The Ministry of Silly Thoughts
Apparently, my dogs have all been tortured at some point in their lives. A friend just sent me this link to a position statement published by a group that calls themselves the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology or COAPE.
Seriously. COAPE compares these common, humane and widely accepted dog training methods to the kind of real, actual torture that people in prison camps are subjected to. Specifically they state that:
We’re all well aware of prison and internment camps around the world established in response to various conflicts, and with the debates about what’s been going on in such places, but we often fail to realise that there is a science behind torture. Effective torture entails 3 elements:
- The obvious one,: something aversive/painful and this is what we usually think of as ‘torture’. But there are 2 other crucial elements involved as well:
- Control: in that the victim has no control over his situation.
- Predictability: in that the victim does not know what’s going to happen next and when.
By far the most damaging and stressful long term, both emotionally and physically (via the ongoing release of stress hormones and their impact on the victim’s neurophysiology and immune system) is predictability. But what has this got to do with our food-guarding dog? The answer is ‘lots’ in terms of owner feedback to the dog when applying a behaviour modification technique in such an emotionally charged situation. If you get this wrong then problems like aggression can soon be exacerbated. This is why, at COAPE and CAPBT, we start with assessing the science behind the emotional physiological mechanisms that reinforce the undesirable behaviour. The behaviour of food guarding, of itself tells us nothing.
This statement displays a level of confusion and ignorance about the behavior of real world humans and dogs that is absolutely stunning in extent. This group must be legislated under The Ministry of Silly Thoughts.
Even when it’s used by first time dog owners NILIF succeeds largely because it is predictable and because it’s wonderfully easy for the dog to control. The method is so simple that it’s commonly recommended for children and first-time pet owners. Instead of being overwhelmed by a lot of choices he doesn’t understand, the dog living under NILIF has lots of control. He gets asked a simple yes-no question; if he says yes, he gets rewarded and if he says no, he isn’t.
I don’t understand how this idea is this at odds in any significant respect from the “purely positive” idea of using the giving and withholding treats to train dogs.
Most of what’s posted in COAPE’s position statement appears to be the rambling, neurotic justification of a lot of bizarre ideas – I do not see any real, actual scientific evidence presented for this extremely radical (and, frankly – offensive) stance.
What COAPE really appears to be alluding to is that – unless you are a certified, advanced degree holding behaviorist – you have no business training a dog. Or maybe even living with it.
Hat tip to my friend Linda Kaim for the title of this post.