implement successfully. I have never said otherwise.

              I disagree with your other “correction” as well, but won’t go into detail. But you said a number of things that supported my characterization of what you stated. I do appreciate the references to one-factor and two-factor theory and have read some.

              At the beginning of this discussion, you had a good point. I made a sweeping generalization in the post. Anybody who catches me doing that will always get a concession because I am the kind of person who can always imagine exceptions and generally draws away from absolutism. So yeah, there are exceptions to the “R+ people automatically have a bigger toolbox” statement. I acknowledged that two rounds ago. Joan Q. Public who has taken a lure and reward class doesn’t have the skills that <> has. And examples less extreme; I’m not trying to insult, just make the point clear with an exaggerated case.

              How you got from “some balanced trainers have bigger toolboxes than some R+ trainers” to needing to explain the guidelines for punishment and some of its difficulties was your own doing. The guidelines and difficulties you described are absolutely mainstream, straight from learning theory. Again, no devil’s advocacy involved here.

              About informing my readers about punishment: We live in a world where punishment is much more culturally common than reinforcement. We are surrounded by it. Now we have a cadre of people (I mean the larger community, not just my readers) who are taking it upon themselves to unlearn their programming, and learn about using positive reinforcement (first and foremost) and pass the word about that. You probably know how hard this transition is. There are worlds of things to learn, habits to change, ways of thinking to develop.

              I have no objection to writing about the guidelines for the successful use of positive punishment, except that there are so many more important things to write about. Once you learn about the difficulties and perils, some of which you described, it is basically irrelevant to most of us. It’s a footnote. My readers are pet owners, amateur trainers like myself, pro trainers, and maybe a few writers hidden in the cracks. The trainers, even many amateurs, already know much or most of what you are writing about. The pet owners are generally here because they want to learn about something other than punishment, and many of them do not have a local trainer for counsel.

              I would suggest to readers interested in this topic to check out how Steve White presents some of the guidelines in his “8 Rules for the Use of Punishment.” For those who don’t know of Steve White, the law enforcement dog trainer, he promulgates his rules not so much to educate people on exactly how to punish, but to show how very very difficult it is to use punishment ethically and effectively. Here, for those who are unfamiliar, is a link to his “rules” and some commentary about punishment in general. Any one of rules #3, 5, or 6 pretty much knocks out punishment as a viable tool for most of us.

              Here also is his video (excerpted from a DVD) where he analyzes a short clip of punishment applied to a dog doing bitework. It consists of very hard collar jerks, for those who are deciding whether they want to watch. In the video, he says:

              I am not a purely positive trainer. I am not that good. But I have a police dog on the street that with his entire career with our agency has felt about 5 little corrections.

              …If I use it [punishment], two things come into my head. One: how did I screw up and ask more than the dog was prepared to deliver?.….. Next question I have to ask: What should I do differently next time?

              I am in awe of his humility, and I find that to be common to many of the great trainers. And it brings up the point: How is the average, not-great trainer to distinguish their idea that punishment is the best solution (culturally encouraged, I might add), from a simple lack of skill on their part? Most of us are in a rush to punish. As Steve White points out, it’s reinforcing to stop the thing that is bugging us, even if there is no longterm change (in which case it is not punishment, but we all know that, right?). So as many times as you say, “Sometimes punishment is the best solution” I am going to rebut that here. I don’t see it to be a responsible recommendation.

              In that statement, perhaps, is your devil’s advocacy. But it still doesn’t fit the definition since it is a conclusion, not an argument meant to advance discussion.

              Reluctantly I am going to close this thread. I may open it later. But speaking of my readers, I’m pretty sure that most of them would rather read the post I’ve had almost ready since the beginning of the week than this discussion in comments. But it has been valuable to me.

            • Addendum and apology: In the above several comments I spoke a lot about “balanced trainers” and implied that Sue Alexander was in that group. She has let me know that she doesn’t like or use the term. I am sorry I lumped you in, Sue.

              Also as a reminder, for myself and readers: Sue does not use positive punishment frequently. Since we discussed it at length, and it was certainly the focus of our disagreement, one could come away with that impression. Her own blog posts describe some of the situations in which she does. As I said at the very beginning, I appreciate that she is quite honest about it.

  4. diana says:

    eileen, i know this wasn’t your main point, but now that you mention physical ‘tools’ (equipment) what are your thoughts on so-called ‘humane’ equipment (e.g. head collars, no-pull walking harnesses)? or is that another blog?
    thanks.
    diana

    • Eek, Diana. Hard one. They all constitute aversives, of course. But so do a regular collar and leash if the dog isn’t trained to walk at your side already. I use Freedom Harnesses on my dogs in some situations. One dog (guess who), despite conditioning, clearly dislikes the feel of the harness on her body. Luckily, she’s the best leash walker. For the others, I think if they pull, the harness is less aversive than if the leash were connected to their collars.

      One thing I don’t buy is that harnesses and even head halters are more aversive as a rule than shock or prong collars. (There are some who claim this.) There might be the occasional exceptional dog, but these collars are designed to hurt, and are generally going to be more “effective” at that then flat straps fitted correctly.

      Just a quick opinion.

  5. Me says:

    I’ve always used the term my “game plan”. Because like your bag of tricks, the idea is to make learning as pleasurable an experience as possible. I think there are those who use tools in lieu of understanding how to constructively treat behavior because let’s face it, many are more at home using brute force than the old noggin and just would be lost without their tools they so defend.

  6. lesleybowen says:

    Reblogged this on L-bo's Dog blog and commented:
    Excellent Post!

  7. lesleybowen says:

    Eileen, my original posted went into cyberspace when I forgot my password to my unplublished blog. However, I wanted ask if it wasn’t Koehler rather than Volhard who came up with the “remedy” you mentioned above? By profession, I’m a fact checker proofreader so stuff like that sorta jumps out at me. Cheers!

  8. Tegan says:

    I really enjoy your blog, and I particularly enjoyed this post, and especially liked this bit: “First, I would wager that the average trainer who relies mainly on positive reinforcement and negative punishment already has a much bigger toolbox than someone who uses aversives.” YES YES YES.

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