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 Four of a four-page section

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The Religious Scholars of Behavioral Science

If it were true that punishment does not "work" with a dog, then, clearly that would mean that dogs as a species are incapable of learning from having unpleasant experiences, which is obviously not true.

If your dog lays down to take a nap on the soft warm earth of a nest of fire ants, but he only does it once because he learns his lesson after being stung, then, according to the definition of punishment established by Skinner, your dog will have just learned from punishment. In other words, punishment will have just "worked" with your dog.

Do you see what I mean? Mother nature uses punishment procedures with dogs all the time. She teaches them things through the dispensation of punishers and often manages to do it without turning them mean or driving them insane.

Positive reinforcement certainly can be used as a force for good. The positive dog trainers are absolutely right about that. But when it comes to punishment, they really have no notion of what they are talking about.

True enough, punishment done wrong will destroy a dog. On the other hand, punishment, as we define it in these pages, done right, as one component in a comprehensive three-part program for changing behavior, has a wonderful effect on a dog, both in terms of his affect and his behavior.

But the positive dog trainers wouldn't know that, because they are not behaviorists. They definitely are not. Not unless butchering the behavioral lexicon and bastardizing the behavioral canon serve as qualifying variables.

Don't Shoot the Real Behaviorists

In her book, Don't Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor, who is, perhaps, the positive-dog-trainer-in-chief, refers to all punishers as being negative reinforcers. For example, she says that for a cat, water is a negative reinforcer. While that is true in a way, when viewed in the context of her larger, overall message, it nonetheless develops as a very misleading statement.

Let's say that it starts raining, so the cat that Karen cites in her example runs inside to get out of the rain. In that case we would say that the cat's response of running inside was negatively reinforced because it allowed him to escape from the rain, which was the force whose punishing properties drove the response.

You can see, then, that punishment and negative reinforcement are the inverse of one another since it is the punishing rain that creates the circumstance in which it becomes reinforcing (negatively reinforcing) to make the response that will allow the cat to escape from the punisher. It is always the punisher, in this case the water, that drives the escape or avoidance behavior that we find in a paradigm of negative reinforcement.

Thus, punishment and negative reinforcement are part and parcel of the same thing. They are two sides of the same procedure as the one component drives the other. That's a fact. So much so, that you can never actuate a paradigm of negative reinforcement unless at least the ongoing threat of punishment is present. After all, the cat isn't going to run inside unless there is at least the threat of some punishing water falling on him if he remains outside. That's how it is. That's how those procedures work in nature, whether or not there are any humans on hand to pass judgment on the good or bad of the thing.

Since they have the capacity to drive behavior, all punishers also have at least the potential to function as negative reinforcers, and for that reason, all behaviorists will occasionally refer to a punisher as a negative reinforcer.

The problem is that that Karen does it so consistently that she has, in effect, reclassified all punishers as negative reinforcers, so that now in her style of behaviorism, at least in a semantic sense, punishers have ceased to exist. But even worse, the term punishment which had a precise operational definition under Skinner, is now defined by Karen as a general sort of retribution, abuse, browbeating, and/or intimidation.

There is no doubt that as Karen defines the term, punishment is sure to be the ruin of any dog. However, Skinner's definition differed from Karen's, as does that of this workshop. Please keep that in mind.

Also, all the punishment procedures that Karen cites in her book are so ham fisted that the way she lays them out, of course they would result in disaster. If all you knew how to do with a hammer was to swing it wildly at every object you saw, then, that would become an instrument of destruction as well. But if you know what you're doing and you apply a hammer with the deft skill of an expert, it can actually be quite a constructive tool, as can punishment.

In this workshop, you will find punishment procedures so subtle that only a trained eye would recognize them as such. In fact, you will find within these pages one procedure that shifts rapidly and repeatedly between punishment and positive reinforcement, in response to quickly occurring changes in your dog's behavior. That procedure facilitates rapid learning, and when it is done properly and in the right circumstance, it will leave your dog thrilled and wanting more. When employed properly, a procedure like that can double as a super efficient means of teaching and communicating, in addition to being a standard tool for conditioning behavior. I am very sure that nothing like that exists in Karen's brand of behaviorism, where punishment is always evil and useless, not to mention altogether brutal and counterproductive.

From a Trifle Confused to Altogether Unclear on the Concept

Karen and the other positive dog trainers will tell you that they are against punishment in any form and would never use it themselves. Karen says that instead, she is in favor of using negative reinforcement when working with a dog. However, it is logistically impossible for anyone to use negative reinforcement to change a dog's behavior in a direct fashion. Here's why.

When your dog misbehaves, you can present him with a punisher. For example, you can respond to his transgression by speaking to him sharply in your unsettling voice. The presence of your verbal punisher could then serve as a negative reinforcer for the animal, because he would then be positioned to eliminate your punisher/negative reinforcer by moving into compliance with your wishes. In other words, if he will stop acting up, then, you will stop speaking to him in that awful tone of voice.

However, at least initially, you yourself cannot employ a procedure of negative reinforcement with your dog. You can only employ a punishment procedure, like an unsettling voice, which would then facilitate your dog's employment of some variation of an escape procedure - like complying with the program, which would, then, at that point, be negatively reinforced by you, when you finally shut up, and thereby, remove the punisher that you introduced as punishment for your dog's lack of compliance. But you yourself cannot directly employ a procedure of negative reinforcement with your dog, not until after you first employ a punishment procedure.

Karen can't do that, either, being as it can't be done. I wonder, then, what she is really doing with her dogs when she tells us that she is utilizing "negative reinforcement" to get them to behave.

To add to her clueless assessment of the impact of punishment, her irregular perspective on negative reinforcers, and her failure to recognize or properly classify punishing stimuli when she encounters them, Karen goes on to say that a positive reinforcer is something that you want more of and that positive reinforcement is something that is good for relationships.

However, according to Skinner, who created the behavioral lexicon, the term positive simply means that something is being presented soon after the response is made, and that as a result of that presentation, the frequency of the response is increasing. The positive in positive reinforcement has nothing to do with good or bad, or with what is beneficial or detrimental. Nor is it necessarily connected in any way to what anyone does or does not want.

In fact, by definition, positive reinforcement can include taunting and brutality, and often does. For example, if a dog was to bark at you in a threatening manner and you were to respond by beating and taunting the animal, then, the physical and verbal abuse could very well serve as positive reinforcers that would drive even more frequent displays of even more intense aggression by the dog, with the result that the animal would begin to bark at you even more often and in an even more belligerent fashion after that. The point being that beating and abuse do sometimes function as positive reinforcers. Furthermore, beyond a doubt, petting your dog at just the wrong moment can make him mean just as surely as punishing him in the wrong way.

There are two important points to be made here. First, the science of conditioning behavior is a good deal more complex, nuanced, and sophisticated than the simple minded notion that punishment is evil and reinforcement is devine.

Secondly, it is profoundly ironic that the person who is leading the "positive" dog training movement seems to have no idea what the word "positive" means as it is properly applied to the task of conditioning canine behavior.

Humanists in Disguise

It is easy to see why the positive dog trainers would prefer to be thought of as behaviorists. Behaviorists are, after all, the people with a history of getting results and hard data to show that they know what they are doing.

Nonetheless, as was established above, when you study their approach carefully and examine their woeful lack of facility with the behavioral lexicon, it becomes readily apparent that methodologically speaking, the positive dog trainers simply are not behaviorists.

Behaviorism is a science of studying and influencing behavior, where the scientific method is employed to determine the true facts of a given matter, and political correctness be damned. Let the chips fall where they may - and the dust choke who it will.

However, among the positive dog trainers, in their distortions and outright falsehoods about punishment, we see the same readiness to abandon the truth for the sake of political correctness that characterizes humanistic psychology.

Whether speaking methodologically or philosophically, then, the positive trainers simply do not qualify as behaviorists.

Just as the humanists eschew a focus on deficits, the positive trainers want only to see behavior that needs to be reinforced, and the notion that one should never punish under any circumstance sounds suspiciously like the canine version of unconditional positive regard.

This completes the history and comparison section.

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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