This page on the History of CBC is part of the Beginners Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network
Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Three of the Beginner's Course
A History and Comparison of CBC for Dogs
Page Two of a four-page section
The Community of Positive Dog Trainers
Karen Pryor is an author and an animal trainer who claims to be a behaviorist and a follower of B. F. Skinner, who came to my attention when I began getting vicious hate mail from her followers.
It seems that after encountering my advice on dog training on barkingdogs.net, Karen's readers would get so fired up that they'd send me emails denouncing me bitterly, because they were absolutely certain that the dogs I work with would all necessarily be joyless animals who detest their training as they cringe and flinch in fear, supposedly overwhelmed by despair.
None of those people knew me or the first thing about me, and none of them had ever seen any of the dogs that I have worked with, so I was puzzled as to how they were all, universally drawing such a conclusion.
As it turned out, the answer is that in her books, while writing about concepts that she really does not understand, Karen was leading some very trusting people down the garden path. It seems that she was telling people that punishment does not work, and the fact that my writings say it does was prompting folks to drop me a line to tell me that I didn't know what I was talking about, while her insistance that punishing a dog always constitutes an act of cruetly had people getting in touch to let me know that they had me pegged as a sadististic dog hater.
Being taken to task for supposed cruelty by the positive dog training community is especially galling, when one takes into account the suffering and hardship their bogus methodology causes for both dogs and the people who love them.
Their approach creates suffering among canines because it is such a wildly inefficient way to train a dog that people end up with pets that are far less functional obedience-wise than would have been the case had the animals been schooled by way of a comprehensive behavioral program. As a result, instead of accompanying their owners everywhere as perfectly trained, fully functional, level four dogs are able to do, the poorly performing, positively trained animals, end up left at home, shut-up in the back yard, or worse yet, locked in a crate.
To be sure, the nightmarish practice of crating and positive dog training go hand-in-hand, so please don't speak to me about the compassion endemic to the soul of the positive dog trainer.
The positive training regime poorly serves dog owners because try as they might, they are never going to get the same dramatic results that they could have achieved through a comprehensive approach. As a result, despite their best effort, their dog will never be as fully functional as he might have been. Also, as a result of following the admonitions of the positive trainers, dog owners lose their chance to punish strategically, at that point in the lives of their dogs when a single instance of punishment could have forestalled a lifetime of behavioral problems.
As a result, instead of a delighted little dog who has a rich life because he is so fully functional that he can be taken anywhere and included in a great many activities, you get a dog owner who is frustrated because his training regime never brought him the results he hoped for, and a desperate little dog, locked in lonely isolation in a crate at home as his life passes him by.
Wading Through the Nonsense
It took me a while to grasp the extent to which the theories and doctrine of the positive dog training movement have taken root, and the vast scale on which misinformation is being disseminated to the general public. However, more alarming yet is the extent to which the deviation from the truth has been accepted and codified as fact by those in a position of authority.
Indeed, we find officials with the humane society, along with veterinarians and others who should know better, but apparently do not, all deferring to the positive dog trainers as though they actually know what they are talking about. To be sure, it is a baffling situation, and the positive dog trainers are a baffling bunch.
Trying to deal with their perspective can be perplexing, because to wade through their politically correct nonsense, one must sort through at least five layers of falsehood.
The Five Falsehoods of Positive Dog Training
- Karen Pryor and her followers are behaviorists.
- Karen Pryor is a behavioral expert.
- Punishment does not work.
- Punishment always necessarily involves abusing or intimidating your dog in a belligerent fashion.
- Punishment is always a destructive force that inevitably, will always have a negative impact on your dog in the form of some sort of trauma, and can, therefore, never have a beneficial effect on the animal.
Falsehood Number One:
Karen Pryor and her followers are behaviorists
The last part of this page focuses at length on the question of whether the positive dog trainers have any real credibility when they claim to be behaviorists, so I will say little about it now, other than to quickly comment that they don't.
Above all else, real behaviorists are committed to the truth as it is revealed through empirical research. The positive dog trainers on the other hand, make political correctness their first priority and, then, accordingly, distort the facts to make the truth look like what they wish it was.
We see it above all in their ridiculous assertion that all the problems that you ever encounter with your dog can always be solved without the use of any sort of aversives. Oh, what happy news! You can reward your way out of every situation. Just be nice, and then nicer, and then nicer yet. And in the end, your dog will just do what you want him to do. Right - and before you zip-up your clown suit, ask Elvis to send me over some of that free Bubble-up, won't ya?.
Give me a break. That's not hardly a behavioral perspective.
Karen Pryor is a behavioral expert
There are only a handful of behavioral procedures. If your knowledge of those procedures is anything short of intimate, then, you strain credulity when you claim expertise. I've been through her books, and I have to say that no one who is as confused about punishment and negative reinforcement as Karen Pryor is could ever be said to qualify as a behavioral expert. Indeed, without some serious tutoring she would have no hope whatsoever of pulling so much as a passing grade in a freshman course in behavioral psychology. So the notion that she is an expert is pretty far fetched.
Punishment does not work
The claim that punishment does not "work" with a dog, amounts to the assertion that dogs are only able to learn from having good experiences, and that as a species, they somehow lack the capacity to learn from having bad experiences. Now if you think about it, that's beyond far-fetched. More on that later on in this section.
Punishment always necessarily involves abusing or intimidating your dog in a belligerent fashion
When you read what Karen Pryor has to say about punishment, you get the feeling that in all forms, it's always a terrible thing to do to a dog. But that's Karen's take on it. When you read the actual behavioral definition, you will realize that the term punishment, takes in a lot of territory. If you follow the target response with an aversive, and that results in your dog making that response less often in the future, then - that's punishment.
While Karen makes it sound like punishment must necessarily be something so awful that you should never do it, the fact is that the behavioral definition of punishment is broad enough to encompass any number of artful interventions that will do your dog no harm whatsoever.
Punishment is always a destructive force that inevitably, will always have a negative impact on your dog in the form of some sort of trauma, and can, therefore, never have a beneficial effect on the animal.
As you read through this workshop, you will soon realize that when we recommend that you punish your dog's errant behavior, all we are really saying is that you should make sure that it always becomes at least somewhat of an unpleasant experience for your dog whenever he behaves badly.
If bad behavior never works out well for us, that makes us better people. If you lovingly use a benign methodology to ensure that bad behavior never works out well for your dog, that will, likewise, make him a better dog. You don't have to bully or browbeat your dog, nor do you have to harm the animal in any way to accomplish that, other than making him feel a little bit anxious for a very short time, in response to each transgression.
Try explaining that to someone who has been reading Karen Pryor, who perceives the dispensation of every aversive as a metaphorical beatdown and believes every expression of disapproval to be tantamount to abuse.
So anyway, I was getting email from Karen's readers who had somehow become convinced by her much confused presentation that punishment procedures are always brutal and abusive, and since they had read that I use punishment procedures with my dogs, they had each concluded that the animals I work with must all be on the receiving end of some serious mistreatment.
Then, to add to my exasperation, the people taking me to task for my supposedly sadistic methods would toss in that since Karen Pryor was a real behaviorist and what I have to say is at odds with what she says, that must mean that I'm a no-nothing phony. Therefore, I should just either completely revise my websites to make them consistent with what Karen says, or take them down altogether.
Then, as often as not, they'd end their email by telling me that my approach was killing dogs and they hoped I fried in hell forever, or words to that effect. Those people were acting like they thought I hate animals, but that's not fair and it's not true. I love animals. In fact - I think they're delicious.