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Don’t Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor

Preamble: From the back, “Now Karen Pryor clearly explains the underlying principles of behavioral training and through numerous fascinating examples reveals how this art can be applied to virtually any common situation. And best of all, she tells how to do it without yelling, threats, force, punishment, guilt trips – or shooting the dog.

“- 8 methods for putting an end to all kinds of undesirable behavior

“ – The 10 laws of ‘shaping’ behavior – for results without strain or pain through ‘affection training’

“- How to combat your own addictions to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, overeating or whatever”

“-How to deal with such difficult problems as a moody spouse, an impossible teen, or an aged parent.”

Thesis: This book is a staple in any dog trainer’s library. Karen Pryor was a dolphin trainer and Lord knows you can’t go pushing one of them around to get them to do performances. This book is ground breaking in that it’s a great way to understand positive and negative conditioning, operant training, etc. I have never tried to apply its behavior-changing principles to people consciously, but training dogs is the same as training people, really.

Specific Things to Remember:

  • Positive reinforcement is anything which, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.
    • Behavior that is occurring can always be reinforced with positive reinforcement.
  • Reinforcements are relative, not absolute: a duck likes water, but a cat doesn’t.
  • Negative reinforcement isn’t punishment – it is a negative repercussion to behavior that causes the subject to avoid the behavior – traditional animal training is based in it: the choke collar in dogs or “breaking” horses.
  • Timing is paramount – reinforcement needs to occur the moment the subject’s behavior merits it.
    • Jackpots need to occur for big behavior changes – ie, a dog shakily sits and then sits fast –give big reward.
    • Be aware of conditioned reinforcers: the sound of a cell phone.
    • Reward on a variable schedule once the behavior is attained to reinforce it.
  • Ten Laws of Shaping
    • Raise criteria in increments small enough so that the subject always has a realistic chance for reinforcement.
    • Trian one thing at a time.
    • Always put the current level of response onto a variable schedule of reinforcement before adding a component/expectation.
    • When introducing new criterion, temporarily relax old ones.
    • Stay ahead of your subject – plan the steps out completely.
    • Don’t change trainers in the middle of a behavior shaping
    • If one shaping procedure isn’t working, try another.
    • Don’t interrupt a training session gratuitously, that’s punishment.
    • If behavior deteriorates, go back to the beginning.
    • End each session on a high note if possible, but quit while you’re ahead.
  • Rules of Stimulus Control
    • Behavior occurs immediately upon presentation of stimulus (ie command)
    • Behavior never occurs outside the presences of stimulus
    • Behavior never occurs in response to a different stimulus
    • No other behavior occurs in response to offered stimulus
    • You can fade stimulus from verbal, to a grand gesture, to a small one.
    • You can speed behavior up by limiting time for response-reward.
    • Avoid anticipation by timing properly
  • There will be a dip in processing where a learned behavior will be unmastered as the subject moves it into long-term consciousness.
  • Untraining Methods
    • Shoot the dog. (No dog.)
    • Punish. (Negative repercussions after bad behavior.)
    • Negative reinforcement. (At time of behavior.)
    • Extinction. (No reinforcement.)
    • Train an incompatible behavior. (Can’t sit while lying down.)
    • Put the behavior on cue. (Won’t want to do it off-cure.)
    • Shape the absence. (Reinforce everything BUT the behavior.)
    • Change the motivation. (Tire the dog out so the behavior won’t occur.)