Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Skid Row Dog Training

Critical thinking demands participation.


Really observe.

Do the words you are being given by a teacher or writer line up with the reality you are *actually* seeing?

Something can *sound* beautiful and smart, and be complete bullshit.

For example, the poet John Donne writes that: “... if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were...”


A clod is the same as a promontory?

No it’s not!

That’s bullshit — flowery bullshit.

I was reminded of the lack of critical thinking and observation that shows up in the world of dog training when a commentator the other day quoted Ian Dunbar as saying:

To use shock as an effective dog training method you will need: 1) A thorough understanding of canine behavior; 2) A thorough understanding of learning theory, and; 3) Impeccable timing... And if you have those three things, you don't need a shock collar.

Sounds smart, doesn’t it?

Complete bullshit.

People have been training dogs and other animals for millennia, and animals have been training other animals for eons without any of this flowery tom-foolery.

It’s complete bullshit, and anyone who really *observes* the real world knows it.

Watch the birds grow quiet when the Coopers Hawk shows up.

Watch the dairy cows file into the barn on their own when milking time rolls around.

Perfect timing? Learning theory? A thorough understanding of some other animal’s behavior?

No and nope.

Observe. Think.

Do the words you are given line up with the reality you are seeing?

You know who has some of the best behaved dogs?

Homeless people.

These are folks without too much education, and they often have personality disorders as well as mental, alcohol, and drug problems.

They have no money, no clickers, no doggy crates, no e-collars, and no kennels.

They have many wild theories, but those theories are rarely about dog training.

These folks aren’t sending their dogs to “puppy socialization” classes, or to “board and train” facilities.

So what *do* they do?

Basically three things:
  1. They take their dog everywhere, which means the dog gets exercise, socialization, and mental stimulation, as well as constant owner contact.
  2. They don’t tolerate unwanted behavior that makes life on the street more difficult than it already is.
  3. They teach the dog to be calm and lie down or sit for hours at time — essential to panhandling and sleeping rough with a hangover.

Perfect timing? Nope. That stuff is good for chaining together a complicated trick, but not necessary for a basic sit or down, and actually *counterproductive* if you are teaching a dog a *long* sit or down.

Learning theory? What the fuck *is* that?
It’s not experience or observation is it? It’s theory.

And you know what they say about theory, right?
In theory, theory and practice are the same, but in practice, they are not.

The homeless fellow with his well behaved dog makes a mockery of Dunbar’s clever “truthiness.”

It sure *sounds* good.

But does it match observation? Does it match experience?

No and nope.


To be clear, I mostly use a simple leash and a little kibble to train dogs. Good timing (as well as economic body movement) is good to have. I’m all for it.

I love theory. Theory is great to explain to others *why* something works (or does not work).

But dogs are not trained with theory, but by *experience*.

No one has ever needed a “thorough understanding” of canine behavior or “learning theory” to train a dog, for the simple reason that no one *actually has* a thorough understanding of canine behavior or learning theory.

No one.

Less hubris, please.

The dog is always the expert.

Start there — with more dog and less hubris.

What does the homeless man and his dog have to teach?

Apparently, quite a bit.

And one thing it can teach is that you don’t need an e-collar, provided you have unlimited amounts of time to spend on the basics.demands participation.

1 comment:

TEC said...

"Experience and observation" nails the vast majority of dog training. As you say, the rest is "BS". Through experience and observation (often a lofty way to say trial and error) I found that using body posture, well chosen gestures and tone of voice shortened the training process for my Ginger, an Australian Shepherd. One of the first cues I gave her was "rest...all done". Herding dogs have such an incredible amount of energy, nobody can keep up with them all the time. The cue is a form of "settle". Tone/volume are so important to dog cues. For Ginger, saying "rest" in a low volume, almost a whisper or hiss that elongates the "s" sound, followed by a medium volume and assertive "all done" somehow immediately meant something to her. Actually, I had learned the command from my Josie, a border collie trained many years ago. Ginger's response, like Josie's, was nearly immediate. She looked at me, realizing that the game/activity was at an end. Her excited behavior settled, but she had to think about the cue for a few moments, and then she walked (not sulky or pouty at all) toward a nice comofrtable corner to lie down for a quick nap. I used to hear trainers say that did not recall training their dogs many of their successful cues. I really did not fully understand what they were saying. Were they trying to get my interest in purchasing their dog? Likely not. Simply a way of expressing that they found a method, through experience and observation what worked for a particular dog or breed. For energetic puppies, finding a settle-command is nearly essential. First get that bond by spending tons of one-on-one time with your dog, and then experiment (lots of observation) with how your dog responds to various tones, words and gestures. Thanks Patrick for the timely dog training refresher/reminder. -- TEC