Science is basically an inoculation against charlatans. — Neil deGrasse Tyson
I’ve been a student of the sciences for over twenty years. And for almost every one of those years, I’ve engaged in arguments about the best way to train a dog. I argued passionately. I know what science says about how we (all things with a brain) learn and I fervently want people to understand that force isn’t needed when teaching dogs. Oh, the hours I’ve wasted!
I’ve railed against charlatans who’ve coined phrases and developed “systems” based on nothing. I’ve been in the trenches fixing up the dogs who’ve been ruined by the shallow promises of frauds. I’ve spent too much time trying to “engage the enemy” which actually took time away from those people who already understood the science and who wanted to learn more.
Karen Pryor, a behavioral biologist, a pioneering dolphin trainer, and an authority on applied operant conditioning — and who wrote the unofficial “bible” of operant conditioning dog training, Don’t Shoot the Dog, was asked: “What do you say to those who think training with corrections is faster?” Her answer was simple, succinct, and fabulous: “Bye!” Read a detailed account of the conversation and some in-depth insights into Karen’s answer.
While listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast, StarTalk, I heard him say:
“Science is true whether you believe it or not. We [the scientists] just move on.”
Those quotes pretty much sum up my outlook.
“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson
I train with positive reinforcement because science says it’s efficient and effective. I also train with positive reinforcement because I empathize with the feelings and thoughts of the dogs with whom I work. Hearing both of these influential scientists saying pretty much the same thing has led me to my inevitable epiphany: Stop arguing! Stop. Stop. Stop.
I know I can get the job done with positive reinforcement training.
Pretty philosophical stuff for a dog trainer, yeah, I know. I’m excited about what I do. I work with people and their dogs because I know I can help both ends of the leash. And I know I can do it without force. I’m tired of arguing about the “toolbox” and how some things work with one dog but not another. In the words of NdGT, starting today I’m leaving the arguments behind — there’s no time for arguing when there’s so much science to read! Get on the force-free bandwagon if you choose, we’re going places!
Well done, Laurie! Yes, the time for arguing is past. As Jean Donaldson says, the force-free information has been out there long enough that those who choose to ignore it aren’t going to be convinced by our arguments. Time to move forward without them. We have better things to do with our time.
Laurie Luck says
Thanks for dropping in!. Yes, the arguing just leads to being stuck in the mud and not moving forward.
I’m plenty happy to educate. I will educate (and get educated) for the rest of my life — and do it enthusiastically and happily and passionately! I’m very much like Karen Pryor and Neil deGrasse Tyson — those who choose to ignore the science aren’t interested in education. But if they’re neutral or even a *little* curious, I’m there in a heartbeat helping to shape them along one tiny baby-step at a time!
Katharina von der Leyen says
Hmm… Unfortunytely, science is not always right. The “charlatans” took their cues from science, as well – scientists like David Meech, who were among the first to watch and study wolf-packs and who developed the “alpha-theory” and “hirarchy-theory” (after which dogs scheme to take over the household, and from there the world), which led to disastrous alpha-rolls, punishment and Cesar Millan. It took those same scientists a few decades to realize they were wrong, since they had been watching captive wolves which had been randomly grouped by humans, as opposed to family-packs like they exist in the wild. Their new messages were never as loud and well-heard as the first, the wrong ones… Those rather terrible scientific misconceptions somehow got imprinted in the brains of people near and far, even those who have never trained or owned a dog.
So – unfortunately, in many cases, you HAVE to argue with science.
Helen Roussou says
You are right… But back then this was all we knew. Of course science can change! Now, I believe there is no excuse, the facts and science is all out there (or here, in our screens) available to anyone! If one wants to learn he’ll find the truth. If he doesn’t want to learn, there are many excuses to find…
Jj White says
and then you see science like this … http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376635714003192
Helen Roussou says
Yes of course negative reinforcement works. Both P+ and R- work. And most often the animal will work harder to avoid the aversive stimuli because fear is a really strong emotion. But I don’t believe this justifies their use.
Science is self-correcting, and this is a perfect example of that.
Elisabeth Catalano says
Excellent post Laurie!! Thank you!
Laurie Luck says
Thanks, Liz! I appreciate that. 🙂
Tresilla Hellman says
This is gold – thank you for sharing!
F Jewell says
I am deeply saddened to see that one professional would lack the respect for others that don’t share their opinion. Name calling only suffices to dig a deeper rift between “camps” of dog training philosophies and methodologies. “Charlatan”, Really? Just how positive is that? I would much prefer to see that all the professionals that teach dogs and their humans, work together for the good of the dog. Teaching is so beyond just science. It is an ART that takes enormous creativity, compassion, human and dog understanding to be able to successfully problem solve difficult behaviors. Furthermore, it take enormous ability to communicate with both species. If someone relies entirely on science, they have missed the concept of what teaching is about. Personally, I don’t care to work inside a defined box, regardless of how pretty the box is wrapped or who wrapped it. My goal is to do the best possible to compassionately and knowledgeably help the dogs and their humans, relying on years of Education and Experience.
Ian Coville says
Well written. I particularly like graduate student whose thesis was to deliberately poison a cue and demonstrate the different response to that cue vs. a ‘sweet’ cue. It seems so obvious an animal would prefer a cue for a behavior that has never resulted in an adversive, yet educators will continue to debate which flavor of poison is best!
Laurie Luck says
Ian, thanks for taking the time to stop and read (and comment!). –Laurie
Necie Broome says
I love the idea of force free. Thank you for positive reinforcement