oh. my. god. I love Jean Donaldson!
Cooked Chicken Also Now Dangerous?
Posted on June 15, 2011 by Jean
This is from an article on rehabbing dogs with multiple problems, in which the author advises owners to:
• Develop a positive “cult of personality” with your dog. If she thinks you are an influential rock star, she’ll want to please you. Be confident—even haughty. Stoking her desire to please is the key to good behaviour.
• Distrust the power of treats. Though good for initiating behaviours, they can soon outstrip you as the prime motivating force, and create a pushy cookie monster. Praise, and the cult of personality should become the bulwarks of your authority.
I don’t know the author from Adam so maybe he really believes that being “haughty” with one’s dog will help stop house-soiling, food-bowl guarding, interest in squirrels and cats, and improve sits, downs, recalls and stays. However my guess is he knows this is ridiculous, probably uses some sort of collar and leash system and has some inkling that without these owners would fall pretty short of rock star influence no matter how “confident” they acted. But to say to people, “yeah, you could motivate effectively with food, but I feel more comfortable using pain and fear” doesn’t have the same evangelical charm.
Or how about this one:
Don’t let inferior dog training techniques destroy your relationship with your dog.
Why risk it? You could be putting your dog in emotional or physical harm. We’ve seen both the cookie-bribery trainers and the dog trainers who use the super-harsh methods and we don’t agree with either. Using either approach can undermine your relationship with your dog and/or cause physical harm.
I can connect the dots between super-harsh methods and emotional and physical harm and relationship destruction, but I’m stumped about how cookie-bribery does this. Maybe it’s more tortured logic wherein if the dog finds out how off-the-planet fantastic chicken is, the owner will feel dissed because the dog rarely reacts that way to him. If this is the case, then “the relationship” is weasel-speak for “my narcissism.” It also means, incidentally, that your significant other should get no movies, laughter with friends, football, cake, good books, fun time on fast vehicles or whatever their passions are so that you stand a better chance of ascending to rock star status amid the now more barren fun-o-sphere.
Or this one:
The food-bribery dog training method is short-term at best and the dog is not taught to respect its human.
“Respect,” by the way, is code for “fear.” He continues:
The dog begins biting people as a direct result of owners trying to train their dogs with food, too often resulting in the dog having to be destroyed. Giving an aggressive or dominant dog food to train is dangerous positive reinforcement and can make many dogs even more aggressive and dominant.
Good heavens, biting people as a direct result of using food to train? Dangerous positive reinforcement? All peer-reviewed research on this actually finds the diametric opposite but I’m betting the positive-reinforcement-is-dangerous crowd doesn’t scour academic journals in an attempt to refine their craft.
This vilifying of food is interesting stuff. If I wanted to spike crime rates in humans, I’d probably not start by offering baked goods to juvie hall kids for desired behaviors. And picture a food-o-phobe telling a zoo trainer that elephants and gibbons should be motivated to comply with veterinary procedures by the keeper cultivating a rock star persona. “Uh, let’s see you try it first…”
Putting aside the *actual* motivators these people use – choke collars, prong collars, electric shock, pinning dogs to the ground and other things designed to intimidate animals into compliance – we could build a continuum of reinforcer chastity:
An item’s proposed location on the continuum is based on: 1) the righteousness (going in) of dogs who find that item motivating, and 2) whether using that item actually corrupts the dog’s goodness. Praise is the uber winner on both counts. Dogs who work for praise are the most noble, worthy and admirable, and the least conniving.
And because of clause #2, the more praise is used on a dog, the purer the dog gets. If it’s not effective, we invoke clause #1: base, attitudinal dog (in need of flagellation – ta-da!).
Door-opening, attention, giving the dog a chew toy and the opportunity to sniff on a walk – so-called “life rewards” – are less virtuous than praise but not as erosive of moral fiber as, say, food. (Eating is apparently divorced from the dog’s “life.”)
Tug is middle-ish but with a bullet. Whereas twenty years ago we all parroted how playing tug was the gateway to anarchy, now most trainers extoll its virtues as a convenient, recyclable motivator and energy-burner for drivey dogs, and one that has the fabulous asset of not being food.
Which brings us to food and the mercenary, profligate dogs who work for it. Notice nobody ever talks derisively about dogs “begging for walks” or “becoming dependent on having the leash removed at the dog park” or the atrocity of “praise bribery.”
The crushing irony is, of course, that for all living dogs, food is insanely powerful, insanely convenient (ever try bringing door-opening along on walks?) and carries the spectacular side effect of the dog liking the training a bit more every time it’s dispensed, liking the trainer and the trainer’s hands a bit more, and liking anything else that is a reasonable predictor of it. This Pavlovian conditioning side effect is squandered on food bowls and 5:00 p.m. I wonder if trainers who hate food feel a pang of jealousy when they are forced – by law – to put some of it down on a regular enough basis to stave off their dogs’ starvation. Or perhaps free food is exempt. I’m not clear on this.
I’ve long thought it is food’s very potency that freaks some people out. It makes dogs look like crackheads, which makes the coercion crowd feel dissed or invisible. A client could get perilously close to an excellent outcome with desirable side-effects using food, but (drum roll) “he wouldn’t be doing it for you, he’d be doing it because of the food.”
Plenty of well-meaning owners, who work hard for a living, are made to pay money for this drivel. And non-aversive trainers actually sometimes kowtow to it by getting all apologetic, rushing to assure owners that this execrable thing, this FOOD, can be phased out once behavior is learned (which would be extinction, which would be bad) or replaced by wholesome, upright motivators such as door-opening, attention, walks and so on.
Of course it’s good practice to employ intermittent schedules to increase resilience to extinction, and of course it’s crafty to diversify the motivator base but some light needs to be shed on this tacit consensus that The Less Food the Better. Do we think owners will fall to pieces if we said:
Yeah, food is an AWESOME motivator with transcendent side effects so let’s figure out how to get you in the habit of having high value food available when you need it so we can train up strong behavior in a wide variety of contexts. He’ll never do it because you’re a rock star, and I’m actually pretty incensed that good people like you have been sold the lie that dogs will do it just for you or just for praise. Trainers who would have you believe this are as dependent on their choking and shocking and pinning and scary stuff as we will be on our food, but that’s how it is with living things. No free lunch.
A student of mine pointed out that it’s actually kind of condescending to assume owners can’t handle this truth. They’re competent adults and won’t tumble into existential obliteration if you level with them about the economics of behavior.
It also got me thinking of an Emperor’s New Clothes challenge where trainers who pour scorn on food are invited to see if they can train up a single behavior on a single green dog, using their haughtiness, desire to please stoking and personality cults but without any choking or pinning or shocking or bullying or yanking on leashes. We all know the result they’d get. Because guess what: dogs aren’t doing it for them either.