To Brother Christopher, of the Monks of New Skete

New Skete GS dogs

Came across this article in a popular dog blog, Whole Dog Journal. Dog trainers are funny, many seem to be more concerns with arguing the superiority of their techniques or defending them. This little jewel has nothing to do with dogs or puppy training and everything to do with Behaviorism. Commonly referred to as conditioning. Normally when I read a dog training blog I get a little bitty, but, I realized that this is because dog trainers, and dog behaviorist are not experts in behavior. Neither of these “experts” address all that was observable so, in that regard, they are both not following the behaviorist theorists. Before choosing to do anything to a dog, even if you are simply a behaviorist, you have got to observe the observable.

Both Choices are questionable at best

Pup scruff
The Pup Scruff, leave it to Mom

The only value in this discussion from the point of behavioral science is the question of “scuffing” from a conditioning perspective this is a positive punishment if it causes pain, or fear, if used as mom dog would it is a form of communication and a method of transportation. The other perspective, ignoring a jumping dog, is the intent of removing a perceived reinforcement. So, if you do not consider the motivation of the dog in question or this is just your standard technique well, anything good was due to luck not training design. Our focus is the puppy there are a lot of questions to be answered before we choose a direction for training a puppy.

Brother Christopher mentioned intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards, so, that sparked our imagination. However, the puppy, the situation the intent of the trainer and the lesson for the dog are all lost in this mess and that is because it is a conditioning technique, and we all know behaviorism does not consider what goes on beyond what can be observed. So, observe it before you condition. What is going on with the whining pup? Why is the other pup jumping? Even in behaviorism, if you can see it, you have to account for it.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic reward

Intrinsic vs extrinsic reward, I do love intrinsic motivation, it is one of the best arguments against dog training based on conditioning and the magical four squares. Why am I giving the positive dog trainer a hard time, well as usual you missed all the relevant external information before choosing a behaviorist tactic. So, do you Brother Christopher, but, hey no one is perfect. Anytime a dog or human does anything, there is a reason for their behavior. This is a cognitive psychological situation, as well as, observing what you can observe in the real world so, I am only holding the two of you to what can be seen as a good behaviorist would. Cognition and individual differences means that, it is not as simple as pain stops behavior and pleasure encourages behavior. A dog trainer’s job is simple, if a dog has a behavior you want to keep you reinforce it, and if not you remove the perceived reward, or you punish. Thanks to the two of you, I finally get it. I read dog training blogs all the time and get a wee aggressive because you do not apply behavioral sciences but, that is not your job or specialty. I wrote this one because in my analysis, neither of you are accounting for the most important external variables, one of which is the puppy in question. So, when I read expert dog training blogs now, I simply keep in mind that you are not behavioral experts and consider only dog training.

Understanding the psychological theories you are trying to apply

Conditioning you guys are stuck on the basics of conditioning. This means you are both following the basics of conditioning to a tee. You both miss all the other observable data but, hey, it happens. So, great job to you both. Here are a few questions that I had to look into so, that I would be certain to have at least an average understanding of “scuffing” this seems to be recommended by the brother for the purpose of positive punishment. For those that might read this and have no reason to know this, in psychology, a positive means you add or do something, a negative means you take something away or stop doing something. His opponent’s intention is to remove the reinforcement by ignoring the dog, a negative reinforcement. The problem with both analysis is that they do not address the dog, context or behavior of the dog sufficiently to enable an expert dog trainer to choose a technique to train this pup. The Brother does refer to intrinsic motivation and reward. This is the realm of cognition, love it.

Behavioral Analysis in short

Who is this pup we are dealing with? What is the dog’s temperament, drive and communication style? The pup whines at night, why? What is the context? Is this a behavioral pattern or just an attempt to communicate fear, anxiety or simply a concern in a single situation? How old is the pup? You chose “scuffing” well, what is a “scruff”? Why do pups have a “scruff”? What is your intent for “scuffing”? You get the idea, does this tactic work, who cares, does this tactic help the Caine learn or address the situation? Who knows. The majority of these questions also apply to turning around to ignore a jumping dog.

Yes, just like the brother well done, your technique follows the basics of conditioning. However, who is the dog? Why are the jumping? What do they need to learn? I think everyone gets the picture. These are a few of the things a behavioral expert addresses. Now, the problem is that the majority of people do not realize that being an expert in behaviorism and conditioning is nothing like being an expert in behavior. I did not even understand it, therefore, I got a little bitty. However now I think I get it.


If you are a standard dog training expert that bases their system on behaviorism, then either of these techniques comply with the work of the great psychologist that founded them. However, as you can see, behavioral sciences is a science and dog training is not. It is a system now whittled down into four squares. The limitations that this kind of thinking propagates is that there are dog behaviors that you do not want, as in this case whining at night or jumping. Your job is to 1. Cause some pain or 2. Remove the perceived reward. They are both following the principle of behaviorism, this is not behavior. It is simply a very tiny part of behavior. If you actually use behavioral sciences, there is a good chance that both are applying poor technique and teaching these dogs very little. A missed opportunity. However, we do not have enough information to be certain. That is the major difference between an expert in behavior science and an expert in dog training.

A personal note to Brother Christopher, you mentioned intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators go with that. Focus more on the individual you are trying to teach, communicate with and understand. We hope you let us know what your thoughts are, we need as many perspectives as we can get. We are doing all of this for the love of dogs. Not the behaviorists.

Would anyone like to respond ?

We study all aspects of animal and human behavior, as well as new dog training. We take the best of it, to help you and your dog. Motley offers Cognitive Behavioral Dog Training, Dog Training that will help you achieve any goal that you and your dog might come up with. From dog obedience to the very difficult cases of extreme canine anxiety or dog aggression of any type. Our lead dog has an MS in Behavioral Sciences and decades of experience. Yes, this is more effective than any other dog training or dog behavior modification.