Punishment is a big pain in the butt

Punishment is a big pain in the butt.  Punishment, in scientific terms, is a word that describes a consequence that suppresses, reduces the frequency, or stops a behaviour from occurring again in the future.  It is future behaviour that determines if a consequence is punishing.  Does the behavior stop happening or reduce the frequency of occurring as a result of a consequence?  Yes – then the consequence has been punishing.  No – then the consequence may have been aversive but it was not punishing.

Based on the definition of punishment, here is why we think it is a huge pain in the butt.

  • Punishment must be repeated frequently to remind the learner to avoid their mistake and you have to be there to punish every single occurrence.
  • Punishment doesn’t teach the learner anything.
  • Learners with little confidence will wither.
  • With punishment, you can’t control what the learner learns.
  • Punishment can damage the relationship between punisher and the learner.
  • Punishment can accelerate aggression by suppressing all warning signs. For example, it can teach a dog to forgo looking away, moving away or growling and teach the dog to go right for the bite.

Punishment is actually a whole lot of work and has so much potential for going sideways.

Fortunately, Kindred Connection offers you an alternative; it’s called reinforcement of behaviours.  Combining management of the environment with reinforcement of good choices always equals a healthy, happy learner who is willing to work with you out of choice.

The best part?  There is no negative fall-out from using reinforcement to teach your happy learner.  Oh, and did we mention it is way more fun for you, too?

Positive reinforcement. . . Naturally

Everywhere you go, there is behaviour and learning.  You can find it at the shopping mall or in a nearby greenspace.  All creatures learn through behaviour.  They learn through what works and what doesn’t.  If a behaviour works (if something happens that the learner wants to have happen or that feels good for the learner) then the behaviour will happen again.

Consequences (C) drive behaviour (B).

Let’s talk birds.  Three small birds are alone in a nest high atop a tree.  Their disproportionately large mouths (in comparison to their heads) are open wide and they make enough noise to let the birds in the next neighbourhood know that they are hungry.

A large black bird swoops down with grace and starts dropping food into her babies’ open mouths.  Over and over this happens.  The small birds, now content, curl up tight under the mum’s feathers and sleep.

Those open mouths and screaming will surely happen again.  Why?  Because it worked.  When they open their mouths and scream, mum brings food.  Those small creatures are not thinking “hmm I’m hungry, if I scream she’ll feed me”.  Nope, they are physically uncomfortable (A), they scream (B), food is given and the discomfort goes away (C).

Now, how about foxes?  I have seen glorious footage of a fox leaping high into the air and diving down nose first into the deep snow.  When the fox comes up again, they have a mouse in their mouth.  They do not get the mouse every time, but they do succeed often enough that the behaviours of locating and leaping up and then plunging into the snow work.  And so these behaviours are repeated.

3 small bears roll around, play fighting, and running along a riverbank while their ever watchful mum fishes for lunch.  Very few people could look at this scene and not smile because you can see the pleasure in the body language of the bears and you can probably feel it as a memory from your past when you were playing with friends or siblings as a youngster.  So why do creatures play?  There are many theories on why animals play that we will not get into today, but I can say that the behaviour of play continues because it feels good.

Let’s say that one little bear gets a bit too rough with his sibling and bites too hard.  Ouch!  That hurt and play will end.  When play is not fun or when it doesn’t feel good, the behaviour of play will stop.  That doesn’t work out well for the little guy who took things a bit too far and so he learns inhibition in his play so that the others will continue to play with him.

Horses rub up against fencing, dogs roll and wiggle in the grass, bears rub their backs on trees and they do it again and again. Why?  Because it feels good: maybe it relieves an itch, loosens dust or fur. It is reinforcing.  It works as a good consequence for the learner and so the behaviours of rubbing, wiggling, and rolling continues.

ABC, learning theory, reinforcement may all be coming to the main stream with more and more people interested in learning about them but these are not new and no one came up with these ideas.  This learning sequence has been at work all around us, every day, all the time, since the first living creature took a breath on planet Earth.

Why reinforcement is rewarding

When you start to look for behaviours to positively reinforce, instead of looking for things to criticize and correct, it dramatically changes the way you look at others AND yourself. It feels good to give positive reinforcement and feedback, to watch for good things, and let people know that you noticed and appreciated what they did.

Reinforcing others becomes rewarding (aka: reinforcing) for you! You begin to look for ways to be kind and to reinforce others quite simply because it feels good to do it. It makes you feel good (there’s the reinforcement!). The increase in your behaviour of reinforcing others shows that the reward for doing so has now become reinforcing for you. Remember, a reward can only be considered reinforcing if its delivery increases the likelihood that the behaviour will occur again. Some people might say this is selfish behaviour; being kind to others because it makes you feel good. Fantastic! There’s nothing wrong with that. You deserve to feel good and be surrounded with happiness!

Did you know positive reinforcement results in changes in brain chemistry? This change in brain chemistry can affect behaviour favourably especially when you consider that both you and the learner are being reinforced. In children, studies have shown favourable responses in behaviour and also in character development when they are taught using positive reinforcement. Powerful stuff!

In the 1950’s, James Olds at McGill University was doing studies with rats when he discovered that there is a central neural system (reward system) that mediates reward, reinforcement, and pleasurable experiences. Studies on human beings also revealed similar findings; stimulation in some parts of the brain, specifically areas of the hypothalamus, produces pleasurable feelings. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, is strongly involved with the reward system of the brain. Dopamine is released in areas of the brain as a direct result of pleasurable or rewarding experiences, like food or sex or positive reinforcement. When we have higher levels of dopamine, we are more likely to feel happy and motivated to achieve goals. Dopamine also helps us to learn and retain new information.

So you see, there is an actual chemical reaction in the brain resulting from positive reinforcement that increases the probability that a learner will repeat a behaviour that was followed by a pleasurable experience. Every time you reinforce your learner, you BOTH benefit from this predictable chemical reaction.

Consider for a moment how much easier and pleasant life would be if you were not fighting to make things right all the time and having to correct and fix relationships with your child, spouse, or pet. Sounds pretty nice, right? Good news. You can have this. There is no time like the present to get started on an easier, kinder, and more pleasant way of life!

Why Kindred Connection works

Have you ever wondered why your dog, your child, your spouse or even you do certain things?  And what about why you don’t do certain things?

Behaviours happen (or don’t) based on an antecedent.  An antecedent is what happens right before the behavior.  They keep happening (or don’t) based on what occurs after the behaviour.  That is the consequence.  We refer to this as the ABCs of behaviour.

Here is an example to help illustrate what I mean.  If I put a colouring book and crayons out for my child and teach him to colour and he enjoys it, then the next time I put those items out again he will colour in his book.

A:  The antecedent is the book and crayons.

B:  The behaviour is colouring.

C:  The consequence is pleasure, engagement, and contentment.

The reason my child returns to colouring when I put out the book and crayons is due to the pleasure that the activity of colouring provides.  If my child really did not enjoy colouring then my putting the book and crayons out would not prompt colouring.

Starting to make sense?

Let’s look at another example.  I have a 9 week old puppy who is chewing everything in sight.  He keeps chewing because the behaviour of chewing provides some pleasure for him and possibly the release of discomfort from sore gums if he is teething.  He chews a particular object because it is available to chew.

A:  The antecedent is the available object.

B:  The behaviour is chewing.

C:  The consequence is pleasure or the relief of the discomfort of teething.

So why would the puppy not chew every time the item is available?  Well therein lies the mystery but. . . maybe not so mysterious.  Perhaps the pup is engaged elsewhere, watching you in the kitchen, playing with the children or playing with another toy.  Perhaps he does not need to chew, therefore the act of chewing would not provide pleasure.

The point is that for a behaviour to occur there must be

A:  Antecedent:  the opportunity to perform a behaviour; and

C: Consequence:  a consequence that is favourable to the learner.

So ABC really explains why Kindred works.  You will need to observe and learn what motivates your learner.  We’ll help you to identify what makes them feel good, happy, and content.  Then we will show you how to work towards providing those consequences for behaviours that you want to see more.

In the first example above, I can start to create a favourable environment and consequence if I provide the tools (Antecedent) which are the books and crayons and spend some time with my child teaching him to colour.  The next time I put out the book and crayons, perhaps he will start on his own and then I will have the opportunity to encourage and reinforce the efforts.  As time goes on, colouring will become a pleasurable experience.  And now, I can do a few other activities close by that I need to get done while my child is colouring.  This has happened only because I took the time to teach and reinforce the behaviour.

How about that puppy I mentioned?  If I place my pup in a contained area so that mistakes can’t be made and I provide a few really enticing chew toys that may even have a food source (like a frozen Kong) then I am creating a comfortable environment with a great consequences for my puppy (chewing and accessing food).  Over time, the presentation of a frozen Kong (Antecedent) in a contained space where puppy can be safe, prompts the chewing (Behaviour), and the puppy is busy and content (Consequence).  This gives me a chance to engage in other activities while my puppy is busy with an appropriate and reinforcing behaviour.

Ever broken down your dog’s recall into ABC?  The Antecedent is you calling the dog. The Behaviour is running towards you.  But what is the Consequence?

That’s where Kindred really shines!  Join us and we will show you how to choose consequences for your dog that truly reinforce the behaviour of running towards you and so much more! We’ll show you how you can have a wonderful life with your dog.