C is for Consequence.

In my previous two blog entries, we talked about antecedents, and then behavior.  Now it’s time to discuss the C in ABC — consequences.  I might be expected to get deep into the Four Quadrants of learning theory, various reinforcement schedules, and heated warnings against the use of punishers. But let’s start off with a quote from Dr. Susan Friedman’s paper, which we have been using for the series: “Consequences are the engine that drives the future strength of operant behavior — the very purpose of behaving.”

Let’s think about that.  The consequences of today drive the behavior choice of the future.  Animal trainers are a lot like gamblers — playing the odds, forever trying to tip the scale of another animal’s future choices in the direction we would prefer. With all this meddling in the brains and behavior choices of other sentient beings, comes the responsibility to use the least invasive approach — one that considers the subject’s experience first.  One that asks the following questions:  How will the application of the consequence I am using affect our future relationship and this puppy’s future world views?  Will this animal want to work with me again?  Will they feel free to explore their world and test things and be bold or scared in my presence?  Or will they be shut down and fearful when I ask them to do something, or hesitant to offer a new behavior?  Will they feel safe or less safe in their own world for my intervention?

About those pesky quadrants.  I think what trips people up the most is the “insider lingo.”  Every technical field has its jargon, and behaviorists are no different. Words are used differently than in lay speak.  For example:

  • Positive means to add (to give)
  • Negative means to subtract (to take away)
  • Punishments drive behavior down in frequency
  • Reinforcements drive behavior up in frequency

The key to it all is the understanding that the subject horse, cat, dog, or child decides how it all plays out. I am not going to go on a rant about punishers and how no one should ever use them.  The truth is they are one of the four quadrants because they exist.  They are a fact.  You can’t live a life free of punishers, and you will sure as hell drive yourself nuts trying to craft a world for your puppy that is free of them. I am also not going to try and sell you on why reinforcement works.  It just does.  Again, it is a quadrant because it is real. What I want to ask you, again, is what kind of relationship do you want to have with your dog?

For more on quadrants check out these links:
Why Positive Reinforcement ALWAYS Works by Sarah Stremming of The Cognitive Canine

This article on Operant Conditioning 

I know Jonny will experience punishers. I have seen it happen.  Sometimes I have unknowingly been involved. The idea I am asking us to wrestle with is this:  When you intervene and set up a training session, or place your dog in a situation,  what are you using as your intentional consequence?  The intention is the point.  If you knowingly deploy punishers, you will change behavior for sure — no behaviorist worth their salt would tell you otherwise. You will, however, also have a lasting effect on the psyche of that being – dog, parrot, cat, or donkey.  And if that punisher comes from you, then you have also had a lasting effect on their feelings about you.

I also know that Jonny has experienced the joy of winning, of solving a problem, and of managing for himself his own emotional inner world.  I have witnessed this and have set him up for it. Those moments where I have set him up for success and he looks at me with bright eyes and a self satisfied smile, I know – we’re good.  We are in tune, we are winning together.  His joy is my joy.  As his chaperone through this life and the intentional crafter of his experiences, I feel it is my responsibility to give him as many of these experiences as he can fit into his short trip on this rock with me.

So let’s dive into our three running examples.  I have listed all the types of consequences.  For me several of these options are off the table from the start.  You however will have to engage in your own personal journey to decide how you want to proceed.

A (Antecedent): Provide ample legal chewing options. Pick up off the floor things you don’t want chewed.
B (Behavior): Chewing — it’s a natural thing.
C (Consequences) – Possible options:
Punish: Yell at or some other intervention that is designed to scare a pup for chewing.
Prevent: Make sure all illegal items are not available. Restrict access to parts of the house that are too much for puppy to handle.
Redirect: Use a cheerful interrupter to stop the inappropriate chewing and send the pup to a legal outlet.
Reinforce: Toss a cookie or talk sweetly to a puppy who is chewing the right items.

Door greeting behavior:
A (Antecedent): The sound of the car in the driveway, the doorbell.  We talked about taking those out and creating a CER to those specific Antecedents (hear car: food) (hear doorbell: chicken).
B (Behavior): Jumping, etc.  Whatever the dog is currently doing or you want them to do.
C (Consequences) – Possible options:
Punish: Insert all old-school methods for anti-jump training; kneeing a dog in the chest, etc.
Prevent: Holding the dog back on a leash or behind a baby gate while visitors come in.
Redirect: Playing toy toss or giving puzzle toys to otherwise keep dog busy.
Reinforce: Mark and treat for four on the floor.  Train a hand target to strangers.

Target training:
A (Antecedent): You present your hand.
B (Behavior): Dog touches or does not touch the hand.
C (Consequence) – Possible options:
Punish: If they don’t touch the hand, a less than savvy trainer might want to give an Uh UH.
Prevent:  Not applicable.
Redirect:  Not applicable.
Reinforce: Mark and reinforce the hand target.

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