A Dog's Life?

I educate biology students, but I also train dogs. Many years ago, after a grueling RTP rejection, I made the statement, "You wouldn't train a dog this way," and since then, I've discovered I was right.

Dogs respond best to positive training: abundant praise, small rewards, opportunities to partake of activities they enjoy. Dogs can also be trained with negatives: punishment, up to and including "hanging", being suspended by the neck until not quite dead (yes, there are "trainers" that do this).

A "hanged" dog may do what you want it to...until your back is turned. Or it may give up and do nothing. A praised dog will do what you want it to because that is what it wants to do.

Imagine having your dog finish first in an obedience trial, and giving it 12.5% extra food every day for the rest of its career. Will that motivate it at the next trial?

Imagine having two dogs--if one passes the trial and the other fails, you take food away from the failure and give it to the success. Will that motivate either dog to do better next time?

"Hanged" dogs fear the leash, because it means punishment. Praised dogs look forward to it, because it means opportunity. Praised dogs have a life of small rewards, of continued reinforcement of desired behavior. It works. I know. I've done it.

Now I'm not saying that people are dogs, or that we should treat them like dogs. I am saying that people should be treated at least as well as dogs. People are motivated by praise and continued reinforcement, and they are demotivated by punishment. Any idiot knows that. Any system that doesn't take into account human behavior and human motivation is not, cannot be, well-reasoned. Any system that tries to motivate people through punishment and fear is likely to be ineffective in the long term (as well as being evil).

I'm no opponent of merit pay; I received the Meritorious Performance and Professional Promise award every year it was given. But when it comes to the imposed contract, you literally shouldn't train a dog that way, or a person. I see the leash coming, and I know I'm not going for a walk.



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Copyright © 1999 by Curtis Clark. Licensed for free reproduction by any higher education faculty labor organization as long as this notice is included. All other rights reserved.