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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A Gardenia clasped by any other clothespin would smell as sweet.

While practical experience and analysis are the best teachers, they do not automatically teach a good understanding of fundamental principles. When trainers are rule-driven or limit their study to accepted applications they can miss important aspects of any training topic. This is a general scent project that will teach you well beyond anything you’re going to get from any single tradition of scent work.
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Pavlov’s Pearl: Doesn’t ring a bell for psychologists.

When I decided to offer behavior services I had already trained two dogs as urban animal control dogs. If you are interested in that story, go to my blog and put ‘Megan’ in the top search box. My dogs were as good in the field as the city’s police K9’s and in some ways better. However, I have a great deal of respect for knpavlov3owledge and learning and decided to delve into the world of science. I called the University of Washington bookstore to see if they had Conditioned Reflexes by Pavlov. (The correct translation of the original Russian title is ‘Conditional Reflexes’. That will make a difference in this conversation, later. )
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I Choose Life. Do you?

I have a couple of priorities that I consider necessary to begin a successful training program. I must have a way to make a behavior more common and I must be able to stop a behavior immediately. If I fail to create a foundation for those things I will eventually find gaps in the dog’s repertoire, later. If the gap includes important behaviors and inhibitions such as escaping out the front door, failing to come when called or chewing a live extension cord, any gap can be fatal. That is an ever-present consideration in my life. If I fail to do my job the dog could die. It’s not just with “serious” behavior problems. It is about creating a repertoire that preserves life. I assume that both polarities must be addressed – creating necessary behaviors and creating necessary inhibitions. Of the two, the overwhelmingly more important is stopping and inhibiting unacceptable behavior. That is the primary cause of death to dogs in the US. They do things that people can’t live with. Stop the behavior, save a life. Ignore the behavior or take too long to fix it and you might as well schedule an appointment for euthanasia. Continue reading

Aggression and Operant Conditioning

About 30 years ago I was a brand-new shelter manager of a small humane society in Oregon. Soon after my hiring I was responsible for performing and supervising euthanasia – a necessary part of the job. One morning I was attempting to give a fatal injection to an adult Lab mix. I was still learning my craft and a little hesitant with presenting the needle. As the needle kissed his skin, the dog jerked his foreleg back and tried to bite my hand.

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A Bird in the Mouth is worth 1,000 Rats in a Box.

Good science does not propose rules that are not confirmed by objective observation of nature. Good science reveals nature as it is. If reality contradicts science, then it’s not really science. This is the “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon. If a child correctly perceives objective reality it doesn’t matter how many highly educated people wish to contradict the obvious. For instance, if you drop two balls of unequal weight from a high tower, you will personally kFallingTubsBathtubnow about terminal velocity. If you suggest that the heavier ball hits first, everyone in attendance can check your statement. The child who says, “They hit at the same time” is correct, regardless of how many peer-reviewed papers wish to question his report. (OK, if you want to be totally anal retentive, if they are Galileo’s balls, used in his free-fall experiments, the ball of larger diameter touches a millisecond before the smaller diameter ball. That doesn’t change terminal velocity – the phenomenon controlled by earth’s gravity.)  Likewise, a traditionally trained dog with a bird in its mouth is an observable fact. If the science-based training does not lead to a dog pointing and then retrieving the bird, that, too, is observable.
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