A Constructional Approach
To Animal Training
In 1974 Dr. Isreal Goldiamon published a paper entitled "Toward a Constructional Approach to Social Problem: Ethical and Constitutional Issues Raised by Applied Behavior Analysis". In this paper, Dr. Goldiamond explores two approaches to how practitioners can apply the methods of applied behaviour analysis. Behaviour analysis is the science of learning, teaching, and behaviour. Its principles and theories are the basics of how we learn and teach each other and animals.
All animal training, whether knowingly or not, use the principles of behaviour analysis. In Goldiamonds paper, he details how we can either take a pathological approach or behaviour analysis, or we can take a constructional approach. In the pathological approach, we view behavioural problems as something to be eliminated. This may take the form of punishment methods, such as leash corrections, certain collars or equipment, or removing rewards for the problem behaviour and making them contingent on more desirable behaviours. These methods can be extremely effective but pose some problems in that they often only deal with the behaviour directly rather than with why the behaviour is actually happening. This might also be viewed as a direct topical treatment as well. If we were to compare the behaviour to a rash that is caused by allergies, the pathological approach would be the equivalent of applying an anti-itch cream to the rash rather than changing the diet that actually causes the rash.
In the constructional approach, we view the problem behaviour as completely rational. In the case of a dog who is reactive or aggressive, we need to ask ourselves "what would happen if the dog did not behave in this manner"? Often dogs who are reactive or aggressive are actually fearful and asking for space. Often if this is the case and the dog did not behave in this manner, people, other dogs, or whatever it is the dog is afraid of may then approach it, touch and pet it and do other things that make the dog uncomfortable. In the case of a dog who jumps on guests when walking through the front door, in the dogs view, what would happen if the dog did not behave that way? Guests may actually ignore the dog and potentially walk right past them. Rather than trying to get the dog to stop barking or jumping, we decide the teach the dog skills that the absence of which are actually the problem. In the case of the dog reactive dog, we are going to teach them ways to ask for the scary thing to go away. In the case of the dog who jumps we will teach them ways to request and ask for attention.
For more information on the constructional approach, you can view this 8 part mini-series created by Dr. Goldiamond.