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
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A Historic Perspective on the "Positive" Approach to Dog Training

The big argument over how a dog should be trained did not just get started. In fact, the entire discussion is just a continuation of an often angry debate that began in some of the world's top universities back in the early part of the twentieth century. Although oddly, the current discussion over how best to train a dog had nothing to do with dogs in the beginning.

Rather, it started when some of the top minds of the day began to seriously, systematically, and eventually in some cases, to scientifically address the question of how each individual human being grows to be the way he is, as well as the question of just what, exactly, might be required in the way of an effective intervention in order to get people to change.

The effort to find the answers to those questions eventually gave rise to the discipline of modern psychology, which previously had not existed as an independent domain, but came into its own through the process of searching for those answers.

Along the way, a number of schools of psychology rose and fell along with the theories that drove them, but before long there came to be three dominant viewpoints on human personality and the questions of how each of us got to be the way we are, why we behave as we do, and just what, exactly, it would take to get us to change.

Those schools of psychology are relevant to this discussion because two of the three have given rise to equivalent dog training methodologies.

The Three Dominant Schools of Human Psychology

  1. The Freudians
  2. The Humanists
  3. The Behaviorists

The Freudians

You will find little discussion of things Freudian here, partially because those theories have not worn well with time, but mostly because there is no equivalent theory on dog training. Thus, it has no relevance to our discussion.

The Humanistic Perspective

What came to be known as the humanistic movement in psychology was led by Carl Rogers.

Humanists believe that all the members of the human species are basically good, and that when we behave badly, it is only because we have lost touch with who we really were are as human beings.

Humanists are not concerned with punishment, reinforcement, or any other attempts to arrange their client's situation. Rather, their focus is on changing what is happening inside the person, by helping him or her get in touch with their true feelings.

Humanists believe that above all, a disturbed person needs a warm relationship with someone who cares about them.

Humanists speak often of unconditional positive regard, which means that they always like you and always care about you, even if they don't always like the things that you do.

The Behavioral Perspective

B. F. Skinner is the founding father of behavioral psychology and, indeed, of all of behavioral science.

Behaviorism is characterized by the proclivity of its adherents for operationally defining their terms in ways that allow their theories to be tested. Then, they determine how behavior really works by carrying out research that is controlled rigorously enough for their efforts to be considered a valid scientific investigation.

Behaviorists are, then, the scientists of the field of psychology.

Unlike the humanists, who focus on their client's mental processes and inner feelings, we behaviorists study the question of how we can manage our subject's behavior by arranging the external contingencies, and by giving them the information they need to manage those factors effectively. In other words, we're concerned with issues related to our subject's skill set as well as the relevant environmental factors, like how punishment, reinforcement, and the like, can best be applied to influence behavior.

From Human Psychology to Dog Training

Since the early twentieth century, behaviorists have carried out their research using animals of many kinds, including dogs and people.

At first, they were just trying to figure out what the rules are that cause animals to behave the way they do. But once those rules had been delineated and canonized as natural law, it wasn't much of a stretch for the researchers to turn the question on its head as they began to ask, how can we use these principles to change the behavior of the animals we are studying?

That line of inquiry led to the development of procedures that can be used to change the behavior of animals. All of the procedures to be found in this dog training workshop are some permutation of the processes delineated by those researchers.

Over time, then, through the vehicle of rigorous research, the adherents of the behavioral movement have transformed themselves into experts on animal behavior. Hence, there occurred the great spillover as research spawned by the study of human psychology found application in the domain of dog training.

Sorting Out the Cast of Characters in the Dog Training Debate

If you were to attempt to compile an exact list of what a "real" Moslem or a "true" Christian does or does not believe, you would quickly discover that there is widespread disagreement on that issue. In fact, you would soon find that there are devout members of both religions who cannot so much as agree on the criteria that would allow them to establish with any degree of unanimity, who is and is not a true member of their own faith. One encounters the exact same problem in regard to political parties, when you start trying to determine what a "real" republican believes or what changes a "true" democrat" wants to see in his government.

However, there is no such controversy concerning the behavioral domain. Applied behavioral analysis is that which its founder, B. F. Skinner, said it is. Fortunately, Skinner was a prolific writer and a meticulous keeper of records. As a result, we know exactly what Skinner said and precisely what his research indicated to be true.

That means that anyone who is steeped in the behavioral canon, well versed in behavioral principles, and well experienced in the application of behavioral procedures, can readily evaluate any given program and say with great certainty whether or not that particular application is, in fact, consistent with the overall Skinnerian construct.

Karen Pryor and the community of positive dog trainers are a curious case, because they call themselves behaviorists and talk about Skinner as though he established the theoretical construct which underlies all they do. However, clearly, that is not the case.

The approach advocated by the positive dog trainers is not a behavioral program, and although they speak often of Skinner, the method they espouse bears only a faint resemblance to anything that Skinner ever said that he favored.

For example, the positive dog trainers advocate using positive reinforcement in isolation. Skinner never endorsed that. Skinner was all about conditioning behavior using the full array of procedures, always adjusting or refraining from the use of any given technique depending on the circumstance.

Skinner never said that reinforcement should be used exclusively, as the positive trainers do. Nor did he say that reinforcement should be employed in the absence of punishment. He never said that reinforcement is superior. He also never said that punishment is evil or that it necessarily does more harm than good or that the results of scientific research condemn its use. He also never said not to use it. The positive dog trainers just made up all that stuff up.

They also claim that punishment does not work or that it often does not work, and they claim that Skinner's research proves that as well. That is also altogether untrue.

In fact, for a behaviorist, it is semantically impossible for a punishment procedure ever not to work. Indeed, by the very definition established by Skinner, if your attempt to punish does not lower the rate of the response you have targeted for change, then, what you did was not punishment.

That's because in behavioral science, and according to the terminology established by Skinner, an attempt to punish is only actually considered to be punishment if the effort succeeds in reducing the rate of the target response.

According to Skinner, then, if your attempt to reduce the frequency of a given response through punishment should prove to be unsuccessful, then, your attempt to punish was not punishment at all. It was just a failed attempt to punish.

By the very definition established by Skinner, then, punishment always works. Therefore, when one of the positive dog trainers comes out and says that it never works, it is like a huge red flag that tells those of us in the know that although his mouth is moving, the speaker actually has no idea what it is that he is talking about.

Learning about behaviorism from a positive dog trainer is a lot like learning about evolution from a religious scholar. They get enough of it right for you to vaguely recognize what it is they are describing, but in essence it is skewed, and in detail it is sideways, when it is not altogether wrong.

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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