Dog training isn’t rocket science

I hear myself saying that a lot lately, and by that I mean, you need to use the parts of your brain that are about empathy, not “objectivity.” A dog is not an “object.” You are not an “object.”

I’m a firm believer in behavior science. So we do need to “count things” in behavior science. Maybe we can count how many barks, bites, successful retrieves, how many repetitions of undesirable behaviors. Count how many nuggets of meat, how many seconds, minutes duration, latency. How many weeks, months, years of sustained performance.

That’s the science. That’s the way we collect data and evidence, that’s the way we assess success or failure, but that’s not the way we APPLY behavior science.

We apply behavior science via lifestyle. That’s where we see behavior play out. Sure, exercises are good, but we can’t just take one behavior we observe at toilet time and deal with that separate from the whole picture of an organism’s life and environment. One behavior is connected to the next. The whole picture, as I see behavior science, is about understanding the importance of “lifestyle.”

So, more on that later, but with rocket science, we also aren’t sharing breakfast with the rocket. We don’t need to empathize with a rocket. But we do need to understand how rockets work. Rockets have rocket fuel. Dogs and people have reinforcement. Reinforcement is a lot more complicated than rocket fuel.

And it’s “all relative!” What’s reinforcement? I can promise you it isn’t always “petting,” and not always “roast beef” either (though I’ll take the roast beef when I’m training my dog). Dog’s won’t always take food. An icy orange popsicle is only appealing certain moments, but at that moment!! There’s nothing better! Understanding reinforcement isn’t rocket science. Not at all. It’s much more complex.

And when does reinforcement begin? Did it begin before you even give your dog a cue? When you stick your hand in your pocket to get the treat? Or maybe when you were chopping it up on the counter? Maybe the reinforcement began when you said, “sit!” And definitely when you put the food in the dog’s mouth, UNLESS you have a handful of treats, and you put one treat in the dog’s mouth, and you take six treats away (from the dog’s perspective).

Oh yeah, there are things to count, in the warp and weft of behavior and environment. Yes we can numerically influence behaviors by making specific changes to the environment. Well okay. I guess that is kinda like rocket science.

Published by

Jenny Ruth Yasi

author, sailor, animal trainer,rally, agility and freestyle competitor, owner/proprietor Whole Dog Camp, now located in Freeport, Maine. For 31 years we lived on Peaks Island Maine. Now we are sailing with our 2 dogs in the Bahamas, and will return to Maine in 2017

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