Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Clicker Training Does Not Require Empathy

Dog training is not complex, and it does not require psychic abilities.

Of course some people think that must be the case! After all, if they have trained a dog to jump over a low fence, they must have a "gift" and a "special talent" for dog training, right?

Wouldn't that make them "special"?

One of these types wrote in yesterday to claim clicker training required "empathy, sensitivity, patience, excellent observational and mechanical skills, self-awareness, planning, appropriate utilization of canine ethology/canine body language and signals, and a knowledge of nutritional factors".

To which I can only say ..... Ri-i-i-i-ggght!

Clearly this poor soul does not know much about operant conditioning.

If she did, she would know that the best operant conditioners in the world have NO empathy, NO sensitivity, do NO planning, have NO knowledge of canine ethology or body language skills, and do not give a damn about nutritional factors.

And you know why these excellent animal trainers are so cold-hearted?

Because some of the best operant conditioners in the world are machines!

Machines are great at operant conditioning because they have infinite patience and perfect timing.

And here's a thought: they have infinite patience and perfect timing regardless of whether it is rewards-based training or aversion-based training.

This is Skinner 101.

The Skinner reference, of course, is to B.F. Skinner, the father of modern operant conditioning.

Watch the videos below, and you will Skinner's training machines in action.




And what is one of the best training machines for humans? Skinner points to the slot machine!

Of course, we have progressed beyond Skinner boxes and slot machines. Now we have online tests and even online universities. Click and treat!




I suppose, I should note that there is nothing wrong with empathy provided it is moderated somewhat.

You see, a good dog trainer is not overly emotional, while a bad dog trainer is one that is wearing a little too much on his or her sleeve.

The dog does not need the trainer's "concerns." The dog does not need the trainer's sympathy. The dog simply needs a clear, well-timed consequence or signal. And guess what? Well-designed machines are pretty good at delivering those, while "deeply concerned" arm-flapping humans who assume dog training is all about them, often are not!
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7 comments:

HTTrainer said...

And here in a nutshell is the problem with today's education. Everyone is so concerned about testing and grade levels that no one is learning. Why leave a child behind, when you can do the same for a whole school system or nation.
Or as Mark Twain said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Retrieverman said...

Behaviorism is useful, but I've seen it taken way too far.

The radical behaviorist theory contends that all behavior is the result of these reinforcers and extinguishers. It almost negates the role of instinct. Skinner believed that you could actually create a nation full of brain surgeons and atomic scientists using these methods.

Behaviorism used to control virtually all social sciences.

It's very easy to understand, and you can get all kinds of data from it. However, just because you can get a bunch of data using this methodology doesn't mean it's the whole picture.

The Doubtful Guest said...

You see, a good dog trainer is not overly emotional, while a bad dog trainer is one that is wearing a little too much on his or her sleeve.

I have said for years that this is one of the biggest problems with many in the "positive-only" training biz. They spend so much time pontificating on the science of dog training, and yet they get super-emotional when the subject of negative reinforcement or punishment come up.

Science is great, and so are our emotions. But when you are trying to explain why your way works, and those other folks who use "bad" tools are wrong, it helps if you keep your emotions in check.

And many of these folks cannot do that. Their reactions to certain tools are visceral, and they have no intention of learning more about how they work, or seeing them used properly. The emotional centers in their brains just overtake them.

Viatecio said...

So basically, what this person is saying is that a select few of the human population are entitled to dog ownership because they are "skilled" enough (for lack of a better word) to own dogs. The rest of us are just bumbling Neanderthal nincompoops who run an extreme risk of seriously messing up any dog on which we put our hands.

Thanks so much for the un-compliment, Dear Person. I'm so glad to not be a part of your snooty know-it-all philosphy, and all the dogs I have trained thank me for it.

/sarcasm

Stacey said...

An example came up on my blog list recently. The woman talks about her dog being very reactive to corrections. Some months earlier she talks about how she personally is incredibly sensitive to criticism and hates to correct others. And a very recent post is about how her dog reacts to her emotional states and if she is calmer, so is her dog.

I can't wait until she gets to the point that she realizes that if she quit feeling so bad for her dog getting corrected, the dog would take it in stride and perform better.

Putting an emotional response to what should be merely a transfer of information is a real handicap--and in this case a real unkindness to the dog.

HTTrainer said...

When a person keeps repeating "sit" or "lie down" to a dog, one begins to question just how many dogs are they training.

Viatecio said...

Stacey, your reply reminded me of a poodle with which Barbara Woodhouse worked. Its owner insisted that it was horribly fearful of water, and it turned out that the dog swam just fine...the owner was the one who was phobic. (At least I believe that's how the story goes, IIRC.)

Dogs really are, for the most part, a literal mirror of ourselves (or is it called a "foil"? can't remember) : they take what we are, reflect them back, and magnify them. The rescue dog with an insecure "Poor-abused-baby" type of owner might soon becomes an even more unstable, insecure dog that doesn't listen because it needs to learn at it's own pace and in a way that won't hurt it, the poor thing. The dog with an aggressive, overbearing owner might become reactive and overly fearful, even as it fawns over the person who gives it a daily smackdown (for are not all braggarts afraid of something at their very core?). The dog with a confident, fair leader who demands respects and is trustworthy becomes a confident animal who takes pride in it's freedom through that respect and trust.

I'm sure there are examples to the contrary too, but for the most part, it seems to be the case.