The Behavioral Revolution

April 13, 2012 at 10:07 pm 6 comments

This is fascinating. Excerpts from the Patient Like The Chipmunks DVD which I am tempted to order, but I think this video clip already offers plenty of amazing footage.

After watching this clip, I now fully understand why Operant Conditioning or Clicker Training is sometimes criticized as being too cold, too mechanical or emotionless.  As in the YouTube video above by Bob Bailey, he shows how the Brelands (Animal Behavior Enterprises) successfully trained thousands of animals of different species using  Behavioral Science (vs. old school aversive methods)  such that they could have their animal shows travel around the country, and be coin-operated and fully-automated like Skinner boxes.  There is proof here that direct human contact or interaction is unnecessary and … I don’t know… there’s something a little depressing about the way these animals perform like little robots – repeating the same behaviors over and over again – even if they are all well-paid and treated humanely.

On the other hand, it is exciting to know that anyone can learn these training skills, that there are logical explanations for the whys and hows, and that the methods are always evolving in a more intelligent and humane direction. The nerd in me would love to attend one of Bob Bailey’s chicken training camps and I love this Bob Bailey quote from Sophia Yin’s article “Bells & Whistles” in the current issue of The Bark magazine…

Crafts generally develop over thousands of years and tend to preserve what’s old and what has been done before. Information is passed down in secret from master to apprentice, and the apprentice must never question the master. As a result, when errors are introduced, they tend to be preserved. Another characteristic of a craft is that a change is designed only to solve an immediate problem . Rarely do they look for general principles.

Science on the other hand, is a systematic way of asking questions, a process that eventually weeds out mistakes. It’s guided by principles and data, and researcher’s approaches change and are revised as new information comes to light. As a result, science advances quickly compared to craft.

… which is interesting when considering  Why Dominance Won’t Die.  (…interesting choice of photo)

Related links/good reads:

Keller and Marian Breland Create the Field of Applied Animal Psychology
by Sophia Yin

Dog Whisperer, Horse Whisperer. What is all the Whispering About? by Cindy Ludwig

The Pursuit of Happiness – Is There Room For Emotion in Dog Training? by Jane Killion

Emotionless Training by Sara Reusche, whom I collaborated with on this illustrated guid to Playing With Your Dog:

(click to see it larger/download options)

Speaking of learned behaviors, yesterday Boogie was on his bed next to the heater. His body was awkwardly twisted around because he was trying to lick himself. He accidentally hit the heater with his leg – CLANG! – freaked out, ran to the window and barked.  You know, UNFAMILIAR NOISE –> BARK AT WINDOW. Even if he caused the noise himself.

Another classic example is the time when Boogie ran around the room chasing his ball. In his klutzy excitement, he bumped into my leg and jumped back with a huge yelp like I had kicked him. I threw his ball and all was forgotten.

Never a dull moment around here with my sensitive Boogie! 🙂

Entry filed under: Articles, links, Reads.

Dog-friendly people Photos from a birthday party

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. raeganw  |  April 14, 2012 at 2:50 am

    I love thinking about the Brelands and Bob Bailey, what it must have been like training all those animals. Finding out what works, making things more efficient…

    That really strikes me about this video though, is how different we expect dogs to be. For one we need more generalization than specialization – no identical boxes. And we need dogs to work on way less reinforcement.

    • 2. lili  |  May 8, 2012 at 3:57 am

      This is so true. Perhaps this is due to the myth that dog is “Man’s Best Friend”, or that dogs naturally worship us therefore don’t need as much reinforcement as chickens or other animals. Poor dogs.

  • 3. Sam Tatters  |  April 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Clicker training is only emotionless if the trainer is emotionless 😉

    I find things usually progress quicker if Inka sees that I’m *really* happy with what he’s doing, but that could just be another one of his little quirks too.

    • 4. lili  |  May 8, 2012 at 3:57 am

      🙂 I find it hard to be emotionless around Boogie.

  • 5. oreoowner  |  April 25, 2012 at 12:31 am

    It seems so silly to us when our dogs are scared of noises or themselves, but to them it is a big deal! Oreo has a soccer ball toy she puts down with her nose…then it inflates again and she runs away as it’s filling up again. Love the post with the illustrations of different games!

    • 6. lili  |  May 8, 2012 at 3:59 am

      Aw, Oreo. Boogie empathizes.


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