Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Duality of Behavior and Unfounded Accusations

Barbara Heidenreich wrote a lovely short article about what she would tell all animal caretakers if she could. I thoroughly agree with all her points. Focus on positive reinforcement, but negative punishment will be used from time to time.

If you've already read the article go back to the 5th point she made where she said to take a step back from the dog, that's negative punishment. The behavior of jumping is decreased when her body is removed, simultaneously she increases "feet on floor" behavior by adding praise, a touch or treat.

Some self proclaimed parrot behavior gurus attack Barb claiming she only focuses on positive reinforcement and that it is impossible to just use R+. They go so far as to call her a "liar." This is ridiculous. Barbara does focus on R+ but she does not deny the duality of behavior. If you give an animal a desired food item that's R+, but when it is eaten it is removed and that's P-. This is the duality of behavior, not sure if this is the technical term though...

Other than these people making fools out of themselves with basically calling a seasoned professional a n00b, they are also acting unethical when promoting the instant use of Negative Reinforcement (grabbing, pushing, pulling and prodding) before trying less abrasive techniques -negative reinforcement is closely tied to positive punishment- such as R+ and P-. The idea of ethics is fairly new to the animal training world and a hierarchy based on the intrusiveness of the training method has been proposed by Dr. Susan Friedman, a college professor at Utah State. This hierarchy is becoming quite popular with many dog, bird and horse trainers. Trying the least aversive option first is the most ethical.

As you move down the pyramid the training uses more and more aversives.

Just be careful of who you learn from. If its a business man with a minor in psychology you can bet they want to sell you a few training perches and some bad information. Learn the basics from your time tested college books such as Learning and Behavior by Paul Chance and grow from there. Its not the same as having a professor to direct the tough questions at, but if you love the subject as much as I do then go for it!

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog

Reasons why punishment should be avoided with parrots. (08, 12 2010). Retrieved from Why Punishment Should 
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