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By Published On: March 24th, 2022

Talking About Training

It’s not uncommon to hear trainers talking about using behavior modification to train. It’s likely due to habit and a lack of familiarity with the progression in the ways we use operant conditioning to teach new skills. Behavior modification refers to some of the early, basic and often unethical practices based on the Law of Effect. This led to simplistic, and sometimes brutal, methods for decreasing unwanted behaviors using punishment and increasing desired behaviors with reinforcement. The negative association that some folks have with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) may be because of this.

Today we use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to assess the functions behavior serves. And then, through the creation of incremental shaping plans, teach new skills. We rely predominantly on providing reinforcement, to increase enthusiasm for interacting with the environment to access positive reinforcement and enrichment. Animals develop skills to improve cooperation and toleration for thriving in their environment.

We assess situations to determine whether or not to be fussy about the language someone uses. We frequently use one set of jargon to speak with owners, and another to speak to other trainers (or at least we should be able to). Sometimes I wish my car mechanic did this more with me when he’s explaining why the thingamajiggy needs to be replaced in the whatchamacallit. The goal is to be able to describe what is going on, and communicate what needs to be done.

We might decide not to hold an owner or novice trainer’s feet to the fire for using reward instead of reinforcement, despite the words possibly having different implications. Using new language includes a shaping and learning process. But words can matter. Many of us try to avoid the use of the term command and prefer cue when working with owners. I never use the term Sd.

In science, words and terms are simplifications for complex processes. A professional trainer should know that DRO is not just another way of saying DRA. Our success at being able to explain to and simplify for owners what they need to do will rest on our own understanding of terms and processes.

Upcoming Event: June 3-5, 2022

Combining lectures and hands-on training at Lemon’s Hope Sanctuary in Brattleboro Vermont, we’ll be helping trainers, BCBAs, RBTs and BTs to get better at supporting both the eager and challenged, to have an improved quality of life. TEAM: Training Efficiently and Mindfully, From Dogs to Donkeys: What training other species can teach you.

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