Bingo! Now! In the instant, in real time, you, the learner, need to know that what you're doing
haswon you a prize.Modern trainers have developed some great shortcuts for reinforcing instantaneously: primarily the use of a marker signal to identify the behavior. This revised version of
Don't Shoot the Dog!
is about the laws of reinforcement, some practical ways to use those laws in the real world, and the grassroots movement called,at least at present, clicker training, which is taking the technology into new and unexplored terrain.I first learned about training with positive reinforcement in Hawaii, where in 1963 I signed on as headdolphin trainer at an oceanarium, Sea Life Park. I had trained dogs and horses by traditional methods, butdolphins were a different proposition; you cannot use a leash or a bridle or even your fist on an animal that just swims away. Positive reinforcers—primarily a bucket of fish—were the only tools we had.A psychologist outlined for me the principles of training by reinforcement. The art of applying thoseprinciples I learned from working with the dolphins. Schooled as a biologist, and with a lifelong interest inanimal behavior, I found myself fascinated, not so much with the dolphins as with what could becommunicated between us—from me to the animal
from the animal to me—during this kind of training. Iapplied what I'd learned from dolphin training to the training of other animals. And I began to notice someapplications of the system creeping into my daily life. For example, I stopped yelling at my kids, because Iwas noticing that yelling didn't work. Watching for behavior I liked, and reinforcing it when it occurred,worked a lot better and kept the peace too.There is a solid body of scientific theory underlying the lessons I learned from dolphin training. We shallgo considerably beyond theory in this book, since as far as I know, the rules for
these theories arelargely undescribed by science and in my opinion often misapplied by scientists. But the fundamental lawsare well established and must be taken into account when training.The study of this body of theory is variously known as behavior modification, reinforcement theory,operant conditioning, behaviorism, behavioral psychology, and behavior analysis: the branch of psychologylargely credited to Harvard professor B. E Skinner.I know of no other modern body of scientific information that has been so vilified, misunderstood,misinterpreted, overinterpreted, and misused. The very name of Skinner arouses ire in those who champion"free will" as a characteristic that separates man from beast. To people schooled in the humanistic tradition,the manipulation of human behavior by some sort of conscious technique seems incorrigibly wicked, in spiteof the obvious fact that we all go around trying to manipulate one another's behavior all the time, by whatevermeans come to hand.While humanists have been attacking behaviorism and Skinner himself with a fervor that used to bereserved for religious heresies, behaviorism has swelled into a huge branch of psychology, with universitydepartments, clinical practitioners, professional journals, international congresses, graduate studies programs,doctrines, schisms, and masses and masses of literature.And there have been benefits. Some disorders—autism, for example—seem to respond to shaping andreinforcement as to no other treatment. Many individual therapists have been extremely successful in solvingthe emotional problems of patients by using behavioral techniques. The effectiveness, at least in somecircumstances, of simply altering behavior rather than delving into its origins has contributed to the rise of family therapy, in which every family member's behavior is looked at, not just the behavior of the one whoseems most obviously in distress. This makes eminent good sense.Teaching machines and programmed textbooks derived from Skinnerian theory were early attempts toshape learning step by step and to reinforce the student for correct responses. These early mechanisms wereclumsy but led directly to CAI, Computer-Assisted Instruction, which is great fun because of the amusingnature of the reinforcers (fireworks, dancing robots) and highly effective because of the computer's perfecttiming. Reinforcement programs using tokens or chits that can be accumulated and traded for candy,cigarettes, or privileges have been established in mental hospitals and other institutions. Self-trainingprograms for weight control and other habit changes abound. Effective educational systems based onprinciples of shaping and reinforcement, such as Precision Teaching and Direct Instruction, are makinginroads in our schools. And biofeedback is an interesting application of reinforcement to training of physiological responses.Academicians have studied the most minute aspects of conditioning. One finding shows, for example, thatif you make a chart to keep track of your progress in some self-training program, you will be more likely to