Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Pozzie Sally Hemings Problem

Video from Marineland Mallorca. Play it a couple times, we'll wait ...

Here we see trainers at a corporate captivity-for-entertainment facility in Spain yelling at, kicking, and striking their captives.

The trainer's actions don't look like corrections to me. They look and sound like the angry, impatient, ineffective outbursts of men who are frustrated because they lack the skill to accomplish their goals within the constraints that have been placed on them. The trainers, grainy though they are, look like guys who are losing their shit.

The pozzie mouthpieces, including Ms. 50 Shades of Self-Promotion, who have been holding up dolphin Stockholm syndrome as the gold standard of "humane" and (shit you not, irony is dead) "minimally-invasive" training protocols -- who have convinced thousands of clicking simpletons that a wild cetacean imprisoned in a bathtub is the perfect model for living with a pet dog -- are attempting a classic distraction technique by screaming See! It's terrible if you do it to a dog, too! This is how all those cruel balanced trainers treat dogs. Where's the outrage when someone puts a collar on a dog?

Wait, I thought that it was impossible to train a dolphin with force and coercion?

What's that, you say?

I'm sorry, I didn't hear that?

Wait, were you wanting to say that Marineland Mallorca is an outlier? I bet their dolphins aren't even trained, and they are a pariah in the industry, right? No legitimate kind and gentle dolphin-bathtub facility would have anything to do with such a person. And he couldn't possibly come in under the radar, because the total lack of results would mean that he had no resume as a successful porpoise-manipulator.

That must be it.

Oh bother.

ATLANTA -The Georgia Aquarium stands by the man they hired to become Vice President of Dolphin Training, despite allegations that surfaced on YouTube that he abused animals.
"We think he deserves, after 37 years in a career and no indication in our vetting that this had happened, that we should stand by him until we can prove that this kind of behavior would take place," said aquarium CEO Mike Leven.

Now, without being able to determine what it was that the men in wetsuits wanted from the dolphins they were yelling at, kicking, and striking -- I cannot make out verbal commands, and there's not enough context to guess at the point of each exercise -- I have to speculate on very little evidence.

It looks as if at least some of the "positive punishment" directed at the captives has to do with the animal horning in on other animals' sessions, and some might (again, I am reaching on thin evidence here) be elicited by the animal getting so pushy that the trainers are seeing it as a threat, or as behavior that will later become threatening.

Let's be clear here. Dolphins are powerful and potentially dangerous wild predators. They can ram, they can hold a person down underwater, they can and do bite and hold on, and they are rapists. Captive dolphins should be assumed to have neuroses and stresses that create novel pathological behavior over and above the perfectly normal aggression of their wild families.

I keep a mixed herd of medium-sized herbivores. None of my goats and sheep outweigh me, though the largest ones are close to my size. They nibble, but do not bite. They are not predators, they are both domesticated and tame, they are living a species-appropriate lifestyle in a stable social group, and so should be assumed to be sane examples of their respective kinds.

And you know what? I don't go in to the pasture with a bucket of grain without bringing a dog with me.

They really like grain, and they are perfectly happy to run me down and trample me to get it. They don't mean to flatten a person, they mean to get more grain than the next goat. Facing off against some credibly pinchy toothipegs reminds them of their manners.

A farmer who is without a useful dog will use a stock whip or an electric prod in the same circumstances. To maintain distance and respect.

I think it's possible that the kicking, yelling, hitting Marineland employees were getting a little fearful of the dolphins' pushiness and "testing" and were trying to instill respect and establish distance.

It did not appear to be working, for all that.

Now, it's very common in multiple-dog situations for one dog to try to horn in on another dog's interactions with the human -- whether those are just household interactions, affection and proximity, play, or training and work.

Most dog trainers solve this in the same way that the dolphin trainers ought to -- we train another exercise that prevents the undesired conduct. Normally, that means that one dog holds a stay, or goes to a designated place and holds a stay, while the other dog works, plays, trains or cuddles.

The stay and/or place command is taught first, then trained with consequences, proofed in the presence of high distraction, and then used at need. Animals who have not been proofed to a particular level are not expected to perform at that level during actual work.  In other words, just because my puppy can "stay" in the living room doesn't mean that I would expect her to do it 50' away while I play fetch with a different dog.

No drama, no anger, no fear, no yelling, hitting, kicking. Corrections, absolutely, fair and effective ones, for disobeying a command that the dog has demonstrated that he understands robustly.

"Withholding positive reinforcement" is not effective in circumstances when the conduct is fun in itself or the expression of a primary instinctive need. The dolphin who is horning in on two other dolphin's training session (if that is what I am seeing, and I do not know that it is) is having a good time being a pill. Or he's feeling left-out and anxious. He may well know that he will never get chummed for interrupting, but he's still going to do it. He may well know that he'll get yelled at, kicked, and hit -- but why the hell would he care, it doesn't hurt much, and he's not a fucking domesticated animal who has been genetically programmed to give a rat's ass about what a human thinks.

It's possible that if the trainers -- performers who are themselves often rather poorly-trained, are rather, conditioned by rote to follow the handbook -- had been given a wider toolbox for interacting with their prisoners, they may have had the cognitive and emotional resources to not lose their shit at animals who hadn't read that handbook.

In other words, if the official liturgy of dolphin-bothering didn't insist that the state religion of Operant Conditioning is the only lens through which the animals' actions will be "understood," and that only one corner of the Holy Quadrity shall be employed, the trainers' frustration might not have broken through in this ugly, nasty, visible way.

But to me, the kerfuffle is more than a bit like someone expressing outrage that the lonely widower Thomas Jefferson fucked one of his slaves and made babies.

Really? That's the outrageous thing?

Not that the philosopher of freedom, equality and virtue owned human beings, bought and sold them, and helped create a nation that simultaneously proclaimed liberty throughout the land and trafficked in human chattel? You don't think that is a wee tetch more troublesome? What kind of treatment would make slavery okay, then? Kind masters who never whip, but only dole out cornmeal and pig's feet to the good, hardworking servants? Soft padding on the leg irons?

It's okay, the sling is ergonomic

If you are outraged that a dolphin trainer kicked a captive, but okay with a corporation kidnapping them from their families, locking them in sensory deprivation tanks their entire lives, and throwing them frozen chum when they do tricks for the entertainment of the paying masses, then you have a Sally Hemings problem in your brain.

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