Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The Sacred Cows of Dog Training
Since the advent of the Internet, the availability of information about everything you could possibly know about anything has grown exponentially. Dog training is no different. You can now find the "secrets" of the Hollywood dog trainers, dog trainers in general and the ways of canine whichness on National Geographic and Animal Planet. Don't get me wrong, I've benefited tremendously from this availability of information despite decades of experience and college studying animal behavior, biology and genetics.
Before the 40's and the advent of learning theory and the Premack Principle, animal training was a hit or miss thing. Different "schools" of training existed generally based on what breed group of dog you were training or what function you were training a dog for. There were the herding dogs, guarding, hauling, hunting, pointing, retreiving and earth dogs. Each breed group had it's job and a basic set of guidelines for how to train a dog in it's group. But each individual did things their own way for the most part, mostly after apprenticing under a family member or neighbor.
Then came BF Skinner and his students, the Brelands, with operant conditioning, classical conditioning (Pavlov), the Premack Principle and various other pieces of psycho babble - how dogs and other animals (including humans), supposedly learn. At pretty much the same time, there were studies done on captive wolves and dominance theory emerged to explain lupine behavior and this was translated into canine behavior. Everyone "knows" that dogs are descended from wolves.
During the 1900's many prominent trainers, and their methodologies, emerged in the field of dog training. These include Conrad Most, William Koehler, Winifred Strickland, C.W. Meisterfeld and Barbara Woodhouse. They developed their own particular style of training techniques, and made lasting contributions to the field of organized dog training.
Then came Ian Dunbar and Karen Pryor who introduced positive reinforcement only training and pushed it into prominance in the 80's. Karen Pryor and several others were trainers for Sea World and learned the techniques that the Breland's had perfected. But the 80's also brought out the dominance theory and a battle began between proponents of the two methods.
Personally, my practice and theory is different then most of what you read, see on TV or hear from other trainers. I think it is a mistake to think that because dogs are descended from an ancestor of wolves, they behave like wolves. If you actually watched wolves in the wild, they cooperate, not dominate. Wolves understand who is good at what and test each other in play to find out where they fit in - not the pack as a whole - but in each activity that the pack is involved in.
Training dogs is fun for me and for the dog, as it should be. It is through play behavior, and the social rules that all dogs and wolves learn as pups, that a "pack" or "family" of canines is ruled. Further, it is fun to play with our dogs even if none of us learn anything. It will certainly make more sense to the dog than to be jerked around on a leash or sent to the corner for a timeout.