Bad Science: Quadrants of Operant Conditioning

Brilliant!

“In the physical universe, the addition of one stimulus is always met with the removal of another stimulus. Regardless of what type of matter (energy) this stimulus is, energy cannot be created or destroyed, and so within any given system you have to remove something to add something and you have to add something to remove something. This is a fancy way of saying that two opposing baseball teams cannot win the same game: if one team wins, the other team loses. This creates two implications: 1) that positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement (or punishment) are not mutually exclusive; and 2) if they are not mutually exclusive then you cannot stipulate that they are not occurring at the same time, let alone separately. Most examples of what dog trainers consider positive reinforcement rely significantly on negative reinforcement elements (e.g. hunger). Food is great, but as a motivator we are removing hunger (negative reinforcement), however it is also positive reinforcement for the obvious reason that we are adding food.”

Dissecting Behavior

People become dog trainers for various reasons. Often, these individuals will talk about a dog’s “performance,” yet this undoubtedly has a variety of interpretations. After all, what is performance? Is it speed? Strength? Accuracy? Reliability? Chat up a few trainers involved in any professional sport (canine or human) and you will see that there are numerous beliefs both for which methods produce the best results for the desired performance as well as for what reasons. Should our toes be pointing straight ahead or at an angle when doing a squat? Should we stretch before or after an activity? With dogs though, the question is even more convoluted because here the concerns are not just about performance: they are also about welfare.

Animal welfare is a vast topic and one that cannot be approached from A-Z in a single sitting. Many philosophers and scientists devote their entire lives to traversing the…

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