Monday, December 12, 2011


When you engage the emotions, minds and bodies will follow. Conversely when you act a certain way, emotions will follow. Emotions and physiology are fully linked. Some things in life cause people to feel, to emote. Some things in life cause people to think. But which causes action? the emotion or the thinking? I know for myself, I can think all day and never move, until that thinkingness activates an emotion and then I move. Emotion is a vital part of the way we process the world around us. Emotion motivates us, "moves" us. It is that motivation that prompts us to take action. Indeed, the motivation comes from the verb "to move."

In most theories about learning, whether it is human learning or animal learning, it is a recognized truth that learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat. Why this is so, I theorize and use as a basis for rehabilitating dogs , is because of the emotion involved. It appears that each emotion carries with it specific "actions". When you are bored, you tend to wander aimlessly looking for something engaging and just about everything catches your attention - for a second. When you are fearful, the first motion is usually to freeze and then to flee, sometimes to attack depending on circumstances. But I've noticed that the movement to attack usually only happens when the fear is long standing and almost constant. When you are angry, the motion is usually to stop that which is angering you. There is a short hop between fear and anger which is why bullies tend to pound on that which they fear or don't understand. If you engage negative emotions about a process or object, learning stops, the fight or flight actions are engaged and the learning process shuts down. Survival is the only response.

So what happens when you shock a dog, use a prong collar, harsh leash corrections or other punishments?

1. The environment will focus the dog's attention on what needs to be learned.

What is the environment when a dog is "corrected"? For a dog that means all the scents, sounds, sights and kinesthetics at the time of the correction - especially those the dog's attention is on at the time of the correction. When you jerk a dog's leash to tell it not to move ahead of you - what is the dog actually associating that jerk with?

2. Incentives and reinforcement motivate learning.

Without a motive, without a goal, something to work for, no learning can be achieved other then that of avoidance or neglect. Without the promise of a reward, payment or satisfaction, what is the point in learning a particular thing? The only english and history I remember from high school are those things learned in a supportive, rewarding environment. I don't even remember the teachers names from those classes that were boring and unsatisfying or only taken because they were required. When training dogs I've noticed the same. Those behaviors that were learned and retained to the next session where those the dog enjoyed and/or were rewarded for. Enjoyment is a self reward. Where is the motivation when a dog is corrected? What is being taught? What is the dog learning? She may or may not learn that the shock means "come to me" depending on where her attention is when the shock comes, how good the trainer was in teaching her what the signal "come" means and whether or not the pain or startlement from the shock sends her into fight/flight or she can still think.

3. Internal motivation is longer lasting and more self-directed than is external motivation. External motivation must be repeatedly reinforced by praise or concrete rewards.

Teaching a dog how to think, how to solve problems and how to discover the rules and limitations in life, making all their choices and decisions ones based on reality, create a self-motivating dog. All dog trainers know that to get reliability with a dog, the behavior must be practiced and practiced, over and over, in many varied situations with diverse distractions. Yet, if they knew how to show the dog how to learn and to love the process and the products of learning, the practice of "proofing" would largely disappear because they wouldn't be necessary. I disagree that dogs have a problem with generalization. I think it's more a problem with motivation. The dog is motivated to sit in the living room but has no knowledge of what his motivation should be for doing it in the bathroom until the human shows him that there will be motivation and reward. A dog who learns that the act of sitting is self rewarding, self motivating, will sit anywhere and under any circumstances. What does getting shocked or having prongs shoved into the neck teach a dog? For one, it's external motivation and could never become a pleasurable or exciting internal motivation. The dog is not going to repeat

4. Learning is most effective when an individual is ready to learn, that is, when one wants to know something.

Is a dog ready to learn something when a shock arrives or when the leash is harshly jerked? Where is the dog's attention when a human applies a "correction"? It's not on the human, and it's not on learning. In the case of a dog trying to pull it's owner down the street because the human's two legs don't move fast enough, the dog's attention is on the smell it's chasing. The only learning the dog has in mind at that moment is to find the owner of the smell. When that "correction" comes, the dog isn't ready for learning to not pull, doesn't associate the correction with pulling and the correction will be repeated a hundred times before the dog gives up on chasing any smells. Smells hurt.

5. Motivation is enhanced by the way in which the instructional material is organized.

A correction is just that, an action designed to correct a dog's behavior, there is nothing organized about a single action. Although I think using the word correction is totally misleading when used by trainers who use shock collars, pinch collars, prong collars and other harsh treatment. "Correction" means to redirect to the appropriate action, not to warn or punish for a wrong action. Without showing the dog what to do instead, there is no "correction" at all, it's just punishment and harsh treatment. There is nothing motivating about punishment or abuse and I have never seen an actual curriculum for "correcting" a dog into good behavior.

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