About Gary Wilkes

I have more than 35 years experience working with people and dogs. I have worked at the highest levels of competence and difficulty with real world behavioral control. A big part of my passion is the 8 years I spent in shelters, where killing unwanted animals was a big part of the job. Most of those owners would have kept the dog if simple solutions had been offered to them. At the time I didn't have anything to offer but a kennel and a two in ten chance of adoption. Now I have the solutions. I had to build them myself because those who claim to want solutions to the humane tragedy haven't bothered to. If I make a statement, it's based on more than 25 years experience with thousands of dogs. If it's speculation, I'll tell you. My goal is to provide information you can take to the bank. I hope you like the offering.

The Formula

1) Strengthen tendencies toward a behavior that the dog can pigeon-hole as a unique behavior. This can be done with either positive or negative reinforcement.
2) Once the behavior is predictably replicable, precede the behavior with an arbitrary cue. If you wish to use different modalities (visual vs. auditory vs. tactile) put them in sequence, NOT at the same time.
3) Practice the pattern using positive reinforcement.
4) Create a situation likely to fail. Apply “punishment for failure to perform a known behavior in a timely fashion” – Do it right and do it right now. You may have to use positive reinforcement to increase likelihood of response. Then repeat this process until it happens ‘right, right now’. This is a critical step and may take several shots dropping to #3 to get to another round of #4.
5) Integrate the behavior into the dog’s repertoire so that you can get it when you want it and no other behavior conflicts. This will use reinforcement and punishment (both types of each) as needed to maintain high levels of performance and reliability.
6) Maintain the behavior as needed. If it fails, go back to step 1. Do not try to take a short cut by dropping to a slightly lower level of performance. You may have a fundamental error embedded in the behavior at any part of the process.

p.s. If you can’t state a concise formula for what you do, work on it. Simplifying it to basic principles helps clarify the process. It also makes trouble-shooting easier.

Tell me what you won’t do – I’ll tell you what you can’t do.

Tell me what you won’t do and I’ll tell you what you can’t do.
Tell me what you don’t know and I’ll tell you what you can’t know. – Gary Wilkes

I know behavior. Not just dogs. I know 9 species, including humans. There are commonalities to all of them. There are differences to all of them. They all respond to fundamental principles of behavior. If you recall, that was B.F. Skinner’s mantra – watching a pigeon allows you to extrapolate to the entire population of humans and animals on the planet. That is highly unlikely to be true, even if you examine how pigeons behave in nature. Now imagine you decide that you are only going to study how often they do a single behavior – an instinctive behavior NOT common to most species…pecking things. Then decide that you ‘prefer’ one of the polarities of behavioral effects…positive reinforcement. Now go back and look at my two statements at the top of my post.
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Dumb and Dumber: Two ‘solutions’ that aren’t

Two of the dumbest concepts in dog training have roots in the same thing – ignorance. Here’s how it works.

You don’t know how to control a behavior problem. Meaning you are incapable of working on a specific behavior and eliminating it or putting it ‘on cue’.

Your knee-jerk solution becomes 1) Exercise and 2) Redirection/teach an alternate behavior.
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The Job at Hand: Failure is not a practice.

Caution: Minor preaching at the end. (My father was a Methodist minister and theologian. Sometimes I can’t help letting in some of that stuff.)

If I fail to do my job a dog could die. That has been my life since 1977. If I fail to catch a dog loose on the freeway, it could die. If I fail to get a stuck dog out of a drainage culvert when it’s raining and the water is rising, the dog could die. If I fail to teach a dog not to blast out the front door, a dog could die. If I fail to teach a reliable recall, a dog could die.
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