Monday, September 21, 2015

Four Ways to Walk a Dog

Chad Mackin at Pack to Basics dog training in Texas (link here) mentioned this article in the pod cast we did Friday night, and I am embarrassed to confess I had never read this excellent piece, published nearly 30 year ago. Read the whole thing.

In the section on Bill Koehler, the man who wrote the book on AKC obedience (literally) we find this bit:

A four-by-four wooden post is planted firmly in the yard, extending three or four feet above the ground. It’s called the heeling post. Koehler accepts a leash from one of his students and walks the volunteered dog, a female black Labrador retriever, toward the post, allowing her to heel wide so that she will pass by one side of the post while Koehler passes by the other. As soon as he can see that the dog will err, Koehler locks the leash tight in his hand and picks up his pace slightly; as he passes the post, the dog is pulled rudely into it, her head pressed firmly against the wood. She squirms and struggles, looking for a way out. Koehler keeps moving forward; the pressure on the dog’s neck lets up only when she manages to free herself by backing around the post.

Now Koehler returns to the starting point and sets off a second time. Again he walks purposefully toward the post; again he gives the Lab enough leash to hang herself. But this time the dog is having none of it. As the two approach the post, she appears to have been grafted to Koehler’s knee; she has no intention of letting anything come be­tween her and her master. Koehler makes it hard for her, angling toward the post so that she will have no room to pass with him. At the last minute she stops and lets him walk ahead, and then follows him on the correct side of the post. Students and onlookers laugh appreciatively.

The teacher addresses his class: “How many of you, when you were little kids, stuck a hairpin in an electrical outlet?” Pacing, he surveys the raised hands. “Couple of you. How many times did you do that?” Single raised fin­gers. “One time. How many of you have ever held your finger over a burning match? How many times did you do that?” Pause one beat. “It doesn’t take long, does it? Okay, your dog is capable of figuring out a simple mechanical problem—if you bang your head against a post, it smarts. It doesn’t take much. The dumbest dog in the world is gonna bang his head against the post maybe three times.

“Now, if you noticed, when I went past the post with the dog the first time, I maybe even speeded up a little bit. I want to give that dog the privilege of learning that when you bang your head against the post, it smarts. That’s his God-given right, to learn information like that. Don’t take it away from him. There are people in the world who would be kindly, and actually end up punishing their dog, by coaxing and getting to the post and losing their nerve and not allowing the dog to learn that when he sees that post coming, he better duck behind the handler and get out of the way.” Pause. “You understand that?”

Now the students line up to try it for themselves. Bill Koehler, who is watching the lesson with me and wants to be sure I get the point, has supplied me with a stopwatch and told me to record the total time each dog spends in the trapped, hung-up position on the wrong side of the post. I’m also to record the number of passes each dog makes before it catches on. Here are my results from a sample of eighteen dogs: one dog failed to learn the lesson after the third try; one learned in three tries; six learned in two; six learned in one; and four could not be induced to run afoul of the post in the first place. No dog spent more than eight seconds total in the hung-up position on any one try, and most spent only three or four. Bill Koehler’s interpretation of this data is that most dogs can figure out the relationship among dog, handler, leash, and post within a few seconds, and many require only one trial. It’s an example of what Koehler calls “single-experience learning,” and he offers it as proof that dogs can think.

Read the whole thing.  


Gina said...

Read it when it came out, and had forgotten all about it. Thanks for the reminder. Good piece. Wasn't the Atlantic also one of the earliest to sound the cry on the tragic outcomes of closed-registry dog breeding?

Jacob L'Etoile said...

I'll do you one better. During the molt my retail will occasionally fly to the glove to eat. She will then proceed to eat unconcerned until I reach for her jesses. As soon as my fingers get within touching distance of her jesses she flies off. She will even flick them away from me. She will let me get closer if her jesses are behind the perch than she will if they are in front of the perch. All this from an animal whose eye is bigger than its brain. Animals can certinaly think.

PBurns said...

Yes, the Atlantic was one of the first to talk about how farked up the AKC is, in a 1990 article by Mark Derr. Time magazine followed up in 1995. and it's been hit repeatedly and with jaw-dropping amounts of evidence since then. See >>