On Punishment and Cupcakes

Treat Yo SelfSo I’m reading brilliant veterinary behaviorist Sophia Yin’s book: Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats (Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits).  Granted, it’s a slow day at work and I’m reading it at my desk.  I avoid vet stuff at home.  At home I’m currently reading Changeless which is a much more entertaining Victorian/Steampunk vampire and werewolf novel.  Which I supposed could be construed as sort of work related because werewolves are kind of dog-like, but I haven’t encountered any in practice so I don’t think they count.  Plus I don’t work nights. 

Anyhow, I was reading the section on why punishment for bad behavior isn’t always effective.  One of her points was that timing is crucial when doling out punishment.  Basically you have to catch them in the act. Say the dog poops in the dining room (not that my dogs have ever done such a horrific thing, they are perfect) and you punish them several days later when you discover the petrified graveyard of poop tombstones (not that it’s ever happened to me) it’s unlikely the dogs will remember that they produced the poop for which they are being punished.  They probably figure that if there are dried poop nuggets in the dining room, the food-giving lady will freak out and yell at them for no apparent reason. 

In their minds: dry poop=crazy lady. 

Furthermore, she said that animals continue to perform punishable behaviors because with the delayed timing, they were unsure whether the punishment would occur. 

It’s why Mia still counter surfs.  She knows the won’t hit a mousetrap every time, and the appeal of that slice of pizza outweighs the risk of getting snapped. Or why my hypothetical dogs hypothetically poop in the dining room, they get away with it all the time, and it’s much cozier in there than out in the cold, cruel yard.  They never get punished in the act for that one because they are sneaky little devils (hypothetically). 

Here’s what hammered the point home for me: Dr. Yin uses the example of people who are dieting.  I’m unofficially dieting at the moment, it’s unofficial because if I say it’s official I will immediately need to rebel and eat whatever fattening dessert item is sitting on the counter in the back.  I have a very strong anti diet conscience that likes to sabotage my efforts.  Thus, I’m just “eating healthier”. 

Anyhow, sorry I digressed, per Dr. Yin: 

when people are dieting, they know to avoid copious amounts of high calorie foods.  However, because the foods taste so good, they eat them anyways to reap the immediate taste rewards.  The reasoning is that it’s not absolutely a given that these calories will make it to their thighs.  Maybe the calories will get exercised off or the items are less fattening than they thought.  However, if every time they ate deserts their thighs immediately ballooned before their eyes, they would no longer eat high-calorie desserts when on a diet.”

A) Isn’t that a great visual?

B) Immediate thigh inflation would be the best/worst diet aid ever.   

Inflatable booties and thighs aside, the point of the matter is that you have to catch the dog in the act if you are to successfully punish them. 

Good luck with that.

Update:  In the next section of the book she says that punishment can strengthen undesirable behavior! Just like my mousetrap countersurfing problem, Mia got snapped a couple times, but then the next time she didn’t.  Dr. Yin calls it a variable schedule of reinforcement.  “The raiding has turned into a more exciting game because, like the slot machines at a casino, the outcome or prize is less predictable”.

Outstanding.  Guess I have to read on to see what actually works…



2 thoughts on “On Punishment and Cupcakes

  1. Oh, you’re so right! If there were immediate “punishment” for eating something improper*, we’d all have a much easier time dieting.

    *Conversely, if there were immediate gratification such as losing two dress sizes after dieting for a day or two, we’d all have a much easier time dieting.

    Bring on those French Fries!

  2. It’s rather reassuring to find out that I’m not the only owner of the mythical “indoor-poop-hound”. I’d swear your Mia and my Gracie have a Vulcan Mind Meld going on.

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