Positive reinforcement training resulted in me becoming divorced, drunk and suicidal.
I am writing this from the psych unit of a hospital, I was on suicide watch 24/7 for the first 2 weeks I was here. . I have two meetings per day with my psychiatrist since I have made numerous suicide attempts as well as 1/1 meetings with my rehab counselor for my addiction to drugs and alcohol. I also attend daily group meetings for addiction. I also meet with a career counselor 2 times a week. I was a happily married 40 year old husband/father living in middle America and I decided to move my family to the East Coast to a bigger city because I got a better job offer. It paid more money for the same amount of work I was doing. So after I moved and I realized that my expenses went up in my new location and I needed to make more money, I went to my boss and I asked for a raise. I was turned down. After sitting down with my wife and discussing my getting a second job I realized that I was what i needed to do. If I worked a second job I would be able to increase my revenue (positive reinforcement) I would be paid for doing more of something and the money would keep me repeating that behavior of more work.
Immediately I stopped seeing my family and kids so much, but I was making more money so I figured that was ok. I was focused so intently on the reward (positive reinforcement) that I kept doing what it took to get that reward (more money).
I did not care. I decided I wanted to keep making more money so all I focused on was making more and more money, and I did. I was making more money than ever before! I was so focused on only one thing that I did not see the big picture, I did not see the results of my Positive Reinforcement only behavior. I did not or could not forecast the big picture.
Fast forward 6 months. My wife decided to leave me and she took the kids because I was never home and never spent time with her or the kids. I was devastated. I had tons of money in the bank, a great job, a great car, a big house and really nice clothes. I was so positively reinforced for all of the hard work that I was doing and my company rewarded me very well (positive reinforcement).
Since I only focused on the positive reinforcement of making more money, there was an unexpected result, my wife and kids left me. I really enjoyed making money, I loved the title. Unfortunately because of that the outcome was (negative Punishment) I just wish that someone had given me (negative punishment ) earlier or educated me about it so I could have made a better decision and I did not end up getting divorced and not seeing my wife and kids, I would have loved to have been told about (negative punishment) at the very beginning, because (negative punishment) that something I enjoy is removed when I did something (my life with my family) so I would have worked less so I could see my family more. Negative punishment would have reduced the frequency of the behavior (working longer hours) and would increase the behavior that would get me more Positive Reinforcement, the issue is that I was not putting any value on more family time, so actually more family time would not have been a positive, BUT if I had enough Negative Punishment I would have then created more better associations with more family time and picked that option. It is funny how someone or something can create a positive event that you never new about by just showing you the negative consequence if you do not do the positive behavior...lol, starting to sound like dog training a little.
I soon started drinking after work, that turned to drugs, blackouts and I actually lost my job, I ended up losing my house and all the great toys and materialistic things I had. I ended up sleeping in my car, one day I decided to just end it all. I was parked in a buddies house , pulled into his garage, closed the garage and turned on the car, i was going to just end it all. After a few minutes as I was slumped over the dash board, I saw a light, a beautiful bright light, this was it, my time has come…my buddies wife came home for lunch and was opening up the garage door, she saw me there and called 911 and then brought me to the hospital. This is where I am right now.
One of the things they started offering is job skill work, so they could keep us busy. They had a class called Science Based Dog training for the Real World, i always have had a love for dogs so I signed up. the first day we all sat at a desk and it was lecture style. It was a power point program that they had. They started talking about the 4 Quadrants of learning or the 4 consequences. They explained that we will be hearing terms such as positive and negative but they don’t necessarily mean good or bad, meaning positive is not a good thing and negative is not a bad thing. Postive just means adding to and negative means taking away, but the terms where neutral The 4 Quadrants are as followed.
Positive reinforcement- Something pleasant is added, if the frequency of the behavior that you are looking for is done.
Negative reinforcement-an unpleasant consequence disappears when something is done. This also can increase the behavior that you are looking for.
Positive Punishment. This means that something unpleasant is added when the dog performs the response. This will reduce the frequency of the response
Negative Punishment-this means something that is enjoyed removed when the dog performs the response. this tends to reduce the frequency of the behavior.
Then they showed a slide of a bunch of different training tools, some I was familiar with and some I was not familiar with. They told us that they would educate us on how they all worked and how they all can work in all of the 4 quadrants of Science Based Dog Training.
We were then showed a power point presentation with video on all of the different tools that were available to us to use.
food, clickers, head halters, leash, slip lead, choke chain, martingale collar, prong collar, remote collar, physical touch, our voice, our eyes, our presence.
I was a little confused as to I thought food was always positive, it was explained that the not giving of the food though is a negative punishment which would then reduce the frequency of the behavior. So each tools can be used for both increasing and decreasing a wanted behavior and each tool can be used for increasing and decreasing an unwanted behavior. I was amazed at such a balanced training program. For some reason I was thinking back to my childhood when folks would only use 1 of the quadrants of training which is the first one, which was to use food to reinforce a wanted behavior and I was told that punishment never works. But I am learning that all 4 quadrants are what is TRULY Science based dog training and someone who uses as many tools in the toolbox but all 4 quadrants is truly a Science based dog trainer.
I asked the instructor if there was a simpler way of understanding this? Do dog owners really care about the Science or do they just want results of a well behaved dog. They said one of the best way to explain dog training is this: YES/NO and Motivation, teach a dog what you want them to do and what you don’t want them to do and then find the motivation for both and the family will enjoy their family dog.
I then started thinking about my own life and how this would have kept my family together and not landed me in the hospital, every time I thought of going into a bar if someone or even myself would have given me a Negative Punishment (something I enjoy removed) taken away the alcohol,or explained ot me if I keep doing what I thought was Positive because I enjoyed it, yes I loved to drink but in the long run it would have a negative outcome, this tends to reduce my drinking, i could have had a POSITIVE outcome (my marriage staying together)…I went on and on down the road of the 4 quadrants of learning and realized that dog training and my life have so much in common and not only couple we train dogs to be better behaved and balanced but I could have kept my job, kept my marriage together, been around to see my kids grow up, not turned into a drug addict and alcoholic and not tried to commit suicide….but I was so focused on just one thing, Positive Reinforcement, it sounded so nice, it sounded so fantastic, i loved making money, I loved all of the messages that society was giving me, I was told that I would get all these wonderful things if I just worked harder, i loved the title i got, i loved all of the rewards I was getting, but I did not look at the negative consequences by ignoring the the big picture….
It has been 3 months of rehab and I have been training dogs and my family is visiting me on a regular basis, I have not only started to turn my life around, but I am training really balanced dogs that other have given up on since they were only trained with one of the quadrants…
I will be getting out of rehab in a few weeks, I am moving back in with my family, and ironically I am adopting one of the dogs that I have been working with…true Science based training has saved both of our lives, both rewards and punishment, give and take, yes and no and the motivation to make those decisions
I will be starting a new career as a dog trainer and using true Science to train dogs, but I won’t use the term Science, i will just tell folks I train dogs, it is a balance of training and learning . it seems like most of the general population is not familiar with the true science and have been misled by folks who are trying to promote it as just one of the quadrants of reward only. It seems most of society thinks punishment is a bad thing, when in fact it is probably one of the most important thing, punishment is not bad, it is just information, information that I wish I had since without it my life was ended. It made me think of all the dogs (5 million) killed in shelters each year who would have loved to have been trained by someone using all 4 quadrants of learning, both positive and negative The cool thing is that I can also spread the message about if you only focus on the rewards it does not truly train the dog but it can also lead you to that dark place in the garage that one day that I was all alone ready to take my life, since I did not have balance in my life
*******This blog post is not an open invitation to discuss the 4 quadrants of Science based training, since it will just keep going around in a ridiculous circle with most folks not actually understanding the full concept of it, including myself since it can be pretty confusing. What it is to do is to point out more of the silliness of the concept of “Postive Reinforcement” training that is being shouting by many trainers and saying how you should never “punish” a dog where in fact punishment is part of the Science that they are saying they are using. So the general public is being lied to on a daily basis. Punishment does not mean bad and reward does not mean good, they are just words that is all. This is a satirical blog post and is not based on anyone in particular but does have similar concepts between a dog being killed in our shelter system an given away by their family and a human losing his family by only focusing on one part of life.