What Does Shower Mold Have to Do With Dog Training?

Am I really reaching today, or what? You be the judge!

There is a series of articles in the behavioral psychology literature that questions whether the distinction between positive and negative reinforcement is important.*

These papers are often quoted by people who seem motivated to rehabilitate negative reinforcement, although the papers are generally more about nomenclature, and not whether negative reinforcement is humane.

Before we go on, here is a working definition of negative reinforcement and some examples:

Something is removed after a behavior, which results in the behavior happening more often.

Some examples are:

  • The buzzer of your alarm clock goes on until you get up and turn it off.
  • You get rained on until you open an umbrella.
  • A trainer pinches a dog’s ear until she opens her mouth to accept the retrieve object.

Negative reinforcement can be involved in something as trivial as scratching an itch to something as serious as running for one’s life from a predator. There is a vast range of severity. It’s not all about pain.

When we consider dog training, we need to make a distinction regarding handler mediated negative reinforcement and automatic reinforcement. Stepping in and putting a behavioral requirement on the removal of an aversive differs from the myriad ways that dogs take action in their own lives to remove an aversive, be it mild or extreme.

Finally, there are some borderline cases where it is hard to determine whether the process involved is positive or negative reinforcement.

That is what I’m writing about today.

Borderline Cases

The classic borderline case is the thermostat. When it’s too cold and you go adjust the thermostat by two degrees, are your actions reinforced by the subsequent pleasant feeling of warmth, or the relief from the uncomfortable cold? People use the borderline cases to support arguments made in favor of doing away with the distinction between R+ and R-.

Those who like to argue that negative reinforcement is “not so bad” also like to bring up this example, even though it is not typical of reinforcement scenarios.

I ran across one of these ambiguous situations recently in my own life and am going to share and analyze it here. Let’s see whether the fact that it could go either way makes the negative reinforcement any more benign.

Blue and white checkered tiles
Tile photo credit—Wikimedia Commons

Personal Example: My Shower

I am an indifferent housekeeper. I am prone to clutter, and tend to barely keep up with the dog hair on the floor and the dirt the dogs track in.

I have a bit of a problem with mold in my house, and my shower had recently gotten pretty bad, such that even with a thorough cleaning I couldn’t get it to look nice. I have tried several times in the past to change my behavior about that, but failed.

So when it got moldy again about four months ago, I made a thoughtful plan and tried again. First, I threw out and replaced my shower curtain liner and in-tub mat. I scrubbed the shower and tile and sprayed it with bleach. I did this repeatedly over the course of a few days until it was beautifully clean.

Then I thought about antecedents and reinforcers regarding the shower cleaning behavior and made a plan to maintain the shower and keep it clean.

I purchased two kinds of shower spray: one with bleach and one without. Both claim to keep the shower clean just by spraying on. (Bear with me. I’m not much interested in the details of housecleaning either, but they are relevant here.) My goal was to arrange antecedents to make the desired behavior as easy to maintain as possible.

I then adopted a loose schedule of using the cleaner with bleach a couple of days a week and the less noxious (but also probably less effective) one a few times a week. I wasn’t sure exactly how much would be necessary to keep the shower clean, but was ready—gasp—to do something every day if I had to.

So far I have kept up—it’s been a few months now—and the shower/tub is sparkling clean.

Question: What is Maintaining the Behavior?

Shower stall with white tile and a white curtain pulled aside
Shower photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Is it negative reinforcement or positive reinforcement?

Let’s map out our contingencies. We are talking about a reinforcement scenario (not punishment) because we are increasing/maintaining a behavior: spraying stuff on the tub and tile.

 Positive reinforcement version

  • Antecedent: Schedule says it’s time to spray down the shower with cleaner
  • Behavior: I spray cleaning agent on the shower tile
  • Consequence: Shower looks and smells pleasant and clean

Negative reinforcement version (escape)

  • Antecedent: There is mold in the shower
  • Behavior: I spray cleaning agent on the shower tile
  • Consequence: Mold is gone

Negative reinforcement version (avoidance)

  • Antecedent: There is the threat of mold in the shower
  • Behavior: I spray cleaning agent on the shower tile
  • Consequence: Threat of mold is relieved

So which scenario is it and does it matter?

Can We Tell By Observation?

First, let’s think about whether there is any way that a person observing my behavior could tell. Is there a special way to apply shower spray that shows one’s motivator is to prevent mold? Or is there an indicator that one loves the look of a sparkly clean shower?

Behaviors maintained by negative reinforcement tend to be minimal. The person or animal does the very least he or she can do to get the result. I believe this has shown to be true in the workplace, and can also often be observed in dogs that are trained using aversives only.

As Aubrey Daniels says:

Positive reinforcement maximizes performance, while negative reinforcement gets a level of performance that is just enough to get by, just enough to escape or avoid some unpleasant consequence.—Bringing out the Best in People, Aubrey Daniels

In the case of the shower, could we tell by watching? If we observed my behavior over time, we could note whether I sprayed the whole shower or just the parts that tend to get moldy. We could also note whether I made efforts to determine the minimum amount of work it takes to keep a shower clean (or mold-free) using the methods I chose.

Also, we could try to tell whether I took any enjoyment out of the clean shower. Do I go out of my way to admire it? Do I polish parts of it to make it extra sparkly? Do I shower even when I don’t need to because I find it so pleasant?

But since I’m a human being with many motivations, I think it would be a little difficult for an onlooker to tell what is driving my shower cleaning behavior. I may use minimal efforts because I want to save on cleaning supplies or I like to make a game out of efficiency. When I look at the shower, I may be looking for flaws, not admiring my handiwork.

But I know which it is!

So Which Is It?

What is driving my behavior is the threat of mold. I hate it. I remind myself to notice how nice the shower looks, but that is an incredibly weak reinforcer for me.

Even though I have worked out a system with minimal effort and virtually no elbow grease, I HATE having to spray stuff to maintain the clean shower. There is no pleasure in it for me, before or after. I am continually trying to figure out whether I can skip a day, or two, or maybe leave off the bleach version for a while. The situation is doubly frustrating because I feel like I can’t mess up. Because if the mold comes back even a little, it will be that much harder to eradicate. So I don’t even know where the boundary for “minimal” is, but I am sure trying to find it.

This is almost a purely negative reinforcement scenario for me.

Application to Dog Training

I have previously written about two situations in which it could be hard to tell the difference between positive and negative reinforcement in dog training. One is when training with food if the dog has been deprived. The behaviors that allow a starving dog to eat are negatively reinforced as her hunger is assuaged. Likewise, a game of hiding from your dog could involve either positive or negative reinforcement.

However, I think the most common situation where positive and negative reinforcement can be confused is when dogs are said to work for praise. Yes, you read that right. Compared to food and play, praise is a very weak positive reinforcer for most dogs, and often nonexistent unless it has been deliberately paired with a primary reinforcer and/or the bond with the human is very strong. More often, praise is a safety signal, a sign from the human that, “You have done the right thing and I won’t hassle or pressure you anymore.”

So we may think our dog is working “for the joy of a clean shower” when she really is working to escape the mold. And, unlike humans, dogs tend to be a little more obvious about how happy they are with an interaction or a method, if we can just learn to pay attention.

Take-Home Lessons

Even if it is a negative reinforcement scenario, cleaning the shower is one of those fairly benign sounding applications. Perhaps I sound like a pretty spoiled person to be complaining about it. I know that I am privileged for that to even be on my radar as a problem, for sure. But you know, when searching for photos to use with this post, I got grossed out. And even though I found a couple of moldy tile pictures on Flickr that would be permissible to use, I ultimately decided against it because they were disgusting. I didn’t want icky pictures of mold on my blog.

I have been describing an “automatic” negative reinforcement process. My own actions directly remove the aversive, the threat of mold. How would I feel if someone used the threat of mold to get other behavior from me?  Easy answer. I wouldn’t like them very much. Especially since I am so easy to please with food or money, grin. Really, why on earth would someone want to use a threat instead?

These kinds of analyses of everyday activities are helpful to me. I hope they are helpful to others, and I hope I didn’t over-share. I have contemplated trashing this post several times, but then I thought perhaps it would help someone understand negative reinforcement just a little better. When one is first learning about the processes of learning, negative reinforcement methods can sneak in, seeming like magic. Look, I didn’t have to hurt my dog or give it food either! That’s one of the main reasons I write about it so much. It can be quite insidious.

Got any personal negative reinforcement stories?

Related Posts

Copyright 2014 Eileen Anderson

* This is the first in the series of articles I mentioned. Even the last part of the title indicates that the paper is about nomenclature and not excusing negative reinforcement.  Michael, Jack. “Positive and negative reinforcement, a distinction that is no longer necessary; or a better way to talk about bad things.” Behaviorism (1975): 33-44.

37 thoughts on “What Does Shower Mold Have to Do With Dog Training?

  1. So glad you did not trash this post! For me personally I need a lot more discussion about -R.I use it a lot with my horse and I’m constantly in turmoil about whether or not I can do without it and also whether or not to even call it that. To ‘work’ (or exercise) and ride horses, it seems a much easier route to use -R. But really who wants to go to the gym everyday. And yes if you fed me chocolate to go the gym I might be more willing to go…but then I’d have to go even more…:-) I never never up the pressure with my horses but do pressure/annoy/irritate sometimes to get a change or response.

    I try like crazy to offer choice to my horse and play games that involve exercise and reinforce like crazy when I’ve used pressure to get a behavior but I’m often finding myself telling my horse ‘just do it’. My horses seem fine and accepting and cooperative etc but I still wonder what I would have it I used less -R.

    But then maybe it depends on the behavior. Aren’t there some behaviors you need from your dogs that they are never going to like but they have to do. Like having nails clipped. So say someone taught you how to clean your shower and keep it clean using +R (lots of chocolates, money, days off, holidays at the beach etc) and then always highly reinforced you for keeping it clean, do you think that would change your emotion about it? So one day you were feeling tired and needing a day off and someone said well that’s easy, just spray the shower down and we’ll go to the beach and have icecream and hang out with your friends…:-) Do you think when you went through this process of getting your shower clean and keeping it clean, that if you had reinforced yourself more (other stuff besides just having a clean shower) that it would have been a different experience…??

    Thanks again Eileen for another thought provoking post!!

    1. Lyndsey, brava to you for looking for alternatives to the continual R- that most horses usually get. I understand that it is built into the behaviors we want from them so is very hard to cut out entirely. I’m sure your horses profit from the choices and R+ you give them.

      Funny you should mention nail clipping–I have three dogs who cooperate but don’t like it, and I’m switching slowly to using a Dremel and keeping that experience as “pristine”, free from negative associations, as possible. But it is slow.

      To answer your question, I’m pretty sure if someone were giving me lots of R+ about cleaning my shower it would change my emotional response to it quite a bit.

      I have experimented with the whole “reinforcing oneself” thing. I’m doing it right now with another habit, using stickers for success. I deliberately chose something far from primary but cheery and pleasant. We’ll see how it goes.

      Thanks for the comment, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece.

  2. So funny and so true. I’m not sure that your reasoning will convince the other side, but I get it! It’s a nice try. We had our bathrooms remodeled and I was determined that they wouldn’t get all junked up. I introduced squeegies to both showers and insisted that everyone use them. Now, when I use it, I’m happy to do it because it is keeping the new bathrooms shiny. But all others hate doing it and only do it to avoid my negative response. I thought it would become a habit for them and the negative feelings would go away, but that hasn’t happened and they also have become somewhat sloppy about it. So—same behavior, but different internal motivations and a difference in the quality of the results. And an outsider would never be able to figure out the dynamics without asking. I suspect that if I introduced some choice into it, that might help? (do this or that…..you choose?)

    1. Ha. So you have other people to motivate as well! That’s hard when your motivations are “out of sync.”

      I realized that I did build a little choice into my scenario (use the strong cleaner, or the weak one, or once in a while skip a day) and I think that helps me immensely. Not sure how that would carry over to multiple people though. If it were me I would be instantly thinking, well, mom will probably do it when she showers, so I don’t have to….

  3. Oy….like nagging. The shower is “nagging” at you. Which I get as we have iron in the water that stains everything immediately.
    Nagging is the classic “do what ya gotta do make them shush up and not more. Low effort, let me get on with what I want to do.”
    Minimal effort to make it stop. Another reason why not to use it.

  4. Wonderful post Eileen. Your example made it crystal clear. I suspected the fear of mold was what kept the behavior going! 🙂 Thank you. Ann Clements

  5. “Indifferent Housekeeper” describes me to a T! I have tried to find ways to +R my cleaning behavior, but to no avail. It is strictly -R everytime, and at times feels like +P since I end up crabby and so irritated while doing it, and wonder why some find cleaning so fulfilling, and I find it nothing but distasteful and a clean house is not rewarding enough. Poor hubby knows to stay clear when I clean.

    The analogy is spot on. Thank you once again!! And I am so glad to know I am not alone in my indifferent housecleaning!

  6. I think it is a good article … a good angle at the subject. One point … I think it is minimising of the issue about “nomenclature” (although its beyond the scope of your blog post). If “-R” (and not just that term) doesn’t or cannot mean what it is generally “felt” to mean, then you still have a house but no land underneath it.
    These terms are defined (arguable) but also shorthand for a lot of other thoughts and concepts. I suggest it is better to skip the shorthand and be more explicit about what is happening in a given scenario that seems good, bad or indifferent.
    That opens up thought and discussion, because you could then potentially dissect that further by asking why is component ‘x’ seen as good, bad or indifferent … is it moral, cultural, a universal truth, etc. Whereas I seem to observe that using shorthand … jargon you might equally say … hides assumptions and deflects discussion.
    Cheers to you.

  7. Would it be a safe assumption to make that you enjoy mold no more now that you were able to get rid of it? Or are you sure that your “choice” and “control” didn’t make you at least a little bit of a fan of mold? *Insert eye roll here*

    Great blog, like usual!

    1. Interestingly, it just didn’t work that way. I am indeed glad that I can control it. But that was never in question. Still not a fan!

  8. Really appreciated you breaking down into Antecedent Behaviour and Consequnce. It is such a useful way of analysing. Also appreciated the example of depriving a dog of food and then asking them to work for food. Yes! Definitely negative reinforcement, but easy to see why this would be confused with positive reinforcement. Wonderful stuff, thank you.
    I do wonder though if sometimes things are both?

    1. Julie, frankly I don’t know! I do know that when one does a Functional Analysis with the A, B, and C, one mentions only the immediate consequence to the behavior. I have a friend who is taking advanced behavior analysis courses and I’ll ask her. Glad you liked the A,B, Cs. They are always helpful to me.

  9. I have never enough of your articles and so accurate analysis. Yes I would need bookshelves of explainations re. R- , the quadrant, and dog training in general. For instance I though an earpinch was a punishment…? oh now I see, it’s R- because you want the following behavior to increase. But an earpinch still hurts doesn’t it ? being R- or P+ … Thank you again Eileen, and have a good day : you must have a day off from your mold fight don’t you ?

    1. Yes Josephine, one can have the same type of painful aversive for either R- or P+. One shortcut to tell which is which that usually works is that R- has duration, and P+ is usually a quick blast. In the case of the ear pinch, the way it is done is that the dog’s ear is pinched constantly until the dog opens its mouth to accept the retrieve item, then the pinch stops. Sad but true.

      Thanks! I took yesterday off from the mold so today I’d better get back on track!

  10. One of the challenges we seem to face as humans is the acceptance of the fact that we may not be able to “be more explicit about what is happening in a given scenario that seems good, bad or indifferent” other than observe the behavior, what preceded it and what followed it. While I can with some assurance determine that MY behavior was based on a feeling bordering more on indifference than bad, I would be wrong to assume I could ever make that determination for another person, let alone another species.

    This is how professional trainers learn to work with animals. It’s not that we can ever stop our wheels from turning and making assumptions or coming up with labels and narratives for what we see going on, but if we are going to be efficient and ethical, we have to remind ourselves that the only thing we know with any certainty is the behavior we observed and our understanding of how consequences drive behavior and how those consequences can be categorized.

    1. Thank you for that; you stated the underlying purpose of my article better than I did myself.

  11. Well put. I will say though that I feel that simply saying that R- is always to be avoided misses some very important nuances to how it is applied. I currently have a student who came from a school that is violently R+. they went through puppy classes and advanced work there and because the dog was engaging in an undesired behaviour, the clients were counselled to remove the dog from the situation whenever the behaviour occurred and reinforce the absense. What happened was not what the instructor predicted. They inadvertently negatively reinforced the undesired behaviour by taking the pressure off the dog and then positively reinforced secondarily with food. What did they remove? Attending the class, which should have been a positive experience, all treats and fun, but in fact, was unpleasant to the dog. Now they have a dog with very dangerous behaviour, with a very, very long and strong reinforcement history both negative and positive.

    Understanding negative reinforcement, how it works and how to apply it is essential in dog trainers. It is not difficult to inadvertently negatively reinforce and build long strong behaviours if you don’t have a good understanding of this.

    Properly applied, negative reinforcement develops into cues. Using R-, riders have for centruies built very strong behaviour sequences on very subtle and simple cues. The cues themselves don’t have to be harsh; the best of R- is subtle and kind to begin with and even more subtle and gentle when fully trained. Watch a great R- trainer and you won’t see cruelty. And do watch them; there is much to learn and take away. Then when you see ham handed R-, you will recognize it, and understand the difference between gentle R- (I lean on the horse’s shoulder gently until she moves way, develops into I step into her space and she moves away for instance) between abusive training and effective training.

    1. You are the second person, both careful readers, who took away from my piece that I was saying avoid R- at all costs. Certainly I personally always try to think of a different way when it happens naturally or is suggested as a method, and I have a reputation about that. But my bigger message, and I hope it comes through, is to help people recognize it so they can make conscious choices. Hence my sharing of an everyday example. It can be hard to recognize, and as you rightly point out, it can be happening in our interactions with animals without our knowing it. I agree that a good understanding of it is crucial.

      I’ve seen the “gentle R- that turns into a cue” done skillfully on both horses and dogs. Definitely an improvement over many other methods, but not my cup of tea. I get that R- is pretty much built into the behaviors (like being ridden) that we ask horses to do. I’m watching with interest the people who are eschewing that and going for R+ with horses.

      Thanks for the comments.

  12. Thank you Eileen for a lovely article 😉
    I do think though, that in theory one cannot slot everything in to ‘pure’ Skinnerian Quadrants.

    It all has to do, in analysis, to what the trainer has added.
    If you apply the ‘aversive’ before the required behaviour is offered then it is Negative reinforcement.
    However, when you apply the aversive, you are positively punishing whatever was happening as you applied the aversive.

    Which negates the “coercive trainers” arguments. So to use a coarse example. You call your dog, and apply the electric shock (“stim”) which positively punishes the dog for ignoring you (running away, continuing sniffing, whatever), dog starts coming towards you, you turn off he shock (negatively rewarded the dog for coming).
    Now it is poor training to apply the “stim” if the dog is coming to you — but it is a fine line to distinguish just when the dog s coming or ignoring you. If you get this wrong, you have just ‘punished’ the dog’s decision to come.
    If you apply the ‘stim’ simultaneously with the come cue. you have poisoned he come cue. The dog just might decide to take off out of range whenever you now call.
    If you apply the “stim” before your call (so that you can turn it off as soon as your dog is obviously coming towards you) you have randomly hurt your dog — whatever it was doing when the “stim” was turned on is likely to have been positively punished. since there is little likelihood that the dog will be dog exactly the same thing each time, then it is likely to cause extreme anxiety in the dog — if it were me, I’d either take off out of range as soon as I was away from the handler, or refuse to leave their side when I was ‘sent’ away.

    1. Glad you liked it!

      Love me a quadrants discussion. First a little point: you said that we are positively punishing whatever was happening as we applied the aversive. That is a problematical statement because it leaves out part of the definition of positive punishment, or any of the operant processes: future behavior change. Positive punishment is only occurring if the behavior in question decreases. This can seem like a nitpick (and you may have been thinking that and just didn’t include it–we all do that sometimes as a kind of shorthand), but I try hard to remember to include it. It is intrinsic to the understanding of the operant processes.

      I completely agree that the common use of a shock collar is going to involve both negative reinforcement and positive punishment. But I believe it is because of the problems you describe with timing and observation. There is actually a technique to using a shock collar, which I don’t want to describe here, that eliminates most of the possible positive punishment effects. If you are interested in knowing more, drop me a line and I’ll write you privately.

      One thing I’m learning from a friend in a graduate program in behavior analysis is how very small many antecedent/behavior/consequence events are. In a situation where a shock is punishing something and negatively reinforcing something else, it’s not that everything gets mooshy and vague, it’s just that we need to parse it out in more pieces.

      Since they involve the same aversive, negative reinforcement vs positive punishment in shock training don’t make much of a difference to me. We are still causing the same kind of pain to the dog, in one case with the goal of getting behavior, and in another of suppressing it. And both of these things have fallout. You described it perfectly in your last paragraph.

      Thanks so much for writing!

      1. > First a couple little points–In your second paragraph, you said negative punishment where I think you meant negative reinforcement. There is no aversive stimulus in negative punishment. >

        Yeah, I wondered about that — AFTER I’d posted 🙁

        As for the Behavioral definition of ‘punishment’ versus the Standard English (to cause one to suffer for an offence) gets awfully complicated 🙁
        So in Standard English we can talk of a punishment ‘not working’.
        I DO wish that Watson/Skinner had come up with a different term. After all we have ‘reward’ and ‘reinforcement’ with deal with THAT side.
        But “aversive” and “punisher” don’t quite fit with lay understanding. Kayce Cover, used to (I don’t know if she sill does) recommend using the term ‘decreaser’ but even that is problematical.

        When giving classes/instruction I tend to avoid the term ‘punish’ altogether. It is easier when you are talking, especially fac-to-face and getting immediate feed back 🙂

        1. I pretty much thought from your post that you had the concept right and just typed the wrong word (it is inevitable in a discussion about operant learning!) So I’ll just go back and switch it for you and edit out my comment.

          Yeah, I have a post in the works (working title is “Punishment is Not a Feeling”) about those differences between standard English definition and behavioral definitions. But I can’t get it just right. It may be a long time before it sees the light of day. But man, those differences really do make it rough when discussing this stuff!

          You probably know that a common mistake that people make nowadays, calling punishment in general “negative reinforcement,” is actually how the terminology was first established, right? Just to add another layer of complexity. Then Skinner started turning it around in about 1953. Think of the students in the 1950s who had to deal with two sets of conflicting nomenclature!

          I have problems with “aversive” myself. I always want to talk about something being more or less aversive, and that is certainly so in standard English and practical usage. We just mean something is more or less unpleasant. But in psych terms, something is aversive (the animal will work to avoid it) or it’s not.

          Great discussion!

      2. On the other hand. if you want to get picky/be precise, no action is performed I isolation — even within the confines of the “Skinner Box”.

        So IF we apply an ‘aversive stimulus’ to a ‘subject’ that stimulus will likely punish something. However what the subject does as a consequence will also be ‘negatively reinforced’.

        Then if the subject gets a reinforcing effect from a ‘reward’ we offer, then the incompatible behaviour has been decreased and therefore according to Skinnerian Theory, been ‘punished’.

        Or giving a ‘reinforcing’ consequence to one subject might just ‘punish’ another subject who is present. As is common practice with some teachers. We often resort to this when we train multiple dogs — first dog to ‘sit’ gets a treat — “that’ll learn yooze others to sit quickly!” We are “punishing sitting slowly” — which of course IS a behaviour we want to eliminate.

        Or even the wretched Internet and Eileen. It and she are increasing my ‘sitting here and thinking’, while at the very same time ‘punishing’/decreasing my ‘doing the housework’!!
        Just like your shower recess — the same action/consequence was both positively reinforced by getting a nice clean shower, negatively reinforced by getting rid of the mould, while NOT cleaning the shower recess was positively punished by its getting mouldy, at the same time as being negatively punished by the nice cleanness disappearing :

        It all depends on the exact stimulus and consequence you are considering 🙂

        Truly, to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott, What a tangled web we weave when first we practise to put everything into Skinner Quadrants!

        (PS I Hope I haven’t got the quadrants mixed up again 🙁

        1. Ooh, you are wearing me out with all this thinking! Here are just a few responses.

          Perhaps no action is performed in isolation, but the different actions are performed in sequence. A stimulus can be used to punish something and negatively reinforce something else, but not exactly at the same time, because the punished and reinforced behaviors aren’t the same ones. So you get multiple sequences of Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence, instead of just one. That doesn’t negate the precision of behavior analysis, or necessarily make anything impossible to analyze.

          Not all decreases are due to punishment. (I’m not going to elaborate here, but this has far reaching implications regarding several things you have written.) Don’t forget extinction.

          Careful! “Not cleaning the shower recess” is not a behavior. It can’t be described. It can’t be punished or reinforced. You can’t write a valid ABC for punishment regarding the shower mold without drastically changing the scenario I have described. It’s actually a very good example of an aversive that does not involve punishment when it appears on the scene.

          Likewise, as you’ve described it, there is no functional relationship between dwelling on my posts on the Internet and not doing housework. (I don’t mind being your excuse if you need one, though!) There are an infinite number of things you are not doing while sitting at the computer, right? They are not being punished in some way related to my posts. To be punished, there has to be a contingency.

          Let’s pick your example of housework. For housework to be punished (in the behavioral sense), the following has to happen. You have to be doing the housework, and something unpleasant happens, or something nice is taken away, AND because of that occurrence, you do housework less in the future. So unless someone comes and bashes you with some rolled up printouts of my blog posts (is that what it feels like sometimes?) predictably when you do housework, and you stop or decrease doing housework as a consequence, there is no functional relationship between my blog posts (and your opportunity to read them and write about them) and housework. (Sorry about that long, long sentence.) They are just two incompatible activities, each of which can be separately reinforced or punished by consequences. Interrupting one to do the other doesn’t necessarily imply the first one will decrease in the future, either through punishment or extinction.

          I have always found this type of mental exploration to be challenging, but beneficial. Hope you do too.

  13. Wonderful example of positive reinforcement vs. avoidance behavior.

    This calls for creative solutions to increase positive reinforcement and decrease aversives.

    Increasing the positive reinforcement: Plug in those earbuds and listen to an Audible book while scrubbing. Yes, this is from my own housecleaning experience. Three hairy dogs to vacuum up after… a continuous effort. I’ve morphed vacuuming into “me” time for reading, which I now look forward to.

    Decreasing the need for avoidance (i.e., no need to scrub a shower if mold doesn’t have the opportunity to grow): Leave a fan in the room, use it to circulate the air for an hour or so after a shower. Aversive for those mold spores!

  14. Had to come back to this. Second round of comments.

    Certain branded methods… can be very risky. I look at it like this. I had an accident at the ol’ swimmin’ hole, almost drowned, and now am afraid of getting into deep bodies of water. I go to therapy and my therapist insists that I can conquer my fear by getting into a pool, that the power of my own choice will relinquish fear’s grasp on me. For each step further I wade into that pool, I’m allowed back out onto dry land. And I really want that dry land! She’s at a distance since she doesn’t want to get wet, I can’t talk to her and communicate what I’m thinking. She can only judge how I’m feeling by my body language from where she’s standing and my screaming to her. But I’m a good little soldier, did I mention how much I want that dry land?

    As far as I can discern, there are several possible outcomes:
    A. No further accidents allow me to easily get over my fear of drowning. Guess it wasn’t so bad a fear, afterall. I apply my **human logic and reasoning** to puzzle it out that the odds are in my favor of not almost drowning again given the reps in and out, and I can overcome my amygdala response. My “amygdala hijack” no longer holds sway.
    B. I fake it till I make it… Back out onto dry land again. I’ve learned not to show my fear. I endure. I don’t seek out bodies of water anymore, but if I had to, I can tolerate it from now on.
    C. I fake it till I make it… Back out onto dry land again. Up until I can’t anymore, then I snap. I have a melt down. Maybe this is at some point in the future after therapy, or maybe it’s during therapy. My fear is the same or worse than when I started. Things get real.

    My dog did C. after we followed the method to the letter. She learned to be a good little soldier until she just couldn’t anymore. Now she has worsened fear because desensitization either never set in at all, or maybe it did at some point but the high return of fear rate (after all, it is a single approach and doesn’t seek to pair countering the emotional response) reared it’s ugly head. She also has become addicted to the adrenaline rush too, she gets in that zone so fast and so completely, if you clap your hands loud enough for it to register, she’ll jump clear into the air.

    It was probably the single worst training choice I’ve ever made. I inwardly cringe every time I hear this so popular brand method being suggested for some reactive dog somewhere.

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