Punishment and Positive Reinforcement Trainers

As clicker trainers and trainers who use positive reinforcement to work with our animals I sometimes find it interesting just how punishing we, as a group, can sometimes be.  R+ trainers know that we can teach far more efficiently and with longer lasting results using positive reinforcement methods, but when it comes to or own species we sometimes seem to forget this.  There have been several recent instances that bring this to mind.  For example, a manufacturer of products that we like is purchased by another company that produces products we don’t like and instantly we want to boycott those products that we liked and found useful. Or the publication that we’ve loved for years runs one ad and the whole community of R+ folks are ready to never buy again. Or maybe it’s the TV celebrity with whom we have differences that promotes a product, now we’re ready to find a replacement for that product.

Please know that I sometimes find myself acting this way as well.  So why is it that when our animals make a mistake or are not “getting it” we take a step back and ask ourselves, “How can I help this animal succeed?” Yet when it comes to our own kind we are so quick to throw the baby out with the bath water. As Karen Pryor said so well at Clicker Expo, that’s not being very clickerly.

So here’s my challenge to you and to me: When faced with something that seems not to be going the way we want, whether it’s with a dog, a horse, a child, a friend, a spouse, or even a large corporation, lets ask ourselves, “How can I effect change in a more clickerly fashion.” That is, knowing that behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated and those that are ignored will eventually extinguish.  We’ve come so far in the understanding of the science of learning, now we simply need to apply it.


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