The Weight of Behavior Modification & Training
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
When we are frustrated, we are much more easily reeled-in by flashy marketing, charismatic personalities, and promises of quick fixes, even if what’s being offered is sub par. That’s because frustration breeds desperation. Many salespeople and marketers seek out and leverage that desperation. They call this approach hitting the “pain points.” Pain points are the negative things in your life that marketers make you feel even more deeply, in order to sell you something. By leveraging your suffering, they drive pain point based sales. This is why a ton of money may be easily raised by, for example, dog rescues who show you sad photos and tell you sad stories about suffering dogs. And it’s why animal protection charities who achieve their mission through education and prevention—working to avoid the situations that lead to need of rescue—tend to have a harder time raising funds: It is exponentially harder to fund an organization that offers ways to avoid animal suffering than it is to fund one that shows you the suffering not avoided.
It’s important to be crystal clear about what constitutes a worthy product or reliable service because when we feel desperate, we’re not in an analytical, reasoning state of mind. Our “pain points” instead can lead us to make emotional decisions. Decisions based on negative emotions often turn out to be bad decisions. (This is true for humans just as it is true for our dogs, and it’s one of the reasons we work to change a dog’s emotions in order to address behavior concerns.) It is human nature to fall prey to promises of easy solutions when we are suffering. Emotions draw us to fantasy, whereas reasoning draws us to reality.
So what constitutes worth or reliability? Consider a huge money-making industry: weight loss. We might be drawn to purchase a weight loss product or service if we are told it works fast and is easy. Before and after pictures—which of course only depict the most fantastic successes—further drive people to buy in. And yet, only about 10 to 20 % of those losing notable weight maintain that success for a year. (As if a year were sufficient!) The other 80 to 90% gain it all back, and often more. Would you consider this a worthy, reliable product or service, then? I would not. Especially since in many cases, over the long-term, we see a worsening of the original problem, rather than a reliable, lasting resolution that would make it worthy of our money and efforts.
The principle holds in other industries too, including the dog training and behavior modification industry. It is why we see some people leaving their beloved dogs in the hands of big-talking strangers running expensive quick-fix training businesses, “boot camps,” or other stay-training services. These offerings most often employ aversives—shock, choke, force, intimidation, coercion, and/or fear-leveraging practices—to get your dog to behave as desired. Why? Because the only way to change serious behavior problems quickly is by briefly suppressing the behavior, not resolving it. Suppression is unhealthy. It might be worthwhile to imagine suppression as a sort of hiding the behavior, burying it, but leaving it with claws so that it digs back up. Suppression can happen in an instant or a short time, like Hide & Seek. Resolution, like Red Light-Green Light, happens incrementally. Resolution requires expertise, patience, and care. Quick/easy fix dog training services appear magical but in reality are incomplete because suppression is temporary.
Just as many weight loss offerings work by suppressing behavior rather than resolving the core cause of the behavior—whether that core is emotional, medical, socioeconomical, or something else—dog training products that reject slow, careful, methodical, anti-aversive processes merely suppress, not resolve, undesired behavior. This is why the behavior, like the weight, will eventually return. (Assuming, of course, that the dog avoided developing another devastating condition, learned helplessness, as a result of the suppression-based training.)
As Steve Jobs says, “Details matter; it’s worth waiting to get it right.” We must commit ourselves to the details of time, care, patience, and methodical anti-aversive processes proven effective and reliable in lasting behavior modification, so that we don’t have to find another program all over again down the road, our dogs and we having suffered for nothing.