“To condition or not; is that the question?;
A phylosophical think piece from behind the leash”
I get often calls to help train their dog to be less anxious, less aggressive, to cope better. It seems that the conclusion is quite often that that is an easy feat with the proper techniques. Routine and obedience, the remedy for all behaviour problems. A quick search on google only enforces this suggestion. Conditioning is sold as the be all and end all of behaviour modification and its causing emotional states.
I think there is quite a few pple who may want to go back over the books; and learn behavioursm for what it is. The ideas of behaviourism (Watson) / Operant Conditioning (Skinner) / Law and Effect by Thorndike dont leave room for affective emotions – it shows how little us humans investigate and just take some parts of science that suits us at a moment of time to support our perceptions of the world to force a view on to others- if we argue behaviourism to be; the be all and end all how can we then argue for aminals affective emotions? By applying only behaviourism we actually decline that animals have affective emotions. Below is an excert quote of (1): “the affective brain & core conciousness; how neural activity generate emotional feelings” by Pankseep
It has to be said that Pavlov did see affective emotions in some of his dogs, which goes back to the questions;
what is the impact of conditioning to an animal?”
“Is the animals affective state really changing or just the movement it uses to communicate inbalance / unpleasant affect?”
We can argue backwards and forwards about this till we are blue in the face; turth is, as per yet we do not know since animals cant talk human to us.
For some here Conditioning works and is a gentle method because this is how they perceive that to be and for others its just another way to get control of another being for whatever reason we may find makes it ok-
Animals in general live quite well without human interruptions and training why oh why would a dog be different?
The learning process starts at the moment a being is born. Every split second of every minute, every hour of every day until one dies we learn from the information that comes in through our senses (exteroception) and the physical information (interoception)- the brain takes all the incoming and internal information and processes it, predicts on meaning and needed movement (behaviour and physiologically). If a small prediction error is made the brain re-evaluates in spit seconds and acts upon new information. If a bigger prediction error is made it gives effective attention to it and that is concious learning.
If we teach a dog to sit in an unpleasant situation; we created a motor pattern, a movement-behaviour the dog will do in this situation. But not one person can scientifically proof that that behaviour/movement has changed the dogs affective state from unpleasant to pleasant nor is it currently really measurable. We can say that if his heart beats faster that means he is stressed. Well the affective state of positive arousal can lift heart rate or lower it as much as negative affect can. Its variable. We can say we see it in postures. But the same posture can mean pain or ill feeling so which is it?
Today i took my hounds on a walk in the red zone (meaning ex residential area after earthquake). It was very gusty though sunny. The walk was unusually nervous in feeling for me and the dogs were actung rather aroused. We need to walk dogs don’t we. This is ingrained to us. But as i was walking along into the wind following my hounds i realized that taking the hounds out for a walk and expect it to be the tranquil walk as it usually is even in rain, was probably the dummest thing to do today.
Well lets TRY to see it from the dogs point of view:
-They hear better… so the sound of these windy gusts (air pressure) even uncomfortable to me would have been uncomfortable to them.
-Their skin is more sensitive the ours, so here we were walking while wind gusts visuable pressed the fure on their coat against the hairs usual position. Does that feel good or not so good to a dog … i dont know. But on another question do dogs have the brain processing ability to understand its the windgusts moving the hair and project a touching sensation? If not how does that make the dog feel in form of affective emotions?
-Smell…. well i observed that they went backwards, forwards, sideways….. in all directions much more then usual while looking up frequently and listening (ear position changes in errect state). To me that suggest rather that they really tried to find out where all these different smells came from, they tried to make sense of the disturbed airflow laden with smells
– Sight; being in a mainly green space with flooded areas the view might have been very yellowish and blue and not much else to take information in?
Does that sound like a lovely experience to them?
Again, i cannot write here of wether my dogs were uncomfortable, hated it or rather aroused. But they did act different and more erratic. More interstingly as we were home and i went into the garden leaving the front door open; not one of my hound wanted to be outside with me which is usually the case in warmer and calm weather situations.
I could train the dogs to walk a certain way, no matter of weather or other environmental changes using conditioning that would make a walk seem less erratic both visually and affectively; but appart from a different behavioural movement in the sane situation i would not have gained anything meaningful for the hounds.
The question is:
“What would the animal do in the same situation without human interferance?”
In there lies the answer of making better decisions whether that is on training methods, exercise, or anything else we interfere with in their life.
In summery of a longwinded post;
We can use conditioning techniques to help us, but we MUST take into account, that the brains intrinsic activity, observational learning, the simplicity of letting the animal choose to avoid or exit, lifting curisoity opportunities to get an animal to choose to interact with something on their term to create new experiences to predict better, are solutions that take into account the dogs perception of its world at that moment of time. Conditioning takes our perceptions into account which we then force upon animals.
In our human world there are times when we do need to help a dog along but that is not for the lack of the dogs ability to live without us but because it is US humans that put them in these situations.
-The affective Brain and Core Conciousness: How does Neural Activity Generate Emotional Feelings” Jaak Panksepp
(1) Quote: “Our current, lingering problems arose when excessive antivitalistic forces spilled over into
experimental psychology, where mental constructs were eventually deemed too spooky to be accepted as scientific. The physiologist Jacques Loeb, a peripheral member of the Berlin Biophysics movement, brought antimentalistic biases to the United States. At the University of Chicago, he enthralled John B. Watson, the eventual “father of behaviorism.” At Harvard, B. F. Skinner came under the spell of another Loeb protégé, William Crozier. Together, Watson and Skinner inaugurated a
methodologically rigorous, and eventually doctrinaire, radical behaviorism. As they brought a
new level of sophistication to the environmentally controlled analysis of learning, they actively discouraged instinct- and brain-based
psychologies. Through their influence, radical behaviorism, with no room for emotionality, became the focus of inquiry.
Watson (1919) was initially interested in emotions. Skinner (1953) famously claimed “The ‘emotions’ are excellent examples of the
fictional causes to which we commonly attrib-ute behavior” (p. 160). Their important contributions to methodologically rigorous behavioral analysis resulted in narrow, nonaffective views of animal behavior (Panksepp, 1990b).
As they marginalized instincts (inbuilt tools for behaving and feeling) in preference to learning, they impoverished our understanding of the
evolved emotional and motivational underpinnings of mind.
Watson and Skinner’s radical “black box” of behaviorism overwhelmed academic psychology until the 1970s, whereupon an oversimplified computer-inspired mentality—information processing that could be rigorously monitored by reaction times and other objective
measures— moved to center stage as cognitive science. This transition did not happen in animal research, where behaviorism continued to rule. In the 1970s dramatic shifts in funding
(partly resulting from Vietnam War expenditures) coaxed many American behaviorists to become neuroscientists, with little interest in emotional processes that control animal behavior.
To this day, neurobehaviorists are generally unwilling to discuss affective processes within animal brains. This inhibits linkages between biological psychiatry and neuroscientific psychology. Most behavioral neuroscientists consider it unrealistic to consider that affective feelings actually exist in animal brains; thus
they position themselves in the lower right quadrant of Figure 4.2. Most subscribe to ruthless neural reductionism, where psychological
processes play no role in the control of behavior.
In this context, it is noteworthy that the first “law” of behavior—Thorndike’s (1911) “law of effect”—envisioned how “satisfying” and “annoying” events could mediate learning.
These affective concepts were eventually transformed by behaviorists into “positive reinforcements” and “punishments,” more by selfappointed decisions than through evidence-
based discussions. Thus the diverse affective aspects of the “law of effect” were discarded because they raised the specter of scientifically
unobservable internal processes—apparent
nonmaterial principles—within the brain…”
-“How Emotions are Made” Lisa Feldman Barrett
-“The emotional Lifes of animals” Mark Bekoff Yes! Magazine, Spring Issue 2011