Quadrants schmadrants

learningquadrant-300x259Ah, the quadrants. The source of many, if not the majority of trainer wars on social media. Several months ago, I nearly caused a riot on my Facebook page with these six simple words

“The quadrants are not a thing”.

I had people unfriending me, calling me names (both in front of me and behind my back, adults, grown men and women), threatening to cancel coming to a couple of presentations I was doing the next month. It all got a bit out of hand. The point of the post was yes, to be inflammatory, but not just for the sake of being so. It was to provoke discussion. My position; overuse and over reliance on the term “quadrants” is limiting and fails our dogs.

Let me go back a stage. The following photographs are from a couple of books by two of the best minds in behaviour, Paul Chance and Susan Schneider. I have read both books, refer to them often and continue to digest them. Paul Chance’s book is a behaviour textbook, referred to in Universities (that’s the places where we teach accountants, engineers, doctors etc). Dr Susan Schneider’s book, although not a textbook, was over ten years in the making and has hundreds of citations. These are people we should be learning from.

I have had the pleasure and honour to have learned from Dr Susan G. Friedman on numerous occasions. Another brilliant mind in the field of learning, Dr Friedman’s advice is to learn behaviour from textbooks and then learn how to apply it from skilled technicians. She further advises not to do the bulk of our learning from opinion pieces (like this one, yes, I know). In doing so, we will excel. Dr Friedman has spent over 20 years working with the best animal trainers in the world and applying ABA to hundreds of species of animals.

So, back to the quadrants. The two authors mentioned, these photos are from their books

and

Look carefully. No mention of the term “quadrants”. Now, yes, Chance refers to positive and negative punishment in this index. No, still no mention of quadrants. From the photos, look at the other terms. How often do you ever hear anyone but the most advanced trainers, or trainers learning from them (like me) refer to these other terms? My bet is rarely, if ever. When we limit ourselves to discussion the “quadrants” and that alone, we ignore the whole breadth and depth and richness of behaviour analysis as a field of study and our dogs (and us) suffer for it as a result.

The next time you get involved in one of these car crash discussions on social media, ask if your opposite number knows what the matching law is. Or a discriminative stimulus. And ask if they further know how to apply it. And if you are reading this and don’t know, then I urge you to find out. If we are going in from the cold, are we seeking warmth or to escape the cold or both? If so, the negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement are at play at the same time. Do you know the difference? Is it always both or sometimes can it only be one? Find out, examine it, study it, think about it and discuss it with people who know more than you do.

Concentrating only on 4 possible outcomes of behaviour (while ignoring extinction) and failing to take into consideration antecedents (distant, intermediate and proximal) and the effects of classical conditioning makes us look foolish. We cannot pick and choose the science we like. Yes, aversive training methods like prong collars and shock collars work, that’s why they are used and continue to be used. But they come at a cost and nearly 100 years of research tells us so. If you revel in the use of all 4 quadrants, read a book on the effects of punishment on the individual. B.F. Skinner wrote all this stuff down.  He was also a man who, having researched this stuff, interacted and taught using positive reinforcement as the driving force. How do I know this? Because I have heard it from his daughter, Dr Julie Vargas, who spoke at the WOOF Training and Behaviour Conference this year.

Stop limiting yourself to discussion of graphic which was used to simplify the glorious study of behaviour as a starting point. Do you still want to be at that starting point a year, 2, 5 or 10 years after you started? I know I don’t and I know I’m not.

Love and peace and good training and learning.

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