Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Learned Helplessness

Have you ever read about or seen or heard about teens that have fits when they don't get what they want? that couldn't empty their own ashtray if you paid them? what ME get my own drink?

That is learned helplessness. These teens have been catered to all their lives and couldn't wipe their own behinds without help. This mentality is becoming rampant in our schoo...l system where there are so many "aids" to learning, so many ways to "help" a poor struggling student, that they never do learn how to learn - they don't have to.

You can do the same to a dog, you can train a dog to be totally helpless at doing anything for itself in the context of training and then once you are not training - the dog is out of control doing what it wants and relieving the pressure, stress and boredom of an hour of pointlessly following directions.

Obedience training can be (please note I did not say always, I said it can be) a way to create learned helplessness. It does not need to contain pain, corrections, shocks, vibrations, collar jerks, etc, all it needs is training the dog to ONLY do when the human asks it to. All you need to create learned helplessness is to never allow, to ruthlessly suppress, a dog's ability to make choices, to learn real self control (not being commanded to have self control).

You can create a sort of learned helplessness using shock, pain, corrections, etc since you are suppressing responses with this form of training. But what the dog really is learning is not to reach, not to try, not to do anything that isn't asked for and to make sure that you really are being asked for something.  It's an extreme form of learned helplessness.  A dog is never allowed it's own choices, never allowed to learn, never allowed to create, never allowed to offer itself to the equation.

But learned helplessness doesn't need pain or fear to be created.  Spoiling a dog will do it.  My definition of spoiling a dog or a human is doing everything for that dog or human without expecting or asking for any contribution from the dog or human.  I'm not saying that you should expect things in return, what I'm saying is that you should allow the dog to be part of the action contributing and cooperating.

I see learned helplessness all the time with Out Of Control class.  The first thing I usually do in this class is assess the training the dog has had.  I ask the human to have the dog sit, down and stay and then assess how much help the human has to give the dog in order to get compliance.  Most times it's a lot - the human pushes the bum, lifts up the leash real high, says "sit" in a commanding tone while leaning over the dog - usually with a finger pointing at the dog's bum.  The dog has never really learned to sit, she waits for the human to put her in the position.  Learned helplessness.

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